Saturday, May 31, 2008

Einstein's vitarka mudra

3quarksdaily links to a review with a photo of Einstein in 'vitarka mudra'. According to 3quarksdaily "Mr. Schweber, an emeritus professor of physics and the history of ideas at Brandeis, explains that Einstein adopted the gesture from Hindu and Buddhist practices. Both the Hindu god Vishnu and the Buddha himself are often portrayed with their left hands in this posture; known in Sanskrit as the vitarka gesture, it represents "compassionate teaching" as well as, for Buddhists, the union of wisdom and method. In Einstein's case, it serves as a sign not of the public figure he had become but of the man hidden within."

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has somewhat dubious origins ( Even now, some of the names in the list of trustees can cause worry) but now "is the second most important biomedical research organization in America, perhaps in the world." It seems to have come with a scheme HHMI Professors, somewhat in the spirit of Einstein's gesture. According to GrandDoctor who wrote the above article "But the focus of the HHMI Professors program is not on research, per se; rather, the program aims to enhance the development of the next generation of biomedical scientists by drawing them into research and related activities at an early age. The goal of the program, as HHMI puts it, is to "bring the creativity [HHMI Professors] have shown in the laboratory into the classroom." .....Louisiana State University-based Isiah Warner is a rare breed: an African-American chemistry professor at a major university. The pedagogical approach of his HHMI-funded program is equally rare; rather than selecting research students with impeccable academic credentials, Warner's program admits only students with grade point averages between 2.5 and 3.0. Young students in the program work intensively with a mentor who helps them master science and improve their study skills. Warner's program aims to develop a community of people who strive for self-improvement and take responsibility for their own academic careers. As I understand it, students whose GPAs get too high are kicked out of the program. Perhaps it would be better to say they graduate.

Harvard's Losick and Northwestern's Godwin both target students from underrepresented groups very early in their college careers. Losick identifies students during their first or second undergraduate year by means of a complex selection process, then partners them with research mentors. Godwin takes accepted students who enroll in introductory chemistry in their first year and involves them in efforts to monitor lead levels in low-income housing in the Chicago area. Although their approaches are quite different, both aim to inspire a personal interest in science and to build the confidence students need to make it through a rigorous (and sometimes hostile) training process.
......
"Manny Ares of the University of California, Santa Cruz, set up a second lab, which he runs all year long in parallel with his main research lab. Students come in and out but often sign up for multiple sessions. He is essentially running a research program as a class. Students are doing extraordinary science. They are looking at [genetic] splicing in humans in the malaria parasite Plasmodium spp. Utpal Banerjee of UCLA is running a research program looking a mutations in proteins in Drosophila eyes. Sarah Elgin of Washington University in St. Louis is also doing a sequencing project, in conjunction with the sequencing center there. Ellen Fanning of Vanderbilt created a program based on the notion of a community of scholars that brings students in for a summer research program at a young age."

Real research, real attention, effective teaching: Implicit in many of these projects--but explicit in Ares's plan--is the notion that the division between research and teaching is artificial. "Research is the act of teaching ourselves, an act that is very similar to teaching others," Ares says. Ares aims to train, not just research scientists, but what he calls "teacher-scholars."
According to the GrandDoctor (the article was written in 2003)"This is not some half-baked, idealistic scheme conceived by bookish educational theorists. It's imperative for the future health of America's scientific organism. Outside HHMI, however, it isn't happening."

Burd's hypothesis

From MotherJones:
"Burd hypothesized that since the bags eventually do degrade, it must be possible to isolate and augment the degrading agents.

Turns out that it's not only possible, it's kind of easy. Burd combined ground polyethylene plastic bags, sodium chloride, dirt from a landfill (which theoretically contains the microorganisms that ultimately degrade the plastic) and a yeast mixture in shakers for four weeks at a consistent temperature of about 86 degrees. At the end of the month, he took a sample of that mixture and combined it with a new one, with the goal of increasing the overall concentration of microbes. After one more repetition, he put fresh plastic bags in his solution for six weeks. In the end, the plastic degraded nearly 20%. A little more filtering to figure out exactly which microbes were the most effective, and he upped the degradation rate to 32%. He concludes, "The process of polyethylene degradation developed in this project can be used on an industrial scale for biodegradation of plastic bags. As a result, this would save the lives of millions of wildlife species and save space in landfills."

So, will this really work? Has a teenager really found a way to rid us of one of our most persistent environmental problems? Who knows, but judges at the Canada-Wide Science Fair apparently agree that it's worth pursuing. They sent Burd home with $30,000 in awards and scholarships."
P.S. See also the comments after the report.

Friday, May 30, 2008

"Titillating the converted"

is the description by Tom Lehrer of his songs according to the Wikipedia article Tom Lehrer. Chris Blattman alerts us to a 'new' song available here.
P.S. More on the 'new' song by Rahul Sidharthan in the comment below.

Knowledge@Wharton interviews Ravi Kuchimanchi

here. Excerpt:
"One of the things that I'm excited about is that this is made in a village and sold in a village. We sell it for 70 rupees [$1.75], which every village person can afford. There are very few technologies now [where that is possible]. A village can make things for the global market; that's one of the current things. Countries like China, for example, are very good at doing that. But this is made and sold in villages in India, and I like that.

I came across this idea while I was on the Internet. Basically, I was looking for an efficient device to retain heat. I knew that hay was a good insulator. I was looking for solar heating systems. Through reflectors you can heat water up, but then, to keep the water hot, you have to put it into some insulating vessel which can be lined with hay, and it is a very low-cost insulator. And so, I was doing a search on the internet and I came across this idea of the hay box.

I read that the United Kingdom used hay boxes during the World War as a way to reduce fuel consumption in their country. And so, this is a known technology and what I realized was that this has a very good application for Indian villages in rural areas. And, immediately we tried to make it locally and then we were actually selling it to village people.

One of the fascinating things that this does for them is it also keeps food hot for eight hours. It not only helps with the cooking, but it will keep something hot -- the rice stays hot for eight hours. They don't have microwave ovens to heat up things and this is something that they are very excited about because they can get hot food any time of the day. "
Ravi also discusses RTI and Narmada Bachao Andolan.
More here about"India's Underprivileged Majority: The Real Development Story" at the Wharton India Economic Forum.

See also theHoney Bee initiatives.

Scidev.net announcement of IDRC–SciDev.Net Science Journalism Award 2008. Excerpt:
"We invite all English-speaking journalists with an interest in science reporting and its impact on decision-makers in developing countries to apply for the award. The winner will receive a six-month internship placement with SciDev.Net, consisting of three months based in SciDev.Net's London office and three months travelling and working on behalf of SciDev.Net in one or more developing countries.

The internship is a unique opportunity to build news and feature writing skills, and provide a better understanding of how the Internet can play a vital role in enhancing science communication. In addition to daily tasks such as writing and researching science and technology news stories, the intern will learn about all aspects of how an online news website operates, including finding news stories, the editorial process, publishing and news dissemination."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Needham Question

In 'The China syndrome' Andrew leonard formulates th"The Needham Question":
"After an early and hugely successful career as a biochemist, capped off by being named a member of the ultra-prestigious Royal Society at the tender age of 41, Needham devoted the remainder of his life to, on the one hand, documenting how technologically far ahead China had been for millennia when compared to the West, and on the other hand, striving to understand why Europe suddenly jumped in front -- a monumental tectonic shift that dominates the reality of globalization to this day.
And wonders whether China stopped trying. "That, again, is "the Needham question," and the great irony is that despite the 24 volumes, 15,000 pages and 3 million words written by Needham and his collaborators and successors, we still don't have a satisfactory answer to that question." He and his readers suggest several reasons in the comments to that post andWhat's the matter with China?. Surprisingly, nobody mentions John Merson's 1988 book 'Roads to Xanadu' which considered the same question. It may have some thing to do with the fact that the book was published in Australia by not so known publishers. It is a highly readable and a relatively short book by a China specialist and his ananlysis seems quite persuasive. From the introduction:
"'Roads to Xanadu' explores why the full potential of scientific discovery and invention, now regarded as a source of weath and power, is not often realized in its country of origin. The reason, paradoxically, lies not in failure but in success- in the tendency of cultures and civilizations to ossify around those economic institutions and ideologies that, at some stage, provided maximum stability and wealth. These institutional structures are often retained by bureaucracies and the power elites who are their beneficiaries long after they have become redundant. Economic growth and cultural development do not stem merely from technological innovation but from social and political change. However, the motivation for such a change rarely comes from within. Often, it has been the competetive threat from outside that has forced societies to come up with new and innovative social, economic and political structures."
P.S. http://royalsociety.org/event.asp?id=7781 says that Professor Christopher Cullen, Director, Needham Research Institute, Cambridge will give a talk on the The Needham Question on June 12, 2008 in Library Quiet Room of The Royal society.
http://www.rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/mo2413sep.htm has suggestions about designing courses on The Needham Question.
http://www.indianscience.org/essays/2-%20NEEDHAMQuestion-DPSameer-edit.pdf discusses the question in the indian context and has a lot of references.

David Warsh on some heretical economicsts and Washington Consensus

in a long article in 'Economic Principals' (links via EconoSpeak) David Warsh says:
"So ten days ago I journeyed to James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, to a meeting on “Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Economic Complexity,” to see what had become of them.
I was glad and, I confess, slightly surprised, to see how much real progress had been made in 25 years.
............
For the last 125 years, however, ever since the views of Leon Walras and other theorists of general equilibrium became encoded in a famous textbook of Alfred Marshall (or, rather, partially encoded), technical economists have viewed the economy as a system in which individuals deal with one another only through the market mechanism, reacting to signals about prices and quantities as if they were determined by some central authority, best thought of as an auctioneer. Individual actors adapt as best they can to market signals which they are powerless to affect, until some sort of balance between supply and demand is achieved. Then things settle down and no individual has any reason to change his behavior, unless some external “shock” to the system occurs.

What about “imperfect competition”? Present-day economists have plenty of models in which individuals have market power and seek to use it. But, says Kirman, such models depend on game theory, which attributes superpowers to individuals – unlimited calculating power and superior analytic ability. The complexity vision of the economy falls somewhere between these two approaches, says Kirman, requiring neither the coordinating mechanism of the market nor sophisticated game-players to make it work."
Some of the concrete developments are discussed in the article as well as the comments by Barkley Rosser in Economist's View.
Later inthe article, Warsh discusses the recent World Bank sponsored Report originally commisioned by Paul Wolfowitz The Growth Report:Strategies For Sustained Growth And Inclusive Development. Excerpt:
"As Spence explained last week to Krishna Guha of the Financial Times, “What we learned is not that things went crazily off base in the Washington Consensus, but that in some sense that set of propositions was not enough to get the job done.… I suspect that the role of government as envisaged by the Washington Consensus needs to be reconsidered. I think it was defined too narrowly and not sufficiently pragmatically… Things you can confidently delegate to the private sector in Europe or America are not so easily delegated where markets and institutions are less developed.” "
From the report:
"As a point of departure we review the cases of high, sustained growth in the postwar period. Thirteen economies qualify: Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan (China), and Thailand. Two other countries, India and Vietnam, may be on their way to joining this group. It is to be hoped other countries will emerge soon."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pratik Ray's ruminations

about starting on research:
"So what should you do if you didnt have "luck". Well, first of all, there should be a resolve not to trash your discipline unless you have given it a good shot - meaning, dont think of switching lanes too early. Secondly, think clearly about what you are passionate about (in my case, it was numbers, math and geometry). Then talk to professors to see whether you are able to tie up your passions in any research field (IMHO, you should be able to do this!! That's the beauty of research). I cant over-stress how important this step is. Thirdly, walk through the library. Look at books that professors havent ever suggested. Often such books turn out to be specialized books and may be a bit tough, but, they have the advantage of offering you a glimpse on how things may look at the research level. No professor at undergrad level asks you to browse through the "Physical Metallurgy Vol 1,2 &3" by Cahn and Haasen. But having done just that, I found an useful article by Walter Steurer on quasicrystals, which helped me fuel my interest on. Lastly, keep your eyes and ears open for research projects. Nothing matches gaining experience on the job. So, working on a research project part time in your college, or a summer internship in a research lab helps you no end."
I found the whole post interesting and to some extent, it corresponded with my experiences. In my case, I suddenly developed a passion for mathematics after reading books like E.T. Bell's "Men of Mathematics" and started browsing through books outside the curriculum. An unfortunate side effect was that I found the university studies stultifying and stopped attending classes. After a couple of years at home, I realized that it was difficult to do research at home unless one was exceptionally talented. I went back to university, this time to a college where attendance was not strict. When I became a graduate student, I was determined not to be guided. I was lucky to get in to place (TIFR) where it was possible and in addition there were lots a of friendly mathematical discussions. I would read notes and books on Topology and browse through research papers which often I could not understand, but that gave a feeling for what was going on and the type of problems to look at. Tpwards the end of thirs year, I started finding problems that seemed approachable and slowly research career started. Pratik's comments about 'passion' and browsing through somewhat ununderstandable research papers resonated with me.

Perhaps there are disadvantages too for this kind of 'do it yourself' approach. Rather very late, I found that the advantages of working with others. Somehow, it seems to bring an extra intensity, awareness which makes the work much more than the sum of two people's work. I felt that at least in my case, the work which satisfied me most in terms of solutions to problems that bugged me was joint work.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Small efforts

Earlier posts:a micro effortanda follow up. This was started by Benjamin Kaila with the help of his cousin Rev. Sundar in January 2007. The first few were helped by the following type of loans.
1) Tea Stall 2,500.00 Chemudupadu, Tenali Mandal
2)Small shop 2,500.00 Chemudupadu, Tenali Mandal
3)Vending 2,500.00 Chemudupadu, Tenali Mandal
4) Small shop 2,500.00 Chemudupadu, Tenali Mandal
5) Vending Sarees 2,500.00 Laam, Guntur
All loans were repaid in full and were soon recycled for 3 other loans. I got to know Sri Benjamin Kaila through his Ambedkar Scholarship efforts and last year when I was visiting A.P. he asked me to examine these efforts since our native places were nearby and he could not visit home due to some visa difficulties. His fellow organizers in Ambedkar scholarships are also relatively young and busy with their jobs. I met Rev. Sundar, most of the beneficiaries and the next applicants in three villages and was impressed with the efforts and recommended upgrading the efforts. So far, we have collected over 150,000 rupees and loaned to nearly fifty people in four villages with the majority of the beneficiaries in Velur, the last loans given on May 17. Some of the new loans are of the type:
1) Sewing Machine 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
2) Sewing Machine 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
3) buffalo 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
4) buffalo 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
5) Milk buffelo 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
6) Small Business 5,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
7)Cycle Rikshaw 7,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
8) Sewing Machine 2,000.00 Veluru, Chilakaluripeta Mandal
The amounts usually depended on what applicants already saved and needed for the said purpose. After some discussion, it was decided that there should be some interest fot the loans and a strucured interest was designed which comes to about six perecent an year. Expenses are very small since Rev. Sundar does most of the work, sometimes with the help of relatives or members of his congregation. One of the villages (Veluru) is his native village and he worked as a pastor in the other villages and thus he knows the applicants well and his social poition probably helps in prompt repayments. This is probably just about what one person can do. It is expected that because Rev. Sundar's position in the community, there will not be many defaults. If there are, the effort will not be self sustaining and a little extra money will be needed to keep it going at the same level.
This effort just helps some people at the subsistence level to get by. Perhaps, somewhat bigger loans to cultivators or for buying machinary which generates some employment can be next. There was a proposal to buy a second hand machine costing 15,000 rupees to make paper plates but the transaction did not go through. Some wanted to lease and cultivate land and the amounts needed are about 10-12 thousand rupees per acre. So far, by the very nature of the community in which Rev. Sundar lives, most but not all the beneficiaries are Dalit Christians. Among similar communities, perhaps other pastors can be recruited. With different groups, one has to find reliable local persons who can undertake such work.
I do not know what comes next or whether this effort is sustainable, I think that even if it works for a few years and helps a few, it is worthwhile. Education for these poor seems to be difficult. In Velur, there is a library in the Dalit neighbourhood where the older students help the younger kids. But unfortunately many of the older kids themselves did not finish school.
P.S. A report from Benjamin Kaila:
Dear donors and friends,
As you know we conducted a microloan function on May 17, 2008 in Velur, Guntur Dist, AP. The function was a grand success, attended by around 150-200 people.

Though the function was conducted in a Mala Palle (Dalit settlement), many villagers attended the function. Click here for photos:
http://www.friends4education.org/scholarship/microloans/07photos_ml1.htm

The facts and highlights of the function:
1. Donations for this instalment is from Prof Anandswarup, Australia, Mr Kamalakar, US (brother of Prof Anand, Ms Krishna Rao, US, and me)
2. Function was well attended by Dalits and non-Dalits
3. Distributed to 18 people, aid ranging from Rs.3,000-Rs.7,000. We selected 22 beneficiaries, but 2 were in the hospital and 4 others could not attend the function. We will disburse the remaining amount at a later date.
4. Two nursing students we helped last year (one by Ms Mina Kumar and the other by me) attended the function and spoke in the meeting.
5. Spontaneous aid of Rs.3000 was given to a non-Dalit sisters. They were unable to continue their studies and approached us, I was told.
6. Met Sr Sagaya Mary, principal of St Charles convent in Chilakaluripet. We gave 5 scholarships to her students from poor Dalit girls. She contacted me after reading about our project rom someone. She is 80+ years old and very dedicated, I was told. I spoke to her a couple of times before awarding scholarships. We are going to work with this school for identifying students in our new project called "Educational Adoption" starting from this year.
7. Our beneficiaries are varied and very happy. Please check the 3 carts (from the photos) we helped them to buy and do business (one water cart, 2 carts for transporting goods).

I am still waiting for a detailed report on the function. Once it is awailable, I will share with you all.
Many people from other villages are approaching us for loans. But, as you know, we are depending on you as we do not any sponsorship from organizations. If you give more, we help more and show what we can do.

See your $125-$150 is doing to the lives of these impoverished but self-determined people. So, please come and help us.
Anyway questions, I am just a click away!

With regards
Benjamin P Kaila

Friday, May 23, 2008

Melbourne uni lecturer demoted

Uni 'damaged' over lecturer's demotion:
"The University of Melbourne's reputation for upholding academic freedom has been damaged by the demotion of a senior lecturer after a complaint against him by the State Government, the tertiary union says.

The Age revealed today that Paul Mees, a senior lecturer in transport planning and a prominent public transport advocate, was told his pay would be slashed after he made a strongly worded attack on the Government over transport privatisation.

In the attack, made at a public forum last year, Dr Mees said the authors of a 2007 report on privatisation were "liars and frauds and should be in jail".

Documents obtained by The Age showed that one of the university's reasons for acting against Dr Mees was a concern about its relations with the Government.

.......
Without telling Dr Mees, the university also launched an investigation into whether he had damaged the university's reputation.

The inquiry, conducted by Michael King of Monash University's law faculty, found Dr Mees had "brought the university into disrepute by making derogatory and insulting comments'' about Government officers.

In the report, Professor Low is quoted saying the Government "had had enough of Dr Mees' over-the-top remarks and (wanted him) reined in''.

Professor Low has been in negotiations with the State Government over funding a research project into greenhouse gas emissions from transport.

Mr Betts has agreed to be a partner in the application for funding.

Dr Mees has since quit the university, and will give his final lecture next week. He has accepted a role with RMIT's planning department."
The Age editorial:Unis must remain places of debate and dissent.
I retired from the university 3 years ago and had some sort of association with the university by which I could use the iniversity facilties like the library under the condition that I had to use the university address on my papers. This facility expired on April 1 and I decided not to ask for an extension. The reason: having quit college for a few years in my younger days, I always had this ambition of writing a paper using my home address. My late friend C.P. Ramanujam did this once. When I mentioned this to friend in the university, he said that he too was not keen about the university any more.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Timely reports from CGD had effect

FromKudos to Tokyo and Washington on Rice Sales -- Et Tu, Thailand and India? :
"Today in Tokyo, Japan's Vice Minister for Agriculture, Toshirou Shirasu, told reporters that Japan plans to export 200,000 tons of rice to the Philippines "as fast as possible." This confirmed sale comes on top of 50,000 tons of Japanese rice previously under discussion. Even the anticipation of these sales had done much to take the speculative steam out of over-heated global rice markets, as we reported towards the end of last week (see "Rice Prices Fall After Congressional Hearings But Crisis Not Over Yet"), so with some sales now officially confirmed we can hope to see further easing of speculative pressures.

The lightening-fast turn around in just one week since CGD released our policy note ("Unwanted Rice in Japan Can Solve the Rice Crisis--If Washington and Tokyo Act") reflects well on officials in Washington, who under WTO rules could have barred the re-export of rice previously imported from the U.S., and on officials in Japan, who faced their own internal obstacles but recognized the importance and urgency of action.

Wide attention to the issue clearly helped. Congressional testimony last Wednesday by Arvind Subramanian, a joint senior fellow at CGD and the Peterson Institute, before the House Committee on Financial Services alerted senior U.S. policymakers to the issue, as did questions from Sen. Robert Menendez about U.S. officials' response to our recommendations at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that same day. On Thursday, an AFP news report was picked up widely in Asia, and over the weekend further articles in newspapers in the U.K. and India helped keep up the pressure for prompt action. By Monday, Sebastian Mallaby's column in the Washington Post (“Rice and Baloney: Irrational Policies the World Over Are Making the Food Crisis Worse”) and an accompanying editorial cemented the case for the U.S. to acquiesce to Japanese sales."
P.S.a related articleU.S. in Difficult Position Over Japan’s Rice Plan in NY Times.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Congressional Budget Office Reports

onAgriculture has this 1989 report "Agricultural Progress in the Third World and its Effect on U.S. Farm Exports " which seems to be a good primer on agricultural trade. I came to it after reading a 1987 NY Times article that there were protests by various farming groups about US agricultural aid to developing countries. These reports are supposed to be 'objective' evaluations of the situation and do not make any policy recommendations. It notes (in 1989, page 3 of the report):
"China and India, on the other hand, are success stories. Not only have they maintained positive growth in income and investment over the last 20 years, they have raised their growth rates during the 1980s, a period when most developing countries have floundered....Much of the success in China and India can be
attributed to reductions in government controls and more reliance on market forces."
In the summary and conclusions part, it explains why aid to developing countries is important for US:
"Like other sectors of the U.S. economy, agriculture depends increasingly on trade with developing countries—that is, the more than 100 countries that have not yet become fully modern and industrialized. Exports of farm products to developing countries have grown fivefold since 1970, representing about 41 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports in 1987. Developing countries buy more than two-thirds of U.S. exports of food grains. Such trade is expected to become even more important in the future.

This report centers on food. Food policy is the primary focus of agricultural policy in most developing countries, and food products are the main agricultural imports of developing countries and the principal agricultural exports of the United States.

Recent research has found that many developing countries tend to increase their imports of food as their agriculture develops. Two key relationships hold here: advances in agricultural efficiency, often accompanied by greater agricultural output, contribute to overall economic growth and higher incomes; in turn, higher incomes stimulate the demand for food. In many cases, the demand for food grows faster than the supply of food, resulting in greater food imports. These linkages help explain the apparent paradox that impressive gains in agricultural production by developing countries overall have been accompanied by solid growth in their agricultural imports—and notably in their imports of U.S. farm products. The evidence argues strongly that the encouragement of economic growth in developing
countries, including (and in many cases especially) agricultural development makes sense not only from the humanitarian and foreign policy standpoints but also in the narrower terms of U.S. economic interests. These generalizations represent a view now widely held by development economists. "
From page 38:
"A vibrant agricultural sector stimulates the whole rural economy, further increasing the demand for rural labor. Many gain, but not all. Those who suffer the most tend to be poor. The factors that lead to stronger agricultural performance-such as technological advances, increased use of machinery, and higher prices for farm output-penalize those workers whose jobs are replaced by machines and who cannot find new, comparable employment, as well as those who cannot afford to pay higher prices for food. In both cases, those at the bottom—the landless and unskilled throughout the country, especially children and women—tend to bear the greatest burden.
Governments in developing countries need to protect the poor from the negative effects of economic growth. This may call for policies to assist the poor, possibly at some cost in economic growth. The only long-run solution for poverty, however, is to create constructive employment for the poor, which is integrally linked to development of the agricultural sector."
On food security (from pages 39-40)
"Food security does not imply self-sufficiency at any cost, but having the resources to meet short-term supply disruptions.
....
International trade is a key element of any nation's food security. In general, depending on their specific resource endowment, agriculture-based economies should supply most of their own staple food needs."
The last chapter notes the decline of US aid, different components of US aid, aid as a lever of foreign policy and various criticisms of US aid. I have read large portions of the report and the whole report seems worth reading and comparing with recent reports.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Nehru's 'temples'

A fascinating article on different trajectories of communal violence and modernizationOn the Desecration of Nehru’s ‘temples’: Bhilai and rourkela compared by Jonathan Perry and Christian Struempel in EPW. Abstract:
"The major steel towns built in the wake of the Second
Five-Year Plan were to be “temples” to India’s industrial
future and secular “modernity”; but soon they were
desecrated by ethnic and communal violence. Focusing
on two of them, this article shows that the extent of
the violence was markedly different, and asks “why?”.
Attention is drawn to the kind of ethnic mix in their
workforces, to their different experiences of “modernity”,
shop floor cultures and histories of displacement, and to
the different agendas of state governments and the way
they shaped civil society institutions."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bloomberg article on food problem in Honduras

The developments indicated in the 1989 Congressional Budget Report on Agriculture (mentioned here)do not seem to have gone as indicated there. SeeBloomberg article:
"The country was $3.6 billion in debt in 1990. In return for loans from the World Bank, Honduras became one of dozens of developing nations that abandoned policies designed to protect farmers and citizens from volatile food prices. The U.S. House Financial Services Committee in Washington today explored the causes of the global food crisis and possible solutions.

The committee examined whether policies advocated by the bank and the International Monetary Fund contributed to the situation. Governments from Ghana to the Philippines were pressured to cut protective tariffs and farm supports and to grow more high-value crops for export, reports by the Washington-based World Bank show."
Wikipedia onStructural adjustment and an article from 'European Network on Debt and Development' Untying the knots - How the World Bank is failing to deliver real change on conditionality:
"In 2005 the World Bank launched a review of its conditionality policy. This was in response to growing international criticism, from developed and developing countries alike, that the World Bank was still attaching too many intrusive and, at times, harmful economic policy conditions to its development finance to poor countries.

Two years on from this important step, the World Bank is keen to represent the problem of conditionality as one that has been dealt with, and that is no longer a major problem in lending. In order to independently assess whether or not this is the case, this report, by the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad), assesses the effectiveness of the World Bank’s Good Practice Principles (GPPs) in reforming World Bank conditionality.

The report finds that the GPPs (Good Practice Principles) have, as hoped, had a positive impact in reducing the overall number of conditions that the World Bank attaches to its development finance in poor countries. However, unfortunately there has been very limited progress in curbing the Bank’s practice of attaching sensitive economic policy conditions like privatisation and liberalisation conditions to its lending.


The Bank may be slimming down the number of conditions it uses in developing countries, but it is still making heavy use of economic policy conditionality, especially in sensitive areas such as privatisation and liberalisation.

In short, this report highlights serious concerns with the Bank’s implementation of the Good Practice Principles.

Eurodad, along with NGOs across Europe, believe that the World Bank should end its use of economic policy conditionality, which too often promotes sensitive and externally induced policy choices. Instead, grants and loans should be accompanied by a set of responsible financing standard swhich are mutually agreed by the Bank and recipient countries."
Dani Rodrik's response to Bloomberg article in Does the food price crisis enhance the case for self-sufficiency?

"It seems to me odd to fault the World Bank for advice some 15 years ago to eliminate import protection--so that domestic prices could come down at the time--while at the same time complaining about high prices now, even with the benefit of hindsight. If developing countries had all kept their import protection, the global supply of food would have been lower today, not higher. (That is because import protection would have led global production to be reallocated from efficient exporters to inefficient importers.) If you are for self-sufficiency, you must be willing to live with high prices."
There is also a cryptic remark "Unless that is you believe in a combination of dynamic learning effects with externalities, in which case temporarily high prices may be worth it because they result in low prices eventually. But it would be hard to make this case for food crops.

So the answer to the question in the title seems to me to be "no"."

In the comments section,Robert Feinman points to the article "Manufacturing a Food Crisis" by Walden Bello. My own feeling is that 'globalization' is overall a power engine for development if the states can use it with some protective measures and as the US 1989 Budget Report on Agriculture said "In general, depending on their specific resource endowment, agriculture-based economies should supply most of their own staple food needs."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Miscellaneous food related links, 16th MAY,08

Food crisis spurs research spendingsays Nature on May 1:
"For example, last week the United Kingdom announced an $800 million, five-year package for agricultural research in developing countries....Overall, public spending on research such as pest and disease control and high-yielding crop varieties is growing in developing countries. However, this growth is largely accounted for by just four countries: China, India, Brazil and South Africa, according to the report. In many other developing countries, home to hundreds of millions of people, the report finds that spending is “stagnating or slipping”."
The article needs subscrption but the comments, some of them by Indians, can be read. The editorial in the same issue is free and says "One might assume that such cutbacks in research reflected poor results. Not so; the pay-offs to agricultural research are massive."

Low Calorie Diet :
"A study investigating aging in mice has found that hormonal changes that occur when mice eat significantly less may help explain an already established phenomenon: a low calorie diet can extend the lifespan of rodents, a benefit that even regular exercise does not achieve.

“We know that being lean rather than obese is protective from many diseases, but key rodent studies tell us that being lean from eating less, as opposed to exercising more, has greater benefit for living longer. This study was designed to understand better why that is,” said Derek M. Huffman, the study’s lead author.

The study applies only to rodents, which are different in some key ways from humans, cautions Huffman. However, at least two studies which examined people who engage in high-volume exercise versus people who restricted their calorie intake, had a similar outcome: caloric restriction has physiological benefits that exercise alone does not. Researchers expect that clues to the physiology of longevity in mice will eventually be applied to people, Huffman said." (via Evo. Psychology Discusion Group)

Ed Yardeni's forecasts:
"Market strategist Ed Yardeni, who made a name for himself with accurate calls on the U.S. stock market's bull runs of recent decades, says that soaring food prices won't last because farmers are rushing to plant more crops and agricultural productivity is increasing with new investment...“I do think that food prices will come down, but energy is a whole ‘nother story,” Mr. Yardeni said. “The [oil] price mechanism is distorted by subsidies and national oil companies that have political issues, they are not behaving competitively.

For that reason, Mr. Yardeni recommended investing in a trinity of sectors: materials, energy and industrials.

“That's where the growth is,” he said. “These are the growth stocks and they're still trading like cyclicals.”

Notwithstanding his outlook for food prices, his recommendations still include fertilizer stocks after their big run because of the role that fertilizer will play in increasing crop yields and dropping prices." (Via 'The Automatic Earth')

OECD warning:
"The OECD's early warning signal is flashing clear signs of economic weakness across the world, with mounting evidence that China, India, and Brazil may soon succumb to the downturn.
The closely-watched gauge -- known as the Composite Leading Indicators (CLI) -- has picked up a sharp deterioration in the eurozone in March, notably in Italy and France where the advance signals are falling even faster than in Britain. The measure tends to anticipate the industrial cycle by about six months.

While growth continues to power ahead in most emerging markets, rampant inflation is starting to damage business confidence. "The latest data point to a potential downturn in Brazil, China, and India," said the OECD, the club of rich nations.

Russia is the only country still in full boom among the so-called BRIC quartet of rising powers, but the country's inflation rate reached 14.3pc in April as oil and gas wealth the flooded the economy." (Via 'The Automatic Earth')


Politics of Beef, a very interesting discussion at 'Angry Bear':
"The government seeks to reverse a lower court ruling that allowed Kansas-based Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to conduct more comprehensive testing to satisfy demand from overseas customers in Japan and elsewhere.

Less than 1 percent of slaughtered cows are currently tested for the disease under Agriculture Department guidelines. The agency argues that more widespread testing does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers.

"They want to create false assurances," Justice Department attorney Eric Flesig-Greene told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

But Creekstone attorney Russell Frye contended the Agriculture Department's regulations covering the treatment of domestic animals contain no prohibition against an individual company testing for mad cow disease, since the test is conducted only after a cow is slaughtered. He said the agency has no authority to prevent companies from using the test to reassure customers." The discussion gets in to comments about leftists, rightists etc and a very fine comment by Noni Mausa towards the end.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rice supplies in the short term

fromCenter for Global Development :
"With India having banned all non-Basmati exports and Vietnam having largely withdrawn as a seller from the export market for now, ideally the new rice supplies must come from a non-traditional source. Fortunately, two such sources are available: rice stocks in Japan and China. In addition, Thailand’s new government is sitting on almost 2 million tons which it has been husbanding.

Japan Uses High Quality Imported Rice as Animal Feed

Because of its WTO commitments under the Uruguay Round Agreement, Japan imports a
substantial amount of medium-grain rice from the U.S. and long-grain rice from Thailand and Vietnam. Tokyo, however, seeks to keep most of this rice away from Japanese consumers (perhaps fearing a realization that the taste of foreign indica rice is not so bad and a bargain compared to the $3,900-per-ton locally-produced short-grain varieties of japonica rice). But under WTO rules, the government cannot re-export the rice, except in relatively limited quantities as grant aid. So the Japanese government simply stores its imported rice until the quality deteriorates to the point that it is suitable only as livestock feed and sells it to domestic
livestock operators. Last year about 400,000 tons of rice were disposed of in this manner at a huge budget loss, displacing an equal quantity of corn exports from the U.S. and thus displeasing another constituency, the U.S. corn growers.

Japan currently has over 1.5 million tons of this rice in storage, roughly 900,000 tons of U.S. medium-grain rice and 600,000 tons of long-grain rice from Thailand and Vietnam. Most of this rice is in good condition, and is incurring large storage charges. Japan would be very happy to dispose of this rice to the world market, but it cannot do so without U.S. acquiescence.(Technically, Thailand and Vietnam will also need to give approval for rice supplies originally imported from their countries to be released to world markets.)"
The paper also discusses rice stocka in China and Thailand and says "What’s needed now is a sudden surge of unexpected supplies to prick the speculative bubble and to reassure anxious countries and poor people around the world that there is indeed enough rice for everybody. An agreement by Washington and Tokyo for Japan to release its 1.5 million tons of unwanted rice stocks is the key to piercing this bubble. It would bring prices down immediately, averting hunger, malnutrition, and increased mortality among poor people in Asia. it would make it easier for China and Thailand to do the right thing and release some of their own surplus rice stocks as well. Now is the time for U.S. policymakers to exercise leadership by making it clear, through diplomatic channels and other means, that the United States understands the importance of stable rice prices to poor people and is prepared to do what it takes to help. After all, high-quality American rice should be fed to people, not pigs."
P.S. (17th May)Apparently, the above research from CGDEV had some effect. FromRice Prices Fall After Congressional Hearings But Crisis Not Over Yet:
"...but the mere mention of Japan exporting its stocks led some speculators to dump their contracts in Chicago yesterday and today. Futures contracts for July rice ended limit down, or 75 cents lower yesterday and fell by a $1.05 to $20.44/100 lbs as the limit was expanded to $1.15. Also, Thai wholesale prices, which had been rising, fell today by $16 to $841-843 per ton.

Towards the end of the Wednesday, an unnamed USTR official was quoted as saying that the U.S. had no problem with Japan exporting its rice, but there was some ambiguity as there was also a call for the U.S. and Japan to "coordinate" their food aid efforts over the coming weeks. The ambiguity—and the lack of an official announcement that the sales would proceed--made some rice trade-watchers suspect that this thing may not be over yet.

One thing is clear: sudden and unexpected exposure to the limelight is prodding the bureaucracy in both Japan and Washington into action, and is already taking some of the speculative steam out of the market -- both of which are good news for poor people who depend on rice to survive."

Friday, May 09, 2008

In your spare time

you can perhaps play Freerice
(via Blogbharti). It is improving my vocabulary.

Protein food with low impact on the environment

is insects says this article from Discover magazine. Excerpts:
"Raising insects has a low impact on the environment. They require little water, perhaps because they obtain much of their moisture from their food. It takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef, about enough for a large hamburger. By contrast, to supply water to a quarter pound of crickets, Gracer simply places­ a moist paper towel at the bottom of their tank and refreshes it weekly. Insects, he says, also need less food and space than vertebrate sources of protein and therefore could replace or supplement food resources that may become scarce in the future, such as fish stocks, which a recent study indicates may collapse by 2048.
...........
...in Botswana and Zimbabwe, insect gathering is becoming commercialized. And rural villagers in southern Africa harvest caterpillars from the local mopane trees. Traditionally, mopane caterpillars have been an important source of protein for the villagers, but more recently they have also been packaged and sold as a regional delicacy.

In fact, at least 1,400 species of insects are eaten around the world, and the practice dates back thousands of years. However, even commercially distributed species such as the mopane caterpillar are harvested from wild insect populations, meaning that they are subject to year-to-year fluctuations and problems of overharvesting."
One of the enthusiasts is David Gracer who teaches expository writing. "Gracer continues to spend much of his spare time speaking at museums and schools about the benefits and joys of bug eating. In the long term, though, he has grander plans: He would like to import edible insects such as the popular mopane caterpillars or set up a commercial operation selling insects already available here, such as spicy Mexican grasshoppers, or chapulines. He knows his mission is not an easy one; for one thing, there is the small matter of funding. “If I did this for a living, my family and I would be eating bugs all the time,” he says."

ODI on food crisis

From ODI blog post on May 8:
"...Even though stocks are low and supplies have been hit by drought, the world has enough food. The Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates a cereal harvest of more than 2 billion tons during the coming year. That is certainly enough to feed the world. Getting it to those who need it is another matter. But reassurance on supply could discourage hoarding, head off further restrictions to trade, and calm markets.

The second priority is to make sure that immediate humanitarian needs are met. The World Food Programme estimates the additional cost of food and transport at more than $755 million this year alone. The UK, the US, Canada and the EU are among those who have committed to fill this gap ...
..............
Good information about production, stocks and trade will help to keep food moving around the world. More radical steps, such as a one-year moratorium on the use of maize for biofuel, could cut prices by more than 20% at a stroke. But all the external players need to back country plans and not charge in with their own projects, their own brands and their own flags.

Finally, the UN agencies need to look beyond the immediate crisis and lay out plans for the long-term investment in agriculture. The Green Revolution transformed food production from the 1960s onwards, but the world became complacent. The rate of growth of yields fell. In an era of apparent surpluses and falling food prices, it was easy to neglect investments in research, irrigation, infrastructure and market institutions. No longer."

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Centrelink on Phyllis Turner

who obtained a Master's degree in Medicine at the age of 94 :
So, what are you doing today?

Phyllis Turner is an amazing example of a woman who embraces life-long
learning and who demonstrates every day that you're never too old to learn.
At 95 years of age, Phyllis was recently awarded a Masters degree in Medical Science from Adelaide University. This makes her the oldest person in the world
to achieve a Masters degree by research. Her achievements have prompted her proud family to nominate her for the Guinness Book of Records.

Her academic supervisors, Professors Maciej Henneberg and Colin Groves, praise her 'lively
and fresh intellect'. They are now encouraging her to continue studying--to gain a PhD.
The South Australian Government named Phyllis South Australia's Adult Learner of the
Year for 2007.

Phyllis' road to academic success hasn't been easy. She had to leave school when she was
12 years old to help look after her brothers and sisters. Then she married and raised
seven children and two step-children. Phyllis is now a proud great and great-great grandmother.

She's always been a voracious reader and, as a young mother, encouraged her children
to love reading and learning too. From an early age, and despite the busyness involved in raising her own family, her love of reading and learning motivated her to educate herself informally.
Her self-education was so successful that she topped the essay exam when, aged 70,
she applied to study at Adelaide University.

Part-way through her first degree, Phyllis was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of California in San Diego. In California, Phyllis lived by herself in student accommodation and acted as a mentor for many younger students. When she returned to Australia she completed her degree at the Australian National University in Canberra and then completed her Honours degree in anthropology when she was 90 years old.

Phyllis says her studies have always been fun. Her family says they often seemed 'preoccupying' and 'exhausting' but Phyllis' love of learning has always motivated her.

When she started her thesis, she travelled to university by bus each week with her notes and books in a shopping trolley. Her daughter, Anne, remembers that she worked on an old Macintosh computer. However, as her thesis became more complex, the university funded a helper for her who would transcribe and key her notes. Phyllis would rise early in the morning, read and take notes, and then write her thesis in the afternoon.

Her achievements are extraordinary and Phyllis is in demand for media interviews and television appearances. She has given interviews to local and international media and is also on YouTube.

All this however was not without some levity. At one stage she presented her student ticket
to gain admission to a cinema. When refused, she trotted out her pension card.

Phyllis' achievements demonstrate that, with a love of learning and a positive attitude, you're never too old to achieve. So, what are you doing today?


(via Evolutionary Psychology discussion group. Slight mistake in the story; she was awarded last year when she was 94.)

Childhood abuse can leave a mark

says this article 'Leaving a mark' from Science News:
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/31794/title/Leaving_a_mark
Excerpts:
"In the brains of suicide victims, early abuse marks genes that encode ribosomal RNA, key gears in the cellular machinery that makes proteins, researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, report. The marks are methyl groups, chemical units that tattoo the DNA in a region that controls whether ribosomal RNA is turned on or off. Methyl tattoos help turn the genes off in a part of the brain associated with depression.
.....
Although the rRNA result was unexpected, it may help explain the link between neuron growth and depression, Meaney says. “Neurogenesis is going to depend on protein production,” he says. So child abuse could shut off rRNA genes by scarring them with methylation. That leads to depletion of rRNAs, which then dials down protein production, leading to reduced neuron growth and thus depression and suicide."

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Benefits of Long Childhood

From the review of"Why Youth Is Not Wasted on the Young: Immaturity in Human Development" by David F. Bjorklund in 'The American Scientist':
"Bjorklund's message is that human development takes as long as it does for good reasons and that experiences should be introduced only when children are cognitively ready for them. Early education should foster a love of learning, which will pay dividends in the long run, rather than a fear of falling behind, which increases stress and decreases motivation. He acknowledges that schooling is necessary for success in the modern world and that direct instruction is sometimes useful. But as much as possible, he believes, we should let children enjoy childhood. We should even seek to maintain some "immature" qualities, such as curiosity and playfulness, into adulthood. As Aldous Huxley observed, "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm."
...
Why Youth Is Not Wasted on the Young is that rare sort of science book that will be interesting to researchers as well as to laypeople and readers from other fields."

A recent report(via Evo. Psychology Discussion group):
"Their studies revealed that the ability to combine sensory information doesn’t develop in children until about the age of eight. Prior to that, integration of visual and touch-derived spatial information (also known as haptic information) is far from optimal, they reported, with either vision or touch dominating totally even in conditions where the dominant sense is far less precise than the other. However, they found no evidence that either vision or touch acts as a “gold standard,” always dominating the other.....
Nardini’s group made a similar discovery while studying the navigating skills of children versus adults. Navigation depends both on attending to visual landmarks and on keeping track of one’s own movement (self-motion), they explained.

In their study, children and adults attempted to return an object to its original place in an arena, using visual landmarks only, non-visual self-motion information only, or both.

Adults—but not four- to five-year-olds or seven- to eight-year-olds—got better at the task when both information sources were available, they found. ...
It might also explain how adults manage to improve on all sorts of tasks over time, he added. “It demonstrates how adults build on their perceptual abilities not just by improving individual senses, but also by getting better at integration.” "

IAASTD Reports

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development(IAASTD) has issued comprehensive reports on agriculture (link via The Meaningfulness of Little Things . From their Press Release http://www.agassessment.org/docs/Global_Press_Release_final.doc:
"The authors have assessed evidence across a wide range of knowledge that is rarely brought together. They conclude we have little time to lose if we are to change course. Continuing with current trends would exhaust our resources and put our children’s future in jeopardy.

Professor Bob Watson, Director of IAASTD said: “To argue, as we do, that continuing to focus on production alone will undermine our agricultural capital and leave us with an increasingly degraded and divided planet is to reiterate an old message. But it is a message that has not always had resonance in some parts of the world. If those with power are now willing to hear it, then we may hope for more equitable policies that do take the interests of the poor into account.”"


From Executive Summary:
"The main challenge of AKST (Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology )is to increase the productivity of agriculture in a sustainable manner. AKST must address the needs of small-scale farms in diverse ecosystems and to create realistic opportunities for their development where the potential for improved area productivity is low and where climate change may have its most adverse consequences. The main challenges for AKST posed by multifunctional agricultural systems include:

· How to improve social welfare and personal livelihoods in the rural sector and enhance multiplier effects of agriculture?

· How to empower marginalized stakeholders to sustain the diversity of agriculture and food systems, including their cultural dimensions?

· How to provide safe water, maintain biodiversity, sustain the natural resource base and minimize the adverse impacts of agricultural activities on people and the environment?

· How to maintain and enhance environmental and cultural services while increasing sustainable productivity and diversity of food, fiber and biofuel production?

· How to manage effectively the collaborative generation of knowledge among increasingly heterogeneous contributors and the flow of information among diverse public and private AKST organizational arrangements?

· How to link the outputs from marginalized, rain fed lands into local, national and global markets?
Options for Action
Successfully meeting development and sustainability goals and responding to new priorities and changing circumstances would require a fundamental shift in AKST, including science, technology, policies, institutions, capacity development and investment. Such a shift would recognize and give increased importance to the multifunctionality of agriculture, accounting for the complexity of agricultural systems within diverse social and ecological contexts. It would require new institutional and organizational arrangements to promote an integrated approach to the development and deployment of AKST. It would also recognize farming communities, farm households, and farmers as producers and managers of ecosystems. This shift may call for changing the incentive systems for all actors along the value chain to internalize as many externalities as possible. In terms of development and sustainability goals, these policies and institutional changes should be directed primarily at those who have been served least by previous AKST approaches, i.e., resource-poor farmers, women and ethnic minorities.[1] Such development would depend also on the extent to which small-scale farmers can find gainful off-farm employment and help fuel general economic growth. Large and middle-size farmers continue to be important and high pay-off targets of AKST, especially in the area of sustainable land use and food systems."
GLOBAL SUMMARY FOR DECISION MAKERS here.
Both the reports are not fully approved by Australia, Canada and USA. The recently announced 700 million package of Bush is discussed in the May 4th post of The Automatic Earth.However well researched and well meaning these suggestions may be, it is not clear how they can be implemented in
a world with only two kinds of international institutions -- weak and dysfunctional
.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Sapient Mind

The introduction to The sapient mind: archaeology meets neuroscience has some points which are probably clear to many Indians (but not to me. Apart from some interest in agriculture and Telugu, my Indian roots do not seem to be very strong).
Here are some excerpts:
"... would it be more productive, especially from a long-term perspective, to explore the assumption that human intelligence 'spreads out' across the body-world boundary, thus extending beyond skin and skull into culture and the material world?
...the papers that comprise this Theme Issue seek to understand how different types of data, and the questions upon which those data are being brought to bear, are enmeshed and related as different aspects of a common phenomenon that we call 'the sapient mind'.
.......
To illustrate this central point let us use the example of Dauya discussed in the paper by Hutchins (2008). Dauya comes from the Wawela village on Boyowa Island in the Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea. Dauya is a preliterate magician/astronomer responsible for fixing the agricultural calendar of the village to a seasonal calendar. This is a difficult task, given that the weather patterns in the Solomon Sea vary from year to year, but also a very important task, since the correct timing of the preparations of the gardens relevant to changes in the weather is crucial for the crop production of the village. Dauya accomplishes his task by examining the sky searching for Kibi (what we call the Pleiades) among the stars that are visible just before dawn. When Kibi is visible in the pre-dawn glow, then it is time to begin preparing the gardens. This might look like a trivial task to the analytically preoccupied modern western thinker but it is also a task that clearly involves some of the most crucial elements that make up a sapient mind.
.....
This leads us to the theme that underlies in one way or another all the papers in this issue and constitutes also a possible conceptual bridge between archaeology and neuroscience, i.e. learning. If we are to identify a single process or capacity as the key behind the accomplishments of Dauya's mind then the place to look would be at the way sapient minds 'learn to learn'. Indeed, according to Frith (2008), there is something special in Dauya's ability to benefit from cultural learning and the accumulated knowledge of Trobriand astronomy. That special something which seems to be unique to the human race is Dauya's ability to recognize and learn from instruction rather than from mere observation. Without this ability to learn by instruction and deliberately to share knowledge, Dauya could never have seen the sky as a meaningful sign in the complex system of Trobriand astronomy. Dauya's task to read the sky and construct his calendar would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to fulfil by mere observation, imitation and 'affordance learning'. Prolonged apprenticeship and formal instruction into Trobriand astronomy as a cultural practice is the key.”
The rest of the papers in this issue need subscrption. The only paper I could download so far from a different source is Edwin Huchins'The role of cultural practices in the emergence of modern human intelligence which is interesting but somewhat hard. (via Evo. Psychology discussion group)

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Bias in hiring academics?

I heard similar things in Kolkata but this was a bit of surprise. Ftom An Interview with Michael Perelman:
"The young economists, looking for jobs, are the ones that require support and solidarity. For example, a young person expressing the ideas found in this book would have difficulty finding a job. I believe that more than 20 years have passed since any known leftist economist has been hired by an Ivy League university."
But having tenure seems to help. James Galbraith seems to speak freely here:
"I have an answer to that. Let Ben Bernanke come over to our side. Let him acknowledge what is obvious: the instability of capitalism, the irresponsibility of speculators, the necessity of regulation, the imperative of intervention. Let him admit the intellectual victory of John Maynard Keynes, of John Kenneth Galbraith, of Hyman Minsky. Let him take those dusty tomes off the shelf, and broaden his reading. I could even send him a paper or two.
P.S. Happy May Day.

The next problem for farmers

may be the increasing prices of fertilizers says Ny Times:
"Prices at a terminal in Tampa, Fla., for one fertilizer, diammonium phosphate, jumped to $1,102 a ton from $393 a ton in the last year, according to JPMorgan Securities, which tracks the prices. Urea, a type of granular nitrogen fertilizer, jumped to $505 a ton from $273 a ton in the last year.
....
“This is a basic problem, to feed 6.6 billion people,” said Norman Borlaug, an American scientist who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in spreading intensive agricultural practices to poor countries. “Without chemical fertilizer, forget it. The game is over.”"
More news from Andrew Leonard and others here.
Two years ago, there was an announcement by Indian scientists Simi Sathyaseelan and Sumam George that latext sludgemay be a good substitute for the currently used phosphorus compounds:
"Four month soil incubation studies showed that based on the phosphorus release pattern, latex sludge is comparable or even superior to two other conventionally used commercial phosphatic fertilizers, Rock Phosphate (RP) and Super Phosphate (SP). For field confirmation of the laboratory results, two pot culture studies (1 main + 1 residual) in completely randomized design with chilli (Capsicum annuum L.), a crop with high phosphorus demand, were undertaken. The soil used was sandy loam (Vellayani Series–Typic Kandiustult), acidic in reaction (pH 5.63), high in organic carbon (0.63 %) and available phosphorus (91.28 kg ha-1), but low in available nitrogen (215.13 kg ha-1) and available potassium (91.84 kg ha-1). The treatments were fixed so as to compare the effect of phosphorus supply to the crop from latex sludge against that from SP and RP when each was used singly or when latex sludge was used in different combinations with the other two. Statistical analysis of the biometric characters of the crop namely growth (plant height, number of leaves and branches, leaf area and days to flowering), yield (number of fruits per plant, length, girth and weight of fruit and fresh yield per plant) and quality (ascorbic acid, capsaicin, oleoresin and protein contents) showed that all these traits were favourably disposed towards the treatment combination in which the crop's phosphorus requirement was met equally by latex sludge and RP (half-half). "
But I do not know of any later developments.
P.S. Two background articles.UN Outlook for 2011-12(not read yet).