Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The newest google bomb 

In keeping with the tradition of reporting major new google bombs on Zoo Station, here's what you come up with if you type the words Arabian Gulf into Google search. Apparently Iranian bloggers launched this bomb in response to National Geographic calling the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf. The Iranians do have a point, dont they?

Virgin India 

I dont know if anyone has been following Richard Branson's forays into India. Right now, it seems like a two-prong sector strategy Branson is following -- entry into the telecoms and the aviation sector. Entry into the telecom sector is pretty easy, given that the FDI limit is capped at 74%. In anycase, Virgin has no plans of building its own network but plans on becoming an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator) like it does in the United States where Virgin Mobile merely buys minutes in bulk from the Sprint network. So, effectively Virgin would buy minutes in bulk from Airtel (just a hunch given the 1800 band) and launch Virgin Mobile India.

Aviation, on the other hand, is tricky. Though the government has raised the FDI cap to 49%, the caveat is that foreign airlines cannot part-own a domestic airline. So, Branson's strategy would obviously be to invest in one of the Indian airlines -- he's been in talks with Deccan Air and Kingfisher Air -- in a personal capacity. Richard Branson, the investor rather than Virgin Air, ie. Of course, once the Indian government liberalizes its aviation policies (as it surely will), Branson can sell his stake back to Virgin Air. Either way, he needs a footprint in the Indian and Chinese aviation sectors and he's doing his best to find a way in.

Telecoms doesnt really need Branson, though additional competition cannot hurt. The telecom rates in India are already the lowest in the world. The aviation sector though is a different matter. The costs of flying in India are absurdly high thanks to all kinds of bizarre policies in place. In effect, a Cochin-Delhi round ticket is more expensive than a Bombay-London round ticket. The absurdity never ceases to amaze me. Branson has in the past commented on this and has talked about the possibility of doing a Delhi-Bangalore flight for about Rs. 2000.

Yes, I really do think the aviation sector could use a Branson makeover or a shake up, both domestically and internationally. Flights to India are expensive because landing rights are so hard to obtain. To that extent, I hope the new bilateral treaty between the UK and India, which will allow more Virgin flights to India and let Jet and Sahar fly to destinations in the UK has the desired effect of reducing prices on the US-India sector too as more people fly via London.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Meanwhile, in Ukraine... 

I guess most of you have been following the impasse in Ukraine following the alleged rigging of the elctions by the Yanukovich/Kuchma crowd. The bravery of the crowds that have come out in droves braving the cold and the possibility of retaliation have been covered reasonably well in the media. There is, however, one remarkable story of courage that truly stands out. It is the story of Natalia Dimitruk, a story that may have marked a watershed moment for the media in Ukraine.

Last Thursday morning, Natalia Dimitruk, an interpreter for the deaf on the Ukraine's official state UT-1 television, disregarded the anchor's report on Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich's "victory" and, in her small inset on the screen, began to sign something else altogether. "The results announced by the Central Electoral Commission are rigged," she said in the sign language used in the former Soviet states. "Do not believe them."

She went on to declare that Viktor A. Yushchenko, the opposition leader, was the country's new president. "I am very disappointed by the fact that I had to interpret lies," she went on. "I will not do it any more. I do not know if you will see me again." Ms. Dimitruk's act of defiance, which she described in an interview on Sunday as an agonized one, became part of a growing revolt by a source of Mr. Kuchma's political power as important as any other: state television.

In Ukraine, as in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union, state ownership or control over the media, especially television, exerts immense control over political debate, shoring up public attitudes not only about the state, but also about the opposition. The state's manipulation of coverage was among the reasons that observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the Nov. 21 vote fundamentally unfair.

Heads Up: The Becker-Posner Blog 

This is nothing beyond a heads up really, but Nobel winning economist Gary Becker and Judge Richard Posner have a new blog in the works called, what else the Becker-Posner Blog. No entries as yet, but this is bound to one heck of a readable blog.

That soft power thing.. 

Long time readers of this blog will know of my bias towards soft power, which I believe can be used a great deal more constructively than hard power. The trouble with America's (the Bush administration specifically) attitude to the world today is that they might slowly but surely be losing the soft power dominance they have exerted all around the globe for the better part of the last 50 years. For a super power that has economic interests in every corner of the world, this slow erosion of soft power at the periphery of its economic empire can become quite debilitating. Linda Tischler tells us why quoting from a study commissioned by Keith Reinhard, CEO of the global advertising agency DDB Worldwide in 17 countries.

People felt exploited by global expansion, inundated by our entertainment products, and put off by our arrogance. His findings were echoed by the annual NOP World survey of power brands. That study of 1,000 consumers in each of 30 countries found that over the past two years, the number of consumers who use U.S. products from companies such as Microsoft and McDonald's had dropped to 27% from 30%. Non-U.S. brands held their ground in the same period.

The numbers may seem small, but they're significant. "We are not saying that there are going to be massive boycotts or huge migrations away from global brands," says Tom Miller, managing director of NOP World. "But the margins of the market are where the risk lies, and these days even losing a percentage point or two of share is not good news."

Reinhard points out that people still love a lot of things about America: our can-do spirit, our optimism, our creativity, and even our business acumen. But in the commercial world, people don't buy things from sellers they don't trust. And Brand U.S.A. has lost foreign consumers' trust. To restore that faith, American companies must use "soft" power skills to do what military might cannot. That will mean outreach. Reinhard envisions corporate internship exchange programs, best-practice sharing among companies, and corporation-funded English language programs in Arab countries. Other projects focus on addressing the "ugly American" issue -- programs to teach top officers at American multinationals what they need to know to be kinder, gentler global citizens, plus a World Citizens Guide for students and another for adults.

Whether business has the will to deliver on such a lofty agenda is unclear. International sales at most consumer products makers, after all, are holding their own. But Miller notes that privately, companies are voicing concern about their country's image problem. Sales are a lagging indicator. "Attitudinal change ultimately drives behavioral shifts," he says, and companies already sense the shift in attitudes.

Village of the Spammed II : Revenge 

[From Raja Reddy] The BBC reports about a screen-saver from Lycos, due December 1, that strikes back at spammers by overloading their servers. This is a flavor of the traditional denial-of-service attacks, wherein the intention is not to actually deny service, but to simply cause increased bandwidth bills.

Internet portal Lycos has made a screensaver that endlessly requests data from sites that sell the goods and services mentioned in spam e-mail.

Lycos hopes it will make the monthly bandwidth bills of spammers soar by keeping their servers running flat out.
[Malte Pollmann] said the screensaver had been carefully written to ensure that the amount of traffic it generated from each user did not overload the web.
The screensaver is due to be launched across Europe on 1 December and before now has only been trialled in Sweden.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Images on Toast 

I was planning to blog about the sale on e-bay of the virgin Mary's cheese toast likeness (for an astounding $28,000) when I came across Kevin's blog via a comment he left on ZS yesterday. Kevin makes some very pertinent observations.

Believers allege that she has used her almighty powers to emboss her vague likeness on a greasy grilled cheese sandwich which is now up for auction on Ebay. I question the modus operandi of the divine. Why is it that Mary and Jesus show up on oil slicks, mud puddles and sandwiches but are conspicuously absent when 3000 people are desperately praying for their lives in a burning, crumbling skyscraper with an exploded jetliner in its side? Believers tell me that unexpected intervention is part of the divine mystery.

To me, the mystery is how a virgin smudge can so inspire capitalistic commerce. Today if you search Ebay with the words "mary" and "cheese" there are 319 items for sale, including the virgin mary's gum and Mary's alleged face in a piece of steak...

Instead of gracing the buffet it would be good for holy icons to focus their efforts on straightening out this foul planet. Children die everyday from preventable disease and starvation. Instead of showing up on the cheese sandwich, maybe she could show up in Sudan with a bottomless basket of them. Then I'd be sold.

Kevin's post also includes never before seen images of Elvis on toast, Yasser Arafat on a falafel and the Olsen twins on cheese toast.

Sanskrit Rock 

Via Om, I found Shanti Shanti, the only Sanskrit rock band in the world consisting of the sisters, Andrea and Sara Forman. Yes, they do sing in Sanskrit, which they apparently picked up reading the Ayurveda texts (in sanskrit) of their mother who is a practitioner. And no, they're not your typical "spirituality seekers in the bosom of mother india" sorts. They're both practising Catholics who just happen to love the language and have half-decent voices.

That leaves the little matter of their music, which you can find here. Not my cup of tea, but maybe some of you will like it. I dont see whats particularly rockish about their music either. It mostly sounds like Enya (or any of those Celtic folk singers) singing Sanskrit with a terrible American accent, but you be the judge. If you want to read more about them, go to Magical Blend.

The Shankaracharya arrest 

[From Raghav Srinivasan] In the wake of the Shankaracharya arrest, Raghav points me to the opinion piece that The Hindu came up with when Karunanidhi was arrested.

THE ARREST OF the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK president, Mr. M. Karunanidhi, effected in a post-midnight operationthat brought back memories of the dark days of the Emergency, smacks of political vendetta and deserves to be condemned in the strongest of terms, whatever may have been the justification for the action itself. The crude manner in which it was carried out - the unearthly hour chosen for the operation and the physical force employed by the police in the process of taking him into custody without any regard for his age or health - is an affront to human dignity.

Compare this to the opinion piece for the Shankaracharya arrest.

THE DRAMATIC ARREST and incarceration of the Kanchi Sankaracharya, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, the most high profile of all contemporary Hindu religious leaders, as the prime accused in a brutal contract killing of a humble adversary is a first in the annals of the rule of law. The message sent out by this action taken by the Tamil Nadu police, evidently with prior approval from Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, is that nobody, however high in religious or temporal matters, shall be above the law.

While I don't think this nescessarily illustrates bias on part of The Hindu editors, the concern is whether this is part of a general presumption of the Shankaracharya's guilt. In a society where getting arrested itself has some measure of social stigma, the concern is whether people are going with the "where there is smoke, there must be fire" line of thinking. The Shankaracharya has been a positive influence, and has tried to stay away from the politics of rage and violence. Personally, I hope he is cleared of the charges, and I hope that he comes out of the trial with his reputation vindicated, if indeed he is innocent.

The BJP seems to be trying to push for legislation calling for special treatment for religious leaders. The rationale is the fear of communal violence, but so far, the response to this has not been violent, and even the VHP-sponsored bandh got a pretty lukewarm response. Hopefully, the issue will remain non-political.

Meanwhile, the folks at the BBC continue to blunder on.

Mr Saraswathi heads one of five seats of Hinduism and his arrest has sparked great anger among followers.

Wonder what Mr. John Paul II, who, of course, heads the highest seat in Christendom, and is, of course, the head of all Christians around the world, thinks of all this?:)

UPDATE : Another link from Raghav : Outlook is carrying an article that is sharply critical of Outlook's own editorial policy in its coverage of the Shankaracharya arrest. You've got to hand it to the Outlook folks for being open and democratic.

Swami and Fiends, along with the inset How to Cash In (Outlook, Nov 29), on the Shankaracharya affair, was a typical trial by the media. It was also in line with the general editorial policy of Outlook to 'cash in' on any opportunity to nail those who believe in the spiritual traditions of this ancient land. Facts, as usual, were either twisted or cooked up to hit predetermined targets (read Hindutva forces, BJP/RSS). The report says, "This is not the first time Jayendra Saraswati seems to have organised an attack through goons".

Blogger News 

Blogger was down earlier today, and they had an error message mentioning that 'their engineers' were working on the problem. That's what I call giving credit where it is due :) To celebrate the first error message that I have ever seen acknowledging engineers, here is a blog post on blogging using a couple of blog posts from the Blogger news blog.

Silver Lining
Having your heart repeatdly broken, evidently, can be rewarding. Congratulations to our very own
Breakup Babe. She just got a book deal with Random House based on her blog. The book will be called Breaking Up, Blogging On. Well done! – Biz [11/19/2004 11:35:11 AM]

West Winging It
The other night
blogging was part of the story on The West Wing. Wow, that's up there with the Jeopardy category. – Biz [11/19/2004 10:38:21 AM]

Friday, November 26, 2004

A Beautiful Day 

Here's another picture (click to enlarge) taken at the concert by my friend, Sam Polland. Though I have cut the picture down from 1.5MB to about 130kb, it still gives you an idea of how intimate the concert was. Sam was 5ft from the stage. Brooklyn Vegan has the best set of pictures I have seen thus far, including ones of U2 on the flatbed truck over Manhattan bridge.

The pictures reminded me again what an awesome day/night it was. The entire crowd singing along with songs from the then unreleased new album and Bono asking, "how do you know all this shit"? He then turned to the Edge and said, "Edge, I think I know where that album went." The band also comfortable enough with the crowd to kid around and even screw up Bono's guitar playing. As Bono clarified immediately, "you've just found out why I dont play the guitar in this band."

Survival of the Fittest -- Creationism trumps Evolution? 

In the first week of November, I had made a post that alluded to a Gallup poll conducted in 2001 which indicated that 45% of all Americans believed that God created woman in her current form, leaving very little room for Darwin and his elegant little theory. Now comes a CBS poll that suggests that the support for evolution has declined further in the interim.

According to the poll, a full 55% of Americans believe God created woman in her present form, including scarily enough, 47% of Kerry voters. Only a small 13% of the entire American population believe that God had no part in human evolution. 65% of the population wants creationism to be co-taught with evolution while 45% of Bush supporters want evolution to be replaced outright by creationism.

Given that I dont know a single friend who is even remotely pro-creationism or believes that God played any part in human evolution, maybe this poll shows the extent of the bubble people like me/us live in. I guess I also understand now the lack of interest in science among school kids. Why bother with science and reason when the bible provides all the answers?

In the meantime, this poll is very bad news indeed for science and scientists around the world. I thought we were supposed to follow the American lead when it comes to science and technology. Perhaps its time to rethink that strategy?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The 50 best cover versions 

Critics at the Telegraph have chosen their 50 best cover songs ever recorded. In top spot, and quite agreeably so, is Jimi Hendrix'c cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." In third place is Sid Vicious's cold-blooded murder of Frank Sinatra's "My Way" (if you haven't listened to this, you must). Aretha Franklin's version of "Respect" is in there as is the Beatles covering "Twist and Shout" and Johnny Cash's cover of U2's "One".

PS: Has anyone listened to Scissor Sisters doing "Comfortably Numb"? I have listened to the Scissor Sisters, but not that particular song. If I remember right, the Sisters are doing SNL this Saturday, so maybe we'll get to listen to something interesting.

PPS: Why isn't Zeppelin's cover of "When the Levee Breaks" in here? I think its an outstanding cover of Joe/Minnie song.

UPDATE: You can find an MP3 of the Scissor Sisters's verion here. NME has the video. The best description I can come up with is BeeGees doing a Pink Floyd song for Saturday Night Fever. In sheer audacity, it's unmatched. Download and torment yourself.

Stand up comedy at its best 

(Via Biju) Russell Peters is simply one of the best stand-up comedians I have seen. A Canadian of Indian origin, Peters offers a refreshing blast of political incorrectness, especially valuable for those of us living in very PC societies. The link is to a show he did on Canadian TV for a show called Comedy Now and its about 45 minutes long, every minute of which is goddamn hilarious.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Jesus Lizard explained 

I first came across the Basilisk, or the Jesus Lizard, while watching some documentary and doing research for a quiz I was setting. The video was totally amazing to me since the lizards were truly walking on water (and not just in the sea of Galilee). Researchers may have finally discovered what enables these lizards to walk on water.

Harvard University's Dr Tonia Hsieh told the BBC World Service that experiments showed the lizard to be producing massive sideways force to stay upright. "We did expect that we would see that they were producing enough force to run on the top of the water," the researcher in the institution's department of organismic and evolutionary biology explained. "What we didn't expect to see was very large medio-lateral forces; forces pretty much to the side of the lizards."

The study reveals how a large upward force is produced every time the lizard slaps its foot down into the water. This keeps the animal from sinking straight down into the liquid. But just like we tend to teeter forward when we run on a soft surface such as sand, the lizard would also stumble forward unless it had a mechanism for stabilising itself. And this is where the sideways force comes in - and it is almost as strong as the initial slap down.

The experimental set-up used a small track, around a metre in length, with small, silver-covered reflective particles dropped in the test-tank water. A laser light was then shone through the water, making the particles reflect. This allowed the scientists to visualise fluid flow induced by foot movements and to calculate the forces the lizards were producing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Quote du Jour 

Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something -- Robert Heinlein

The Concert in the Times 

Here's an idea of how good the concert looked against the backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan skyline, courtesy Michelle Agins of the NY Times (click the picture to enlarge). You can also read the accompanying story in the NYT by Jon Pareles.

More pictures that some friends of mine took will be up soon. I need to reduce the file sizes before I post.

UPDATE: Google News now has 187 news references to the so-called secret concert. Talk about a marketing stunt having worked out brilliantly.

On the next US Secretary of State 

The National Review Online has an article from back in 1999 about Condoleezza Rice. Reading it, one can't but be impressed by her progress through life and her achievements. It might just make you rethink the emerging consensus in a certain segment of the media that this smart woman is being given her new post primarily to be Bush's yes-man in the State department.

Of course, the National Review is notable for its obnoxiously conservative bias (as opposed to, say, the Economist which is notable for its charming conservative bias). However, that 1999 article is fairly level-headed and therefore recommended.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg 

No, nothing has gone wrong with my keyboard. This NYT article points us to the longest geographical name in the US and it's of a lake not too far from Boston! The article is supremely funny; go on and read it all. Here's my favourite excerpt:

The state, on a lexicographical mercy mission, wanted to remove two of the lake's 15 G's, prompting a poet named Bertha A. Joslin to write "Touch not a G of our big lake!" followed by 55 lines of iambic tetrameter like:

Now puffed up with our pride were we
As if a pedestal ascending
We basked in fame of such a name
With all its g's unending

As the article points out, the Guinness Book has the "official" name of Bangkok down for longest place name in the world, easily beating Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. If you're crying foul because that name is multi-word, fear not: this BBC Guide site offers the Welsh town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch for your consideration.

China's 3G standard at risk? 

When talking about 3G telecom, you might have heard of WCDMA or CDMA2000, but TD-SCDMA is the odd man out. As a China-developed standard created by Siemens and Datung, it was often seen as a bargaining chip - a domestic Chinese development that could be used to put competitive pressure on the American and European competitors who wanted market share in the PRC. However, news out recently indicates TD-SCDMA is in worse shape than people thought, and that it is a poor competitor with the other standards. At last week's 3G World Congress and Exhibition in Hong Kong, TD-SCDMA was definitely scarce. It does not bode well for their camp.

On a side note, while others at the Expo were showing off handsets and testing equipment, the Ericsson booth had nothing but couches and a small food buffet in the middle. This is incredibly odd considering Sony-Ericsson is not only shipping 3G handsets, they are selling them in Hong Kong. Overall, the show was full of folks with test equipment and management systems. There was an impressive range of hansets from Chinese manufacturers like Huawei. The company's stuff seems to have snagged Algeria's attention.

The U2 spot 

U2 were spotted performing on a flat bed truck outside Columbia University today at about 11:15 am. They're besically reprising a Rolling Stones stunt from 1972 and doing surprise concerts at locations all over Manhattan and then heading to the Bklyn Bridge for the big show this afternoon. So, if you're working in a Manhattan office, peek outside and you just might see U2 performing outside. In particular, NYU sorts can expect a show somewhere around WSP at about 1 pm.

UPDATE: Yahoo/Reuters/AP have the pictures. ABC has the news video. I will post a little bit more later. Very briefly, it was an incredible concert and went on for over an hour.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

U2 HTDAAB update 

So, the album release is two days away. If you want to listen to the album though, head over to U2.com and look in the news section. They have streams of the entire album available in Quicktime, Real and Windows Media. I have been listening to the album for a while now, but havent formed an opinion yet. Its certainly a fantastic album, but is it as good as Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby? Plenty of reviews suggest its their best album yet, like Jon Pareles for example. Other raves include Rolling Stone, Blender, Guardian, USA Today and so on.

BTW, you can watch U2 perform at the opening ceremony of the Clinton Presidential Library on C-SPAN (about 1 hr 5 mins in). You can also find the Bit Torrent files of the performance.

In other news of relevance to New Yorkers, U2 are performing on Saturday Night Live tonight. Standby tickets for the dress rehearsal (8 pm) and the main show (11:30 pm) might be available. KRock Radio is organising a listening party tomorrow with all 4 bandmembers.

And for reading this blog for the past how many ever months, here's the real scoop. U2 are doing a secret New York City concert on Monday the 22nd to lauch the new album. To the best of my information, the venue is Washington Square Park (How to Dismantle Washington Sq Park?). Get there by about 1 pm, I'd say. The concert is expected to take off anytime between 1 pm and 3 pm. And please try not to circulate this information beyond serious U2 fans. This is a concert for fans and it would be crazy if 20,000 people showed up. If I hear of any changes in schedule, I'll update it on here.

PS: For what its worth, I think HTDAAB is U2's second best album. Achtung Baby being the best, of course. I might change my mind as I keep listening though.

PPS: Radio 1 has an interesting version of 'Vertigo' by Nemar.

UPDATE: Okay, now U2log is suggesting that the concert is in Washington Sq Park. However, someone on a mailing list I am on ran into Bono at the SNL taping yesterday and apparently Bono said Brooklyn Bridge was where the big concert was being held. As it turns out, there is a big surprise party hosted by MTV tomorrow at Empire Fulton Ferry State Park featuring "one of the world's biggest bands." I think we can safely assume who that is. I have tickets to that event already. If any of you are seriously interested in going to this gig and would like tickets (they're free), shoot me an e-mail and I'll tell you how to get them.

UPDATE: The free concert is definitely, definitely on at Empire Fulton Ferry State Park tomorrow just across from Manhattan. Get there between 1:30 and 2:00 pm to be on the safe side. I dont know yet about WSP. Maybe it was a decoy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Amartya on India and China 

In this insightful piece in The New York Review of Books, Amartya Sen offers his take on early intellectual exchanges between India and China and speaks of areas other than religion that were topics of discussion. More than the intellectual exchange between these two countries, what interests me is Sen's view on how Western and non-Western ideas and scholarship are treated. While many, including Samuel Huntington prefer to view non-Western ideas with reference to religion, the same people disregard religion while talking about Western ideas and scholarship. In my view, religion as an idea is a far juicier concept to these intellectuals than an idea that is independent of or not necessarily influenced by religion.

There is an odd and distracting contrast between the ways in which Western and non-Western ideas and scholarship are currently understood. In interpreting non-Western works, many commentators tend to ascribe a much greater importance to religion than is merited, neglecting the works' secular interests. Few assume that, say, Isaac Newton's scientific work must be understood as primarily Christian (even though he did have Christian beliefs); nor do most of us take it for granted that his contributions to scientific knowledge must somehow be interpreted in the light of his deep interest in mysticism (important as mystical speculations were to him, perhaps even motivating some of his scientific work). In contrast, when it comes to non-Western cultures, religious reductionism tends to be a powerful influence. Scholars often presume that none of the broadly conceived intellectual work of Buddhist scholars, or of followers of Tantric practices, could be "properly understood" except in the special light of their religious beliefs and customs.

The piece is rather long, so pack some good coffee.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Kashmir troop withdrawal 

So, the troop withdrawal in Kashmir has begun today, just as Manmohan Singh had promised. As a confidence building measure in Kashmir, it needs to be applauded. Question is why is the Indian army confident enough now to lower the troop numbers? Conventional wisdom is that action by Musharraf combined with the fencing activity on the border has greatly reduced infiltration.

I have to ask though -- is it possible that the infiltration level has come down because the peripatetic jihadis have left Kashmir to fight the bigger war against the bigger Satan in Mosul, Falluja, Samarra and elsewhere? After all, the global jihadis showed up in Kashmir only after they were left unemployed when the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan.

Just asking is all.


I have avoided making any mention of the individual atrocities happening in Iraq on this blog. I am making an exception for this. The BBC is reporting that Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped head of CARE in Iraq, has been executed by her kidnappers. This is a woman who spent the last 30 years as an aid worker in Iraq, was an Iraqi citizen, and probably cared more about the Arab world than most. To execute an aid worker whose only crime was to be in Iraq to help Iraqis shows you how fucked up these losers who claim to be defending Iraq against the 'infidels' truly are.

If there ever needed to be a case made for the Americans to somehow secure Iraq (mission impossible perhaps?), this is it.

UPDATE: Here are some reactions from the Iraqis themselves to Mrs Hassan's murder.

The Ashlee Exchange 

I am guessing most of you have heard of Ashlee Simpson's little lip sync episode on Saturday Night Live a couple of weeks back. Now, a U.S. lobbying/pressure group called Horrified Observers of Pedestrian Entertainment (HOPE) is offering erstwhile Ashlee Simpson fans a bloody good deal.

HOPE is offering music fans the chance to trade in copies of singer Ashlee Simpson's album for "one of a higher entertainment quality". Fans can bring the CD to a New York venue and exchange it for one by Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin or others.

HOPE also has an agenda that's much bigger than Ashlee Simpson.

HOPE has targeted the film Taxi, with members approaching movie-goers in queues outside cinemas "to alert patrons that it is substandard fare". The group has also demonstrated against celebrity socialite Paris Hilton, at a Los Angeles signing event for her book Confessions of an Heiress. Members carried placards with slogans such as "Why are you famous?" and "You can't buy brain cells".

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Guide teaser trailer 

(Via Nag) Ths teaser trailer for the much awaited Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is now online. The website also includes a slideshow of the movie's production design. I can't wait to see the real thing. Maybe it'll even be as good as LOTR. FYI, Mos Def stars as Ford Prefect and John Malkovich plays Humma Kavula.

Safire and Powell to step down 

The New York Times reports that William Safire, the columnist that all liberals love to hate, will be stepping down in Jan 2005, after 31 years on the op-ed page. He will, however, continue to write his Sunday column "On Language", which linguists love to hate.

Far more important, of course, is that Colin Powell is to step down as Secretary of State.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

PSA: Vacation Rentals 

Obviously, Craigs List is the best place to pick up an apartment sublet and that sort of thing. However, if you want a more formal set up and have access to cities around the world, give Vacation Rentals by Owner a try. I even found an unneessarily expensive 3 bedroom apartment in Cochin using VRBO. I think you might land some really good deals if you're look for other vacation spots though. It will almost certainly work out cheaper than hotels if there's a bunch of you.

The L word 

One of the things that amazes me about America is that in a country that was founded as a liberal democracy, the word 'liberal' has become an insult from which you can barely recover. I am reminded of John Kerry, a good liberal, having to remind voters of his supposed conservative values (and kill a few small animals/birds to drive the point home). That is just beyond ridiculous. Being a liberal is something most right-thinking people should be proud of, including Americans. After all, the idea behind the middle-east project, which all the liberal-haters claim to support, is to spread the values of liberalism and democracy, right?

The Economist, a magazine that prides itself on being liberal, is befuddled by the negative connotation of the word in both continental Europe and the United States and would like to claim it back.

in continental Europe, as in the United States, liberalism is also regarded as a perversion, a pathology: there is consistency in that respect, even though the sickness takes such different forms. And again, in its most extreme expression, it tests the boundaries of tolerance. Worse than ordinary liberals are Europe's neoliberals: market-worshipping, nihilistic sociopaths to a man. Many are said to believe that “there is no such thing as society.”

Yet there ought to be a word—not to mention, here and there, a political party—to stand for what liberalism used to mean. The idea, with its roots in English and Scottish political philosophy of the 18th century, speaks up for individual rights and freedoms, and challenges over-mighty government and other forms of power. In that sense, traditional English liberalism favoured small government—but, crucially, it viewed a government's efforts to legislate religion and personal morality as sceptically as it regarded the attempt to regulate trade (the favoured economic intervention of the age).

We do not want Republicans and Democrats, socialists and conservatives all demanding to be recognised as liberals (even though they should want to be). That would be too confusing. Better to hand “liberal” back to its original owner. For the use of the right, we therefore recommend the following insults: leftist, statist, collectivist, socialist. For the use of the left: conservative, neoconservative, far-right extremist and apologist for capitalism. That will free “liberal” to be used exclusively from now on in its proper sense, as we shall continue to use it regardless. All we need now is the political party.

NYT roundup 

As I had mentioned yesterday, the NYT did not have all the stories I wanted to link to available until this morning.

Rather than excerpt from each story, I'll just link to each of them. First, there is Camille Paglia's review of Barry Miles's new biography of Frank Zappa in the book review section. In the Magazine, Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City, explains why he loves Bollywood so. The Magazine also has an entire section devoted to the state of movies in a globalized world. Start with A.O.Scott asking what a 'foreign' movie really means today. The Foreign Legion section on actresses expected to make it big soon includes Aishwarya Rai, among others. Finally, Susan Dominus asks why Maggie Cheung isnt a huge star in Hollywood yet.

PS: Anyone seen Bride and Prejudice yet? Any good?

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Internet -- The DoD version 

No one needs to be reminded that the present-day Internet was born as a result of research undertaken by DARPA scientists. That said, is the Pentagon trying to fund the rollout of a similar, but more sophisticated and advanced network? Tim Weiner says yes, but this time it will be an encryted network dedicated to the needs of the United States military.

The goal is to give all American commanders and troops a moving picture of all foreign enemies and threats - "a God's-eye view" of battle. This "Internet in the sky," Peter Teets, under secretary of the Air Force, told Congress, would allow "marines in a Humvee, in a faraway land, in the middle of a rainstorm, to open up their laptops, request imagery" from a spy satellite, and "get it downloaded within seconds." The Pentagon calls the secure network the Global Information Grid, or GIG. Conceived six years ago, its first connections were laid six weeks ago. It may take two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to build the new war net and its components.

Providing the connections to run the war net will cost at least $24 billion over the next five years - more than the cost, in today's dollars, of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. Beyond that, encrypting data will be a $5 billion project. Hundreds of thousands of new radios are likely to cost $25 billion. Satellite systems for intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications will be tens of billions more. The Army's program for a war net alone has a $120 billion price tag. Over all, Pentagon documents suggest, $200 billion or more may go for the war net's hardware and software in the next decade or so.

PS: There are a couple more articles I need to link to on here, but it'll have to wait until tomorrow since they havent been uploaded to the website yet (In NYC, you get the Sunday section (magazine/review etc) on Saturday itself).

HTDAAB review 

Then there is Jon Pareles (whose reviews are normally spot on) calling U2's new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, their best work yet.

In 2000, with "All That You Can't Leave Behind," U2 decided to stop fleeing its past and let its music ring more clearly. The four songs that start the album became anthems of hope and determination, particularly after Sept. 11, but the rest was anticlimactic. "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" also embraces the open chords and resonant spaces of early U2, but it has more punch, more abandon, some genuine grandeur and some glimmers of humor. While the Edge's tremolo-picked sustained notes and arpeggios are familiar, the music is by no means a retreat to the chiming marches of early U2; instead, it encompasses grunge pugnacity, glam-rock stomps and the sudden benevolent fanfares of "Abbey Road"-era Beatles. The music scales dynamic peaks and dives into abysses and whirlpools, only to resolve into the next chorus. Every song is memorable.

Tensions between intellect and passion, and between pragmatism and faith, drive the songs on "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb"; so do burly guitar riffs, galvanizing crescendos and fearlessly emotional vocals. The album easily stands alongside the best work of U2's career - "Boy," "War," "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby" - and, song for song, it's more consistent than any of them.

In conversations with Pareles, Bono also makes some excellent points about faith and religion, especially after the U.S. elections.

"To have faith in a time of religious fervor is a worry. And, you know, I do have faith, and I'm worried about even the subject because of the sort of fanaticism that is the next-door neighbor of faith. The trick in the next few years will be not to decry the religious instinct, but to accept that this is a hugely important part of people's lives. And at the same time to be very wary of people who believe that theirs is the only way. Unilateralism before God is dangerous." "Religion is ceremony and symbolism," he added. "Writers live off symbolism, and performers live off ceremony. We're made for religion! And yet you see this country, Ireland, ripped over religion, and you see the Middle East. Right now, unless tolerance comes with fervor, you'll see it in the United States."

I am guessing U2 must be the only band that gets consistently good reviews 25 years after they first started playing. Think of the reviews Pink Floyd or the Stones got in the 80's. Well, I suppose it also helps to be producing consistently good music, right?

The Blue Landslide? 

The weekend New York Times is normally a treat to read. This weekend though, the Times has exceeded its already high readability standards. First, there is a Frank Rich piece that refutes the conventional wisdom that red state values trumped blue state values in this presidential election.

Everything about the election results - and about American culture itself - confirms an inescapable reality: John Kerry's defeat notwithstanding, it's blue America, not red, that is inexorably winning the culture war, and by a landslide. If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox's very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson's "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star" and the Vivid Girls' "How to Have a XXX Sex Life," which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O'Reilly.

It's in the G.O.P.'s interest to pander to this far-right constituency - votes are votes - but you can be certain that a party joined at the hip to much of corporate America, Mr. Murdoch included, will take no action to curtail the blue culture these voters deplore. As Marshall Wittman, an independent-minded former associate of both Ralph Reed and John McCain, wrote before the election, "The only things the religious conservatives get are largely symbolic votes on proposals guaranteed to fail, such as the gay marriage constitutional amendment. Under this perennial "trick," as he calls it, Republican politicians promise to stop abortion and force the culture industry "to clean up its act" - until the votes are counted. Then they return to their higher priorities, like cutting capital gains and estate taxes.

According to this argument (ed:that dems should go after red state values), the values voters the Democrats must pander to are people like Cary and Tara Leslie, archetypal Ohio evangelical "Bush votes come to life" apotheosized by The Washington Post right after Election Day. The Leslies swear by "moral absolutes," support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and mostly watch Fox News. Mr. Leslie has also watched his income drop from $55,000 to $35,000 since 2001, forcing himself, his wife and his three young children into the ranks of what he calls the "working poor." Maybe by 2008 some Democrat will figure out how to persuade him that it might be a higher moral value to worry about the future of his own family than some gay family he hasn't even met.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Site Du Jour II -- India Bandwidth 

I stumbled across a site today called India Bandwidth, which seemed like an interesting place to keep abreast of developments in the extremely fast growing Indian telecom market. It's a little biased towards bandwidth related issues, but what the heck...

Site Du Jour -- Map My India 

As a fairly regular user of Mapquest, Yahoo Maps etc, I used to wonder when a searchable digital map of India would be made available either online or in CD-ROM format. I guess Map My India is a start of sorts. FAR from perfect, but still a start.

Hopefully, the need for standardization of street names and so on will eventually dawn on the powers-that-be in India, which would obviously make the task for builders of mapping software so much easier.


Thursday, November 11, 2004

PSA: GMail and POP3 

Just as an FYI, GMail has introduced POP3 services for GMail accounts. The feature should show up within your mail settings. Unfortunately, they are introducing POP3 access in a phased manner to "iron out the bugs", so do not be surprised if you find you do not have access yet. It should be yours in a couple of weeks time. The POP3 service will be available for all the usual e-mail clients and also for Thunderbird and Entourage.

That said, what is Google to going to do with the GMail ads now? Insert it into your e-mail?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The new Microsoft search engine 

I just checked out Microsoft's new so-called algorithmic search engine, now in Beta. I've got to admit that the first thing I tried was searching for my own name, a phenomenon that I have heard referred to as ego surfing, but it at least yields a search result that I am somewhat familiar with. The pages indexed by Google and Microsoft appear to be intersecting but mutually non-including. The top hits were often the same, as seen in this example. Is the "algorithm" in question the PageRank algorithm by some chance? I would be surprised if it were not the PageRank algorithm appropriately "Microsoft-ised". Read that "existing technology unaccountably made slower".

PageRank can be thought of as a model of user behavior. We assume there is a "random surfer" who is given a web page at random and keeps clicking on links, never hitting "back" but eventually gets bored and starts on another random page. The probability that the random surfer visits a page is its PageRank. And, the d damping factor is the probability at each page the "random surfer" will get bored and request another random page. One important variation is to only add the damping factor d to a single page, or a group of pages. This allows for personalization and can make it nearly impossible to deliberately mislead the system in order to get a higher ranking. We have several other extensions to PageRank, again see Page 98.

Based on my 2 minute testing, it seems like Google has more options under regular searching (such as definitional searches), and has more options for searching (such as image searching). Best of all, Google is blazingly fast. I would stick with Google.

UPDATE : It looks like I stumbled up on the search engine while they were still ironing out a few kinks. The latest version is nothing like what I saw Wednesday night - the UI is different, plus the latest version is not noticeably slower than Google. Worth checking out. That said, a key metric in search engines is the quality of results. It would be interesting to see how good that is.

The Worst Song of all Time? 

The BBC is reporting that a Mars survey to find a popular choice for the worst song of all time has thrown up an unlikeley claimant for the No:1 spot -- the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", from the the fantastic White Album. Not that I am a big fan of Ob-La-Di, but is it really that bad? Did it make it to the spot thanks to Beatles/John Lennon fans who wanted to spite Paul McCartney?

The second spot went to Paul Gascoigne's singing "Fog On The Tyne". I havent heard the song, but the mere thought of Gascoigne singing gives me the shivers. The No:3 spot went, deservedly, to Meat Loaf's "I'll Do Anything For Love". Other worthies who made it to the top 10 include Vanilla Ice and Cliff Richard. I am not sure I can come up with any one song that is the worst of all, given that there are so many offenders. How about Bryan Adams' "Everything I do" or Phil Collins' "Another Day in Paradise" or Michael Bolton's "Can I touch you there" for example?

This is truly a tough category to choose from. If you have any visceral hatred you'd like to air, feel free to do so in the comments section.

New Media Redux 

For about a year now, I've been trying to impress upon most journalists I know in India that blogs and their evolving forms are going to shape new media and change the way news and opinion delivery systems work. Needless to say, I've received polite attention at best. This has been the case with Indian media since as far back as I can remember. When Internet usage in this country had just picked up, most journalists failed to understand the potential resourcefulness of the medium (while most presented the valid argument that online sources were notoriously unreliable, few saw the benefits of news groups and online discussions as barometers of public opinion). Foreign Policy, in this article, outlines the nature of the blog as a new medium that's changing the language for journalists and policymakers.

Blogs are already influencing U.S. politics. The top five political blogs together attract over half a million visitors per day. Jimmy Orr, the White House Internet director, recently characterized the 'blogosphere' (the all-encompassing term to describe the universe of weblogs) as instrumental, important, and underestimated in its influence. Nobody knows that better than Trent Lott, who in December 2002 resigned as U.S. Senate majority leader in the wake of inflammatory comments he made at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Initially, Lott's remarks received little attention in the mainstream media. But the incident was the subject of intense online commentary, prodding renewed media attention that converted Lott's gaffe into a full-blown scandal.

Political scandals are one thing, but can the blogosphere influence global politics as well? Compared to other actors in world affairs - governments, international organizations, multinational corporations, and even nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) - blogs do not appear to be very powerful or visible. Even the most popular blog garners only a fraction of the Web traffic that major media outlets attract. According to the 2003 Pew Research Center for the People and the Press Internet Survey, only 4 percent of online Americans refer to blogs for information and opinions. The blogosphere has no central organization, and its participants have little ideological consensus. Indeed, an October 2003 survey of the blogosphere conducted by Perseus concluded that 'the typical blog is written by a teenage girl who uses it twice a month to update her friends and classmates on happenings in her life.' Blogging is almost exclusively a part-time, voluntary activity. The median income generated by a weblog is zero dollars. How then can a collection of decentralized, contrarian, and nonprofit Web sites possibly influence world politics?

Blogs are becoming more influential because they affect the content of international media coverage. Journalism professor Todd Gitlin once noted that media frame reality through 'principles of selection, emphasis, and presentation composed of little tacit theories about what exists, what happens, and what matters.' Increasingly, journalists and pundits take their cues about 'what matters' in the world from weblogs. For salient topics in global affairs, the blogosphere functions as a rare combination of distributed expertise, real-time collective response to breaking news, and public-opinion barometer. What's more, a hierarchical structure has taken shape within the primordial chaos of cyberspace. A few elite blogs have emerged as aggregators of information and analysis, enabling media commentators to extract meaningful analysis and rely on blogs to help them interpret and predict political developments.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

India's Infrastructure Solution 

Talking of foreign exchange (see Reuben's post below), Montek and Manmohan have proposed to use India's large forex reserves for developing infrastructure. Their argument is that India's poor Infrastructure (poor even on comparison to fellow Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, HongKong, Malaysia etc.) is (1) an impediment to foreign investment (and growth) and (2) india forex reserves are now excessive and can be used to improve them. Several comments have been made - many of which, at the end of the day, simply state suspicion. Even The Economist in its recent coverage on the issue is unable to clarify the stand of the doubters. Most discussions take place with a 'one hand- other hand view' without any alternative suggestion. So lets take a closer look - a look that requires a decision.

The first question is do we have enough (We have 121 bn now)?

As per some calculations (to get a rough idea), we have enough for the next year and a half assuming no inflows at all but the current rate of outflows (mainly imports). Of course, this is a misleading number since the source of inflows will not dry up. The major sources of inflow are (1) exports (which the government should promote. On such move was made by Chidambram by setting up the India Brand Equity Fund 9 years back. A stronger rupee would hurt.) (2) repatriation/local investments from Indians abroad (NRIs do beleive their money is safe and the current government is probably is a plus.) (3) funds and instituional investors storing or investing in india (the storing might not last for long as interest rates change. The investing is, in my guess, likely to increase as buyout specialists and other private equity firms venture in.) (4) financing by indian companies in foreign markets (depends on market conditions mainly, but not only, in US) (5) tourists (rather the per capita tourist spending and the number of toursits - only likely to improve with infrastruture) and (6) part of some 10 bn due to the Millenium bonds issue (that is not a source looking forward). With these sources in mind, I do think there is enough in the coffer (even if one subtracts 10bn).

But does that mean one should use it as Montek suggests.
or rather what concerns should be addressed while doing so?

1. Public projects (especially if large scale) have been notoriously inefficient in India. Moreover, the private sector is more efficient and can do this by itself. After all, the telecom industry changed in India quite rapidly. So maybe this is not a good idea?
I think the guys behind the plan are aware of it and are pushing private-public colloborations in their talks on the issue. (See Montek's interview here). In addition, telecom provides a very different profit scenario for a firm than building better roads!

2. Imports might increase as we grow faster and the surplus might not look that high anymore?
Yes, and it is important that any such plan is accompanied to reduce import taxes, duties etc. so that the import prices are now lower.

Apart from these two, most objections are ideological. In sum then, after a real quick look at the issue, the idea does seem attractive if executed carefully. And this is where the difference lies. At the end of the day, 121 bn amount is enough if the government/RBI knows 'policy' and for governments not well trained in such skills, no amount is high. I think Montek and Manmohan might just be the right people.

Monday, November 08, 2004

India, Galileo and the US dollar 

First, China announced it was investing $260 million into the EU-sponsored Galileo satellite system. Now, it seems like India is planning to invest $380 million into the project as well. Given that the full cost of the project is expected to be about $1.4 billion, this means that India and China are funding nearly half of the project. Why?

I suspect this may be a strategic decision by both countries to avoid depending on the Galileo system's main rival, the Pentagon funded GPS system. Though the Galileo system is going to be subscription based, a country cannot be shafted for not joining in invading small oil-rich countries, for example. I suspect this may also be a harbinger of things to come. If the Bush second term involves antagonising the rest of the world some more, we might well see a global realignment of sorts.

Meanwhile, in the financial markets, there were plenty of rumours floating around around yesterday that India and Russia were offloading the dollar. Today, the Financial Times confirmed that it was not just India and Russia, but also some middle eastern investors AND China.

The dollar sell-off has resumed amid fears among traders that Mr Bush's victory will bring four more years of widening US budget and current account deficits, heightened geopolitical risks and a policy of "benign neglect" of the dollar. Many currency traders were taken aback on Friday when the greenback fell in spite of bullish data showing the US economy created 337,000 jobs in October. "If this can't cause the dollar to strengthen you have to tell me what will. This is a big green light to sell the dollar," said David Bloom, currency analyst at HSBC, as the greenback fell to a nine-year low in trade-weighted terms.

Speculative traders in Chicago last week racked up the highest number of long-euro, short-dollar contracts on record. Options traders have reported brisk business in euro calls - contracts to buy the euro at a pre-determined rate. However, the market has been rife with rumours that the latest wave of selling has been led by foreign governments seeking to cut their exposure to US assets.

India and Russia have reportedly been selling US assets, as well as petrodollar-rich Middle Eastern investors. China, which has $515bn of reserves, was also said to be selling dollars and buying Asian currencies in readiness to switch the renminbi's dollar peg to a basket arrangement, something Chinese officials have increasingly hinted at. Any re-allocation could push the dollar sharply lower and Treasury yields markedly higher.

Maybe the currency trader among us could shed more light on whats going on? Is this the beginning of the dollar meltdown thats been threatening to happen for a while, given the over-valued state of the greenback? Or is this just a temporary correction?

UPDATE: I see that Brad has commented about the dollar story here and here.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Two Americas, but not the two you were thinking of 

The bar graph at the bottom of this page shows a curious effect. To quote Prof. Mark Newman, author of the page:
It appears that there are, as the pundits have been telling us, "two Americas," but they are not the ones people usually talk about. They are "divided America," where people split roughly evenly between Republican and Democrat, and "decided America," where everyone is a Democrat. The Democrats of "decided America" number about 5.9 million, or 11% of all Democratic voters. These people are unlikely ever even to encounter a Republican voter in their home town.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Meanwhile, in the Asian Telecom market... 

VSNL won its little battle with Reliance and bought Tyco's global network, paying about $130 million for a network that cost Tyco about $3 billion to build. That's almost as good a deal as Reliance's acquisition of the FLAG network. In the process, VSNL has become one of the top three undersea carriers along with Reliance and Global Crossing, which is owned by Singtel. By buying Tyco, VSNL managed to make an entry into the trans-pacific market, while FLAG remains dominant on the Eurasia sector. What this really means is that India has now emerged as a major hub in the telecom market. Hopefully, the bandwidth available in India (currently about 550 Gbps) will also go up dramatically, thanks to these two acquisitions. It remains to be seen whether VSNL can make use of Tyco to offer cheap incoming calls into India the way Reliance has.

Meanwhile, it is also being reported that seven Asian cellular operators have formed an alliance to develop products and services built on a common infrastructure. The seven carriers are Bharti of India, Globe Telecom of the Philippines, Maxis of Malaysia, Australia's Optus, Singapore's SingTel, Taiwan Cellular and Indonesia's Telkomsel (Singtel has a stake in Bharti, Optus and Globe). Clearly, this will improve roaming facilities for subscribers of these networks. In addition...

Alliance members will also offer more seamless roaming and interoperability, he said. For example, subscribers will be able to top up their pre-paid cards through partner networks even when overseas, a service not offered today. For Bharti Tele-Ventures, which derives 10 percent of its revenues from roaming, these are significant benefits, said Manoj Kohli, president of Mobility. "There are 20 million non-resident Indians who live outside India, and about one-third of them stay in Asia-Pacific. Eighty to 90 percent of Indian market is pre-paid," he said.

Clearly, an exciting time to be in the Asian telecom market. In the meanwhile, watch out for an IPO from Reliance Infocomm.

PS: The number of mobile phones in India have now exceeded the number of landline phones. There are apparently 45 million mobiles and 44 million landlines for a total of 89 million telephone lines. Thats quite an increase from 2000, when there were 28 million landlines and 3.2 million mobile phones. What a difference competition and decent regulatory policy can make.

The values debate 

Convention wisdom surrounding the elections has begun to settle around the theme that values are morals trumped every other issue, including Iraq and the sputtering economy. I dont know for sure, but this could well be true. However, is there any truth to some of the claims the conservatives make about their superior values and morals or is yet another example of hyporcrisy from the right? A study by Barna on divorce rates (marriage is one of the sacred bedrocks of the values crowd) sheds some light. Here are some highlights.

* Divorce rates among conservative Christians were much higher than for other faith groups, and for Atheists and Agnostics. 27% of born-again christians have been divorced, compared to 21% of atheists and agnostics.

* 11 southern states (AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, MS, NC, NM, OK, SC and TX averaged 5.1/1000 people. (LA data is not available; TX data is for 1997). Nine states in the Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT) averaged only 3.5/1000 people.

* Massachussets, yes, Massachussets, home to both Ted Kennedy and John Kerry has the lowest divorce rate in the whole of the United States.

Of course, there is a very good reason for higher divorce rates in the south. Lower incomes and earlier marriages. Nevetheless, we need to pull that whole family values bullshit in perspective.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

There is a god, I Guess 

Meanwhile, the W crowd faced their first major setback on new policy initiatives soon after winning the US presidential election, according to this MSNBC report.

A man leaped into a lion’s den at the Taipei Zoo on Wednesday to try to convert the king of beasts to Christianity, but was bitten in the leg for his efforts. “Jesus will save you!” shouted the 46-year-old man at two African lions lounging under a tree a few meters away. “Come bite me!” he said with both hands raised, television footage showed. One of the lions, a large male with a shaggy mane, bit the man in his right leg before zoo workers drove it off with water hoses and tranquilizer guns.

Insight of sorts 

Every time I try to figure out why Americans make decisions that befuddle me (in this case, the re-election of Bush), I come across a nugget of information that offers some insight on why things play out the way they do. I came across these paragraphs in a recent National Geographic story titled Was Darwin Wrong?

According to a Gallup poll drawn from more than a thousand telephone interviews conducted in February 2001, no less than 45 percent of responding U.S. adults agreed that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Evolution, by their lights, played no role in shaping us.

Only 37 percent of the polled Americans were satisfied with allowing room for both God and Darwin—that is, divine initiative to get things started, evolution as the creative means. (This view, according to more than one papal pronouncement, is compatible with Roman Catholic dogma.) Still fewer Americans, only 12 percent, believed that humans evolved from other life-forms without any involvement of a god.

The most startling thing about these poll numbers is not that so many Americans reject evolution, but that the statistical breakdown hasn't changed much in two decades. Gallup interviewers posed exactly the same choices in 1982, 1993, 1997, and 1999. The creationist conviction—that God alone, and not evolution, produced humans—has never drawn less than 44 percent. In other words, nearly half the American populace prefers to believe that Charles Darwin was wrong where it mattered most.

I will not even ask what these people think of the recent discovery in Indonesia of Homo floresiensis. I will console myself with the thought that the source if this story, the National Geographic magazine, is also a fantastic American institution.


Kerry conceded the election to Bush at 11 am, after realising that Ohio was increasingly out of reach. As I wait for his concession speech, I have to wonder what Bush's re-election with a mandate means, given what he did the past 4 years without a mandate. In some ways, Americans deserve what they get, but given the enormous power and influence of America, this election will affect people living just about everywhere on the planet from India to Iceland. So, America deserves what it gets, but does the rest of the world deserve 4 more years of Bush? Do those unfortunate civilians in Fallulajah deserve what is about to be unleashed on them in the next few weeks? I could go on and on, but I will instead reproduce some of the reactions I have seen on the web today.
This is from Dan Gillmor.

The Republicans have an even stronger congressional majority. They have shown how gladly ruthless they can be in using their power. Bush and his allies have never believed in compromise. They have even less incentive to govern from the middle now, even though the nation remains bitterly divided.There's no secret about what's coming. We don't have that excuse this time.

Here comes more fiscal recklessness -- as we widen the chasm between the ultra-wealthy and everyone else, cementing a plutocracy into our national fiber, we'll pay our national bills on the Treasury Bill credit card for the next few years. Many economists expect a Brazil-like financial crisis to hit the U.S. before the end of the decade. If we muddle our way though the near term, we'll still have left our kids with the bill. Here comes an expansion of the American empire abroad, a fueling of fear and loathing elsewhere on the globe. This is also unsustainable in the end. Empire breeds disrespect.

Our civil liberties will shrink drastically. This president and his top allies in Congress fully support just one amendment in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment's right to bear arms. Say goodbye to abortion rights in most states. Roe v. Wade will fall after this president pushes three or four Scalia and Thomas legal clones onto the Supreme Court. Say hello, meanwhile, to a much more intrusive blending of church and state. The environment? We'll be nostalgic for Ronald Reagan's time in office.This is not sour grapes. This is reality.

Over at Dan Drezner, a commenter offers some perspective on what it all means.

If people in Oklahoma knew how much their votes for Bush helped MY liberal pinko commie lifestyle in Princeton, NJ, they would never stop puking. My fiance and I will probably get more tax cuts next year. We have no children, so we don't need to worry about underfunded schools or if they will get drafted. We can actually afford to pay for this privatized health care system Bush seems to want, AND still save in our 401k's, AND still enjoy our smoked Brie and white Burgundy.

In the meanwhile, Drezner make the point that the real winner in this election is Thomas Frank. I agree. The book should be mandatory reading for those of us who cant figure this one out at all.

And finally, a commenter left this note at Larry Lessig's blog.

I’m going to spend time these next few days looking for the America in my heart. It may be a while before I see it anywhere else.

UPDATE On the bright side though, Bush will now have to be accountable for everything he's done. I am glad Kerry doesnt have to deal with the mess in Iraq or with terrible fiscal situation.

PS: I hope no downcast liberal starts to diss Kerry. For someone with 1/100th the political skills of a Bill Clinton, the no:1 liberal in the senate (and from massachussets at that) ran a superb campaign and came very close to unseating a self-described war president. He did the best he could, but clearly that wasnt enough. Thats just tough luck.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Four more years 

It's beginning to look like the Americans will be going through four more years. Is Michael Moore working on his next film already?

Tonight's (somewhat stunning, in the face of the exit poll data) results, coupled with the results from the global vote that Reuben wrote about earlier, show just how much at odds American interests and worldviews are with those of the rest of the world.

It now remains to be seen whether, as some conservatives have guardedly predicted, a second term manages to fundamentally change the American way of life.

All over? 

The fat lady has stepped up to the mike, but she's not singing yet. I am quite stunned by how hopelessly wrong the exil polls and the final tracking polls were. Pretty similar to what happened in India, I guess. That said, hopefully Kerry wont give up just yet and will wait until the fat lady starts to sing.

In the meanwhile, Fox has called Ohio for Bush and will probably call the presidency for Bush pretty soon in tactics eerily similar to what happened in 2000. At least, New Hampshire went Democratic this time. This means the liberal north east coast can now safely secede. Maybe the West Coast can join us too.


Kerry Bush

PA 53 46
FL 51 49
NC 48 52
OH 51 49
MO 46 54
AR 47 53
MI 51 47
NM 50 49
LA 43 56
CO 48 51
AZ 45 55
MN 54 44
WI 52 47
IA 49 49

UPDATE Bush wins Kentucky, Georgia and Indiana. Kerry wins Vermont. No surprises.

UPDATE Bush wins West Virginia. There goes a state that Dukakis won. No surprise though.

UPDATE Kerry wins New Jersey and Connecticut. So much for NJ being close.

Early exit polls 

Please take with a sack of salt, but here are the first set of exit polls as leaked to the media.

Kerry - Bush
AZ 45-55
CO 48-51
LA 42-57
MI 51-48
WI 52-48
PA 60-40
OH 52-48
FL 51-48
MICH 51-47
NM 50-48
MINN 58-40
WISC 52-43
IOWA 49-49
NH 57-41

This is extremely good news and incredibly surprising, really. Lets see if this keeps up until the evening, when the polls close.


For those following the electoral college vote game, check out Electoral-Vote.com, featured in today's New York Times. The man behind the site is Andrew Tanenbaum - reputed professor of computer science, author of standard textbooks on operating systems and computer networks, and U.S. citizen. Although Tanenbaum's political leanings are Democratic, I think the projections can be relied on to be non-partisan. (Pre-posting it since Reuben's numbers are fresher).

I think America deserves better. I want America to be respected in the world again, and John Kerry can restore the respect America deserves.

Don't believe me that the world hates us? The Guardian, one of Britain's most respected newspapers, ran a column by Charlie Brooker last week ending with this paragaph: "On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod's law dictates he'll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed ..." Then it gets so bad that I refuse to quote it. Maybe Brooker is a nut and maybe it was a joke, but the fact that a serious newspaper would publish this piece shows how deep the hatred of George Bush runs. And this comes from our closest ally. Imagine what people in Spain or Indonesia or the Arab world think.

But there are some practical matters to consider as well. If you look at British and Canadian publications, such as The BBC, The Guardian, The Economist, and The Globe and Mail, you get a picture not colored by partisan electoral considerations. You sometimes wonder if they are reporting the same war as the U.S. media. The situation in Iraq has deteriorated very badly. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in the war, mostly women and children. Well over 1000 American soldiers--many of them just kids who signed up for the National Guard and never expected to go to war--have been killed there and thousands more have been maimed for life. Americans are being killed daily in increasing numbers and unless there is a radical change, this will go on for years. Reenlistment rates are way down and manpower needs are way up. With a President Kerry, there is hope that other countries might contribute serious numbers of troops to help stabilize Iraq. With a second Bush administration they will just say: "You broke it, you fix it."

Go Kerry!

Monday, November 01, 2004

The Global Vote 

On the eve of the U.S. elections, Global Vote have announced the results of their online poll conducted among non-American netizens to find who the world's choice for U.S. president would be. As you may have guessed, Kerry won the vote with an overwhelming majority, winning 77.1% of the vote compared with George Bush's 9%. Cobb gets 3.8% of the vote whereas Nader picks up 6.7% of the vote. In Asia, Kerry wins 75.9% of the vote. Funnily enough, the one place on earth outside of America where Bush is viewed kindly is the Middle East, where Kerry wins by a slim margin -- 45.6% to 37%.

The discrepancy in the way the world views the Bush presidency and the way Americans view his presidency is truly inexplicable. Let's hope there are many more people who vote tomorrow who share the global perspective on the Bush presidency.