Thursday, July 31, 2008

Miscellaneous, 31st July, 2008

Inching towards perennial wheat? Dr.Stan Cox of the Land Institute describes the status of research..
There seems to be very little research in this direction in India. Some of the problems for scientists from developing countries are discussed by Priya Shetty in
Comment: The developing world needs its own science journals.
T.V. Padma on development and obesity. Apparently, a Study finds Chinese obesity rates soaring.
The July 26 EPW has several articles on D.D.Kosambi. M.S.Raghunathan in Artless innocents and ivory-tower sophisticates: Some personalities on the Indian mathematical scene mentions Andre Weil's admonition: ‘Young man, I find that people who know nothing about Kosambi want to talk about him! Let me tell you this: he was one of the finest intellects to come out of your country.’ Raghunathan also describes the work of K. Chandrasekharan in developing modern mathematics in India; Raghunathan's opinions are close to my own. But I also feel that for right persons to build in the early stages of development is easier than when the numbers are greater and special interests are entrnched and the institutions begin to reflect the general culture outside. A sure sign of warning is when parents and children start working in the same institutes.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Andrew Leonard on Obama

In the course of a review of John Talbot's Obanomics Andrew Leonard says:
"The real promise of an Obama presidency may lie not so much in the details of his platform as it is documented on his Web site, but in his apparent character. If you take the time to read or listen to his speeches or his books, you are likely to acknowledge, unless utterly blinded by partisanship, that he is a smart, perceptive guy who is able to articulate a complex understanding of the world to a degree that few other modern American politicians can even begin to approach.....
it seems unlikely that he will metamorphose into a blithering idiot or a corporate tool.

To be smart, and to be able to see both sides now, are rare qualities in contemporary American politics. "Obamanomics," then, is not a platform but a person. And here is where John Talbott does nail what might be the most important attribute of Barack Obama. A smart, pragmatic guy who cares about fairness just might be able to get people to cooperate."
P.S. John Pilger has a different view. Ryan Lizza'sarticleseems to be the most factual. We always hope before elections. If Obama's books are any indication, I go along with Andrew Leonard's views.

Sarojini Naidu introduces M.S. Subbalaxmi
(in Hindi and English)and other interesting videos on youtube my Mukkamala2020. There is one of ANR on Savithri, a Gollabhabhama video and song by Eelapata Raghuramaiah and Krishnaveni and many other old Telugu and Hindi videos. The quality of videos is not great but a few aare rare ( I have not seen them before) and give a glimpse of different eras. A glimpse of recent tastes (of some)here:
The beginning of the video has an interesting take off on a Malliswari song. The singer seems very talented.
Most of the Telugu songs are also available at and and new sites like and
P.S. The first link has disappeared. Try

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ma Telugu Talliki

a perennial favourite of Telugus by Tanguturi Suryakumari at the age of 60 uploaded by 'Anagabhyru'(via oldtelugusongs). The original version ia available at but has some background distortions. Anagabhyru is a practicing doctor in U.K. who originally wanted to be a playback singer. He has also uploaded a perfomance by P. Bhanumati at the age of 59.
I saw some of her films in the 40's. She was the first Miss Madras (1952) and soon moved to USA and then UK and I lost track. Here is an obituary in The Guardian.

Indians and shoes

I do not remember wearing shoes or slippers until I finished high school, though my parents said that they bought me shoes when I was a baby. Rainy season used to be a problem with mud and hidden thorns until we moved to sandy village where summers were difficult. I remember running from one patch of grass to another while going to school. The first pair I got was when I went to University and those days they were called 'belt boots'. It was painful wearing shoes for the first time. Since then I guess that I got used to shoes and slippers, though a few years ago arthritis and corns made both walking and wearing shoes painful. Then I found Roebuck walking shoes and life has been reasonably pleasnt since then. But now the particular brand is no longer imported by Australia but they are still available in some US stores and I have been managing through relatives and friends visiting from US. So, what all I know about shoes is the pain or comfort of wearing shoes. A comment in a recent post in Blogbharti hints that there may be more to wearing shoes than just comfort. This made me go back to Bernard Cohn's Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India , one of the very few history type books that I have read. I tried to see whether there is any special significance to Indians of wearing shoes. There are several passages scattered throughout the book and I could not understand some of them. Here are some of the passages.
On page 43, after quoting from J.B. Gilchrist's 'East India Guide' (1825) Cohn says " The wearing of shoes by Indians in the houses of Europeans was seen as a part of a larger effort on the part of some Indians to establish equality or even superiority-not only in relation to Europeans but also with respect other Indians, by appearing to be on a footing of equality with Europeans".
From page 133: "In the 1830's, F.J. Shore, a judge in upper India .... explained to his European readers they should not allow Indians in their presence with shoes. If Indians did so, the sahib should explain to them that:
"Nations have different customs; ours is to uncover head-yous to uncover feet, as a token of respect. You should not presume to walk into the sitting-room of another native with your shoes on; why do you treat me with disrespect you would not show to one of your countrymen? I am not prejudiced, and it is quite immaterial to me whether you take off your shoes or turban, but I must insist on one or other mark of civility if you wish me to receive your visits." This is unanswerable by the native and those English who have acted in this manner, have been decidedly more respected by the people"
By 1854, so many Indians in Bengal, particularly in Calcutta,had taken to wearing European shoes and stockings that the Governor_General in Council passed a resolution allowing native gentlemen" on official and semi-official occasions... to appear in the presence of the servants of the British government" wearing European boots and shoes".
On page 161, the discussion is abstract and not very clear to me: " As the head is the locus of power and superior forms of knowledge the feet become the opposite. The feet are "sources of downward and outward currents of inferior matter"...Shoes and slippers were dirty, not just from being used to walk around in, but as the repositories of base substances flowing from weare's body...".
Coming back to Blogbharti post, may be there are some technical reasons for asking people to leave shoes outside some of these places or may be some of the old concepts of purity, respect are adopted by the new professionals. In any case, Cohn's is an interesting book which indicates how some institutions, however vague or prevalent they might have been, tranformed during the British rule, sometimes with active or covert participation from Indians.
Since I read very few history type books, I do not know how authoritative Cohn's account is or whether there are any authoritative accounts. Partha Chatterjee has interesting things to say about what makes particular explanations persuasive.

Diffusion of science centres

The July 24 issue of Nature has several articles on china. China: The end of the science superpowers by(Rogers Hollingsworh and colleagues (reuires subscription)is reported in Historian predicts the end of 'science superpowers'. From the article: "Each former giant of science emerged when the society's economy became extraordinarily robust by world standards. As the French, German and British economies declined relative to the world's most dynamic centres of fiscal growth, so did their science systems. The independence and flexibility that once characterized their research systems diminished markedly. Each former scientific power, especially during the initial stages of decline, had the illusion that its system was performing better than it was, overestimating its strength and underestimating innovation elsewhere. The elite could not imagine that the centre would shift.

Meanwhile, fundamental changes over the past few decades in economics, funding, communication, organizational structure, and specialization could mean that the United States is not simply poised to cede its scientific throne to a national successor such as China. Rather, the end of America's era as the scientific hegemon could also be the end of the era of scientific hegemons."
From the Physorg report: "Hollingsworth and his co-authors - UW-Madison senior scientist Ellen Jane Hollingsworth and Karl H. Muller, director of the Vienna Institute for Social Science Documentation and Methodology - assert that U.S. science is still strong and performs at a high level. For example, U.S. researchers still account for more than half of the top 1 percent of most-cited papers in the world.

But the global proliferation of science will present new challenges to the United States. Hollingsworth says that the biggest threat to U.S. science competitiveness may be the massive size of major research universities, which produce a high volume of published work but not a corresponding increase in "major breakthroughs." For example, Hollingsworth says that almost 50 percent of papers published by U.S. scientists are not cited by other scientists, which raises the question of whether the high volume of publishing "is really enhancing our stock of knowledge."

"I think we have become too obsessed with quantitative measures of science - the volume of papers published, where they're published and the number of grants attained," he says.

"To thrive in this transition from a science hegemony to a global competitive landscape, the biggest need will be to become more flexible and more adaptive," he adds. "And if you're not adaptive, you can see what happens with the examples of the auto industry and steel industry in America."

Hollingsworth recommends a major investment in a new type of nimble and interdisciplinary science in the United States by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. He says the creation of more than two-dozen smaller-scale research institutes that would be autonomous from, but adjacent to, current universities could have great results. These would operate with little bureaucracy and without the constraints of conventional academic departments, and be more likely to fuel creative thinking, he says.

These institutes would mirror the successes of smaller-scale campuses such as Rockefeller University in New York, the Salk Institute in California and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. Each of these campuses, Hollingsworth says, produces a high percentage of breakthrough research advances despite their small size, and their successes stem from an organizational culture and structure that is nimble, collaborative and cross-disciplinary."
Satyajit Das of eurointelligence on US economy:"We interrupt regular programming to announce that the United States of America has defaulted …" Part 2
(via Naked Capitalism)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trump Jr. is coming to India

Trump Jr. Plans $1 Billion Fund for India Property Acquisitions
says Bloomberg:
"Real estate prices in India have climbed for five straight years, boosted by a six-year equity market boom and rising incomes.

The rally in property prices may end this year as a falling stock prices and rising interest rates slow sales and make it tougher for smaller developers to borrow money. The 14-stock Bombay Stock Exchange Realty Index has declined 63 percent this year, almost double the 32 percent drop in the benchmark Sensex.

``The pendulum has started shifting back a little bit to the point where prices have started to become a bit more reasonable,'' said Trump. ``It will allow companies such as ours to justify buying land. It's a good opportunity for us.'' "
via Naked Capitalism which also links to another Bloomberg article on emerging economies Emerging-Market Currency Rally Dies as Inflation Hits (Update3):"India's rupee will weaken 8 percent, its worst year in a decade, while the South African rand will lose 22 percent, its worst performance since 2001, the Bloomberg surveys show.

``The shock of higher food and energy costs has exposed the major shortcomings of emerging economies in controlling inflation,'' said Stephen Jen, chief currency strategist at Morgan Stanley in London and a former Federal Reserve economist. ``I'm not sure emerging markets will respond to inflation shocks.'' "
Much more in the two articles.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Interview with Pieter Hendrikse maker of Q-Drum with lots of pictures and a video:
"The idea of the Q Drum originated in response to the needs of rural people in developing countries for clean and potable water and easing the burden of conveying it. The uniqueness of the Q Drum lies in the idea and design of the longitudinal shaft or doughnut hole which is acknowledged by the fact that worldwide patents (including the US, 2 patents and Europe) had been granted for the concept, thus confirming the novelty and inventiveness of the design. The drum is pulled along using a rope run through the shaft. There are no removable or breakable handles and the rope can be replaced by means available everywhere such as a leather thong or rope woven from plant material. This simplicity of the Q Drum makes it an ideal tool for the African Continent and other developing countries where even a hammer and a nail are scarce commodities and its durability has been proven by extensive actual use in some rural areas of Southern Africa."
(via Rural Development of India which has many such interesting news items).
See also a piece of South-South 'colloboration' Clay Filters for water purification in Sri Lanka which were first mass produced in Nicaragua.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I learnt a new technique today

It is pruning season in Melbourne and since gardening services have become expensive I decided to buy a chainsaw and do some heavy pruning myself. But I was told by Chris (short for Ramakrishna) and other friends that I should not fool around with chainsaws at my age. So I bought an 'Alligator' which is a sort of enclosed chainsaw (thanks to Chinese exports, many of these seem affordable now). Chris and I managed some heavy pruning of two medium sized trees. The problem next was to cut the branches in to small pieces to fit in to the bin. Again Chris had an idea. After separating some of main hard wood, we just ran the lawnmower over the branches to mulch them(a mulcher is somewhat expensive and there is no room to keep it). It worked though I am not sure how long the lawnmower will last.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'Glacier man' Chewang Norphel

brings water to Ladakh:
"Norphel's watershed intervention -- the 'artificial glacier' -- came from the simple observation that "while there was such a shortage of water at the start of the cropping season, a lot of water was being wasted during winter". He noticed that in winter water taps were left open to stop the water from freezing in the pipes. The water flowed into the drains surrounding the taps and froze. "And it is then that it occurred to me: why not try and make artificial glaciers in the vicinity of the village so that local farmers get a real headstart when they need it most," says Norphel.

Norphel used to work with the Jammu and Kashmir rural development department making zings (small tanks fed by run-off from melting glaciers). A year after he retired from government service, in 1996, he joined as project manager for watershed development for the Leh Nutrition Project, a local civil society organisation. This gave him the opportunity to try out his 'artificial glacier' idea to trap and freeze water for future use.

Norphel's technique uses a network of pipes to capture and channel precious snowmelt that would otherwise be wasted. No crops are grown during Ladakh's severe winters; the little water there is in the mountain streams generally goes waste.

Using some local ingenuity, Norphel built his 'artificial glacier' from stone embankments and a few hundred metres of iron pipe. First, water from an existing stream was diverted through iron pipes to a shady area of the valley. From there, the water was made to flow out onto a sloping hill at regular intervals along the mountain slope. Small stone embankments impede the flow of water, creating shallow pools. During the winter, as temperatures drop steadily, the water in these small pools freezes. Once this cycle has been repeated over many weeks, a thick sheet of ice forms, resembling a long, thin glacier.

Norphel managed to freeze water in pipes as well. "I noticed in Leh that water sometimes did not freeze in the channels but did so in the thin iron pipes. As the pipes are made of metal and are very thin, they lose heat quite rapidly," he explains.

There are several advantages of an artificial glacier over a natural one. To start with, it's closer to the village and at a comparatively lower altitude. Natural glaciers, on the other hand, are located way up in the mountains and they melt slowly in summer, releasing water to the villages quite late. Early water release from an artificial glacier comes as a bonus for farmers. It enables them to get water a whole month before the snow starts melting on the mountain tops. This is particularly useful to start sowing, as the sowing season ends before water from natural glaciers begins to flow down the mountain.
The largest artificial glacier Norphel has built so far is near the village of Phuktsey. About 1,000 feet (300 metres) long, 150 feet (45 metres) wide, and four feet (1 metre) deep, it supplies irrigation water to the entire village of around 700 people. Norphel says the glacier was built at a cost of about Rs 90,000, which is about a tenth of what it would have cost to build a reservoir with similar storage capacity.

This technology has become immensely popular with the people of Ladakh, not only because it is effective but also because it is simple and affordable and makes use of local resources and skills. And there's minimal maintenance required. "The villagers can understand this," Norphel says. "This is optimum utilisation of water by using the simplest technique, at a low cost. It also helps recharge groundwater and nearby springs."

Sonam Dawa, executive director of the Ladakh Ecological Development Group in Leh, describes Norphel's innovation as a "novel technique, which offers an elegant solution for the most critical first watering of the crop".

As more and more glaciers are being constructed all over Ladakh, more and more barren land is coming under cultivation, providing better opportunities to poor and marginalised communities in the region. Norphel hopes that solving Ladakh's water problems will help slow down the migration of young people to the plains. Improving the economic viability of farms, he says, will sustain village communities and also preserve the ancient Buddhist heritage of his people.

Norphel's efforts have been tracked in a film by docu-filmmaker Fayaz Rizvi, titled A Degree of Concern, which was recently screened in New Delhi on World Environment Day, June 5, 2006."

CNN also has this news as well as that of a Nigerian civil engineerDr Joseph Adelegan :
"He firmly believes that the world's future fuel demands can be met through renewable energy.
And he is using increasingly innovative methods to achieve these results.
Three years ago Adelegan won plaudits for his "Cows to Kilowatts" project, which use effluents and waste products from abattoirs to produce cooking gas.
This time he's back with another groundbreaking idea to use waste from the cassava plant, a staple food of Nigeria, to generate electricity.
His project "Power to the Poor: Off-Grid Lighting from Cassava Waste in Nigeria," was awarded a $250,000 grant in May from the World Bank after being named one of the best projects in Africa."

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

says Nouriel Roubini:
"... here is a summary and significant extended update of my views that this will turn out to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and the worst US recession in decades…".
P.S. July 27. Brad Seser's assessment:
Too big to fail? Or too large to save? Thinking about the US one year into the subprime crisis.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Public Life of History

in Four articles on Indian history Rohit Copra links to some recent articles on Indian history of which I found Dipesh Chakrabarty's "The Public Life of History: An Argument out of India" in Public Culture (20: I, 143-168)very interesting. The full article needs subscription but Chprs gives link to an excerpt:
here. Dipesh Chakraborty asks " If one could think of the life of this discipline within the university—composed of classrooms, courses, examinations, seminars, conferences, journals, and so on—as its "cloistered life," as it were, then by its "public life" one could mean the connections that such a discipline might forge with institutions and practices outside the university and official bureaucracy. Can this discipline have a public life in my sense of the term when the public actually debates the past?
Given their expertise, it is only understandable that historians in India should seek a role in adjudicating disputes about the past in India. But what prevents them from realizing this aspiration? It is to answer this question that I provide a history of history in India before returning, in conclusion and with some comparative glances at relevant debates in Australia and the United States, to the larger concern from which this essay arises: can history, the academic discipline, have a public life in a situation when the past is a matter of contestation in everyday life?"
My guess is 'probably not'. For one thing, official histories including many records on which they rely seem to be written by winners at the given moments. When it comes to current readings of the past, they often depend on the school or country of the writers and it takes a lot of effort to even it digest different views. In contrast, the current views of many seem to be decided by current political or market realities and often by leadership which does not care that much for hitorical truths based on facts (on many issues such 'facts' seem doubtful anyway). On the other hand, there are many theses,articles from universities and institutes about identity effects in business and politics ( a small sample like the ones by John Harriss in LSE Working Papers or Jeffrey Witsoe in CASI 'India in Transition' Papers many papers in IDS or EPW )which seem to give an indication of how things work now. But this is an outsider's view. Possibly more careful discussions will take place in Rohit Chopra' blog which already has several thoughtful posts on Nandigram and other issues.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rahul Banerjee tastes some success

Rahul Banerjee's efforts seem to be bearing fruit. FromDown To Eath article 'Seed Restoration':
"Waterless wheat makes central India’s farmers smile

Time was when Malwa, a region spanning central India, grew wheat that required no irrigation. What it required instead was careful nurturing of the soil to retain its moisture. That was then. Soil preparation began months in advance; chemical fertilizers were unknown and green mulch was the principal soil nutrient.

All that changed with the Green Revolution. The indigenous varieties of the area gave way to high yield hybrid strands that required five to seven rounds of irrigation and a good amount of chemical fertilizers.

The cost of these inputs kept increasing, which the farmers of the Malwa region could afford less and less.

Finding it increasingly difficult to manage the economics of food production, Soji Ram took a risk. Soji Ram is a Barera tribal from Madhya Pradesh’s Katkut village in Khargon district. He took the risk more out of compulsion than as a result of any calculation.

Soji Ram sowed Amrita wheat in the beginning of rabi season last year; it is a contemporary version of the indigenous Malwi strand, over 0.3-hectare (ha) last rabi season. Amrita has been developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar) at its Indore wheat research station. Amrita does not need much soil preparation; what it needs is only two rounds of irrigation.

Other farmers in Soji Ram’s village, including his brothers, sowed the hybrid Lok1 variety. All of them never missed an opportunity to tell him that he was being foolhardy. After all, he was going by the word of just one person: Rahul Banerjee of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, an ngo working with farmers in the region. Soji Ram dedicated half his farm to this new seed. He was willing to try it out because low irrigation requirements made it more affordable than Lok1 wheat that needed at least five rounds for a decent harvest.

The harvest was far from decent this year for most farmers in Khargon. Only Soji Ram had something to smile about. He harvested 300 kg of wheat from 30 kg of seed on his 0.3-ha field. “Soji Ram got the output from a single round of irrigation. Another round could have fetched him 450-600 kg of wheat,” says Banerjee.
Last year, Banerjee could persuade only Soji Ram and two other farmers from neighbouring districts to opt for Amrita. As they reaped a good harvest this year, more farmers made up their mind to follow their example. Nobody thinks it is foolhardy anymore."

Square watermelons

From Lessons of the Square Watermelon (via Rural Development of India) , the story is from Japan):
"The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn’t nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn’t assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.

This made the grocery stores happy and had the added benefit that it was much easier and cost effective to ship the watermelons. Consumers also loved them because they took less space in their refrigerators which are much smaller than those in the US - which resulted in the growers being able to charge a premium price for them."

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" after finishing his "Dreams from my father". He can write. It seems that he would have been doing good work at some level or other.
P.S. Interesting article in The Guardian (via 3quqrksdaily)Taking Obama as well read. Excerpt:
"If the Obama list is more charged and complicated, that's because it reflects the more charged and complicated image of the man behind it. It speaks of a serious student of American society, a man steeped in race relations and a politician who comes with questions as well as answers.

Ultimately there's something weirdly unapologetic about it. Triangulation be damned. Obama is preaching to the converted, chatting with the fan-base. Those who already have him filed as some dubious leftist egghead will peruse the shelves of this library and have their prejudices set in stone. By the same token, those who see him as the spokesman for a more curious, humane and thoughtful America will come away reassured. Love Obama, love his books."
The Guardian article follows up an article by Laura Miller Barack by the books which among other things discusses both the books by Barack Obama.
P.S.2(July 11)Just finished reading the second book which as expected is more about practical poliyics and not as interesting as the first biik. There are several links to interesting articles about Barack Obama in Wikipedia. The follwing artcles What Makes Obama Run? from 1995 and The Phenomenon from 2006 seem to describe Obama well around the time the two books were written.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Ajit Varki

on Primate Evolution and Human Disease (youtube about 51 absorbing minutes). Interview from Expert Interview Transcripts . Recent article Human evolution: Details of being human in Nature News by Bruce Lieberman.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Links July,2

Why Indian farmers lust after genetically modified eggplant:
"I have no idea how representative that last farmer's attitudes are of Indian eggplant farmers in general. But the basic calculus seems pretty clear. If Indian farmers can simultaneously cut their costs by cutting their pesticide expenses and boost yields by fending off the fruit and shoot borer, they will pay a premium price for genetically modified eggplant seeds. In a world where all kinds of agricultural inputs are drastically rising in price, that same calculus will likely play out elsewhere, with other farmers and other crops."
Strong comments and a related news An impossible coexistence: Transgenic and organic agriculture from Spain.
Energy Transitions Past and Future
from 'The Oil Drum':
"The debate about "peak oil" aside, there are relatively abundant remaining supplies of fossil fuels. Their quality is declining, but not yet to the extent that increasing scarcity will help trigger a major energy transition like wood scarcity did in the 19th century. The costs of wind, solar and biomass have declined due to steady technical advances, but in key areas of energy quality—density, net energy, intermittancy, flexibility, and so on—they remain inferior to conventional fuels. Thus, alternative energy sources are not likely to supplant fossil fuels in the short term without substantial and concerted policy intervention. The need to restrain carbon emissions may provide the political and social pressure to accelerate the transition to wind, biomass and solar, as this is one area where they clearly trump fossil fuels. Electricity from wind and solar sources may face competition from nuclear power, the sole established low-carbon power source with significant potential for expansion. If concerns about climate change drive a transition to renewable sources, it will be the first time in human history that energetic imperatives, especially the the economic advantages of higher-quality fuels, were not the principal impetus."

Gulzar Natarajan on Survey on corruption in India :
"It is ironical that the departments administered directly by the three All India Services officers - IAS, IPS and IFS (land records, police, and forest) are the three most corrupt departments!"
Rahul Siddharthan on Pen Pricks. This one was quickly found to be be fake. But there are others which seem to go on like the about a Forbes news item on Samskrit being the best language for computers. Others, after the usual cycle of few days are not pursued.
Several interesting pieces in the Seed magazine, in particular, Cultural Evolution and Tom Wolfe + Michael Gazzaniga.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The unsutainable has run its course

says Bank of International Settlements (via John Quiggin at CT and Excerpts from the overview of their annual report:
"After a number of years of strong global growth, low inflation and stable financial markets, the situation deteriorated rapidly in the period under review. Most notable was the onset of turmoil in the US market for subprime mortgages, which rapidly affected many other financial markets and eventually called into question the adequacy of capital at a number of large US and European banks. At the same time, US growth slowed markedly, reflecting setbacks in the housing market, while global inflation rose significantly under the particular influence of higher commodity prices.

This sudden change in financial conditions was blamed by some on shortcomings in the extension of the long-standing originate-to-distribute model to new mortgage products in recent years. Others, however, noted that the sudden deterioration in both financial and macroeconomic conditions looked more like a typical “bust” after a credit “boom”. Indeed, several factors seem to support this second hypothesis: the previous rapid growth of global monetary and credit aggregates; an extended period of low real interest rates; the unusually high price of many assets (both financial and real); and the way in which spending patterns in different countries (the United States and China in particular) reflected their different stages of financial development (encouraging consumption and investment respectively).

While central banks in all the major financial centres took action to reliquefy financial markets, the setting of policy rates diverged markedly in light of domestic macroeconomic circumstances. Some central banks were more concerned about actual inflation and raised policy rates, whereas others focused on the disinflationary pressures likely to emerge as growth slowed, and lowered policy rates instead.
Perhaps the principal conclusion to be drawn from today's policy challenges is that it would have been better to avoid the build-up of credit excesses in the first place. In future, this could be done through the establishment of a new macrofinancial stability framework, which would call for both monetary and macroprudential policies to "lean against the wind" of the credit cycle. Recognising that cycles can be attenuated but not eliminated, a number of preparatory steps are also suggested that would allow periods of financial turmoil or crisis to be more effectively managed."
P.S. Brad Setserrecommends reading the report.

Interview with Duncan Green, Oxfam Head

Making Poverty History; the interview about Oxfam's new book "From Poverty to Power: How Active Citizens and Effective States Can Change the World" and the interview has a link to the book:
(via Chandan Sapkota.)

A recommendation from

From Science journalism urged to be more locally relevant :
""The larger amount of international science news makes readers think science is irrelevant to their life, especially among those in extreme rural poverty," Joubert said.

Massarani also found that articles were reluctant to criticise information sources, particularly those from the developed world. A high percentage of stories also reprinted from news agencies, without any attempt to add local context or double check the accuracy of the information.

Joubert says that it is difficult for the developing world to establish enough science news sources to feed local media — but there are still ways to make science journalism in these countries more locally applicable. Comments from local scientists or members of the public for example about the local applications of research will shorten the distance between science and local readers, she told SciDev.Net.

And links to local culture — for example traditional medicine — should also be used to make science news more relevant.

"Some [traditional medicine] might be wrong, but telling the readers how science comes to this conclusion, or how scientists are researching traditional medicine, could be an effective way to spread scientific knowledge among people familiar with this form of indigenous knowledge," says Joubert."


Interesting article in NYTimes Can Weeds Help Solve the Climate Crisis? . Excerpt:
"Ziska says that he worries about mankind’s ability to feed itself in a fast-changing future. Paradoxically, it is weeds, he says, that can provide solutions. They have helped us deal with lesser crises in the past. When diseases and pests overwhelmed our domesticated food crops, it was to their wild relatives — plants that mankind has been battling for millennia — that plant breeders turned. Because weeds have more diverse genomes, it is easier to find one with the proper genetic resistance to a given threat — and then to create a new hybrid by breeding it with existing crops. An answer to the Irish potato blight of 1845-6 was eventually found among the potato’s wild and weedy relatives; a wild oat found in Israel in the 1960s helped spawn a more robust, disease-resistant strain of domesticated oats.

Weedy ancestors of our food crops, Ziska predicts, will cope far better with coming climatic changes than their domesticated descendants. Coping, after all, is what weeds have always done best. As last year’s climate- change panel report, Climate Change 2007, made clear, we have already set in motion far-reaching and unstoppable changes in regional temperatures and precipitation and in the composition of our atmosphere. No matter what actions we take, these changes will continue for decades. If we are to avoid disaster, experts agree, we will need to be tenacious but flexible, ready to identify and exploit any opportunity in what will be a challenging, even hostile situation. In this new world that we have made, weeds, our old adversaries, could be not only tools but mentors."