Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mahe Jabeen is coming to Australia

This may be of interest only to Telugus living in Australia. Mahe Jabeen is the author of Akuralu Kalam; some of her poems in Telugu are here and in tranlation here She is also a trained social worker and runs an organization 'Phoenix organization for woman and child'. She is visiting Australia to attend a feminist meeting in Townsville from July 17 to July 20:
Mahe Jabeen has kindly agred to stop in Melbourne after the conference and hold discussions with some of her well wishers. On the way to Townsville, she has a day's wait in Sydney for the connecting flight. If anybody in Sydney is interested in meeting her, they can contact her at

Dani Rodrik's 'Impossibility Theorem"

Dani Rodrik has an interesting post:
Excerpt: " I have an "impossibility theorem" for the global economy that is like that. It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full."
Perhaps, more open borders may lessen the incompatibility.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Altruism in chimps

There is a nice site for discussion of recent research on science topics The post on June 25, 2007 discusses some recent research on altruism in chimps:
"Many scientists have argued that only humans show true altruistic behaviour. But a group of Ugandan chimps is set to change all that by showing clear signs of true selflessness, helping other unrelated chimps with no desire for reward.
Now, Felix Warneken and colleagues form the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have found compelling evidence that we are not alone. Contrary to previous studies, they have found that chimps also behave altruistically in a very human way. They help out unrelated strangers without expectation of reward, and even go to great lengths to do so.
It’s particularly fascinating that rewards in the first two tests didn’t affect the chimps’ behaviour. This suggests that chimps don’t continually analyse the pros and cons of helping their fellow – if they did, the reward would have motivated them to help even more often.

Instead, de Waal believes that the chimps have evolved psychological systems that steer them towards selflessness. In essence, natural selection has done the analysis for them and decided that altruistic behaviour works to its advantage in the long run. Selfless behaviour then, can evolve for selfish reasons, and that strikes to the very core of the debate on altruism."

See also the June 23 post on "Resistance to an extinct virus makes us more vulnerable to HIV" which is also discussed by Carl Zimmer in "The Loom" on June 21:

District Gazatteers of India

While reading Robert Putnam's article on diversity, I was reminded of Nasik Gazatteer which I browsed through long ago:
It was first published in 1883 and various sections have been revised since. The section "The People" contains descriptions of communities which migrated from times immemorial to few decades ago (before 1883) from various parts of India and abroad and retained some sort of identities through out. I wonder whether this section has been updated and how these communities are adopting in the information age. More information about other districts can be found by google search under " District Gazatteers of India" or some such heading. Wikipedia does not have much on this topic though it links to some gazatteers when seaching for specific districts. There is a link to an interesting article by Kumud Biswas.
Recently I visited a small town Foster in South Gippsland where a couple of Telugu dentists decided to treat their uncle. The conversations shifted seemelessly from technical to family matters in coastal village Telugu.

Some sustainable energy news from

"The first commercial batch of biofuel from the stalks of a new sweet sorghum hybrid has been produced this month (13 June) at a distillery in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India.

Ethanol is produced from the sweet juice in the stalk of the sweet sorghum. The researchers responsible for the hybrid say by using sorghum, resource-poor farmers will still be able to use the sorghum grain and protect food security, while earning an additional income from selling the stalks."
"Winner of Outstanding Achievement Award 2007
SELCO-India. Making solar energy affordable yet commercially viable

SELCO is a private business, based in Bangalore, which provides solar-home-systems (SHS) and other solar services to low-income households and institutions. Its network of local sales and service centres are set up where micro-finance organisations can provide loans to customers. All systems are sold on a commercial basis, but SELCO is committed to providing the highest quality services to poor people on financial terms they can afford.
SELCO used the 2005 Ashden Award to create an innovation department, establish new partnership arrangements with microfinance organisations, develop a five-year business plan with the aim of reaching an additional 200,000 customers by 2010, and set up a pilot fund to guarantee the deposits on solar systems for very poor households."
Check the above link for more winners from India and other developing countries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Robert Putnam on diversity and 'Social Capital'

Robert Putnam's recent article is bound to generate a lot of discussion among academics as well as politicians. Abstract:
"Ethnic diversity is increasing in most advanced countries, driven mostly by sharp increases in immigration. In the long run immigration and diversity are likely to have important cultural, economic, fiscal, and developmental benefits. In the short run, however, immigration and ethnic diversity tend to reduce social solidarity and social capital. New evidence from the US suggests that in ethnically diverse neighbourhoods residents of all races tend to ‘hunker down’. Trust (even of one's own race) is lower, altruism and community cooperation rarer, friends fewer. In the long run, however, successful immigrant societies have overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity and more encompassing identities. Illustrations of becoming comfortable with diversity are drawn from the US military, religious institutions, and earlier waves of American immigration."
A nice summary of the article by Madeleine Bunting and interesting comments in The Guardian.
I came across Putnam's article through a post of Andrew Leigh in his blog. Andrew Leigh also links to asimilar study by himself. Another summary of Putnam's study here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vacuum-packed food

is not that safe according to Excerpt:"Vacuum-packed foods are deprived of oxygen to keep them fresh and boost their shelf life, but the same strategy is a boon for Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium responsible for a kind of food poisoning that kills 25 percent of the people it infects. "

See also about a new form of synesthesia in
"A brain anomaly can make the saying "I know how you feel" literally true in hyper-empathetic people who actually sense that they are being touched when they witness others being touched.

The condition, known as mirror-touch synesthesia, is related to the activity of mirror neurons, cells recently discovered to fire not only when some animals perform some behavior, such as climbing a tree, but also when they watch another animal do the behavior. For "synesthetes," it's as if their mirror neurons are on overdrive. "

Friday, June 15, 2007

Discover interviews David Brin

I have read some of David Brin's articles and visited his web site off and on but never read his books. Apparently, his 1998 book "The transparent Society" contains the following passage:
“Suppose at some point we take a major hit and, for example, terrorists ever brought down both World Trade Center Towers. What would the Attorney General ask for?”
In the Discover interview, he goes on to say: "Then I went through what basically was a mild and more reasonable version of the Patriot Act, because I never pictured John Ashcroft. I suppose I could say, “I told you so.” But by now I would have expected some of the other aspects I predicted to be a little stronger, like vigorous activity by whistle-blowers."
Some more excerpts:
"That’s my main theme—it’s not about fast-paced changes in how small or big or penetrating we can see individually. What’s very fast-paced is the spreading of seeing in parallel. It’s happening in biochemistry. It’s happening in astronomy. It’s happening in almost every source of perception."
For somebody like me who is pessimistic about a lot of universitiy research, this next quotation offers some hope: "This will be the age of amateurs."
"It may seem ironic, but for privacy and freedom to survive, we’ll need a civilization that is mostly open and transparent, so that each of us may catch the would-be voyeurs and Big Brothers. "
"Jonas Salk said our top job is to be “good ancestors.” If we in this era meet the challenges of our time, then our heirs may have powers that would seem godlike to us—the way we take for granted miracles like flying through the sky or witnessing events far across the globe. If those descendants do turn out to be better, wiser people than us, will they marvel that primitive beings managed so well, the same way we’re awed by the best of our ancestors? I hope so. It’s poignant consolation for not getting to be a demigod. "
Read the whole interview again.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Links June 13,2007

1) Yegor Gaidor's article on Soviet collapse is discussed by Felix Salmon and Tyler Cowen, the later has several interesting comments.

2) Roderick MacFarquhar reviews "Nixon and Mao; The Week that Changed the World" by Margaret MacMillan in The New York Review of Books. Andrew Leonard wonders whether Taiwan screwed up China's chances of democracy.
3) Pankaj Mishra reviews Martha Nussbaum's"The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India's Future".

4) Tyler Cowen and his readers recommend some books that may help learn economics in spare time. Pardha Dasgupta's "Economics, A very short introduction' is not mentioned but looks promising. Some of these I have read and it did not help. Perhaps not surprising in view of the recent discussions. For the latest round, see Mark Thoma and Steve Waldman.
Studies by sociologists Mike Reay and Marion Fourcade of economists are also worth remembering.

5) Andrew Leonard has twopostson microfinance. The best that I have read so far on this topic is Rajshekhar's postin fracturedearth.

6) Guru and Tabula Rasahave posts on 're-reading books'.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Spotlight on Agri-biotech

in sub-Saharan Africa from Check:
More general information at:

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Remembering my father

This may be my last trip to USA and I have been meeting more relatives and friends than usual. I have been hearing some stories about my father that I did not know. Very early in my life our interests and tastes diverged and though I kept in touch with my father, I never got to know him well. I knew that many of his students liked him; they even erected a statue in his honour after his death. Some came from distant villages to study in his school, some stayed in our house and many spoke of his help in studies and jobs. He could be charming and was sometimes an engaging speaker quoting from Chalam to Shakespeare but for me he was silly, weak and insufferable. I was always irritated by the way he rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous. One group of very rich relatives were only related by his first marriage and I was always surprised by the regard and affection they showed him.
On this trip, I learnt the story about his first marriage from two different sources. It seems that the marriage to K, who came from a rich family, was very brief and took place around 1937-38. The first night after marriage, K told my father that she was in love with a muslim boy and was married against her will. Apparently my father realized that in that society even after a divorce it would be difficult for her to marry the one she loved and took upon himself to arrange her marriage and succeeded.
The next incident happened around 1992 about two years before my father’s death and when my father was old and sick. He seems to have met K again at a common relative’s wedding. K had children but her marriage did not last long. Apparently K expressed her regrets and felt that she made a mistake. She introduced her children who started calling my father ‘nanna garu’. They gave their addresses and requested him to visit them in Hyderabad. May be my father felt that he would not be able to make it; he left the addresses with my cousin and asked him to look them up some time. My cousin says that he tried to do that on his next trip to Hyderabad, could find the street but could not locate the factory that K’s children owned.
My brother seems to have inherited my father’s helping nature and I hope that I have inherited some of his qualities.

P.S. (6/12/07) After a few days of mulling over it, I still find it difficult to believe the story above but it may be true. According to my brother, the sources were my father himself and a nephew of K who explained to my brother the high regard their family had for my father. Another cousin says that he saw some pre-independence correspondence between my father and his friends which was very different from his later letters which always started with "By the grace of Lord Venkateswara...". May be big events and youth bring out the best in some people and family and responsibilities weigh them down.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Excerpts from (via Yahoogroups FDRI, IFPRI stands for International Food Policy Research Institute):
“Joachim von Braun, director general of IFPRI, sees this trend toward decentralization as driven not only by democracy, but also by economic globalization. "Globalization requires local decisionmaking power that will efficiently provide the infrastructure and services demanded by investors," he says. "This economic necessity drives 'glocalisation'—the combination of globalization with localization and decentralization."

When it works properly, decentralization can help to alleviate poverty and food insecurity by providing infrastructure and services that poor people require, like drinking water, roads, schooling, and health care. "The goal is to bring government closer to the people, with the hope of giving poor people a greater voice and making government more effective and more accountable," says IFPRI senior research fellow Regina Birner. Given that most poor people in developing countries live in rural areas, out of sight of the political elites in national capitals, "decentralization can be the single most important governance reform for rural areas," she says.

But making decentralization work effectively for poor people is a challenge, and it takes time. A 2004 study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) examined the impact of decentralization on poverty in 18 developing countries and 3 states of India. Decentralization helped to reduce poverty in only one-third of the cases, and in some of the poorest countries with weak institutions and post-conflict situations decentralization worsened poverty.
It is perhaps understandable that central governments become reluctant to go all the way with decentralization. Faguet points out that decentralization is not a policy prescription with predictable results, like, say, lowering tariffs. "It's a process with very uncertain outcomes," he says. "The center has to let go of power and resources and pass them to local government. You don't know what's going to happen, and you have to live with that."

When local governments gain power, do they actually empower poor people? Are their decisions about delivery of infrastructure and services any different from those of central governments? Research shows that in many cases local governments are indeed more responsive to the poor.

Where transparency is lacking, poor people have been less satisfied with the services provided by local government, a study from India shows. IFPRI's Regina Birner and others examined local governance and poverty in two Gram Panchayats (village councils) in the state of Karnataka, India. In the case of drainage, for example, village residents expressed high levels of dissatisfaction, and one-third to one-half of them did not know who was responsible for drainage service in their community.
"It's also possible that decentralizing government functions will decentralize corruption," explains IFPRI's Birner. Poor people may be no better off under a corrupt local government than under a corrupt centralized one. Corruption is often more visible, however, at the local level, she points out. People see, for example, who can suddenly afford a big house. Therefore, decentralization may increase the possibilities for fighting corruption. “

Monday, June 04, 2007

Red-haired family

forced to move
"A Newcastle family claim they have been forced from two homes by thugs who have targeted them over their ginger hair.
Kevin and Barbara Chapman say they and their four children, aged between 10 and 13, have endured years of taunts, smashed windows and violence.

They said they moved from Walker to Newbiggin Hall to try to escape the bullying, and then again to Kenton Bar.

Son Kevin, 11, said he was recently punched in a street attack. Newcastle Council is "discussing the situation".

Mr Chapman, 49, said his 10-year-old daughter Ryelle and sons Daniel, 10, and Jordan, 13, have also been badly affected.

He said each time the family received abuse they moved home.

The family also say they have endured their homes being daubed in graffiti."

We had similar experiences in Australia durng late 80 and early 90's; called 'black dogs' , 'go back to your country' on the streets and 'black c..ts' written in front of our house. Some academics advised how to remove the graffitti. We moved house.

Annie Zaidi

continues to write prose poems 'as lyrical as a curl of smoke'. Enjoy

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Two dimensional political compass

instead of just left and right, recommended by Dani Rodrik is here:
My co-ordinates are (-4.25,-4.92); they seem to be fairly close to those of Dalai Lama.

Glenn Davis Stone's recent paper

"The birth and death of traditional knowledge: paradoxical effects of biotechnolgy in India" is now available at his site:
Some of the paper covers the same ground as his earlier paper "Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal." Current Anthropology 48:67-103; but the new material is about the Gujarat experience in BT cotton. Both papers are discussed by Andrew Leonard in