Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Medecin Sans Frontieres petition

Pl. see http://www.msf.org/petition_india/international.html

Monday, January 29, 2007

Choosing seeds

An article (via Evo. Psychology group) in Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/01/070125133450.htm
about choosing GT cotton seeds in India. I have not seen the original articles or the articles by Munshi on choosing rice and wheat seeds: http://www.econ.brown.edu/fac/Kaivan_Munshi/jde.pdf. This is mainly for future reference.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Currently reading

1) 'Mother Nature' by Sarah Hrdy, and
2) 'Evolution in four dimensions' by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb
and also trying to complete a mathes paper which started four years ago as two page e-mail response to a colleague and has now grown to a paper over a hundred pages. Probably nobody will read it but felt pressurized to complete it after the very senior colleague expressed some doubts. Reminded of Pankaj Mishra's words at the end of his review of "The Namesake".

Vinod Khosla and Atanu Dey's ideas for India

I have been intrigued for some time by Atanu Dey's ideas on planned urbanization. This post and links inthe post explain these ideas.

Pay what you can

From The Age on Australia Day :
"MELBOURNE'S Shanaka Fernando was named Australia's Local Hero for his work founding not-for-profit restaurant chain Lentil as Anything.

The group of four restaurants, which employs about 80 young people and provides space for artists and writers, does not set prices for dishes.

Instead, diners are encouraged to pay what they can afford or what they think the meal was worth.

Mr Fernando sunk his personal capital into the first restaurant and turned it into a co-operative and youth training enterprise. Lentil as Anything has shown that it is possible for a business to be run on a socially responsible, idealistic basis and still be financially successful and popular.

The 38-year-old restaurateur, who was born in Sri Lanka and arrived in Australia in 1989, said the award meant a great deal to him.

"Hopefully it means the nature of what is happening through our organisation is important and will spill out to the greater society.

"I hope this award will inspire other migrants and anyone in the community who may have ideas that might not seem normal and which have no prior format to go ahead and try these ideas and follow your heart."

And on the eve of Australia Day, Mr Fernando said he thought to be Australian was to be "welcoming of others … to be encouraging of each other"."

The 'Australian of the Year'award went to Tim Flannery.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

From David Miliband's speech in Delhi

Excerpts fromthe speech on January 22, 2007:
"Climate change will affect every country. But the impact will be greater in India, South-East Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The joint India-UK project on climate change highlighted some of the impacts on India:

Water resources are already under strain here. India has 16 per cent of global population but only 4 per cent of global water resources. Across India the hydrological cycle is predicted to become more intense, both with higher annual average rainfall as well as longer periods of drought.

Agriculture constitutes the single largest component of India’s economy, nearly 27% of the GDP. A temperature increase of 2°C is predicted to result in a 10-16% reduction in rice yields, while a 4°C rise led to a 21-30% reduction.

India has a low-lying coastline. India will be one of the countries most vulnerable to sea level rise. Coastal infrastructure, tourist activity, inshore explorations are at risk. Large scale emigration from coastal zones is expected due to submergence of coastal-lines after sea levels have risen. This will create large numbers of environmental refugees especially from low-lying delta regions.

Other impacts include the changes to the makeup of India’s forests, in which 200,000 villages are located in or near; higher rates of certain diseases, such as Malaria, and damage to railways and infrastructure from higher temperatures, increased rainfall and flooding and sea-level rises.

In short, no part of life in India will remain unaffected. The effects will be economic and social, not just environmental.

You therefore have the potential to be a leapfrog economy - going straight to a model of low-carbon development without having to scrap existing infrastructure and technologies. You are already leaders in some renewable energy technologies. About 100,000 biogas plants and 16,530 solar photovoltaic lighting systems were installed during 2004-05. You are the only  country to have a Ministry dedicated to the use of renewable energy – sharing experience of development and deployment of these technologies can provide global benefits. You can forge a distinctive economic path that will give you a comparative economic advantage in future. As your President has suggested in calling for a goal of Energy Independence, renewable energy technologies could contribute 20 to 25 per cent of your energy needs by 2030. You have nearly 60 million hectares of wasteland, of which 30 million hectares are available for energy plantations. With each crop lasting 50 years and being carbon-neutral, biofuels could make a significant contribution meeting future demand in transport fuels and delivering emissions reductions."

Scenes from farming areas

Via blogbharti, this photo essay of the sort areas I grew up and scenes that I remember. Similar distress and some of the consequences of globalization are now expressed in many quarters.
From opendemocracy:
"The poor of the developing world and the middle classes of the developed world seem unlikely allies. But, according to economist Branko Milanovic - whose main field of interest is the relationship between globalisation and inequality - the two groups are the biggest losers as a result of globalisation. Milanovic is a lead economist at the World Bank research department and a senior associate at the Carnegie."
From a comments by John Quiggin in Why globalization is opposed:
"Among my people, globalisation has negative connotations because it takes away power from the individuals. As a consequences, the communality of daily life has become more and more frustrating and aggressive. If the crop fails because the neighbour is blocking the water stream, I could rely on local institutions-institutions that I contribute to shape- to solve the problem. If the crop fails because water has been privatised and sold to a multinational corporation, there is no local institution that can fix the problem. As a consequence, local diatribes over resource are exacerbated. In summary, globalisation is not just about prosperity and morality, it's also about power and control."
It seems that there will be more and more opposition from the countries which seemed to support globalization earlier.
Update: See also Bush's remarks:
and Guardian's remarks on Iowa farmers:

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A route to happiness

After seeing so many posts by Abi on happiness, I started browsing through some articles on happiness and even bought a book on happiness ( it was on sale, otherwise I would not have been too happy). Here is an article which is close to my beliefs. Excerpts:
"In 2005, a team of U.S. researchers developed a comprehensive model of sustainable happiness change that integrated the major lines of the subjective well-being literature. The result was a theory which proposed that up to 50 per cent of one’s happiness was rooted in a genetically determined set-point, 10 per cent was related to circumstantial factors (nation of residence, demographics, culture, income, etc), and the remaining 40 per cent was determined by intentional activities such as pursuing goals, looking at things optimistically, and being physically active. The keys to sustainable happiness change rest in these activities, and the first direct empirical validation for the theory is my favourite article from the past 3 years.
“In other words, our data suggest that effort and hard work offer the most promising route to happiness. In contrast, simply altering one’s superficial circumstances (assuming they are already reasonably good) may have little lasting effect on well-being. (p.82-83).” "
I usually enjoy my evening coffeee better if did some work that day.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Saving the cypress

Science Daily gives this example dual culivation with lavender helping to spread cypress in Morocco. Perhaps many such examples exist in the traditional knowledge of several communities.

A self-referential formula

Pl. seeWolfrram site.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Do prizes matter?

I find that I am more and more wrong. I used to think that one should work on things that interested one and prizes and such are irrelevant distractions. Apparently prizes matter since often some status comes with them. Even blogs seem to look for number of hits, rank etc ( I do not know how to check most of these). From New Scientist:
"Scientists who have won a Nobel prize live nearly two years longer than those who were merely nominated, according to a new study. The findings suggest that social status confers "health-giving magic", the researchers say."

New online technology transfer resource

From scidev.net:
A key issue is a nation's own learning efforts and its ability to
absorb and further develop acquired technologies.

SciDev.Net has today published online a free technology transfer
resource for developing country policymakers that includes, among other
things, information on how to take advantage of foreign direct investment,
how to help firms build their own technological capacity and what the
public sector can do to support agricultural technology transfer.

The resource contains peer-reviewed policy briefs, opinion articles, a
collection of key documents and links as well as definitions of
essential terms.

Visit: http://www.scidev.net/techtransfer

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Eggs with drugs

From livescience.com:
"Traditional methods for producing therapeutic proteins such as antibodies used to treat cancer and arthritis are expensive. Farm animals could produce them faster and cheaper, the thinking goes.

Researchers led by Helen Sang of the Roslin BioCentre in Edinburgh,  Scotland created transgenic hens by inserting the genes for  desired pharmaceutical proteins into the hen’s gene for ovalbumin, a protein  that makes up 54 percent of egg whites.

All the egg whites from these hens contained miR24, an antibody with potential for treating malignant melanoma. The whites also packed human  interferon b-1a, an antiviral drug."

GDP per square kilometre

econbrowser has an interesting post on the distribution of world income. James Hamilton says that map of GDP density distribution given by Gallup, Sachs and Mellinger is very similar to the satellite pictureof the night sky. Interesting discussion and comments ( I stopped reading Steve Sailor's comments) follow.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A delightful book

"Our inner ape" by Frans De Wall is a popular science book without frills, no footnotes or end notes, not much effort to rigorously support some of the extrapolations. But there are indications of research that can lead to some verifications. Probably many other scientists will not agree with some of his conclusions. It is like a respected guest holding forth after dinner with a life time of interesting experiences. This article from science&spirit, written a few years before the book explains the book as well as any review (it unfortunately does not mention bonobos extensively discussed in the book). Excerpts:

"It is not hard to recognize the two pillars of human morality in the behavior of other primates. These pillars are elegantly summed up by the golden rule, which transcends the world’s cultures and religions. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” brings together empathy (attention to another’s feelings) and reciprocity (if others follow the same rule, you will be treated well). Human morality could not exist without empathy and reciprocity, tendencies that are widespread in other primates.

After one chimpanzee attacks another, for example, a bystander chimp will often go over to embrace the victim; we have documented hundreds of cases. Usually, the effect of such consolation is that screaming, yelping, and other signs of distress come to a stop. In fact, the tendency to reassure others is so strong that Nadia Kohts, a Russian scientist who raised a juvenile chimp nearly a century ago, said that if her charge escaped to the roof of her house, there was only one way to get him down. Holding out food would not do the trick, nor would shouts and threats of punishment. The only way would be for her to sit down and sob, as if she were in pain. Her suffering would prompt the young ape, a worried look on his face, to rush down from the roof and put an arm around her. This indicates the strength of the empathic tendency in our closest relatives.

Reciprocity, on the other hand, can be seen in experiments with captive primates. Before giving one chimpanzee food to divide with others, we measure spontaneous grooming in the colony: who grooms whom and for how long. Grooming is a pleasurable, relaxing activity, and being groomed is much appreciated. In our experiment, we found that one chimpanzee grooming another greatly increased the chance that the first would get food from the second. In other words, the chimpanzees remembered who had groomed them and paid them back later in the day. Like humans, apes seem quite capable of keeping track of incoming and outgoing favors.

Of course, these findings are not sufficient to speak of “morality,” but the tendencies observed in these primates fit what Scottish philosopher David Hume called the “moral sentiments.” Adding enforced social norms, our species turned the moral sentiments into an elaborate system that tells us how we ought to treat others and how we ought to promote the interests of the community."
A more recent book "Primates and philosophers" (which I have not yet seen) contains also discussions by other thinkers.

Some caste experiences

Dilip D'souza gives links to news and a review of A.N. Sattanathan's memoirs . I have heard similar stories from relatively young people from South India in late 80's.

Basic concepts

For basic terms and concepts in science, check ablogaroundtheclock and updates connecting to other blogs, for example, this one on evolution.
UPDATE: Check this post.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

An NRI in the news

My old economist friend V. K. Chetty's son Raj Chetty is in the list of 13 " young (untenured) economists doing work that is both highly respected among experts and relevant to the rest of us" according to thisarticle from New York Times.


Mysteries of the number 6174 discovered by a Mumbai school teacher D.R. Kaprekar in 1949 is making news again.

Visualising data

I am still working on this. Looks useful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Some bad ideas

Fred Halliday gives his list world's twelve worst ideas. One of them:
Number three: Diasporas have a legitimate role to play in national and international politics

The notion that emigrant or diaspora communities have a special insight into the problems of their homeland, or a special moral or political status in regard to them, is wholly unfounded. Emigrant ethnic communities play almost always a negative, backward, at once hysterical and obstructive, role in resolving the conflicts of their countries of origin: Armenians and Turks, Jews and Arabs, various strands of Irish, are prime examples on the inter-ethnic front, as are exiles in the United States in regard to resolving the problems of Cuba, or policymaking on Iran. English emigrants are less noted for any such political role, though their spasms of collective inebriation and conformist ghettoised lifestyles abroad do little to enhance the reputation of their home country.

I tend to agree with this and am vary of commenting on Indian problems though I am very interested. Yet, I find many articles from India opinionated and not very professional (the articles in EPW seem very good). Many articles of the kind that seem technically sound seem to be coming from Americans and Indians in U.S. universities. Some are available at http://www.esocialsciences.com/home/index.asp
If there are more such sources, I would like to know.

Chillies and cancer

Being an addict of chillie products, partcularly 'kurakaramu' or 'sambarukaramu' from coastal Andhra districts, I was pleased to see this in
BBE news
Scientists have discovered the key to the ability of spicy foods to kill cancer cells.
They found capsaicin, an ingredient of jalapeno peppers, triggers cancer cell death by attacking mitochondria - the cells' energy-generating boiler rooms.
Dr Bates said: "Capsaicin, for example, is already found in treatments for muscle strain and psoriasis - which raises the question of whether an adapted topical treatment could be used to treat certain types of skin cancer.

"It's also possible that cancer patients or those at risk of developing cancer could be advised to eat a diet which is richer in spicy foods to help treat or prevent the disease."
However, Josephine Querido, cancer information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "This research does not suggest that eating vast quantities of chilli pepper will help prevent or treat cancer."

Unfortunately, my psoriatic arthritis is worse and my right hand is almost useless.

Monday, January 08, 2007

John Quiggin's blog

Discovered fellow Australian John Quiggin's blog only a few weeks ago. Looks interesting and what is more, anybody can post on what interests him/her on Saturdays and Mondays. He posts at Crooked Timber too.

Strong words about China

After describing corruption in China, Will Hutton says in The Guardian:

The judicial apparatus is politicised from top to bottom. Every president and vice-president of a court is appointed by the party; and the courts are funded by provincial governments. The court bureaucracy works on the same basis as the rest of the government, with a party committee system superintending each rung of the court hierarchy. Judges often make decisions at the instruction of the committee or government independently of the legal merits of the case.
Many judges still have no formal legal training - the majority are retired army officers, only too ready to do the party's bidding.
As a potential watchdog to correct any of this, the media is crippled. China now has more than 2,000 newspapers, 2,000 television channels, 9,000 magazines and 450 radio stations, but they are all under the watchful eye of the party in Beijing or provincial propaganda departments. These authorities issue daily instructions on what may and may not be reported; journalists who digress will be suspended from working or even imprisoned.
In February 2006, three of China's most distinguished elders - Li Rui, a former aide to Mao Zedong, Hu Jiwei, former editor of the People's Daily, and Zhu Houze, a former party propaganda chief - published a letter condemning the approach: "History demonstrates that only a totalitarian system needs news censorship, out of the delusion that it can keep the public locked in ignorance," they wrote. Far from ensuring stability, they continued, such media repression would "sow the seeds of disaster".
The cumulative result of all this is economic weakness, despite the eye-catching growth figures. Innovation is poor; half of China's patents come from foreign companies. Its growth depends on huge investment, representing an unsustainable 40% or more of GDP financed by peasant savings. But China now needs $5.4 of extra investment to produce an extra $1 of output, a proportion vastly higher than that in economies such as Britain or the US. But 20 years ago, China needed just $4 to deliver the same result. In other words, an already gravely inefficient economy has become even more inefficient. China's national accounts tell the same story. Hu Angang calculates that China is now back to the Mao years in term of the inefficiency with which it uses capital to generate growth.
The west is unforgivably ignorant about China's shortcomings and weaknesses, which leads it vastly to exaggerate the extent of the Chinese "threat". China is certainly emerging as a leading exporter, but essentially it is a sub-contractor to the west. It has not bucked the way globalisation is heavily skewed in favour of the rich developed nations. Its productivity is poor; it lacks international champions; its innovation record is lamentable; it relies far too much on exports and investment to propel its economy. To characterise China as an unstoppable force whose economic model is unbeatable and set to swamp us - the stuff of almost every ministerial and business lobby speech - is to make a first-order mistake.

Sounds familiar?
Update: Will Hutton's article as well his book on which the article is based are discussed in The Economist blog

Is it oil after all?

A comment in Mark Thoma's blog links to this article. Excerpts:
Iraq's massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, are about to be thrown open for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies under a controversial law which is expected to come before the Iraqi parliament within days.

The US government has been involved in drawing up the law, a draft of which has been seen by The Independent on Sunday. It would give big oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972.
Oil industry executives and analysts say the law, which would permit Western companies to pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back on its feet after years of sanctions, war and loss of expertise.

Funding higher education

Bruno Mascarenhas has a very interesting post on funding doctor's education in India. It indicates that eventhough medical education is expensive, most of the money comes from treating patients. This suggests that perhaps many technical institutes can become essentially self funding. In Australia, technical institutes like TAFEs are funded by the government and seem to make very little money on their own. Even small pcb-cutting guillotines are imported and cost about 1500 Aus. dollars. It seems that many such instruments can be easily made in TAFEs giving training to students and at the same tome saving money and delays to small business people and offices.
At a more basic research level, scidev.net has given this example from south Africa :
"South Africa's best university-industry research networks support industry while maintaining their academic integrity. Other countries can learn from their experience, says Glenda Kruss."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Education and longevity

Greg Mankiw links to this article in New York Times
The one social factor that researchers agree is consistently linked to longer lives in every country where it has been studied is education. It is more important than race; it obliterates any effects of income.

Year after year, in study after study, says Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, education “keeps coming up.”

The study is partly based on empirical studies of Adriana Lleras-Muney. It is not clear how it works (correlation vs causation) but some suspect that education may somehow teach people to delay gratification. Lleras-Muney's papers can be found here and one of the papers relevant to the above article may be mortalityrevision1.pdf. There are other papers on this issue by Angus Deaton, some of them available at the electronic journaledited by Padma Prakash. This site has also an article by Kaushik Basu on teacher truancy in India
Kuffir in his blog and comments in various Indian blogs has been frequently emphasizing the merits of education for all.

One of America's strengths

From salon.com:
Twenty-five percent of the technology and engineering companies started in the United States between 1995 and 2005 had at least one key co-founder who was an immigrant, reports a new study from researchers at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University. The researchers estimate that these companies generated $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers. Immigrant non-citizens were also responsible for 24 percent of all international patent applications filed from the U.S. in 2006. Indians alone started more engineering and technology companies in the U.S. in the last 10 years than Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese combined.
(Incidentally, the names of the student researchers on the team constitute their own mini-primer on globalization: Ramakrishnan Balasubramanian, Pradeep Kamsali, Nishanth Lingamneni, Chris Morecroft, Niyanthi Reddy, George Robinson, Batul Tambawalla, Mark Weaver and Zhenyu Yang.)

Tuesday, January 02, 2007