Monday, March 31, 2008

Chor poreche babur bagane

One of the problems with old age for me: I keep remebering songs I heard long ago and it is difficult to find them, particularly when I do not know the language. At one time, I thought that I would never find the. Now with google and various sites I have been able to find many. The above is a Baul song which I thought was sung by Abbasuddin since that was only LP of that type I had in the 70's. The record was duly lost but whenever I met him (mostly in Mumbai but also in Zurich and Princeton), Amit Roy would sing it for me. Even that was years ago and after some trial and error with google, I found the first line. But all the versions I found on the internet, including a Chinese site, are by Purnachandra Das Baul and are not what I remember. And today I found this site with over 4000 Bengali songs but Abbasuddin's version, if there is one, is not there. But the site owner seems to have been in Melbourne until last year and may be I can find the version that I remember.
Rereading books that I enjoyed when I was kid is also interesting. Recently I read Sarat's "Sesh Prasna" and "Pather dabi" and I still like them. But it was surprising to find an anti-Islam piece by the same Sarat who wrote "Mahesh". Tagore's short stories are still good. It is still painful to read Gopichand. Russell, Orwell and Haldane are still good to read. New areas like economics are difficult. Popular books like "The White Man's burden","The Truth About Markets", "The Bottom Billion", "Economics: A Very Short Introduction" and blogs give some glimpses. May be I should sit down and go through a book like Williams' "Weighing the Odds " carefully.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Chris Blattman posts from Liberia

From his recent post:
"Today we sat down with an inter-faith network of Liberian religious leaders to talk about their peace building plans. They are a truly inspiring organization, building local capacity to resolve conflicts, and training mediators to resolve disputes in the community. The countryside is, to some extent, a powder keg, and they are building local early warning systems and rapid response capability to potentially serious conflicts.

Moreover, to reduce tensions in conflict-prone places, these religious leaders--principally Muslims and Christians--do not just aspire to a new social contract, they sit down with ethnic and religious leaders in each village and coax them to actually write one, specifying norms and sanctions.

And they want to know if it's working.

I hum and haw about comparison groups, going through my impact evaluation 101 schpiel. I have serious concerns that one would or could develop a control group, let alone randomize, for such a program. So I dance delicately around the subject.

"Wait a minute," interrupts the Imam, "Are you talking about a randomized control trial?"

I gape.

Oh I see!" says one Reverend Minister, "We need a control group! This is a good idea.""
This is the fourth of his recent posts from Liberia.

P.S.This post of Chris Blattman has also been mentioned by Guru, The Bayesian Heresy ,Dani Rodrik. Guru gives links to program evaluation.

Andrew Leonard on Botswana

Andrew Leonard in two posts speculates on Botswana's success. From the first postin 2006:
"A country the size of Texas with a population of 1.6 million, Botswana is no paradise. Inequality and unemployment are high, and AIDS is a nightmare. But in a continent of failed states, Botswana is a beacon. How did it do it? And can its example be copied?

There seems to be near universal agreement that good leadership and sound policy choices were critical to Botswana's success. The first president of Botswana, Seretse Khama, a tribal chieftain educated at Balliol College in the U.K., is widely credited with being a great leader. Taxation rates have historically been low and rule by law effective. The prudent use of revenues from Botswana's lucrative diamond mines to fund government expenditure was also crucial.

But the most interesting question is whether Khama and Botswana benefited from historically contingent forces related to colonialism that ended up giving the country a leg up. "An African Success Story: Botswana," by Daron Acemoglu, Simon Johnson and James Robinson (three economists, two from MIT and one from Harvard), argues that the Tswana tribes enjoyed pre-colonial institutions that encouraged cooperation, tolerated dissent, and in general provided solid support for the development of a mature civil society. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, those institutions survived the colonial era.

The battle of Dimawe was part of that. But so was Sechele's subsequent plea to Britain to place his nation under its protection, as defense against the Boers. The British resisted for a few decades, then acceded when the German seizure of what later became Namibia threatened their imperial ambitions. But the British never paid much attention to the Protectorate of Bechuanaland. Distracted by the rest of their empire, convinced that there was nothing to be gained from direct exploitation, they left the Tswana essentially to themselves.
Historical arguments that attempt to explain economic success (or failure) can rarely be settled, one way or another.

But Botswana does offers a counter-example, a model for what can happen when good leaders make good decisions in an environment where traditional social structures survive intact in the face of Western imperial domination."

From the recent post:

"On March 20, the government of Botswana, the world's largest producer of raw diamonds, and the legendary diamond goliath De Beers announced the opening of the Diamond Trading Company, Botswana, a state-of-the-art processing center for cutting, polishing, marketing and selling diamonds.
But even though there's some satisfaction to be taken in this post-colonial triumph, Botswana's success in gaining concessions from De Beers is no guarantee of economic prosperity. The diamond trade has not escaped the pressures of globalization. Once upon a time, Antwerp was the world's center of diamond polishing and cutting, but today India and China increasingly dominate the business, taking full advantage of their brutally competitive juxtaposition of low wages and highly skilled labor. De Beers no longer controls the entire global diamond trade -- upstart Russian and Israeli firms will seek every opportunity to undercut its prices."
According toWikipedia "With its proven record of good economic governance, Botswana was ranked as Africa's least corrupt country by Transparency International in 2004, ahead of many European and Asian countries. The World Economic Forum rates Botswana as one of the two most economically competitive nations in Africa. In 2004 Botswana was once again assigned "A" grade credit ratings by Moody's and Standard & Poor's. This ranks Botswana as by far the best credit risk in Africa and puts it on par with or above many countries in central Europe, East Asia, and Latin America." But "Botswana has been hit very hard by the AIDS epidemic; the average life expectancy in Botswana at birth, 1990: 64 years, 2005: 34 years. "

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fishing bird

video here (via Human Etholgy Discussion group).

Abel prize 2008

goes to John Thompson and Jacques Tits "for their profound achievements in algebra and in particular for shaping modern group theory".

Friday, March 28, 2008

Bloomberg article on Taleb

Taleb Outsells Greenspan as Black Swan Gives Worst Turbulence . Concluding remarks:
"Taleb likens modern-day financial markets to medicine in the 1800s, when going to a hospital in London or Paris multiplied your risk of death by four times, he says. Similarly, quants increase risk by deploying flawed financial tools designed to reduce it, he argues.

For Taleb, the ills besetting financial markets are a vindication of his ideas. Like medicine, though, he isn't offering easy cures. "
Some other economics links:
"Why Did Financial Globalization not Deliver the Goods?", a discussion in 'Naked Capitalism' of Rodrik-Subranian paper of the same title., Andrew Leonard links to Mark Thoma's recent post on Keynes. FDR and J.K. Galbraith too seem to back in favour.
The Regulation of the Mixed Economy in Action , Brad DeLong reacts to Martin Wolf and David Wessel on the 'big shift'.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Links to articles on Indian Bureaucrats

from The Bayesian Heresy. Some articles by a retired I.A.S. officer B.S. Raghavan from 1998 ,from 2007andand March 18, 2008 which is to be concluded. Excerpts from the last article:
" ...implementation, maintenance and service delivery are at the very heart of India’s efforts to sustain and accelerate the pace of growth. And yet, these three precisely are its blind spots, acting as a drag on the economy.
Few public functionaries — whether in government, public sector, or local bodies — paid out of taxpayers’ money feel answerable to anyone, least of all to the public, for timely completion of tasks entrusted to them or for performing the services expected of them in a spirit of dedication and with a sense of urgency.

No wonder, the World Bank was forced to use strong language by describing the quality of governance in many Indian states as “appalling”.

This, despite public officials being very generously treated compensation-wise. Mark these words culled from past World Bank reports:

“…even among equivalent jobs the public sector exceeds the private: A factory worker in a wholly central government-owned establishment makes 2.5 times more than in a wholly private establishment, regular public sector teachers earn several times more than the average among private teachers (or than teachers hired directly by communities). In fact, one of the drivers of higher wage inequality in the “liberalising” 1990s was that public sector wages grew much faster than private sector regular job wages or informal casual work. Real wages in the public sector increased by 44 per cent over this period — increasing the public sector premium for (observationally) equivalent workers from 48 to 68 per cent.


“High wages with little accountability for actual service delivery make public sector agencies an obvious target for patronage hiring, which results at times in massive overstaffing. The Mumbai Municipal Water Corporation has 35 workers per thousand connections, whereas well-functioning utilities have about 3 per thousand. The UP Irrigation Department employs an astonishing 110,000 people…The overstaffing often comes at very low levels of the organisation… about 70 per cent of all government employees are support staff unrelated to public services — drivers, peons, clerks.

“While there are millions of dedicated civil servants — teachers, health workers, policemen, engineers, registration officials —attempting to do their jobs well in spite of the systems that work against this, it also cannot be denied that all too often attempts to seek services from the public sector encounter workers who are absent, incompetent, indifferent, and outright corrupt.”

These reports are a few years old. What with the bounties generously handed by the Central Fifth Pay Commission, and adopted in their entirety by the States for their employees whose duties and responsibilities can by no stretch of imagination be deemed to be on a par with those of the Central Government, the differentials between the public and private sectors would only have further widened in favour of public sector functionaries."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Raj Kapoor's 'Boot Polish'

Though familiar with the songs from 'Boot Polish', I always thought that it was a remake of Shoeshine. Apparently not according to this 1958 review from Time magazine:
"Boot Polish (R. D. Purie; Hoffberg),the first Indian-made film to be released generally in the U.S., has drawn quick comparison to Shoeshine, Vittorio De Ska's 1947 Italian classic. The comparison, apparently based on the similarity of titles, is unfortunate. The two films move in opposite directions—Shoeshine despairingly toward the lower depths, Boot Polish wistfully toward the light. More importantly, their coupling might becloud the fact that Boot Polish is a nearly flawless little gem of a fable that glows with its own brilliance, without need of outside illumination.

Director Raj Kapoor's hero and heroine are two orphaned children, living with their sadistic prostitute aunt in the slums of Bombay. At her command, they spend their days in the streets and trams of the city, begging money in a squeaky singsong chant. But an old, kindly bootlegger urges them to the slum child's equivalent of the higher life: "You have been given two hands to work with. Start with small things first, and bigger things later."

The two children hide pennies from their aunt until they have saved enough to buy a pair of brushes and three cans of shoe polish. For a short while they prosper, but with the coming of the rains their customers lose interest in shoeshines. Close to starvation, the boy and his sister are accidentally separated; from there the film wanders to an ending that, for all its melodramatic sentimentality, fits perfectly into the picture's curious blend of gutter reality and fairy-tale dreaminess.

The two children. Rattan Kumar and Baby Naaz, flash from delight to fear to solemn determination with startling virtuosity. From her scrawny, seven-year-old frame, Actress Naaz somehow sums up the whole history of her sex, chattering happily as she works with her brother, huddling against him for warmth, patting his arm in a crisis and reassuring him, "I'll manage it somehow." Raj Kapoor trains his camera on them almost without a break, and they have rewarded him by endowing his film with the gentle luster of a miniature masterpiece."
A more recent (2002) review by Howard Schumann here towards the end of the article. Excerpt:
"Some may dismiss the picture as melodrama, but I find it a life-affirming and rich cinematic experience. The love of the children for each other is very real, and their struggle for survival and social respectability is profoundly touching. Filled with positive energy and the "heroic face of innocence," Boot Polish is now more than ever one of my all time favorite films."
There are many popular songs from the film including this unusual song Lapak Jhapak by Manna Dey.
Here is a different version of Lapak Jhapak without the video. We played the first version last night and it rained.

The other Sundarayya library

Trying to follow the news of a recent attack on Sundrayya Vignana Kendram, I came across this May, 2006 news of library stated by Sundarayya in his village:'Alaganipadu, a village in Nellore, that produced a great leader of the working class movement and founder-member of the Communist Party of India Puchalapalli Sundaraiah, will soon be deprived of its famous son's home. It has been in a dilapidated condition for several years. And, the successive Governments have religiously ignored villagers' request to renovate the home.

According to villagers, Sundarayya, popularly known as Comrade PS, converted this house into a library in 1937 and named it after Bala Gangadhar Tilak. It continued to be one of the best libraries in the district till his death in 1985. After his death the maintenance of the library was neglected. Books started gathering dust. Cracks have developed at many places in the building due to improper maintenance, a villager Dasari Venkatakrishnam Raju said.

With no Government help forthcoming, the villagers were forced to shift the library from Sundaraiah's home to the village `chavadi' in 1995. "But the Revenue Department is now pressuring us to shift the library to some other place," said librarian Parankusham Krishnaiah. The villagers are looking for assistance to renovate the library so that it remains a memorial for the late leader for generations to come. "

Here is an old story ofSVK and a links to libraries with major Asia collections.

A neo-colonial enterprise in books?

Australian publisher Henry Rosenbloom in the age articleBrits in the Bad Books:
"The problem starts in the United States, the home of much of the best writing in the English-speaking book world. When US publishers or literary agents try to sell English-language rights to their authors' books, they usually look first to Britain, which has a domestic market of 60 million people — and access to many more. Although Britain is choosy about what it wants, this is where the big bucks are.

The trouble is that British publishers have almost always insisted, when they acquire domestic rights, that so-called "Commonwealth" rights — that part of the globe that used to be coloured red — be included. They have even tended to refuse to consider buying rights in books that originate in Australia.

Why? Because Australia is a highly profitable market for British publishers. They usually do not have to pay for the Commonwealth component when they acquire the rights; they get to pay the authors what are called "export royalties", which are around half of what are known as "home royalties, and they sometimes sell more copies here than they do in their own country. They don't even have to publish the books here — simply distributing moderate quantities is still money for jam. The disproportionate profits go straight to their bottom lines, and help prop up their own ailing industry. This is rent-seeking and coupon-clipping on a grand scale.

I understand very well that the British book trade is in a sorry state, and that UK houses have come to rely on Australia to subsidise their often marginal domestic operations.

But we must put our own interests first. As in all neo-colonial enterprises, British publishers, by protecting their own financial interests, are holding up the development of Australian publishing and the Australian book trade in general. To the extent that they prevent Australian publishing houses from reaching their potential, they weaken the financial base of our industry, and even the prospects of local authors."
I wonder what is the situation in other commonwealth countries.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

CNN.Business recommends

investing in railroad stocks; apparently Warren Buffet is doing it. Excerpt:
"Railroads are far more energy-efficient than their competition. Locomotives today get 80% more mileage from a gallon of diesel than they did in 1980. As a result, trains consume far less fuel than trucks do to move the same amount of freight.

That not only saves on costs, it reduces emissions of greenhouse gases. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency calculates that for distances of more than 1,000 miles, using trains rather than trucks alone reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 65%."

Friday, March 21, 2008

The decline of the curry industrial complex

will accelerateaccording to Jonathan Guthrie in FT"unless the government modifies its plans for immigration controls. It has already exempted from the requirement to speak fluent English those investors who bring £1m into the country. Chefs who are handy with the cardamom should be granted a similar waiver for fixed-term stays. If need be, they can have time off to wrestle with English at night school.

Mr Rashid, who is president of the Bangladeshi Caterers Association, has suggested a scheme along these very lines to Liam Byrne. “The [immigration] minister approved of our formula but didn’t do anything about it,” said Mr Rashid, who has learnt an important lesson in the ways of politicians. " (via How the World Works)

2008. Intel Science Talent Search winners announced

Fromscience news.The following caught my eye:
"Eric Delgado, 18, of Bayonne, N.J., won fifth place for developing a strategy to disable a pump that bacteria use to flush antibiotics out of their cells."
How do these kids do it? By that age, I was barely coming to terms with what I wanted to do; turned out to be mathematics, after a bit of exposure to Cantor's ideas and reading E.T. Bell's "Men of Mathematics".
P.S. Chandan Sapotka gives links to a talk and work of Neil Turok in the post Educating the next African Einstein! .

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Abi writes about link rot

Abi posts on link rot :'web pages that are no longer available at their old URLs -- and the inconvenience it causes to internet users'. This is a problem, particularly somebody like me, who uss the blog mainly for learning and modifying my views. Since I cannot do much about it, I try to include some crucial parts of the linked article in the post. If the link does not work after a while, passages from the article seem to help locating the article or some thing equivalent. Of course, this does not work all the time, is a bit of pain and I usually get distracted by other articles along the way.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

An example from "The Bottom Billion"

Paul Collier's "The Bottom Billion" has drawn acclaim from several quarters. I found parts of the book, particularly later chapters strange, but the book very intersting. Here is Ethan Zucherman's review which is enthuastic with some reservations.
Chris Blattman in his post What to Read on Development says:
"Then there is Paul Collier's book. It offers, in my opinion, very confident conclusions based on still preliminary research and a partial reading of the literature. The book is very popular in the development agencies. If you know intimately the papers on which the conclusions are based, however, I think you can't help but be less sanguine. But to a non-expert, those challenges may not be obvious."

One of the problems with either aid or government garnts seems to be service delivery problems, particularly due to corruption in the bureaucracy. A chapter in William Easterley's The Whiteman's Burden is entitled 'The Rich Have Markets, the Poor Have Bureaucrats'. Some countries like Brazil have programmes like Bolsa familiato circumvent the bureaucracy. Here is a different type of strategy from 'The Bottom Billion' on page 150.
" The story begins with Ritva Reinikka devising a survey to survey public expenditure. She initially devised it for Uganda, where it came up with rather depressing results: only around 20 percent of the money that the Ministry of Finance released for primary schools, other than teachers' salaries, actually reached the schools. In some socities the government would have tried to suppress information like this, but in Uganda, far from suppressing it, Tumusiime-Mutebile used it as a springboard for action. Obviously, one way would have been to tighten the top-down system of audit and scrutiny, but they already been trying that and it evidently wasn't working well. So Tumusiime-Mutebile decided to try a comletely different approach: scrutiny from the bottom up. Each time the Ministry of Finance released money it informed the local media,and it also sent a poster to each school setting out what it should be getting.
... three years later he repeated the the tracking survey. Now instead of only 20 percent getting to schools, 90 percent was getting through."

Gulzar Natarajan applies "Two Bus Theory"

Vijayawada Municipal Commissioner Gulzar Natarajan explains in the post Reforms in Adminstration their experiment with the 'Two Bus Theory' of Jim Collins. Excerpts:
"...Collins' book 'Good to Great', where he argues that to create a good company you need to "get the right people on the bus, wrong people off the bus, right people on right places and then figure out where to drive the bus".
A detailed analysis of both departments revealed both administrative excess and human resource deadwood, at the cutting edge. The numbers of sanitation and revenue divisions were found to be on the higher side. Given the difficulty in hiving off or retrenching staff in Government, we decided to have two buses - with all the right people in one bus and all the wrong people in the other bus.

The results have been spectacular. Revenue collection efficiency has gone past 90% (used to be 75-80% previously), and the large private defaulters have all paid their dues. Tax revenues have increased by more than 60% since the experiment has been tried out. The revenue assessment, collection, and monitoring work has become more professional and standardized. The sanitation complaints reflected in a toll free complaints cell, 103, has declined sharply and this has been acknowledged by the City receiving the CRISIL award for sanitation in 2007. "
Read also the comments and his earlier post A recession in the rent seeking economy where he explains that in some situations an incorruptible official at the highest level can make a difference.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

An interesting site for books

(via J.K. Mohana Rao in the discussion group racchabanda)From the site Forgotten Books:
"Welcome to! From here you can read thousands of books FREE online (100% viewable) and purchase the books you like as high-quality paperbacks at wholesale prices.

We specialize in historical writings, this includes works such as: classical fiction, philosophy, science, religion, folklore, mythology and sacred texts, in addition to secret and esoteric subjects, such as: occult, freemasonry, alchemy, hermetic and ancient knowledge. Fiction and non-fiction books.

It is our mission to find hidden knowledge and preserve lost knowledge, from antiquity to the present day, and make this information freely available to the world. If you like any of our books, they are all for sale on for little over the cost of the printing. Please take a look."

There are translations of poems of Kabir, Vemana, of vedas etc. There is a useful feature. When I searched for Bates, it gave the references with page numbers in all the listed books of various bates. There are two from Darwin's book for Walter Bates.

As mentioned before Arvind Gupta's site Toys and Books has many downloadable books of current interest from children's books to those on sustainable development.It has also many books by I.Asimov and D.D. Kosambi. It has some by J.B.S. Haldane, E.F. Schumacher and the leftist classic "Man's Worldly Goods" by Leo Huberman.

Migrant contributions

From the New York Times article on the work and views of Dilip Ratha:
"There are about 200 million migrants worldwide, supporting as many if not more people at home. That suggests that remittances may reach almost a tenth of the world’s population.

India ($27 billion), China ($26 billion) and Mexico ($25 billion) are the leading beneficiaries. But in relative terms, small countries gain the most, with some increasing their national incomes by more than 20 percent. Egypt gets more from remittances than it does from the Suez Canal.

Most of the money is spent on consumption — food, clothing or a birthday bash — which leads some economists to discount its impact on development. But Mr. Ratha argues migrants would invest more if they had better options. And he regards higher consumption among the poor as a very good thing.

“It’s not just about economics,” he said. “Having someone who’s doing well abroad brings confidence to the family. They can hold their heads high.
In subsequent work, Mr. Ratha has argued that the importance of the money exceeds its sheer size. Unlike foreign aid, it cannot be skimmed by potentates. Unlike investors who flee crises, migrants increase their giving during hard times. The money is directed to the needy. And Mr. Ratha contends it is well-monitored, too, by intimates on the sending end. “It comes with a lot of goodwill, advice, knowledge and punishment if necessary — keeping in mind the welfare of the recipient,” he said. ”

I too noticed and heard similar things from many families in coastal Andhra but do not know the quantitative estimates or in which years this was most significant. In this area, many students in the public schools are from poor families. I know one NGO group ( breadsocietyindia) which gives scholarships to poor students of merit without considerations of caste or creed. After struggling for several years, the organization took off from funds given by NRIs from USA. After some experimentation they chose a simple criterion to determine poor students; essentially those going to public schools.
In curious ways, foreign migrants also contributed to more girls going to school. In one school, there is a large enrollment of muslim girls from a nearby village. Apparently many of the local muslim men working in the gulf countries are now insisting on brides who have some minimal education.
Here is an inspiring story of Prakasam Tata's 60 year struggle against filaria in his native Vizianagaram. Excerpts:

"In the 1940s, as a little boy living in Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, I wondered why my aunt had legs like those of an elephant ...
With the seed that was laid in me in rural West Bengal, and the follow-up education and training in the USA under my mentors, eminent Profs. H. Heukelekian and Norman Dondero, of Rutgers University in New Jersey that earned me a doctoral degree in 1966, my dream continued with much more clarity.
These annual pilgrimages to visit my mother gave me many opportunities to witness the progressive deterioration of the condition of Pedda Cheruvu. As I had plenty of time at my disposal during these visits I met with anybody and organizations such as Rotary Club, Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, local colleges etc., whosoever was willing to listen and invited me to talk about how one could go about remediating the pollution of Pedda Cheruvu. While we enjoyed the snacking sessions at the end of each of such meetings, what pained me most were the discouraging comments and unsolicited suggestions by some that I should not waste either my time or money. The assumption of these well-wishing but chronic pessimists was that it would be next to impossible to move the district and municipal administration to do anything with regard to purifying the water in Pedda Cheruvu, because of the lackadaisical attitude and corrupt mentality of the bureaucracy.
It was in February 2003, when the United States Asia Environmental Partnership (USAEP) invited me to participate in a workshop on Decentralized Wastewater Treatment Systems conducted in the four major cities of India. It was during this sojourn that I took the opportunity to meet the very dynamic and mission oriented District Collector of Vizianagaram, Dr. Rajat Kumar.
Although the monsoon of 2003 heavily impacted the construction of the pond system, Dr. Rajat Kumar kept the pressure on the contractors to complete its construction at somewhat less than the estimated cost of Rs. two crores. The previously laid out designs would have costed roughly three times this cost. The treatment system was commissioned on April 15/16, 2004. "
P.S. The last link does not seem to be working now but the article is available here here and a few other places by googling 'Dreaming in Color- Dr. Prakasam Tata'.
Some views of the 'pedda cheruvu" on youtube

Friday, March 14, 2008

Scientists on conflicts

John Horgan in Discover Magazine collects the views of Frans de Waal, Robert Spolosky, Douglas Fry, Richard Wrangham, Steven LeBlanc and writes:
"Despite the signs of progress against our belligerent side, all these scientists emphasize that if war is not inevitable, neither is peace. Major obstacles include religious fundamentalism, which not only triggers conflicts but also contributes to the suppression of women; global warming, which might produce ecological crises that spur social unrest and violence; overpopulation, particularly when it produces a surplus of unmarried, unemployed young men; and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Moreover, all the solutions to war come with caveats. Sapolsky suggests that eliminating poverty, while an important goal in its own right, may not extinguish war in all regions. Among baboons, lions, and other animals, aggression sometimes “goes up during periods of plenty because you have the energy to waste on stupid stuff rather than just trying to figure out where your next meal is coming from.”
A crucial first step toward ending war is to reject fatalism, in ourselves and in our political leaders. That is the view of the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson,
Intersting article with lots of inks (Link via 3quarksdaily).

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Some posts from development bloggers

Chris Blattman has two posts, the first one responding to students who want to conduct research in post-conflict areas and a second one on Development Tourism. Excerpts from the second post:
"Can you "do development" in a two week trip? Unless you're a star surgeon or possess some other ultra-skill, my answer is an emphatic 'no'.
In Uganda, I see NGO workers, even heads of office, swing in and out in less than a year. Short tours of duty are understandable in true 'emergencies'. In any other context, this is cowboy development at its worst. Few emergencies are over in nine months. Neither, in that case, should be the positions.

One solution: hire more locals to senior positions. I've seen too little effort to train and promote local staff in too many international organizations. The glass ceiling is nearly opaque in some cases. The promotion of locals to senior positions is one of the few things I admire about UN field offices."

On the otherhand, I have seen some development work in Andhra from NRIs who spend very little time there. The NRIs mainly provide funds and work through local contacts they know like relatives and friends. Some of them seem to work well but A.P. leads in a black list of NGOs. I was recently talking to a friend working in a educational scholarship programme which also monitors the recepients of scholarships. He said that money was not a problem for them but the main problem is to find personnel to tour to do the monitoring work.

Ethan Zuckermanin in his Ted2008 series posted about Paul Collier's talk at Ted2008 and his book "The Bottom Billion" in the post TED2008: Paul Collier - Compassion and enlightened self-interest. He recommends the book but since it costs 45 Aus. dollars, for the time being, I will confine myself to his comments:
"“Now the challenge is different - reversing the divergence of the bottom billion. Is this easier or harder?” Collier advises we focus on governance, because money isn’t the problem. There’s a huge natural resource boom taking place - Uganda and Ghana have both discovered oil, and Guinea has a huge discovery of iron. “These new revenue flows dwarf aid.” In Angola, new oil revenues are $50 billion a year - total aid flows to the bottom billion nations is $34 billion a year.

So how do we ensure these flows of money make life better? Historically, they don’t - economists talk of “the resource curse.” In the short term, oil makes everyone a bit better off… and in the long-term, countries tend to end up worse off. The critical issue, he tells us, is the initial level of governance. “If your governance is good enough, there’s no resource boom.” That’s happened in places like Norway, Australia, and Canada. “The resource curse is entirely confined to a threshhold of governance.” Nigeria is a great example of what can go wrong if you don’t have enough governance. You need a level of governance around where Portugal was in the 1980s.

So, is the bottom billion above or below that threshhold? Collier hoped that the spread of democracy would help some of these nations. “And democracy has sigificant effects. But they’re adverse effects - democracies make even more of a mess of these booms than autocracies.” While Collier tells us he was tempted to give up his research at this point, he made a critical discovery. Democracies involve both elections and checks and balances. “It’s the electoral competition that does damage, but strong checks and balances make booms good.” Unfortunately, new democracies don’t have these checks and balances - they’re “instant democracies”.

There’s now an intense struggle to bring in these checks and balances. We need international standards, voluntary ones. He refers to resource extraction transparency standards that are currently being pushed in the developing world. Nigerian reformers printed some of these standards in local newspapers - there was so much interest that circulation in newspapers spiked.

What are these standards? Instead of letting an oil company fly in and meet with a minister, making a deal that’s good for the company, good for the minister, and not good for the country, why not have transparent auctions? The British treasury estimated that the rights to the 3G mobile spectrum were worth $2 billion - it sold at auction for $20 billion. “If the British treasury got it that wrong. imagine how the government of Sierra Leone will do.” And so the government of Sierra Leone immediately asked for help with running resource auctions.

Collier tells us that “unless we have an informed society, politicans will get away with gestures.” To build an informed citizenry, Collier “broke all the professional rules and wrote an Economics book you could read on a beach.” He tells us that a blogger once commented “Collier is not charismatic. But his arguments are compelling.” And that’s why, “if you agree with that comment, you realize that I need you.”

I disagree with that blogger. Collier may have been the best speaker at TED this year, despite some seriously stiff competition - powerful ideas presented compactly and compellingly. Read the damn book."
Finally M.Rajshekar in A development chronology of tihi has "...this latest sporadic offering to the blogging gods will focus on the agrarian history of tihi. it is the incidental outcome of some time I spent chatting with village elders, trying to understand what this hamlet was like in the days gone by. later, during a trip to delhi, i corroborated what they told me about crop prices and wage levels, famines and epidemics, forests and water levels, with the old district gazetteers."

What's holding India back?

An excerpt from an interesting article in The Economist:
"For years, it pottered along, weighed down by the regulations that made up the licence raj, producing only a feeble “Hindu” rate of growth. But over the past 15 years it has been transformed into a far more powerful beast. Its companies have become worldbeaters. Without India's strength, the world economy would have had far less to boast about.

Sadly, this achievement is more fragile than it looks. Many things restrain India's economy, from a government that depends on Communist support to the caste system, power cuts and rigid labour laws. But an enduring constraint is even more awkward: a state that makes a big claim on a poor country's resources but then uses them badly.

The state's cage
It is not unusual for a country's bureaucrats and politicians to be less efficient than its businesspeople; and the Indian civil servant, with his forms in triplicate, has been a caricature for so long that it is easy to forget the impossibility of many of the jobs involved (see article). But India's 10m-strong civil service is the size of a small country, and its unreformed public sector is a huge barrier to two things a growing population needs. The first is a faster rate of sustainable growth: the government's debts and its infrastructure failings set a lower-than-necessary speed-limit for the economy. The second is to spread the fruits of a growing economy to India's poor. By the government's own admission, most development spending fails to reach its intended recipients."
Similar threads appear in the discussion India: The Emerging Giant briefly discussed here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bumper crop

From Times of India:
" The extent to which desis have made an impact in the US was reeled off in the Rajya Sabha — as many as 12% scientists and 38% doctors in the US are Indians, and in Nasa, 36% or almost 4 out of 10 scientists are Indians.

If that's not proof enough of Indian scientific and corporate prowess, digest this: 34% employees at Microsoft, 28% at IBM, 17% at Intel and 13% at Xerox are Indians."
P.S. Seems to be wrong:

Sunday, March 09, 2008

First 20/20 game?

This Cricinfo story about Usman Qadir links to the score card of a 20/20 exhibition match between India and Pakistan: 18-ball63 in which Sachin Tendulkar scored a 18-ball 63 but India lost the match.

Fear of snakes

What does this video tell us about the fear of snakes? This is from a discussion in Evo.Psych. group where this example was considered as a proof that humans have no instinctive fear of snakes. I thnk that, as usual, the problem is more complex.
Susan Mineka has pubished papers since 1980 on this topic. A short description of her experiments is here: "Mineka, along with University of Wisconsin psychologist Michael Cook, put the theory to a test in six rhesus monkeys. Reared in the lab, the animals had no prior exposure to snakes. The psychologists showed a videotape of wild-reared monkeys reacting with horror to snakes. Within 24 minutes, the lab monkeys acquired a fear of snakes.

The psychologists then edited fake flowers, a toy snake, a toy rabbit, and a toy crocodile into the video. Tests later showed that after 40 to 60 seconds of exposure to each object, the monkeys feared only the toy snakes and crocodiles."This work is also described by Matt Ridley in 'Nature via Nurture' Here is a recent\

paper on the topic by Susan Mineka and Arne Ohman.
P.S. The last link does not seem to work. Googling under 'The Malicious Serpent: Snakes as a Prototypical Stimulus ' sometimes gives the link. The paper appeared i 'Current Directions in Psychological Science', vol. 12, issue 1, pages 5-9, February 2003. Abstract here.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Some old telugu songs

On a recent trip to Andhra, I acquired some old telugu songs through some kind acquintances. I do not remember many of them or their background (year, lyricist, private or film song etc). I like most of the songs as well as the lyrics and it would be nice to know more about them. But the purpose here is to bring to the attention of other Telugus some old songs which seem nice to me. Some of these may be available in the standard sites. Here is a first list.
'Pasidi merugungula thalathalalu' by P.Bhanumati and B.Rajanikantharao
'ekkevura' by B.Rajanikantharao(sounds like a bhatiyali)
"Dorikenamma vennadonga' by Chittaranjan
"Chaligaali veechindi' by Videhi (sounds like Rao Balasaraswati Devi}
"Evaru Thandri' by A.V.Savithi
'Oopare oopai vuyyala' by H.Hemavathi
'Adunu dachina vayasulo' by M.S. Ramarao
'Chekku chedarani paapa' by M.S. Ramarao
'Cheli talupu muyagane' by M.S. Ramarao
'Eteru ninu cheredo' by M.S. Ramarao
'Nalo korkelu intele' by M.S. Ramarao
'Ninnakkada nedikkada' by M.S. Ramarao
'Pongeti chandana'by M.S. Ramarao
'thandanan bhala thandanana' by M.S. Ramarao
'ee samudra thatana' by M.S. Ramarao

Thursday, March 06, 2008

High praise from Charles Darwin

Through Dilip D'Souza' blog Death Ends Fun, I came across this wonderful article-review of Henry Walter Bates's "The Naturalist on the River Amazons." Among other things ALEX SHOUMATOFF discusses the work of Wallace and has this passage quoting Darwin's comments: "Darwin urged Bates to write a memoir of his years in the Amazon and introduced him to the publisher John Murray, and in 1863 Murray brought out Bates's "The Naturalist on the River Amazons." (Bates preferred a literal translation of the river's Portuguese name, Rio Amazonas. The Amazons were a legendary female tribe said to have attacked the first Europeans to navigate the river.) The book was a tremendous success. It went through many editions and was translated into several languages. Darwin wrote Bates, "It is the best work of Natural History Travels ever published in England. Your style seems to me admirable. Nothing can be better than the discussion on the struggle for existence, and nothing better than the description of the Forest scenery. It is a grand book, and whether or not it sells quickly, it will last." John Gould, the American ornithologist and bird painter, who had been yearning to go to the Amazon, wrote, "Bates, I have read your book-I've seen the Amazons." Bates, typically, deprecated the achievement. He said he would rather spend another eleven years in the jungle than have to go through the ordeal of writing another book".
More ALEX SHOUMATOFF's dispatches here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Another resource curse?

Chris Blattman has an interesting discussion on the article 'Oil, Islam and Women' by Michael Ross. Excerpt:
"If you ignore oil, Islam tends to be associated (statistically) with poor women’s rights. After accounting for oil, that Islam-women’s rights correlation goes away. Variation in oil production seems to explain much of the variation in women’s rights within the Middle East, as well as between the Middle East and the rest of the world."
I was reminded of Srinivasulu's paper Caste, Class and Social Articulation in Andhra Pradesh.. which suggested that the prosperity from the 'green revolution' paved the way for class conflicts in some regions and caste conflicts in others. Blattman concludes "Short story: programs seeking to increase worker wages and rights in the developing world (an important cause) may have need to strike a careful balance between rights and wages for a few now, versus rights and wages for many later. This is yet another example of the conundrums that makes the process of development so complex, difficult, and ethically vexing."

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Media and information

From Ethan Zuckerman's post Ted2008: Alisa Miller on Media Attention:
"The map is striking, and gets a round of applause immediately. It’s dominated by the US - which got 79% of news minutes - and by Iraq. Attention to India, Russia and China totalled less than 1% of stories. She points out that there were amazing international stories, including Indonesian flooding, international evidence of global warming, North Korean nuclear crises… and basically nothing but Iraq got picked up.
....Unfortunately, Miller sees similarities in internet news as well - the top 24 stories on network news were the same ones studies saw on Google and Yahoo News."
Here is Alisa Miller's presentation. This type of distortion seems naural, for example, I would guess that India's small farmers will be more concerned with and have time only news about weather, prizes of seeds, pesticides, government programmes etc than global news even if it affects them sooner or later. What is more worrying is too much information, wrong information, conflicting information or information to promote policies of interest to certain groups. Even internet and blogs do not seem to be free from this. Chris Blattman's post The Bloggy Way links a picture in which there are a few thousand core blogs (Chris Blattman changes this to 'about a thousand')and other blogging communities connect to the core in one-way links. Zuckerman has also another post in his wonderful Ted 2008 posts about 'how much do people trust the media, old or new, and how does the media shape our view of the world.' Daniel Gilbert has an interesting comment:
"Gilbert is worried about people’s capacity to consume bad news. He offers an analogy to people’s eating habits: We know people have an unlimited appetite for fat and sugar. We evolved that way. We don’t want to take away anyone’s right to make high-fat icecream. The government has tried to level the playing field - information labels on food. We need to do as much for our information diet as we do for our physical diet. (This is an excellent idea, and something we’re trying to do at Berkman in the next few months - stay tuned.)"

Saul Alinsky, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

I have not been paying much attention to the US primaries but Dreams from Obama gives the impression that Obama may be a different type of leader.
From today's Age articleby Guy Rundle:
"Clinton's bad luck was to be a candidate of the 1960s, or more particularly of the whole postwar period of confidence and forward-looking that crashed sometime around the late '70s. What made the '50s and '60s more similar than different — and what makes Clinton closer in many ways to John McCain than to Obama — was a belief that history was moving forward, that people were capable of shaping their collective destiny. This optimism was grounded in the fact that people's lives were still set within solid social connections: work, neighbourhood, unions, church and much more. Clinton's message presumes both that optimistic spirit, and that her audience has a reasonable grasp of how society works, a picture of it in their head.

Obama is of a different era, and he is talking to a different world. Most importantly, he knows it. Having trained as a community organiser in the southside Chicago group founded by the legendary organiser Saul Alinsky, he understands what has happened to the American public in the past 20 years. Put simply, society has collapsed, and with it, many people's sense of connection to others, and their ability to see themselves as an active force in their own world.

Alinsky taught that, before any political organisation of such people can take place, their sense of possibility must be revived, that they must be reached at their point of despair. Thus, what sounds like homily to the ears of a more professional political audience — "there is a time in history and the time is now, the fierce urgency of the present" and so on — is news to the vast numbers who have long felt that society is something that happens outside them, that they are simply a human surplus.

There is no need to specify a detailed program to them, because it is implicit in what "hope" is — of a health system where people are not sent home to die of easily curable diseases, of a minimum wage that is liveable, affordable study, an end to meaningless wars, and more.

It wouldn't matter what Clinton put up against this, or how good her organisation was, she simply doesn't have anything to match it."
From the Wikipedia article on Saul Alinsky:
"Alinsky was the subject of Hillary Rodham's senior honors thesis at Wellesley College, "There Is Only The Fight...": An Analysis of the Alinsky Model.[8] Rodham commented on Alinsky's "charm," but rejected grassroots community organizing as outdated. Once Hillary Rodham Clinton became First Lady of the United States, the thesis was suppressed by the White House for fear of being associated too closely with Alinsky's ideas.[9]

Alinsky also had a significant influence on Barack Obama, who is a United States Senator and candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.[8] Obama particularly used Alinsky's techniques while participating in Chicago community organizations in the 1980s."