Tuesday, October 31, 2006

New HIV drug?

From New Scientist (this may need subscription):
"As an ethnobotanist working with the traditional healers of Samoa in the 1980s, Paul Alan Cox learned of a potion that he described in his field notebook as a treatment for "acute viral illness". It turns out that the active ingredient, prostratin, is a potent anti-HIV drug, at least in the lab. Now nearing clinical trials, prostratin works unlike any other HIV drug, by coaxing hidden virus out of immune cells. This is no tale of bio-piracy, though. Quite the opposite: pioneering agreements brokered by Cox will ensure that proceeds from the drug go back to the government of Samoa and to the village where Cox first encountered the drug's source. Prostratin is just the start, he tells Brian Vastag: next he hopes to find plant treatments for diseases of the mind."
More about Cox here
and here
See here for a picture of mamala tree leaves and the story of the agreement between Samoa and UC at Berkeley.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

UN passes Arm Trade Treaty

From IPS News Agency
"On Thursday, a vast majority of delegates to the U.N. General Assembly's first committee endorsed the resolution calling for the establishment of a treaty to stop weapons transfers that fuel conflict, poverty and serious human rights violations.

As many as 139 countries voted in favour of the resolution while 24 abstained. The United States, the world's largest supplier of small arms, was the only country that opposed the resolution.

Other major arms-manufacturing nations that oppose the treaty but did not participate in the voting include Russia, China, India and Pakistan.
Several emerging arms exporters, such as Brazil, Bulgaria and Ukraine, as well as many countries that have been devastated by armed violence, including Colombia, East Timor, Haiti, Liberia and Rwanda, voted in favour of the resolution.

Expressing her support for the resolution, Amnesty International's secretary-general Irene Khan described the vote as "an historic step to stop irresponsible and immoral arms transfers".

"It will prevent the death, rape and displacement of thousands of people," she said in a statement. "

tompaine's comment here

Will Security Council do any thing about this? Seems unlikely.
Greg Mankiv
refers to this article.
"In this paper, we investigate whether the pattern of aid payments to
rotating members of the council is consistent with vote buying.
Using country-level panel data, we find a large positive effect of Security
Council membership on foreign aid receipts. On average, a nonpermanent
member of the council enjoys a 59 percent increase in total
aid from the United States and an 8 percent increase in total development
aid from the United Nations.
Accordingly, our results suggest
that the United States attempts to influence rotating members both
with direct foreign aid payments and with funds channeled through a
U.N. agency it influences."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Punukula experment

From http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/mar/dsh-punukula.htm
"Punukula village, about 12 kms from Kothagudem town in Andhra Pradesh, and with a population of about 860, was also a victim of the vicious circle of poison. Indiscriminate application of pesticides on cotton and chili had brought in a horde of problems, including deaths resulting from acute poisoning and suicides by debt-ridden farmers. While the sale of chemicals soared, pesticide traders raked in Rs 2-3 million annually from only about 500 acres of land holdings in the village. Farmers continued to slide into debt following the devastation inflicted on the natural resource base. If only the sale receipts from unwanted pesticides had remained within the village, the village economy would have been on an upswing.

It was in 1999 that a few farmers began experimenting with Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) practices. A year later, in 2000-01, a local NGO Socio-Economic and Cultural Upliftment in Rural Environment (SECURE) with technical support from the Centre for World Solidarity in Hyderabad was able to convince 20 farmers to opt for NPM. The highly contaminated environment began to change for the better. Soil and plant health looked revitalised, and the pests began to disappear. Such was the positive impact both environmentally and economically that by 2004 the entire village had stopped using chemical pesticides. Restoring the ecological balance brought back the natural pest control systems. Along with the pesticides, the pests too disappeared.
With no pests to worry about, Punukula had no reason to go in for Bt cotton. "
A google search for "Punukula" gave several other versons of the same story.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Another nice picture of twins

One here and another link in the article.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A strange note from Germany

(via Rajeev Ramachandran of Teeming Multitudes) We have this rubbish from Gabor Steingart, head of Der Spiegel's Berlin office:
Apparently, this essay is excerpted from a best selling book. Excerpts from the excerpt:
"Their secret is stoic perseverance, the weapon they use to pursue their own interests while at the same time disregarding ours. What looks like a market economy in Asia, actually follows the rules of a type of society which former German chancellor Ludwig Erhard liked to call a "termite state." In a termite state, it is the collective rather than the individual which sets the agenda. Tasks that serve the aims of society's leaders are assigned to the individual in a clandestine manner that is barely perceptible to outsiders. It is a state that encourages as much collective behavior as possible but only as much freedom as necessary. We don't know what they feel, we don't know what they think and we have no way of guessing what they are planning.
The Asian elite politely brush off everything that matters to us -- the social framework surrounding daily working life, the idea of individual achievement and state-guaranteed fair competition. What we see as essential characteristics of a civilized society, they see as nothing more than bourgeois niceties.

The state (India) or party (China) is responsible for setting prices, promoting technology, ensuring provisions of raw materials, protecting industries and providing the impulse for just about any kind of economic or political activity.
The military alliance which was forged in the Cold War could be carried over into the global economic war."
At this stage, I stopped reading the article. Rajeev quotes Schiller: "The gods themselves fought invain against stupidity".

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Muslim bloggers from India

A few months ago I tried to find some Indian Muslim blogs but could only a couple. One is Annie Zaidi's the other seemed to be mostly about poetry. The second blog has now given a list of 50 Mulim blogs of Indian origin ( which may be corrected). The list is in:
My interest was to see different views on some topics and muslims seemed underrepresented in the media. Here are some more links:

Friday, October 20, 2006

Old age

Just found this among the most e-mailed articles in the last two months from New York times. Excerpts;
"The question is why some age well and others do not, often heading along a path that ends up in a medical condition known as frailty.
Frailty, Dr. Harris explains, involves exhaustion, weakness, weight loss and a loss of muscle mass and strength. It is, she says, a grim prognosis whose causes were little understood.
Investigators say that there is a ray of hope in the finding — if cardiovascular disease is central to many of the symptoms of old age, it should be possible to slow or delay or even prevent many of these changes by treating the medical condition.

A second finding is just as surprising to skeptical scientists because it seemed to many like a wrongheaded cliché — you’re only as old as you think you are. Rigorous studies are now showing that seeing, or hearing, gloomy nostrums about what it is like to be old can make people walk more slowly, hear and remember less well, and even affect their cardiovascular systems. Positive images of aging have the opposite effects. The constant message that old people are expected to be slow and weak and forgetful is not a reason for the full-blown frailty syndrome. But it may help push people along that path."

But aging seems real. Today after about 10 trips with the wheelbarrow from the front of the house to the back to mulch the garden, I am exhausted. It did not happen a few years ago. May be it is smoking. But then both my grandfathers were smokers and were farming until they were almost eighty.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

An India Shining story from Australia

Excerpts from an article in today's Age (via Jhansi):

"IS AUSTRALIA missing the boat on India? While we are excited by China, are we also aware that old bureaucratic India, old cultural India, staid old India with the legacy of the caste system is actually taking off?"

"Consider these "big-five" indicators of just how far and how fast "good old India" is going:

Å°Wipro has acquired Sweden-based Hydoauto Group AB for $US31 million($A41.1 million).

Å°India is easing bank regulations so that the Reserve Bank of India will open more of the large power projects to external investors.

Å°The global ACNeilsen Consumer Confidence Survey has India at the top of the list by a large margin.

Å°In three years there will be 1.1 million people each with a liquid wealth of $US100,000. There are now 83,000 millionaires in India and growing.

Å° The private equity market attracted $US2.2 billion last year and is set to reach $US7 billion in 2010, the year of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games."
The report also says "Bill Gates has replaced Mahatma Gandhi as the "greatest hero" among the younger generation of India's corporate executives and business students ".

Music and the stars

From http://www.newscientist.com/channel/opinion/mg19225731.500

"In 1969, Brian May, lead guitarist of the legendary rock band Queen, gave up a career in astrophysics to pursue his dream of becoming an international rock star. Now, almost four decades later, the two strands of his life, music and astronomy, are coming back together. He is currently finishing the PhD he started at Imperial College London back when Queen was just beginning to take off.
What inspired you to return to your PhD after all these years?

You get to this age and you think, I'm still alive when some friends aren't, and you ask yourself, "Why am I here? What should I be doing?" So there's that."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CASI Fall 2006 Study

on 'India in Transition' is out:
The title " India's Second green Revolution? The Sociopolitical Implications of Corporate-Led Agricultural Growth" and the author is Jeffrey Witsoe. Jeffrey Witsoe has a Ph.D. in Social Anthrpology and has earlier written about caste politics in Bihar.
James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many are Smarter Than the Few" has a discussion on how farmers select seeds on pages 61-62 and refers to a study by Kaivan Munshi about the different ways farmers in India chose wheat and rice seeds http://www.econ.brown.edu/fac/Kaivan_Munshi/jde.pdf
I have not read these completely but all of them look interesting.

More nature vs. nurture stories

From http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn10307-you-were-born-with-your-future-facial-expressions.html

"According to the analysis, the blind participants were significantly more likely to make angry, sad and pensive facial expressions that resembled those of their relatives than of strangers.
Scientists say that the similarity in facial expressions among relatives could perhaps have an evolutionary basis. “Family resemblance in expressive styles probably has adaptive value to the individuals in order to recognise kin from non-kin,” says David Matsumoto at San Francisco State University in California, US."

From October 15 Delhi edition of Hindustan Times http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/Default.aspx?selpg=1421

‘Jihadi’ monkey behind bars

Soumyajit Pattnaik

THE FIRE of fanaticism has singed all — from men to monkeys. A simian fundamentalist is serving a prison term at Remuna police station in Balasore district of Orissa. Ramu is sentenced for life in an iron cage on the premises of the police station.
Raised by a Muslim family in Jagannathpur village, Ramu allegedly attacked some Hindu children five years ago, sparking communal tension in the area. Police arrested Ramu.

Officer-in-charge of Remuna police station Niranjan Kumar Dhir told the Hindustan Times, “Ramu is has been here for the past five years. He had attacked a few children, leading to communal discord in the area. But we are taking good care of him. We ensure that he takes regular baths and is fed four times a day. The local people bring fruits, milk, bread, biscuits and rice for monkey. Ramu is now part of the outpost.” Ramu deserves freedom but his captors are reluctant. Dhir reckons, “Ramu is a pet. I don’t think he will be able to fend for himself in the wild. And who knows, he might start attacking members of the rival community again. We are managing well with local help”.

The monkey looks docile. Only his eyes with a glint of mischief give him away.

Animal rights activists feel that Ramu should have been handed over to the forest department long ago.

But then, in the time of terror, authorities become flint-hearted. Man or monkey — it does not make much of a difference.

But the monkey won over the men in uniform with his naughty ways and a police peace committee decided to set Ramu free after a “serious debate”.

Once freed, the monkey went back to his old ways, refusing to become “secular”. Ramu continued his jihad and landed behind bars again — this time for good. The police built a special iron cell for the “terrorist”.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Award winning writing?

From http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/10/lancet.html

"We all know that the political world judges Iraq by the absolute badness of what is going on (which means Bush critics find a higher number to fit their priors), but that is an incorrect standard. We should judge the marginal product of U.S. action, relative to what else could have happened. (North Korea, and the UN response, will give us one data point from another setting.) In that latter and more accurate notion of a cost-benefit test, U.S. actions probably appear worst when deaths are rising over time, and hitting very high levels in the future.

Of course the rate of change of deaths is not exactly the proper variable. Ideally we would like some measure of the contingency of eventual total deaths, relative to policy. I am not sure what other proxies for that we might have."
Perhaps a bulwer-lytton award for political writing.


From Steve of http://curiousstall.blogspot.com/, I came to know of KIVA. From their site:
"We let you loan to the working poor

Kiva lets you connect with and loan money to unique small businesses in the developing world. By choosing a business on Kiva.org, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence. Throughout the course of the loan (usually 6-12 months), you can receive email journal updates from the business you've sponsored. As loans are repaid, you get your loan money back. "

Steve in his write up on Grameen Bank says "already plenty of organizations in India engaged in microfinance (see here for a thorough article on implementing the concept of microfinance in India, drawing on examples from elsewhere in South Asia). With time, hopefully, the legitimate and credible organizations that are doing good work will rise to the top and those that only aim to take further advantage of people will fall by the wayside. For now, I'm headed back over to Kiva to see if I can find a Ugandan barber, or a Kenyan street vendor, or an Indian tailor who need a small loan to invest in some improvements that will help grow their businesses."
I think that I will follow Steve to see some project to fund through KIVA.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Zaheerabad women take on Monsanto

From here DDS activities look interesting and impressive but I do not have any contact with them. Last year I enquired in Hyderabad and the few friends I spoke to said good things about DDS. One said dismissively that it is Vandana Shiva type of organization. Arun Shrivatsava reports on one of their activities here.
A trenchent conpiracy theory by the same author here.
Data on the nutritive content of the seeds collected by the women here.
Update (3rd November,2006) Kuffir refers to Arun Shrivatsava's article in blogbharti .

Some of Kuffir's comments:
why i liked the article was despite its somewhat strident tone..it attempts to take a holistic look at the causes behind today’s agrarian crisis.
look at the valid point he makes about ‘warehousing’ receipts - there are many activists/economists advocating provision, through public/private investment, of warehousing facilities so that the farmers 1)have more control over the marketing of their produce and 2) so that they may access credit in lieu of their stocks. but, his interpretation of the reasons behind dismantling the structure of ‘warehousing’ in 1971 is narrow - he says it was because of pressure from fertiliser/pesticide companies - the larger truth is the govt probably believed in the idea that the nationalisation of banks would open the floodgates of credit to farmers.. it also attempted to regulate a large portion of credit towards agriculture and rural india. but that didn’t happen..credit increased from around 10% of total lending by banks to around 20% or so in the initial two-three years or so after nationalisation..but has remained at the same level for that last thirty five years. also, the beneficiaries were mostly large, medium and some small farmers and not the vast majority of..marginal and sub-marginal farmers in india.

yes, i agree with you that the section ‘truth’ does seem farfetched but..i’ve noticed most indian commentators take rigid ideological positions on agriculture.

but look at the causes he alludes to, apart from irrigation and ‘marketization’: rural electrification, illiteracy, malnourishment, drinking water, healthcare. these are the issues that are driving these suicides, in my view, more than anything else.

A video about Dalits

Pl. check http://www.shivamvij.com/2006/10/i-am-a-dalit-how-are-you.html

Friday, October 13, 2006

Virtual insults

Virtual insults can cost money; story here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Elephants and us

Rajshekhar at http://www.fracturedearth.org/ says that this
is one of the best pieces of ecological journalism he had read in a long time.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reversing outsourcing

From the age newspaper.
"Last month was a milestone in Satyam's new graduate program, with the return home of its first crop of Australian graduates from a six-month training project in India.

And with the announced expansion of the program, Satyam's Australia-New Zealand managing director Deepak Nangia says he has a long-term plan to keep Australian faces and voices at the forefront of local projects, despite a shortage of indigenous skilled manpower.

The company is keen to highlight its progress as an IT trainer as media reports highlight the trend to send work offshore."
As somebody who believes in the cross fertilization of cultures and disciplines, I think that this is a good move and will be benefitial for better understanding in future.

Some non-American blogs

I find that I have been reading too many American blogs. Some others I found recently which seem interesting:

Another gender difference?

From http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061009031253.htm
Drug May Help Women Stop Smoking
Adding the opiate blocker naltrexone to the combination of behavioral therapy and nicotine patches boosted smoking cessation rates for women by almost 50 percent when assessed after eight weeks of treatment, but made no difference for men, report researchers from the University of Chicago in the October 2006 issue of the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Naltrexone helped reduce the craving for cigarettes and lessened the discomforts of withdrawal for women in the study. It also reduced the weight gain often experienced by men and women in the first month after quitting.
"Women have historically had less success than men in giving up cigarettes," said study author Andrea King, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "In this small study, naltrexone seems to have closed that gap."
See also:
which says that colamay be bad for women and
about gender differences in the mice which suggests that different medicines may have to be developed foe men and women.

Peter Norman

From http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2006/10/09/1160246071527.html?from=top5
"We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. He said, 'I'll stand with you'." Carlos said he expected to see fear in Norman's eyes. He didn't. "I saw love. Peter never flinched (on the dais). He never turned his eyes, he never turned his head. He never said so much as 'ouch'. You guys have lost a great soldier." Carlos said that Norman deserved to be as well-known as Steve Irwin. "Go and tell your kids the story of Peter Norman," he said.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Brad De Long returns to Landes

In '98, Brad De Long reviewd David S. Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations" followed by commments of various experts: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/Econ_Articles/Reviews/landes.html#anchor2077092
He returns to the topic in his blog:
with comments by a new set of people. .
There are more interesting reviews with comments in
Pomeranz's book "The Great Divergence" which figures in both discussions is reviewed in:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Fred Hallows work continues

From http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20061004/hl_afp/afplifestylenepalaustraliahealth_061004141851
"A massive picture of Hollows dominates the corridor leading to the high-tech lens lab named after him that adjoins the clinic, and Ruit's affection for the New Zealand-born Australian remains firm.

"He was not only a mentor, he was a good friend. He was very straightforward and he loved people from developing countries," Ruit said.

Poverty-stricken Nepal is riven with profound caste, political, gender and ethnic divisions. But Ruit has never let it get in the way of his work.

"With all the political upheaval he has never turned a hair. For him the priority has always been the next person in line to be given back their sight," said Gabi Hollows, who continues to be involved in the Fred Hollows Foundation.

In June, Ruit was given the Ramon Magsaysay award, popularly known as the Asian Nobel prize."
More about Fred Hollows Foundation at:

Clean sweep of Nobels in science

From http://www.physorg.com/news79203936.html
"But as long as the money wheel turns and the unique culture of excellence remains intact, there seems little evidence for suggesting America's superiority will end any time soon.

Many of the present wave of US Nobel laureates have Jewish names, for they are German Jews, or their descendants, who fled Nazi persecution. The safe bet is that the next waves will have Korean, Chinese or Russian names -- people who also came to America, and found no reason to go home."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Globalization, Development discussions

are taking place in several sites. There seems to be some disenchantment with 'shining' stories and rethinking about development without subscribing to particular ideologies. Some of these are:


These two papers give background on subsidies in different countries and discuss
the effects of globalization on farmers in different countries. Discussions at:


In addition Madhkar Shukla is discussing the changing attitudes about business and markets in:

Some quotes from the second paper above:
"Many of the crops grown by Indian farmers come to a market place where the prices for these crops are
undermined by the agro-businesses and the subsidies they enjoy in their home countries. Take the case of
King Cotton. Between 1999 and 2002, the US agro-business share of the world cotton market grew to 40%
from 25%. This was entirely because of the $12.9 billion subsidy paid by the US tax-payer to the cotton
industry. In the same period, India’s imports of cotton grew by almost 29%, while India’s production of
cotton has fallen. The US cotton crop, meanwhile, has grown to its largest amount since 1927. An
enormous impact is on West and Central Africa, where farmers would stand to gain at least $250 million
if the US stopped its subsidy. The loss to Indian farmers from US subsidies is calculated to be about $1.3
billion (in 2001). US cotton farmers would not remain competitive without the subsidy, and according to
the World Bank, less than a tenth of the farmers would remain in business."
From the first paper:
" 'Because you are, by a long way, the biggest seller of cotton on the planet - forty per cent of all exports. Your system is destroying the market!'

Mark Lange smiles without evincing the slightest impatience. He has heard this argument a thousand times and answered it a thousand times. But repeating and repeating again, smiling and smiling again are the two main jobs of the lobbyist. He quotes research. Serious research. Big professors. The best universities. 'You have good universities in France? This research comes to a clear conclusion: the world price doesn't depend on us. Let's be precise: we have a negligible influence, barely quantifiable.'

Later, in the charming motel we are staying in, French Quarters, a staging point much appreciated by clandestine lovers, I shall consult other figures. The subsidies artificially sustain unprofitable production. Without them, American farmers would stop planting cotton. With supply diminishing, prices would pick up: a rise of between five and seventeen per cent according to the experts. "

And so on. Similar stories about corn and sugar. This does not seem to be the 'invisible hand' where markets seemlessly adjust.
Erik Orsenna cocludes:
"In the field of agriculture, as elsewhere, multinational firms try to lay down the law. But here, more than elsewhere, families fight back. On this struggle depends what remains of humanity on our planet.
This leading role of time is something the lovers of the market wish to deny. Throughout the whole of history, national economies have been protected in their early years by customs barriers. This was the role of so-called 'infant industry' protectionism. They were left to face competition only when they had reached adulthood. That is to say, once they had acquired strength. This respite is forbidden to them today. Globalization, which obliterates space, wants also to kill time. Perhaps the increase in the price of energy, by making us pay properly for transport once again, will restore reality to space and resuscitate time."

Secret of the Chinese

From http://www.opendemocracy.net/arts-Literature/ulysses5_3938.jsp

What, then, is the secret of these Chinese, the weapon that makes them so strong?

'I've thought about this a long time and I'll give you my answer. The Chinese have invented the ideal worker. In other words, the worker who costs even less than the absence of a worker.'

This Ulysses series article " Journey to the Lands of Cotton: A Brief Manual of Globalisation"
by Erik Orsenna is a an excellent read for people interested in globalization and farmers' problems.

More from Brad DeLong and others

“As depicted by Mr. Woodward, this is an administration in which virtually no one will speak truth to power, an administration in which the traditional policy-making process involving methodical analysis and debate is routinely subverted.”

Have we heard similar stories before about Indira Gandhi and others?
What were journalists doing?
“First, the most prominent people in the journalism world did more than peddle stuff about Bush's neo-Churchillian grandeur that they knew to be tripe, while they dined out in private on insider gossip about Bush's incompetence, malevolence, mendacity, and disconnection from reality. They also denounced and dismissed those who did say back then what Bob Woodward is saying now--people like Paul Krugman--as shrill.

Second, reporters continue to believe they are under some obligation to put Bush's thumb on the scales. Why... why... thirty minutes ago a correspondent sent me a link: over at Slate right now, John Dickerson—
As a policy matter, the book undermines Bush's attempts to strengthen the national will for the long and drawn-out fight ahead...”
And so the US has a new bill:
Any parallels?