Sunday, February 22, 2009

T-Shirt du Jour 

The Upside of Long Layovers: Suicidal Bunny Rabbits 

I am writing this post from Brussels airport, waiting for a flight to Milan. I had to route myself this-a-ways because I was determined not to fly Alitalia and I figured Jet Airways/Brussels Airlines was a good way to make the connection to Milan. On the downside, the Jet flight landed at 8 am and my Milan flight is not until 2:50 pm. At first one resorts to all the usual tricks of handling long layovers, namely leisurely coffees and croissants, FT weekend edition etc. Eventually, one does get bored of the wait. So, I decided to poke around the book store and found a comicbook masterpiece called "The Bumper Book of Bunny Suicides." I haven't laughed so much in ages, watching cartoons of bunny rabbits cooking up ever more ingenious ways of committing suicide.

I looked up the book on Wikipedia and it seems like it's a cult phenomenon, albeit one I had never heard of. So, it is likely that many of you have already heard of the book, but if you haven't, do yourself a favour and grab a copy. To give you a taste of what to expect, here's a sample.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Joe Garner on Trust in the banking system 

(Via Salil) Whether you agree or disagree with the content of his speech, Joe Garner makes some very interesting points on trust as the necessary underlier within the banking system, as indeed in society as a whole. I do wish he had shed more light on the lack of trust between banks though. Watch it.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The end of Swiss banking as we know it? 

For long, Swiss banking has thrived because the banks have traditionally drawn a very thin line between tax fraud and tax avoidance. Tax avoidance is not a crime in Switzerland, unlike say in America, and that distinction allowed Swiss banking to flourish. Unfortunately, the distinction that made Switzerland awesomely rich also covered up some fairly dirty stuff. Every tin-pot dictator in the third world, for instance, found a way to squirrel money looted from tax-payers in Swiss banks. In fact, there are some reports that Indians alone have over $1.4 trillion stashed away in Swiss banks.

The IRS of the United States is not to be trifled with. In fact, one must never forget that Al Capone was not put away for murder, but for tax fraud. Swiss bankers, in particular those from UBS, found this out much to their chagrin earlier this week. UBS will have to reveal the names of Americans who have used Swiss banks to stash away their black money as part of a $780 million settlement. It is rumoured that the IRS is after 19,000 Americans who may have secret Swiss banking accounts. Of course, this move by UBS also probably means the end of banking secrecy in Switzerland or at least the end of the trust in the security of the Swiss banking system.

Keeping tab of Man Marries Dog 

Some of my friends refused to believe the story of a human being marrying a dog named Bullet somewhere near Calcutta. Ever since, I have kept tab of all the stories in India of dogs marrying humans. The last story I blogged was one Selvakumar's marriage to a dog named Selvi. Today's story would be equally funny if it weren't for the fact that it was a 2-year old boy being married off, to a dog called Jyoti. Of course, there's ALWAYS a reason.
The boy's father said such "marriages" were a tradition and would help ease the bad omen of the tooth rooted in Sagula's upper gum.
The "bride's" father, Parakrama Munda, said: "This is just a ceremony to please the tribal deity - in the great epic Mahabharat a dog helped the Pandavas reach heaven." He said it was a superstition, like wearing a stone or a talisman. One attending resident, Dushmant Rout, said the "bride" had spent a few hours at the "groom's" house "but not inside the room... she stayed on the verandah".
Well, at least they're admitting it's a superstition, I suppose.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Link du Jour: Lalu Yadav in the American 

Graeme Wood writes an interesting profile on India's railway king in the American. Besides obviously talking about the turnaround Lalu has wrought at the Indian Railways, Wood also talks about Sudhir Kumar, the civil servant who is probably as responsible for the turnaround as Lalu himself. It's long, but worth it. I just wish he had spent some more time talking about all the innovations Lalu brought in to increase revenues, or milk the cow to the fullest in Laluspeak.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Belated 200th, Charles Darwin 

On the 12th of this month, the world celebrated the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, one of the greatest scientists ever and the father of the biological sciences as we know it. Contrary to what creationists would have you believe, Darwin's theories have actually gained strength the more we know and understand the natural world. Here is Nicholas Wade on the influence Darwin's work still carries, and Olivia Judson on Darwin the man.

At ISB, we celebrated by screening a TED Talk with Steven Pinker. Here's another relevant one -- James Watson on how he and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA.

Poem (of sorts) du Jour 

The baby bat
Screamed out in fright.
“Turn on the dark,
I’m afraid of the light!”

-- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clive Crook takes on Krugman and Barro 

(Via Amit Varma) First, Clive Crook writes a very interesting piece on how the credibility of economics is being damaged by the influence of politics. Exhibit A being Paul Krugman and Exhibit B being Robert Barro.
Economics outside the academy has become the continuation of politics by other means. If you wish to know what Mr Krugman thinks on any policy question, do not read his scholarly writings; see which policies are advocated by the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Mr Krugman agrees with liberal Democrats about most things, and for the rest gives as much cover as the discipline of economics can provide – which, given its scientific limitations, is plenty. He does this even on matters where, if his scholarly work is any guide, the economics is firmly against his allies. Liberal Democrats are protectionists. Mr Krugman is not, but politics comes first.

The syndrome affects economists on the right as much as on the left. Just as there is a consensus among economists that protectionism should be opposed, most economists believe that a powerful fiscal stimulus is both possible and desirable in present circumstances, and that the best stimulus would include big increases in public spending. Yet recently, Robert Barro, a scholar with conservative sympathies, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that this view was an appeal to “magic”.

The problem is not that Mr Krugman questions the consensus on trade (if indeed he does), or that Mr Barro questions the consensus on fiscal policy (as he certainly does). It is that both set the consensus aside so carelessly. In doing so, these stars of the profession destroy the credibility of their own discipline. Mr Krugman gives liberals the economics they want. Mr Barro gives conservatives the same service. They narrow or deny the common ground. Why does this matter? Because the views of readers inclined to one side or the other are further polarised; and in the middle, those of no decided allegiance conclude that economics is bunk.
Krugman responds accusing Crook of hysterics.

Crook responds
to both Krugman and Barro, reproducing an exchange with Barro as well.

Fantastic stuff!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Quick Links: Lloyd Blanfein in the Financial Times/WSJ India online 

The CEO of Goldman Sachs has a very interesting op-ed in the Financial Times titled Do not destroy the essential catalyst of risk.

While we wait for the WSJ to launch a facsimile edition in India, here's the online version of WSJ India. Most of the stories seem accessible.

How much power do Google data centers consume? 

From Portfolio.com

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Quick Links from the BBC 

1. Iceland chooses Johanna Sigurdardottir as PM, the first openly gay leader in the world. Money quote:
"I don't think her sexual orientation matters. Our voters are pretty liberal, they don't care about any of that," Skuli Helgeson, Social Democratic Alliance's general secretary, told the BBC.
2. The remains of HMS Victory have been found.

America's most loathsome a.k.a so many insults, so little time 

The Beast has released its 2008 list list of the most loathsome people in America. The list spares noone and includes Barack Obama, the Clintons, Rush, GWB, O.J. Simpson and You. The insults have been seriously thought through and provide at least 30 mins worth of giggles. Unsurprisingly, the No: 1 position goes to Sarah Palin and here's the Beast's take on her.
Charges: If you want to know why the rest of the world is scared of Americans, consider the fact that after two terms of disastrous rule by a small-minded ignoramus, 46% of us apparently thought the problem was that he wasn’t quite stupid enough. Palin’s unending emissions of baffling, evasive incoherence should have disqualified her for any position that involved a desk, let alone placing her one erratic heartbeat from the presidency. The press strained mightily to feign respect for her, praising a debate performance that involved no debate, calling her a “great speaker” when her only speech was primarily a litany of insults to city-dwellers, echoing bogus sexism charges when a male Palin would have been boiled alive for the Couric interview alone, and lionizing her as she used her baby as a Pro-life stage prop before crowds who cooed when they should have been hurling polonium-tipped javelins. In the end, Palin had the beneficial effect of splitting her party between her admirers and people who can read.

Exhibit A:
Waving her embryo-loving credentials, in the form of her Down syndrome baby, at "But ultimately what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the healthcare reform that is needed to help shore up our economy."

Hand-to-hand combat with Vladimir Putin and a pack of wolves.
She split the party between her admirers and people who can read!! Heh.