Sunday, March 26, 2006

Firefox Growing Up 

In the early days of Firefox, I used to keep track of Firefox users on this blog. It went up rapidly in the first few months and then evened out to hold steady at between 20% to 30% of readers, compared to about 6% on a worldwide basis. I find it very surprising that so many people, including many ZS readers, haven't even heard of Firefox, given how superior it is compared to Internet Explorer. Add the awesome FF extensions and there is no competition whatsoever, IMHO. Nonetheless, people respond to incentives and so, I thought I'd toss some in here, to encourage many more of you to switch to Firefox. Here, via the amazing Boing Boing, is a sneak preview of the next major Firefox release. What's your excuse now?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Chirac Suffers From a Bout of Irrelevanceitis 

There is nothing more annoying that a formerly big-ticket nation refusing to accept that ground realities have changed and that the sun has more or less set on their imagined greatness. This disease, which I call irrelevanceitis, is typified by the protagonists making up with bombast, narrow chauvinism, and exaggerated nationalism what they lack in terms of real clout. Of course, noone typifies this attitude more than some Parisians and none more so that Jacques Chirac. Here's his latest stunt, courtesy of the BBC.
French President Jacques Chirac showed his temper at the EU summit when a French business leader addressed delegates in English. He stormed out of a session when Ernest-Antoine Seilliere said he chose English "because that is the accepted business language of Europe today". Mr Chirac told reporters on Friday he was "deeply shocked" that a Frenchman chose to address the summit in English.
There you have it: a case of irrelevanceitis that fits all the classic symptoms. This is not to say that only the French suffer from the disease. 50 years of moral high-groundism displayed by India, especially through that classic of irrelevanceitis, the Non-Alignment Movement, is another great example. The perfect analogy would be a small yap dog (think poodle, chihuahua etc) which is all bark and no bite.

I digress. Chirac bashing is so much more fun. So, here we have the French president getting his knickers into a twist over something meaningless like someone's choice of language, while on the streets of France, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are protesting (at times, violently) against the French government and its new labour laws. Serves as a reminder that utterly misplaced priorities are not a uniqely Indian trait. While we're at it, will someone also explain to me why it is that France is still a permanent member of the security council?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Wondering Minstrels and Ogden Nash 

The Wondering Minstrels is a poetry-by-email service run by two of my friends: ZS blogger Abraham Thomas, and ZS reader Martin D'Mello DeMello (sorry, Zem). You sign up to receive a poem a day, with some random trivia and analysis thrown in, for good measure. Since it was set up in 1999, Minstrels has well over 2,000 subscribers, so you should consider being one of them. If nothing else, you will on occasion receive an Ogden Nash poem, which will brighten your day immeasurably, as this one did mine. Here's Nash's "The Hunter", courtesy of the Wondering Minstrels.
The hunter crouches in his blind
'Neath camouflage of every kind
And conjures up a quacking noise
To lend allure to his decoys.
This grown-up man, with pluck and luck
Is hoping to outwit a duck.

-- Ogden Nash

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The NYT Gets It Wrong 

Last week, I had made a post about Ali Shalal Qaissi, who according to the New York Times was the hooded and wired prisoner that came to represent the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. On Saturday, the Times corrected itself and admitted that they got the Qaissi story wrong, something Salon had alleged from Monday night, when the NYT story first ran. I have linked to all the stories, so you can come to your own conclusion. I suppose I should apologize for not having linked to the Salon story earlier. To paraphrase God's Final Message to His Creation, I apologize for the inconvenience!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Rajan/Subramanian on the Bangalore Bug 

Raghuram Rajan and Arvind Subramanian of the IMF have written an excellent op-ed in the Financial Times in which they diagnose a new problem, one they call the Bangalore Bug, and one whose symptoms have been addressed several times on this blog. I've reproduced the piece almost in full since I figured most of you would want to read the whole thing.
Rising wages reflect, in no small measure, productivity increases as Indian manufacturing and services become globally competitive. Short-term concerns about inflation are thus mitigated. But the wage increases also reflect India's unique pattern of development, which has created a relative scarcity of skilled labour. This prompts concerns about the medium term: the rising fortunes of the skilled sector may limit the vitality of industries that employ the unskilled and uneducated. It is a conundrum that one might term the "Bangalore bug", after the country's high-technology centre.

Since the 1980s, a unitary India - centralised politically and uniformly mediocre in economic performance - has given way to multiple Indias with performance more related to the capabilities of individual states. Peninsular India, including states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, has grown rapidly. The hinterland, with states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, has lagged behind. The divergence relates not just to growth but to patterns of specialisation. Policy choices emphasising university education over basic education and capital-intensive manufacturing over labour-intensive manufacturing have bequeathed a strange legacy. The fast-growing states are increasingly specialising in skill-based services (information technology, finance and telecommunications) and skill-based manufacturing (petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals).

A big question is how the lagging states, with their large populations and attendant political power, can catch up. India's primary and secondary education system, as well as its labour laws, need serious attention if the benefits of the recent dynamism are to be widely shared. Reforms in these areas, along with improvements in governance and infrastructure, are necessary to attract investment and create jobs. However, even if all these reforms - on the need for which there is consensus among Indian policy economists, although not politicians - are implemented, there is another concern. Recall Dutch disease, which is about the competitive squeeze exerted on one tradeable sector (manufacturing) as a result of wage increases stemming from the rising fortunes of another (typically oil). The Bangalore bug is the contemporary Indian variant, with skill-based services substituting for oil.

Textile plants need supervisors. Bicycle factories need designers. They both require managers. Yet these are the very people whose wages are being bid up sharply, squeezing the profitability of labour-intensive and tradeable manufacturing, with its wafer-thin profit margins in an era of global competition. Thus, highly productive skill-based development in the fast-growing states, while beneficial for the nation, may indirectly undermine the profitability and growth of labour-intensive manufacturing in the others. Moreover, the rise in skilled wages also leads to an exodus of scarce skilled labour from the states lagging behind to the fast-growing ones.
What is the way out?
The obvious solution is not to impede the growth of the fast movers but to enhance the availability of the resource in scarce supply. The strong growth in particular sectors requires India to continue to foster the supply of skilled labour, even while redressing the past neglect of primary and secondary education. Fortunately, tertiary education does not require more government resources. Instead, the government needs to remove the barriers that prevent foreigners and locals from starting new institutions, while improving accreditation procedures and disclosure standards. It should not encumber private institutions with onerous conditions and it should allow government-aided institutions to raise resources by charging students a reasonable fee. This means overcoming a number of vested interests. The irony of the Bangalore bug is that to create opportunities to benefit the poor and the unskilled, India may in fact have to produce more skilled workers.

Investing in India: A 20/20 Perspective 

The South Asia Business Association (SABA) at Columbia Business School is organizing a conference on April 14th, titled Investing in India: A 20/20 Perspective. The keynote speeches are by Sam Pitroda and Kanwal Rekhi of TiE. Other speakers include Jagdish Bhagwati, Rajesh Hukku of Iflex, Joydeep Mukherji of S&P, Sanjeev Sanyal of Deutsche Bank, Anjali Kumar of Acumen Fund, David Good of the TATA group, Sreedhar Menon, chairman of Viteos capital markets, and Ajay Sharma, the director of Merill Lynch’s Pvt Equity Group. There are panels on capital markets, private equity and social enterprise, among others. If you’re in the NYC area on the 14th and have an interest in investing in India (in any form), I’d urge you to attend. You can register for the conference here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The India BOP Story in the Post 

Over at the Indian Economy Blog, Naveen Mandava links to a story in the Washington Post by John Lancaster, where he offers up some more proof of the spread of economic growth to rural India. In this case, the drivers of the spread into BOP markets are MNCs and the story will be familiar to those of you that are familiar with C.K.Prahalad's or Stuart Hart's work.
Hindustan Lever is not alone in recognizing the vast potential for profits in rural India. As urban markets become saturated, more businesses are retooling their marketing strategies, and in many cases their products, to target rural consumers with tiny incomes but rising aspirations fueled by the media and other forces, according to experts. Companies are offering many products, from single-use shampoo packets that sell for less than a penny to $340 motor scooters available for monthly payments as low as $4.50. Banks are targeting first-time customers with $10-minimum-deposit savings accounts. Cellular phone companies are upgrading rural networks while offering monthly plans for as little as $3.40.

"In four to five years the rural market will be a major sector that is well beyond anyone's imagination," said Rajesh Shukla, principal economist for the National Council of Applied Economic Research in New Delhi. "Nobody was expecting this was going to happen."
As Naveen says, all this is happening despite high transaction costs caused by the lack of any real institutional of physical infrastructure, not to mention government apathy. The mind boggles at what may be possible if the govt made a concerted effort to build the infrastructure instead of pouring tax-payer money down the drain chasing after chimeras like the REGS.

Invite to Exclusive Screening at Stanford University 

My good friend and regular ZS reader, Anand Chandrasekharan, is the executive producer of "Carma", a new film that's been doing the rounds of the indie film festival circuit. He sent this invite to all ZS readers in the Bay Area who want to attend an exclusive screening of the movie at Stanford. You do have to RSVP to ensure your place at the screening. This was Anand's note:
Carma is my first film as executive producer and is directed by self-taught filmmaker (and concert pianist/Stanford Ph.D Ray Arthur Wang). At 81 minutes, Carma features Academy Award Nominee Karen Black as the voice of the main character. CARMA is a chilling tale about a CAR haunted by a psychopathic killer’s dead MA. Carma's last prestige festival stop was Cinequest Film Festival alumni 2005 (one of the Top 10 U.S. Independent Film Festivals), and after it was one of the Highlight Films at the Delray Beach Film Festival. Its next stop is the Bare Bones International Film Festival (one of the Best Truly Independent Film Festivals) 2006.

Below are the details of the screening - we hope you can come.

Stanford Young Alumni association presents: An exclusive screening/Post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew.

April 14, 2006 | 8 PM
Fisher Hall, Arillaga Alumni Center, Stanford University. Map and Directions. For more details, go here.

Carma trailer.
Teaser trailer.
"Making of" documentary.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The Asha Open Quiz Returns 

The 4th annual Asha open quiz has just been announced. It will be held on Saturday, 1st April at Rutgers University. The details:
Calling all quizzers! If you live in the northeastern USA, if you're bored with TV game shows like Jeopardy and WWTBAM, and if you want to revisit some hardcore trivia quizzing, this message is for you. The Central-NJ chapter of Asha for Education is holding their fourth annual trivia quiz festival at the campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.

The event runs from 9am to 4pm on Saturday, 01 April 2006. There are two quizzes, one for schoolchildren (grades 6 to 12, teams of 2) and one for adults (open, teams of 2 or 3). More information can be found in the email flyer at the bottom of this message, and at the event website where you can register for the quiz online.

Asha for Education
is a non-profit action group that supports basic education for underprivileged children in India. You can support Asha by taking part in the quiz, or in many other ways; visit their website for more details.
As in recent years, the quizmaster is Zoo Station blogger, Abraham Thomas. Mark the date in your calendars.

The Jyllands-Posten Cartoons 

There have been no posts on Zoo Station about the ongoing Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy, but this has not been for lack of interest. Indeed, over recent weeks a few friends of mine, who also happen to be regular readers of and occasional contributors to ZS, have been exchanging dozens of emails on the issue. I wrote the following essay as part of this email thread, and Reuben suggested I post it on his blog.

Background reading for those who haven't been following the story in full glorious Technicolor: Wikipedia has a typically comprehensive article with a detailed timeline. The Economist's summary of events is shorter but still very informative. On the op-ed side of things, the Economist and Slate talk about the importance of free speech, while Abbas Raza seeks to understand the point of view of the protesters. Svend White provides some background on Danish society, Tabish Khair speaks up on behalf of moderate Muslims, and Lindsay Beyerstein points out the role of xenophobic opportunists (on both sides of the debate) in inflaming the issue. The web has many many more articles on the controversy; if you want more, Google is your friend.

The email thread that I mentioned above started with the news that David Irving, a particularly loathsome revisionist historian, had been sentenced by an Austrian court to three years in prison for the crime of denying the Holocaust. I found it telling that the European press, many of whose members lost no time in reprinting the Muhammad cartoons in the name of 'freedom of expression', were curiously shy about defending Mr. Irving's right to the same freedom. A respondent put forth a number of explanations why this was not an unreasonable stance: Europe's unique history with anti-Semitism; the difference between objective facts and subjective reporting; the difference between text (which states), and cartoons (which merely suggest); and so on. This prompted my essay in reply, which begins now.

Since a lot of the discussion to date has focused on freedom of expression, I'm going to start by laying out my own view on that subject. I believe that freedom of expression is an absolute. No ifs, no buts. No exceptions for any reason whatsoever. So, the J-P folks have every right to publish inflammatory cartoons, and David Irving has every right to deny the holocaust, and Mariah Carey has every right to sing. I may not like any of the above expressions, but that's neither here nor there; the right of the J-P editors, Irving and Carey to express themselves freely trumps my personal likes or dislikes.

[Mind you, just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you have to do it. Amit raised a similar point in a private email about 'etiquette' being necessary to the smooth functioning of civil society. That's why it's called civil society.]

So what about instances like shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre? Well, I'm going to take an absolutist stance, and say that even that action, irresponsible though it is, should be protected by freedom of expression. No exceptions, remember? BUT, and this is important, I think there are other laws that can be brought to bear here: 'reckless endangerment' springs to mind. Similarly, someone who incites an angry mob to lynch an innocent victim may have his expression protected, but could (and should) be prosecuted for 'culpable homicide'. And so on.

[Sameer suggested something similar, with his notion of separate laws addressing free expression, property damage, and being accessory to or inciting said property damage.]

For this reason I strongly disagree with the Austrian law banning holocaust denial per se (i.e., banning it as an explicit exception to freedom of expression). Martin's Belgian officemate says that in Belgium, holocaust denial falls under the category of 'treason', which seems like a better approach: penalizing the offense on grounds orthogonal to the issue of freedom of expression. (In the interests of full disclosure, I also have to say I'm deeply uncomfortable with the entire notion of 'treason' as an actionable crime, in this day and age. But maybe that's just me).

Clearly, this is just one (fairly libertarian) take on the issue of freedom of expression. I happily concede that there are other equally coherent or at any rate justifiable views on the subject. Having cleared up where I stand, however, let's move on and ask, what does freedom of expression have to do with the J-P cartoon controversy? The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

This, to me, is the most annoying aspect of the J-P case: the way it has become conflated with the issue of freedom of expression. Utter nonsense, of course; the Muslims who protested against the cartoons were not protesting freedom of expression, they were protesting the insulting depiction of their faith in the said cartoons. This is no different from the NAACP or the ADL protesting outside the offices of the National Vanguard newspaper, or pro-life groups protesting outside clinics that distribute abortion literature.

Yes, some of the above-mentioned protests have occasionally spilled over into violence, and the perpetrators of this violence should be (or should have been) brought to book. No question about that. But none of these protests were against freedom of expression per se. Nobody argues that pro-life protesters are "fundamentally incompatible with western values of freedom of expression" [sic], yet that was precisely the argument made with respect to the Muslim protesters. The western media almost universally interpreted the J-P protests as a freedom of expression issue -- which it wasn't.

And now we come to David Irving. To my way of thinking, Irving's conviction of the 'crime' of holocaust denial is a greater threat to freedom of expression than the Muslim protests against the J-P cartoons, simply because in Irving's case it was a government that curtailed his expression. And government intervention into free expression, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to be far more pernicious (in the long run) than private protests. What's justified as 'protection of minority rights' or 'prevention of treason' today could just as easily turn into mere authoritarianism tomorrow; this is the slippery slope we stand upon.

Even from a purely consequentialist standpoint (the 'other laws' such as reckless endangerment that I mention above), I think it's clear that Irving's holocaust denial was likely to cause far less damage to society as a whole than the J-P cartoons. Irving has been publishing nutty articles for ages, and by and large people have learned to ignore him. The J-P cartoons, on the other hand, were self-avowedly provocative in nature, at a time when relations between Europe's Muslims and Christians are fraught, to say the least.

Now, as I stated before, I think Irving should have the right to deny the holocaust, if that's what he wants to do. Likewise, the J-P editors should have the right to publish inflammatory cartoons, if that's what they want to do. And I should have the right to protest both Irving and the J-P, if that's what I want to do. But, and here's the crux: if the European newspapers are going to interpret the J-P protests as attacks on freedom of expression, then they should do the same for the Irving sentence. If anything, as I have argued above, the Irving sentence was a worse assault on freedom of expression than the J-P protests. Yet the European media's defence of Irving's freedom to write what he wants was conspicuous by its absence. This, I claim, is a clear example of double standards, and I have yet to see an argument to convince me otherwise.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star Reworked 

The Ad Council has come up with an interesting new ad to promote math and science for girls. They had placed the ad in today's NYT. It involves replacing the lyrics to an old rhyme.
Twinkle, twinkle little star
You're a ball of gas that's very far.
32 light years in the sky
10 parsecs which is really high.
Helium, Carbon and Hy-dro-gen
Fuse to make our starry friend.
When it enters supernova stage
It explodes with bursts of rays.
And if the star's mass is big and bold
It will become a black hole!
Not bad, huh?

Who Is This Man? 

Does this face ring a bell?

Not really, because the only time you've seen him before is in this picture.

The New Tork Times has more about Ali Shalal Qaissi, whose hooded and wired figure has to come to symbolize all the excesses and abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Correlation and Causality 

Veer Bothra of Mobile Pundit (a must-read blog) posts an e-mail exchange in which Atanu Dey explains brilliantly well something that all of us, especially those of us with an interest in policy, should keep in mind: the difference between correlation and causality.
Correlation and causation are not the same thing. If you observe there is a relationship between the shoe size of a person and the size of his vocabulary – and note that there is a positive correlation in that the larger the shoe size, the larger the vocabulary – then you could falsely reason that having big feet causes larger vocabulary. The two are correlated but not causally related. There are other variables: older children have bigger feet and also bigger vocabularies.

There are lots of correlated variables in the world. Some of these correlations have causal connections as well. In some cases the direction of causation is evident, and in some cases it is difficult to figure out. In some other cases, the causation could be bi-directional. For instance, number of forest fires in a month and average temperatures of the month are positively correlated. It is easy to see that hot weather causes forest fires, and not the other way around–forest fires do not raise the average temperature of the month.

Now suppose we note the positive correlation between the presense of riot police and riots. Again the direction is easy to spot: clearly, riot police do not cause riots; riots cause riot police to appear. Or the presense of firemen and fires: fires cause firemen to appear, rather than the other way around. Now bidirectional causal links: chicken and eggs. Chickens causes eggs; but eggs cause chickens as well. So which is the cause and which the effect? That is the most famous chicken and egg problem: which came first? The vicious cycle is similar. If you are poor, you cannot good education; if you are not well educated, you cannot get a good job and hence you are poor, and so on. Or if you are poor, you cannot afford nutritious food and therefore your health is poor and so you cannot hold on to a good job and therefore you are poor, etc.

Now cell phones and growth in GDP is positively correlated. For every 1 percent increase in teledensity, the GDP growth rate goes up 0.6 percent. (Figures for illustration only.) It is not easy to tease out which direction the causal relationship is, if at all there is a causal relationship. There need not be a causal relationship, merely a correlation. For instance, more cell phones and more GDP could be both due to the underlying factor that the country has suddenly become very very successful in BPO services. Even if cell phones adoption and GDP growth rates are causally related, it is not at all evident which way the causality holds: it could be that GDP growth increased per capita incomes so that people could afford phones; or it could be the other way around, that more people having phones made them more productive and this pushed up the GDP. Or both.
In my opinion, it is the lack of understanding of this difference which leads people to waste so much time and resources fixing problems like the digital divide (which assumes a causal relationship between telecom and economic growth in developing countries, with scant evidence), when in fact those resources could be used so much more efficiently in public health or primary education.

In other news, Dr James Reese is hosting Atanu and my friend and co-blogger, Edward Hugh in a Radio Economics segment on the Indian Economy.
Topics covered include: Indian development options; should India be treated as a single country; should India concentrate on services as an engine of growth; the role of public education in economic development; what role should the Indian government play in economic development, and what is their current 5 year plan; and prospects for the next 10 years.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Some Post-Oscar Thoughts 

So the Academy thinks that Crash was the best mainstream flick of 2005. Well, it's not a bad choice and there are plenty of good things to say about the movie. Me, I liked both Syriana and Munich better, but I have a soft spot for movies with ensemble acting and interlocking storylines and for this reason I won't complain about Crash's win. I rate Crash at a notch below my two favourite movies in this (relatively modern) genre — Robert Altman's Short Cuts and P. T. Anderson's Magnolia — perhaps at about the same level as Ray Lawrence's Australian movie Lantana. What pulls Crash that one notch down is that it doesn't quite develop the third dimension of its many characters. Short Cuts and Magnolia solve this problem by having generous three-hour runtimes and Lantana solves it by having a smaller ensemble of interlocking stories.

The above doesn't address the best new release I saw in 2005: Oliver Hirschbiegel's Der Untergang (English title: Downfall), an ultra-powerful film about Hitler's final days in his bunker that left me stunned, literally. Strictly speaking, this is a 2004 film that happened to get a U.S. release in 2005.

Where does this leave that other much-talked-about 2005 film, Brokeback Mountain? I haven't seen it yet, and I hope to correct that soon, but I note that there is something about the film that seems to inspire parodies of all sorts! In no particular order:
And here I end this somewhat rambling post and invite your comments.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Philanthropy Everywhere 

Philanthropy seems to be the flavour of the month everywhere. Not a minute too soon, might I add. Two weeks back, the Economist carried a superb survey of wealth of philanthropy, each and every story of which is worth reading. A couple of days back, the Financial Times carried a story on the titans of global philanthropy today, Bill and Melinda Gates. Read both the survey and the FT piece, if you can. It's well worth it.

More on the Kerala Alien Landing 

A couple of days back, I had promised Kuldeep and others that I would post excerpts from the New Scientist cover story since it was behind a subscription wall. I haven't been able to do so, since I have been on the road. In my mind, irrespective of whether or not the Kerala red rain/bacteria story is true, the New Scientist story remains one of the most fascinating science stories I have read in recent times. Since most of you already know the details, I'll jump straight to the relevant excerpts.
Louis, a solid-state physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, was intrigued and decided to study the rain with his student Santhosh Kumar. The pair compiled more than 120 reports of the rain from local newspapers and other sources, and gathered samples of the red rain from spots more than 100 kilometres apart. Under the microscope, they could see red particles 4 to 10 micrometres wide with an average density of about 9 million particles per millilitre. When they dried the samples they found that each cubic metre of rainwater contained about 100 grams of the red stuff. Louis suggests 5 millimetres of red rain would typically have fallen over a square-kilometre area during each of about 100 downpours. That would make 500,000 cubic metres of water in total, containing a staggering 50 tonnes of red particles. What could they be? One possibility was that fine red sand had blown over Kerala from some distant desert. Sand can travel amazingly far.
But under the microscope, the red particles that rained on Kerala were clearly not sand. Electron micrographs show that they are shaped like biological cells. "They don't look anything like sand, they look biological," says Monica Grady, a meteorite expert at the UK's Open University in Milton Keynes. The cells, if that's what they are, are mostly cup-shaped and have a thick wall. One type of analysis shows their chemical make-up is about 50 per cent carbon and 45 per cent oxygen by weight, along with traces of other elements such as sodium and iron. That's consistent with the components of a biological cell, according to Jeffrey Walker, a molecular biologist from the University of Colorado in Boulder. But although many of the cells have some kind of detached inner capsule, there is no visible cell nucleus, and tests for DNA that Louis carried out came back negative.

Louis rules out a distant terrestrial source for the mysterious particles, because the red rain was concentrated over Kerala for two months despite changes in climate and wind patterns. Could the cells instead be local pollen or fungal spores washed off trees and houses by the rain? Louis says no, because red rain was collected in buckets placed in wide-open spaces. Equally, he says, the red particles can't be pollen or spores from the ground that accumulated in the atmosphere, because the rain would then have been red at the start of a shower; often the colour came later.

Instead, he links the coloured rain to a meteor airburst. During the early hours of 25 July 2001, just hours before the first red rain fell, several people in the Kottayam district heard a loud sonic boom that made their houses rattle. Louis has interviewed some of those who heard it, and concluded that it was too loud to have been an ordinary thunderclap. It's possible that an incoming meteor exploded in the atmosphere.
What other explanations are there? Wainwright likens the red cells to spores from a rust fungus, or possibly pollen or algae. With Wickramasinghe and others, Wainwright has shown in balloon experiments that winds can carry microbes from the ground to high altitudes. Particles the size of those in the red rain could soar several kilometres above the Earth's surface. The dimpled shape could easily have arisen when the cells collapsed in the microscopy process. If that were true, he says, then the only mystery concerns the lack of DNA. "You wouldn 't expect spores, microbes or algae not to have any DNA," he says. The simplest explanation is that Louis's experiments missed it, so Wainwright wants to repeat the tests. If the cells do turn out to contain DNA, then there is no great mystery. "I'd kind of relax if there was DNA there," says Wainwright.

If there is no DNA, Wainwright argues, the cells might be something extraordinary. He speculates, like Louis, that the lack of DNA might point to some kind of exotic life form, although he admits it would be paradoxical for cells without DNA to be classed as "living". Cockell argues that there could be a simpler explCanation - the red particles are actually blood. "They look like red blood cells to me," he says. The size fits just right; red blood cells are normally about 6 to 8 micrometres wide. They are naturally dimpled just like the red rain particles. What's more, mammalian red blood cells contain no DNA because they don't have a cell nucleus.

It's tough to explain, however, how 50 tonnes of mammal blood could have ended up in rain clouds. Cockell takes a wild guess that maybe a meteor explosion massacred a flock of bats, splattering their blood in all directions. India is home to around 100 species of bats, which sometimes fly to altitudes of 3 kilometres or more. "A giant flock of bats is actually a possibility - maybe a meteor airburst occurred during a bat migration," he says. "But one would have to wonder where the bat wings are." Walker agrees that the particles in the red rain look uncannily like red blood cells. He says a simple test for haemoglobin could resolve this quickly. "If they believe they aren't red blood cells, then they need to explain how they 've managed to eliminate that possibility," says Cockell. "I would have thought some more basic biochemical analysis of these cells would be worthwhile, and that should identify it, whatever it is."

"It's a pity that they don't realise this is interesting without all the extraterrestrial hype," Cockell adds. "How might you get blood into rain? I don't think anyone has observed an event where they've seen an animal ripped apart and its blood distributed in clouds. In some ways, that whole process is far more interesting than what Louis is trying to prove." For blood cells to survive would be astonishing: normally they would be destroyed within minutes if kept in rainwater, unless the salinity was the same as inside the blood cell.
And then comes the most extraordinary claim of all.
Someone will have to verify an observation that Louis made which even he finds astonishing: that the cells replicate. In earlier unpublished papers, Louis says he cultured the red rain cells in unconventional nutrients, such as cedar wood oil, and showed that these DNA-devoid microbes divide happily at a temperature of 300 °C. Louis admits he left these claims out of his latest paper because he thought they would be considered "too extraordinary".
I'll justify the amount of space on this blog devoted to this story using a quote from the story.
Extraordinary is an understatement: if the cells really do replicate we'll have found the first evidence of extraterrestrial life. In the end, though, I didn't find any scientist willing to bet that the red rain of Kerala contained aliens. But everyone agreed it's a cracking good story that's crying out for a proper explanation. "I think you've got to be intrigued," said Wainwright. "If you're not intrigued, then what are you doing in science?"
And I am not even IN science.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Extra! Extra! Aliens Land in Kerala! 

Firstly, thanks Sanjay for both pointing to this story and for letting me plunder your title as well. This is one of the wildest stories I have heard in recent times, and if true, it'll get even more amazing. Sanjay posted links to both the Guardian and Indian Express versions of this story and I'll excerpt from both, starting with the Guardian.
There is a small bottle containing a red fluid on a shelf in Sheffield University's microbiology laboratory. The liquid looks cloudy and uninteresting. Yet, if one group of scientists is correct, the phial contains the first samples of extraterrestrial life isolated by researchers.

Inside the bottle are samples left over from one of the strangest incidents in recent meteorological history. On 25 July, 2001, blood-red rain fell over the Kerala district of western India. And these rain bursts continued for the next two months. All along the coast it rained crimson, turning local people's clothes pink, burning leaves on trees and falling as scarlet sheets at some points.

Investigations suggested the rain was red because winds had swept up dust from Arabia and dumped it on Kerala. But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, after gathering samples left over from the rains, concluded this was nonsense. 'If you look at these particles under a microscope, you can see they are not dust, they have a clear biological appearance.' Instead Louis decided that the rain was made up of bacteria-like material that had been swept to Earth from a passing comet. In short, it rained aliens over India during the summer of 2001.

Not everyone is convinced by the idea, of course. Indeed most researchers think it is highly dubious. One scientist who posted a message on Louis's website described it as 'bullshit'. But a few researchers believe Louis may be on to something and are following up his work. Milton Wainwright, a microbiologist at Sheffield, is now testing samples of Kerala's red rain. 'It is too early to say what's in the phial,' he said. 'But it is certainly not dust. Nor is there any DNA there, but then alien bacteria would not necessarily contain DNA.'

Critical to Louis's theory is the length of time the red rain fell on Kerala. Two months is too long for it to have been wind-borne dust, he says. In addition, one analysis showed the particles were 50 per cent carbon, 45 per cent oxygen with traces of sodium and iron: consistent with biological material. Louis also discovered that, hours before the first red rain fell, there was a loud sonic boom that shook houses in Kerala. Only an incoming meteorite could have triggered such a blast, he claims. This had broken from a passing comet and shot towards the coast, shedding microbes as it travelled. These then mixed with clouds and fell with the rain.
The Indian Express points to some parts of the scientific community that take this story seriously.
When he first came up with this theory in 2003, it was expected to die quickly but now an international journal, Astrophysics and Space Science, has accepted his paper. And New Scientist, in its latest issue, has a cover story ‘It’s raining aliens’ in which it has spoken to several scientists on Louis’s theory.
The international scientific community agrees that what fell was biological—the cell structure is unmistakable but there is no consensus on where it came from.
Louis suggests that the meteor was a fragment of a comet carrying microbes from space. The meteor burst shedding these alien microbes in the upper atmosphere. Some of the red microbes mixed with rain clouds and fell immediately, while the rest settled into clouds and fell in rain over the following weeks.
And here's the New Scientist cover story on the alien landing in Kerala, should you want to read it at source.

There's plenty of physics/astro types among ZS readers. What do you guys think? Plausible? April Fool's joke a month early? Of course, after addressing these mundane issues, we can move to the more sublime question, namely why did the aliens choose Kerala to land in? Reverse migration? Or maybe that god either doesn't exist or that she has an exquisite sense of humour? We'll get to that.

UPDATE: The New Scientist is behind a subscription wall, so if you want the full story, send me a note and I'll send it to you. You can also read Godfrey Louis's full paper here.

The Economist on India's Economy 

I was thinking of writing something up on the budget and its ramifications, when I came across the Economist's superb analysis of India's economy. It does not specifically discuss the budget, but nonetheless provides an excellent macro view of the economy. The big news, of course, is the savings and investment rates, which have grown to 29% and 31% respectively.
His (Chidambaram's) budget was able to include big spending increases and a return to fiscal prudence. Last year, mindful of promises to spend more on relieving poverty and on health, education and infrastructure, Mr Chidambaram suspended efforts towards fiscal correction, though the outcome was not as bad as he feared. The central government's deficit rose only fractionally, to 4.1% of GDP. When India's state governments are added in, the overall government deficit climbs sharply, to an expected 7.7% of GDP in the present year. But, at the turn of the decade, it was hovering around 10%, so even fiscal hawks congratulated Mr Chidambaram.
Mr Chidambaram himself lists four main threats to the economy: high oil prices, rising interest rates, external shocks and “the temptation to stray from the path of fiscal prudence”. The government has not passed the full impact of rising oil prices on to consumers. The IMF has estimated the cost of this, mostly borne by state oil companies, as 0.5% of annual GDP in the first half of this fiscal year.

Partly for this reason, inflation, at around 5% a year, remains subdued. Despite this, the Reserve Bank (the central bank) raised interest rates in January. This will help contain the expansion of bank credit, which in the year ending March 2005 was the fastest in Asia, at more than 30%, and of economic growth itself. Indeed, according to figures released this week, the economy is already slowing slightly—to an annualised rate of 7.6% in the last quarter of 2005. This will ease the pressure on India's current account, which after three years of modest surplus is now back in deficit—by as much as 4.6% of GDP in the third quarter of last year.

But the IMF also noted that India's large reserves of foreign exchange ($133 billion) [Ed: The true number is $140 billion] and its capital controls provide a buffer. The bigger danger may turn out to be that India misses opportunities. The present boom should offer the chance for a more rapid fiscal clean-up. Obvious candidates for reform are the inefficient price subsidies—on food and fertiliser as well as petroleum products—that take up 10% of current expenditure.
Not to mention the infrastructure deficit. At some point, India's growth will be hampered by the problems of infrastructure. So, if the government is serious about 10% growth, it's time for them to roll out the red carpet for foreign investment into core infrastructure, since it clearly cannot come up with the resources itself. Just to give you some idea of the capital requirements, India's electricity deficit right now is about 120,000 MW. Assume about $1 million per MW of electricity and you begin to get an idea about the sums of money required. Now add in roads, ports, waste mgmt, airports, railways etc and you see the serious capital constraints at work.

Free This Week! Free This Week! 

The Financial Times is, IMHO, the best business and finance focused newspaper out there. Maybe I think that way because the WSJ (another excellent newspaper) can at times say things that offend my sensibilities. Anyways, the FT's online version is available for free this week. Read, and spread the word. Maybe, if they see a large enough spike in readership, they might be persuaded to sacrifice their subscription revenues for increased ad revenues. Yes, and pigs might fly too.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Invention du Jour: Techie Timepass 

What on earth is this, you ask?

The Seattle Times provides the answer.
(Ramesh) Sarin, a Microsoft researcher, created a wooden box with what looks like an old maritime compass on it. No matter where he goes in Seattle, the box's needle points to the nearest Starbucks. The box contains a GPS antenna, a magnetometer and a computerized list of Starbucks locations in Seattle.
Errmmm, ok. It may even prove useful when I face a crisis like this. How about a Nano version though, for convenience?

Shekhar Gupta on India's Changed Batting Order 

As has been pointed out on this blog before, the standards of Indian news media has been plummeting from bad to abysmal. The one exception has been Indian Express Delhi, which I still enjoy reading. The reason for IE's standards has to be the stewardship of Shekhar Gupta, who I consider to be the finest journalist/editor in India. A terrific example of Shekhar's work is this analysis of the Bush visit and the nuclear deal, which appeared in the Indian Express a couple of days back. He starts by calling a spade a spade.
The direct gains from the India-US nuclear agreement, legitimisation of India’s nuclear weapons, the end of the high-tech apartheid and rapid growth of nuclear power capacity are considerable. But the real significance lies much beyond the N-word. And please, please, do not get confused by that utter nonsense on how the US will help India become a super power.
Provides some historical context.
This is not merely an India-US agreement and the fallout of this is not merely nuclear. If India plays it right, it could be the beginning of a process of breakout from the ‘lower middle class’ status in the community of nations to which it had been consigned for half a century, some of it a conspiracy of circumstances, and some of it self-inflicted. In the name of non-alignment we tilted too far the other way, as our voting record on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan shows. Our politicians tried to exploit this sloganeering foreign policy through domestic politics, embracing Castro one day, and naming a major avenue in New Delhi after Tito, on another. Incidentally, do a google search for how many cities in the world, even in former Yugoslavia, still have a street named after that dictator our school history textbooks taught us to admire!
We shifted a bit as the ground shifted under our feet after the end of the cold war, but we never abandoned the notion of the non-aligned movement, or our having a permanent abode in that comity of the “lower middle classes” in the international power game, led by some of the world’s most dictatorial regimes and despots.
We are a long way from being a big power yet. But our place in the world is a lot better than it ever was in the so-called, Soviet-included non-aligned movement. And how terrific was that non-aligned “solidarity”? Please check out the way most members of that “movement” voted at international forums on issues of India’s vital security interest, not just Kashmir but also on both series of Pokharan tests. On each occasion, ’74 and ’98, they were firmly “aligned” with the big powers, against us. India, who so stupidly arrogated to itself the leadership of that motley group, continued naming its streets after international thugs and despots.
Offers some possible future scenarios.
We must not delude ourselves into believing we are in the same league now as China and Russia (listed in that order deliberately). But if we continue to act with sense and maturity, we can form the third point of a new triangle of stability in a vast Asian region, stretching from Korea to Israel, Kazakhstan to Sri Lanka. Or, if you don’t like triangles, you can look at it as an opportunity for India to join — along with China, Russia and Japan — a new arc of strategic calm. That is the new slot that the world wants India to occupy in its new batting order. The beauty of it all is, you can do it while being perfectly non-aligned, and running a foreign policy enormously more independent than it ever was when we were exposed as a totally client state so stunningly once every decade: the invasion of Hungary in the ’50s, Czechoslovakia in the ’60, Cambodia in the ’70s and Afghanistan in the ’80s. Read the whole thing.
Shekhar is absolutely right in his analysis, but it takes some historical context to understand full well the sheer stupidity of the chimera that was non-alignment. To paraphrase a foreign policy dictum, if you want to play with the big dogs, you've got to stop pissing with the puppies. I think most Indians will agree we're done pissing with the puppies.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Some Pre-Oscar Thoughts 

In a few hours, the bloated annual extravaganza known as the Oscar Awards will begin. Thoughts naturally turn to some of the good movies of the past year. It doesn't hurt to re-recommend a couple of very good movies that have been featured on this blog before: Grizzly Man and Syriana.

I agree fully with Reuben's earlier take on Grizzly Man. There is just one important thing he forgot to note: the Richard Thompson soundtrack. Werner Herzog and Richard Thompson in one movie. How can you not watch?

My feelings about Syriana are mixed. On the one hand I greatly admire the filmmakers' decision to present a complex story in all its complexity. On the other hand, I can't shrug off the feeling that the movie is lacking in artistry. For a movie with so much high-stakes action, Syriana is surprisingly unmoving. I got the feeling that I had seen an Important Movie but not Great Cinema. The movie does a terrific job of drenching itself in cynicism (subsequent viewings clarify this further), but for this reason it reminded me at once of Sidney Lumet classic Network, which I think manages to be Important and Great Cinema. Interestingly, at a certain level of abstraction, Syriana and Network are commenting on the same issues.

I also urge all readers to watch Munich, which is unlikely to win best picture but is at least nominated, unlike the above two. I am no fan of Spielberg, but here the director has managed to avoid his trademark sentimentalism. Spielberg has also avoided his other failing: that of trying to tell a macro-story through narrow focus on unrepresentative micro-characters. That's because this story — of the operations of the secret Israeli hit squad sent to eliminate the killers of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics — is compelling enough as a story of just five men. The movie isn't without its flaws, but I believe it outdoes Syriana. The transformation of Eric Bana's lead character as he works his way through the assassinations is masterfully shown. Only two scenes stood out as too unsubtle: one where a Palestinian operative is given token screen time to "explain" their side of things, by means of an unconvincing plot twist, and one right at the end of the movie when the camera sweeps across the Manhattan skyline to focus on — you guessed it — the WTC.

Well, I'm off to watch the show and I hope Jon Stewart makes it exciting.

Another Take of India's Telecom Revolution 

According to the stats available for January, the telecom sector in India added 5 million new subscribers, of which 4.75 were mobile connections. That's about 167,000 new subscribers (of which 158,000 are mobile users) being added *every day*. By comparison, in the pre-reform period (I am using 1974-1989 data here, though it's even lower pre-1974), India added about 175,000 new connections *every year*. It's quite amazing what liberalization and new technology (wireless mobile) can bring about.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Machete Season 

Over the last few years, I have been obsessively reading up on the Rwandan genocide, so I was surprised to see Tyler Cowen point to a book that I had not even heard of: Machete Season: The Killers in Rwanda Speak. Tyler also excerpts a haunting passage from the book.
During that killing season we rose earlier than usual to eat lots of meat, and we went up to the soccer field at around nine or ten o'clock. The leaders would grumble about latecomers, and we would go off on the attack. Rule number one was to kill. There was no rule number two. It was an organization without complications.
Obviously, if any of you have read this book, pleave leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Photo du Jour: Need I say more? 

Pic: BBC News

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Does the Absorptive Capacity of Nations Matter? 

While looking through the Financial Times' letters to the editor section, I came across this gem from Italy-based development economist, Javier Pérez de Vega, which amply demonstrates why the proponents of development aid simply do not get it. His letter is a response to the Bhagwati op-ed I linked to in a previous post.
Bono's common sense and down-to-earth approach to development issues is well reflected in the foreword he wrote for Jeffrey Sachs' book The End of Poverty and in the many initiatives he has taken to ease the situation of the world's poor. The article, if he reads it, is unlikely to elicit more than a little smile on his part.

Africa's "absorptive capacity", or lack thereof, is one of the oldest arguments brandished by the enemies of all forms of international co-operation and development aid. One wonders what was the absorptive capacity of Europe after the second world war. Against a realistic assessment, the Marshall Plan would have never been launched and Europe would not be where it now is. I knew Prof Paul Rosenstein-Rodan well and can guarantee that he would not have supported Prof Bhagwati's misguided advice.
Well, first of all, Bono's introduction is the worst foreword I have ever read for any book, and that's saying something given the number of bad introductions there are in existence. As the Economist said in its review of the book,
And, frankly, it is difficult to forgive his invitation to Bono to write the introduction to the book. Describing his experience of campaigning with Mr Sachs, the Irish rock singer recalls, “I would enter the world of acronyms with a man who can make alphabet soup out of them. Soup you'd want to eat. Soup that would, if ingested properly, enable a lot more soup to be eaten by a lot more people.” Sorry, even if it sells more copies of this otherwise outstanding book, publishing such drivel cannot be right.
Yes, that's about right, but this is the more frivolous point. The more important point is vis-a-vis Mr De Vega's comment about post-war absorptive capacity. This is a pet theme in some parts of the development aid lobby; since the Marshall Plan worked, surely a similar initiative will work in Africa too. Well, let's look at the numbers first. If this idea were in fact true, Africa would have been well developed by now, given the trillion dollars that have been poured into the continent in the last 50 years (by way of comparison, the Marshall Plan consisted of $13 billion worth of assistance, or $130 billion, once you adjust for inflation). In fact, most of Africa is substantially worse off today than when aid first started to flow in. Instead, the money has been frittered away on such development projects as clearing the jungle in the middle of the Congo to build a new runway on which the Concorde could land to ferry Mobutu and his family to Disneyland and France. No prizes for guessing where the money to clear the forest, lease the Concorde etc came from.

So, what is the difference between post-war Europe and Africa which explains this discrepancy? Well, it links directly to the absorptive capacity issue. Japan, Germany etc were well functioning countries with solid institutions (legal system, education system, banking system etc) before they were visited by the horrors of the war. So, an infusion of capital could be put to use easily and efficiently to rebuild the institutions destroyed by war. It was simply a matter of getting trained teachers or bankers back to work, rather than training an entire cadre from scratch. By contrast, when the Belgians left the Congo, there were exactly 17 college graduates in a country the size of western Europe. To imagine that a country with 17 college graduates could absorb large infusions of aid (without any institutions in place) just because Germany and Japan (which were superpowers before the war) did so is bordering on the insane.

Yet, that's exactly the comparison Mr De Vega has drawn while calling for a Marshall Plan for Africa. Imagining economic growth and development without building institutions and absorptive capacity is to betray a fundamental ignorance of politics and economics. Bihar is not going to develop if you shoveled in large amounts of cash, unless Laloo's growing bank account is a proxy for SDP growth. Neither is Africa. Both places need large doses of political and economic reform before any sort of development takes place. The sooner we recalibrate the aid system to recognize this reality, the better off we'll all be, most of all the residents of the very places that the system was set up to help.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Re-Introducing the International Private Enterprise Group 

Regular readers of ZS will know of my involvement with the International Private Enterprise Group (IPEG). Briefly, the group was founded in June 2005 as a way to get together professionals with a serious interest in economic development issues, but also believed that the private sector and capital markets were the best catalysts of economic development, not traditional aid-driven approaches. I myself arrived at this conclusion through the course of my Ph.D. and during my work with the RISC Project. A few things became very clear to me in the course of the last few years, besides the obvious about the role of the private sector/capital:

1. The role of outsiders (including MNCs, the World Bank etc) should be to reduce transactions costs of doing business and to act as enablers. Specifically, transactions costs exist vis-a-vis access to finance (equity and debt), access to the best technologies, and access to knowledge networks and best practices. Reducing the transactions costs in this fashion will allow local entrepreneurs to cater to local demand.

2. The SME sector is key to development. Much as I admire microfinance and other such initiatives, I do not for the life of me see how they can be scaled up to provide economic opportunities for 500-700 million people (in India alone). That sort of employment can only be generated through the SME sector. And lest we forget, some of the biggest employers in America today started as SME businesses. And no, services are no panaea to the SME sector and there is no way for a country like India to leapfrog across the manufacturing stage straight into services. You have to be drinking the Kool-Aid if you think there are going to be 700 million Indians writing C++ or answering phone calls for Dell. No, not gonna happen!

3. There is more than sufficient entrepreneurial talent in India. In fact, I'd say India is one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. So, what is the hitch? As I mentioned earlier, the lack of access to capital, technology and best practices. You may have some terrific ideas, but if you do not have access to the capital (all the way from micro-finance to angel to venture to private equity) required to bring it to fruition, the idea is not going anywhere. And, you also need access to best practices and best technologies. For instance, if you wanted to start a private franchise to do Electricity T&D services (just by way of an FYI, the Indian govt is looking for 10,000 such franchisees), it would help for you to know that South Africa has implemented an excellent pre-paid model for electricity that drastically cuts bill collection costs.

4. Let's not get bogged down with definitions of social enterprise, private enterprise etc. I would argue that any investment into an economically moribund region will almost always have a net positive social impact. For instance, let's look at the multiplier effects associated with IT jobs in Bangalore. Conservative estimates are that the multiplier effect of an IT job is about 4X. Assume that Infosys hires about 15,000 people very year. Factor in the multiplier and you end up with 60,000 additional jobs, almost all of which go to people in BOP markets, including drivers, food services, construction workers etc. Now, assume that every big IT company hires about 10,000 new workers, and you see what I am driving at through the multiplier effect. Yes, you can call it trickle down, but it's pretty damn fast trickling then. More importantly, is Infosys a private enterprise or a social enterprise, once you factor in the multipliers? I don't know and I don't care. The time has come to simply accept that private enterprise is good news and everything must be done to facilitate it.

5. Let's not fetishize technology as was done by the proponents of the "digital divide." That's the classic case of misdiagnosing a symptom to be the problem. No people, the problem is poverty. What can technology really do? Well, technology can be a tool and an enabler. Period. You can have all the technology in the world, but if you don't have the other relevant institutions in place (including access to capital), it adds up to nothing, as my research clearly demonstrated. Technology is of no use in an institutional vacuum.

6. Finally, there is a lot of money sloshing around the world's capital markets. The numbers I've seen tossed around last was to the tune of $130 trillion. There is no reason why some of this capital cannot be deployed as investment capital in emerging market opportunities, assuming of course that the real barriers to entry can be dealt with and interesting investment vehicles found. Last year, the IFC estimates that about $358 billion in private capital flowed into emerging markets. In the same period, development aid ran at about $70 billion. It's also fairly safe to say that the former number will increase, while the latter number may stay stable or decrease. I'd argue that whatever public money exists in the aid arena should be ploughed into humanitarian missions and into capacity building, rather than be wasted on misdirected economic development projects, where this aid more often than not displaces private capital as well. What development aid has done very efficiently thus far is to pad the Swiss bank accounts of kleptocrats in third world countries.

You may be wondering where I am going with all of this. Well, IPEG was founded precisely to highlight these sort of issues and to promote the role of the private sector, capital markets and technology in catalyzing economic development. We started with four members, but now have over 80 members, mostly in the NYC area. The members are from diverse backgrounds, ranging from academia and the multilaterals to consulting, private equity and hedge funds. We have interesting meetings in New York, with the last one being last night with Alan Patricof of APAX Partners, who spoke about the role of private equity and venture capital in fostering economic development. That said, we take great pains to avoid being just a talk shop and there are some seriously interesting projects that IPEG members are working on. This ranges from East Africa's first VC fund to a Tier 3, Tier 4 focused India fund to numerous start-up activities in the technology arena focused on emerging markets.

To make life easier for us and for those of you who would like to get involved, we have put up a website, with a fairly comprehensive list of members, links to resources, events etc. We are more than happy to welcome new members, so if you'd like to join, just shoot me/us a note explaining why you would like to be part of IPEG's activities, and we'll invite you to our next event in NYC the end of this month. Of course, if you'd like to form a chapter of IPEG in another city, we're more than happy to facilitate that as well. In the meanwhile, if you have any feedback on the website and some of the comments I've made on here, shoot me a note.

I know this is already one of the longest posts ever on ZS, but I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the help provided by Madhu Menon and Sonal Vaidya in putting the IPEG website together. Thanks, Madhu and Sonal.