Sunday, May 30, 2010

Khushwant Singh reviews a new book on Gandhi

His Dalliance With Desire
"Another biography of Gandhi justifies itself by homing in on its subject’s sexual oddities. He is flawed, but is lit up from within by an unembarrassed lust for truth."

Friday, May 28, 2010


Macaulay's legacy
See Globish For Beginners and English skills raise wages for some, not all, in India
Easterley on conspiracy theories Oops, did I just prove “Confessions of a hit man” conspiracy?
Comments section of 2nd Annual 3QD Prize in Science has links to several interesting cience articles from blogs.
Carl Zimmer lists some of his recent favourite posts.
MindHacks on the effects of weather on mood.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Richard Dawkins to judge 2nd Annual 3QD Prize in Science

See Richard Dawkins to judge Richard Dawkins to judge 2nd Annual 3QD Prize in Science.
I would like to nominate one of the pieces by Carl Zimmer. unfortunately there are too many good ones.

Another report on Indian students in Australia

in Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research Indian student migration in Australia: issues of community sustainability by RMIT academics Supriya Singh and Anuja Cabraal. The report is behind a paywall, Abstact:
"The established Indian Australian community mainly consists of people with professional occupations who came to Australia after 1970, and their Australian-born children. They come from the educated urban middle class in India, speak English fluently, and are doing well in Australia. In contrast, the wave of Indian students who arrived mainly after 2001 are more likely to come from rural backgrounds. Even though they may have bachelor degrees from India, they often have poor English. Many have enrolled in vocational courses in cookery and hairdressing in the hope, often realised of gaining permanent residence. As is now well known a number of them have been subjected to robbery and violence, often racist, and some have died. This article explores this recent history and also draws on interview data. It uses this to outline some of the differences between the established community and the growing number of students, and to describe the efforts made by the two groups to bridge these differences."
Sushi Das summary in The Age Report criticises 'cash cow' policy . Excerpts:
"THE federal government failed to safeguard Indian students because of its fixation with income from the lucrative international education industry and its desperate need to tackle labour shortages, a new analysis has found.

"The policy linking education and migration was aimed at getting 'designer migrants' to satisfy Australia's needs for a younger professional labour force at little cost," says a paper published by Monash University's Centre for Population and Urban Research.

It says students were poorly served by government policy linking education, skilled labour and migration, and this contributed to Indian students becoming vulnerable to racism.
The analysis by RMIT academics Supriya Singh and Anuja Cabraal is based on 41 interviews with first and second-generation Indian migrants, and religious and community leaders.

They say that, unlike previous professional Indians who came from large cities and migrated with their families from the 1970s onwards, recent Indian migrants are largely students who are often financially stressed. The family investment in education as a pathway to migration is based on expectations of future prosperity for the student migrant and for his or her family, they say.

"In the small towns and villages of Punjab [from where many students migrate], the excitement was not about the excellence of Australia's education, but the brick houses that have been built with the money sent home by migrants," they say.
Police say Indian students are vulnerable to attacks, some of which are racially motivated, because they travel to and from part-time jobs on public transport late at night and often live in poor, high-crime, outer suburbs where housing is cheaper.
he Council of Australian Governments has agreed to introduce measures to improve the safety and well-being of international students, including an independent statutory complaints body for colleges and co-ordinated information on student safety and their workplace rights.

Melbourne's business community is set to make international student safety a priority, with the Committee for Melbourne and the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry promising to develop a voluntary program to provide cultural and safety information to shift workers new to Melbourne."
P.S. (28th May, 2010)
International students left in the shadows by Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at the University of Melbourne.
An excerpt:
"When we began investigating international student security in 2003, no one else was interested. Some were hostile, fearing the multibillion-dollar industry would be undermined by ''bad news'' about student problems; better to sweep those under the carpet. Thankfully, attitudes are changing.

Three research projects and 240 student interviews later, we have summarised our findings in the book International Student Security.

We researched all domains affecting the students - finances, work, housing, health, safety, relations with officials, personal and family networks, and loneliness. We looked at relations with local students and the community, and discrimination and abuse. We found:

-International students are not treated the same as local students. We identified 25 areas in which their rights are inferior, from access to bank services to welfare support, transport concessions, translation functions and postgraduate scholarships. Few of these discriminations can be justified."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tyler Cowen's advice

From What should World Bank economists do, part II?:
"Take a stronger interest in the most effective anti-poverty recipe we have, namely immigration."
See also the work of Lant Pritchettand Michael Clemens.

Daniel Little's advice

in "Social Theory and the Empirical Social World":
"So my advice goes along these lines: allow Marxism, or Weber or Durkheim or Tilly, to function as a suggestive program of research for empirical investigation. Let it be a source of hypotheses, hunches, and avenues of inquiry. But be prepared as well for the discovery of surprising outcomes, and don't look at the theory as a prescription for the unfolding of the social reality. Most importantly, don't look to theory as a deductive basis for explaining and predicting social phenomena. (Here is an article on the role of Marxism as a method of research rather than a comprehensive theory; link.)"
From the link ('Marxism and Method' by Daniel Little):
" Marx provides a “style of inquiry” based on a family of hypotheses, hunches, and ontological commitments. Through this inquiry he provides a substantive contribution to social science, in the form of a series of descriptive and theoretical insights; particularly about the institutional anatomy and dynamics of capitalism and social behavior. Dialectical thinking is not a part of Marx’s method of social inquiry; at most, a source of hypotheses about “finding contradictions”. Finally, the tools of rational choice theory and neo-classical economics are highly consonant with Marxist thinking."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Amardeep Singh on Atwood-Ghosh

I did not pay much attention to the controversy since prizes do not seem important to me and what little I read seemed obtuse to me except some like this In Support of Amitav Ghosh and Margaret Atwood:
"But for me the most compelling argument against this way of reacting to Israeli cultural institutions is that, as bad as things are for the Palestinians, what the U.S. itself has engaged in over the past decade — especially the debacle of an unjustifiable and badly executed war in Iraq — is far worse. By any reasonable standard, if we’re boycotting Israel, we should be boycotting ourselves! (And similar kind of accusations could be made against India or Pakistan, for any number of reasons.) In short, this kind of thing doesn’t get us anywhere. Structurally, if we pay taxes and receive benefits from a government, we are all “complicit” in what that government does."
Having said that I did once stopp attending a conference in UK when they marched in to Iraq, but later visited USA to colloborate with a colleague. So, I am not particularly consistent.

Food Fights

debate from Seed Magazine Food Fight, Food Fight, Round 1 and Food Fight, Round 2. From the editors' comments in Round 2:
"Greetings, reader, and welcome to the Rebuttals Round of the Food Debate, in which our experts each respond to one another’s opening statements. As you’ll likely recall, when we left the conversation, Dr. Chappell presented a two part-motion: 1) poverty and access to food are more directly related to hunger than food production. 2) Therefore, agroecological methods of farming, even if somewhat lower-yielding, are the more sustainable approach to long-term food security. Paarlberg mounted a strong defense for the Green Revolution, arguing that advocating for agroecological—and especially its strictest form, organic—farming in the developing world is foolhardy. First world elite tastes, he argued, should not confine African farmers to 19th century labor.

Now we reach the rebuttal stage,...."
There are various links to data and questions about the success of the green revolution. What I can agree with are the editors' comments:
"We recognize that biotechnology without dramatic reforms to infrastructure, grain-marketing systems, subsidies, and food security policies will not go far—much like solar panels, hybrid cars, and CFLs will have little effect without an economy-wide carbon price. Yet biotechnology, particularly if developed in the public sector, could bring substantial benefits to smallholding farmers. Virus-resistant cassava, drought-tolerant wheat, and stress-tolerant rice, chickpea, and pearl millet are among the many varieties of crops in incubation at not-for-profit agricultural research institutions around the world. To be skeptical of biotechnology’s prospects for boosting nutrition and alleviating poverty and is not unreasonable, given its track record to date, but to us, an indiscriminate dismissal would (forgive us), be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. "

The link in 'track record' is to this article How the Science Media Failed the IAASTD, criticizing Nature reporting and editorials on International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD)( Excerpts:
"If they are ever implemented, the lessons drawn by IAASTD (at least those in the current draft) would represent a remarkable break with current practices which, in most countries typically emphasise (though they usually do not call them so directly) farm consolidation and chemical-intensive agriculture.

It is often lamented that our societies have an abundance of knowledge and a shortage of wisdom, but the current IAASTD draft comes as close to providing wise guidance for agriculture and development as we have yet seen. Its chief message is appropriately revolutionary: we have so far fed the world principally by depleting natural capital and we must now look beyond business as usual if we really want to address poverty.

The IAASTD draft document is surprising for still another reason. Although supported by the World Bank, it does not offer much support for transgenic crops as the best hope, or even as a particularly useful tool, to alleviate the agricultural ills that beset developing countries, the hungry and the poor.
Last October, Monsanto and Syngenta resigned altogether from the IAASTD project. Though they gave no public reasons for their resignation, the industry body CropLife International told Nature magazine that an inability to make progress in arguing for GMOs was the fundamental reason (1).

A Tragedy for the Poor?

In a recent editorial, Nature magazine argued the interesting point that withdrawal of these companies was a tragic event. The companies, said Nature, were ‘Deserting the poor’ (1). Leaving aside that Monsanto and Syngenta were a very small part of the IAASTD process, this statement is hard to support from a scientific point of view. Are Monsanto scientists more knowledgeable about poverty, development and the needs of developing country agriculture than university or government scientists? Probably not. Do Syngenta scientists have fore-knowledge of impending agricultural developments not available to the rest of us? They may do, but if so these are company secrets which have not so far been made available for discussion or disputation. Does Nature believe that academics and government scientists are unable to make the arguments for biotechnology? But if the scientific need for the companies’ presence was hardly overwhelming, it follows that neither is their loss a particularly significant one.
In placing the blame for the corporate boycott exclusively with the IAASTD, perhaps it never occurred to any of the journal editors that in so doing they were supporting a tiny handful of corporate biotechnologists against the aggregated views of 400 independent scientists?"

Related: Michael Pollan reviews several books on food and food movements in US The Food Movement, Rising

Finally for those interested in gardening Growing Vegetables Upside Down
P.S. Concluding article in the Food Fight Series
Food Fight, Conclusion

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Commercial Imperialism? Political Influence and Trade During the Cold War (via Aidwatch). Abstract:
"We exploit the recent declassification of CIA documents and examine whether there is evidence of US power being used to influence countries’ decisions regarding international trade. We measure US influence using a newly constructed annual panel of CIA interventions aimed at installing and supporting leaders during the Cold War. Our presumption is that the US had greater influence over foreign leaders that were installed and backed by the CIA. We show that following CIA interventions there was an increase in foreign-country imports from the US, but there was no similar increase in foreign-country exports to the US. Further, the increase in US exports was concentrated in industries in which the US had a comparative disadvantage in producing, not a comparative advantage. This is consistent with US influence being used to create a larger foreign market for American products. Our analysis is able to rule out decreased bilateral trade costs, changing political ideology, and an increased supply of US loans and grants as explanations for the increase in US exports to the intervened country. We provide evidence that the increase in US exports arose through direct purchases of US products by foreign governments."

Discussion among development experts

Is Microfinance A Schumpeterian Dead End? via
Chris Blattman What we talk about when we talk about development. One excerpt:
"It’s an interesting idea, microfinance as a Schumpeterian dead end. It strikes me that the claim imposes a pretty high burden of evidence though. Economic developments often takes circuitous routes. I recall Jane Jacobs’s thumbnail history of Detroit, I think in The Economy of Cities (I can’t check my bookshelf because I am travelling). It began as a tiny copper mining town; then moved into flour milling; then, using its accumulated expertise in machinery, boat repair (it being on the shore, connected to America’s internal maritime transport network); then boat manufacturer; then, in time, almost inevitably, the hub of the American auto industry. Only when it became a single-industry town, seemingly extraordinarily successful, did it economically stagnate. So the question is, how can you tell with reasonable confidence whether a new industry represents a dead end? Several big financial institutions today—Bank of America, Metropolitan Life, the Prudential (in the U.K. and its namesake in the U.S.)—started serving the poor, arguably the microfinance institutions of their day, It’s not clear to me that work-around-for-deviation-from-the-ideal is a useful criterion."
Lant Pritchett seems to be the one who had doubts and he clarifies his questions in the comments. Earlier post on Lant Pritchett here.

Two on trade

From a review Doomsayers Beware, a Bright Future Beckonsof Matt Ridley's new book 'The Rational Optimist' (via 3quarksdaily):
"“At some point,” Dr. Ridley writes, “after millions of years of indulging in reciprocal back-scratching of gradually increasing intensity, one species, and one alone, stumbled upon an entirely different trick. Adam gave Oz an object in exchange for a different object.”

The evidence for this trick is in perforated seashells from more than 80,000 years ago that ended up far from the nearest coast, an indication that inlanders were bartering to get ornamental seashells from coastal dwellers. Unlike the contemporary Neanderthals, who apparently relied just on local resources, those modern humans could shop for imports.

“The extraordinary promise of this event was that Adam potentially now had access to objects he did not know how to make or find; and so did Oz,” Dr. Ridley writes. People traded goods, services and, most important, knowledge, creating a collective intelligence: “Ten individuals could know between them ten things, while each understanding one.”

As they specialized and exchanged, humans learned how to domesticate crops and animals and sell food to passing merchants. Traders congregated in the first cities and built ships that spread goods and ideas around the world."
More at Matt Ridley's blog.

From the conclusion of Economic Integration and Political Disintegration: " A consequence of this paper is that as the process of economic 'globalization' will progress, political separatism will continue to be alive and well. The concept of relatively large and centralized nation-states, will be more and more threatened by regional separatism from below, and the growth of supranational institutions from above, in a world of 'global' markets."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vijaya Mulay's book

From Rajahs and Yogis to Gandhi and Beyond is reviewd by John Samuel "This is indeed a monumental piece of work - a mammoth book covering the international scene of India-related films in several languages for the entire 20th century in 554 pages with a foreword by Professor Thomas Waugh. This most ambitious project was completed without an army of researchers, single handed by Vijaya Mulay who deserves to be celebrated by all film enthusiasts."
Her life and work in her own words Pather Panchali(the story of the road). Her career seems to have started with her husband's encouragement:
" My husband had had to abandon his university education because of financial constraints, but he was very keen that I should not suffer the same fate although he could not afford to send me to college since he earned only 120 rupees per month.[2] Patna University fortunately permitted women to study privately in order to sit for its examinations. So I studied at home for my bachelor’s degree, learnt Hindi and a little Bengali, and when our finances got better, I attended college on a regular basis to complete my master’s degree.
In 1946 I won a state scholarship to study in Britain. Ironically by then I did not want to go as my second daughter was only nine months old. But my husband insisted, arguing that India would soon become independent and need educated women like me. His final argument was unbeatable. Fathers, he said, were also parents, and with a little help from family members like my younger sister, our two daughters would fare quite well. That’s how I went to the University of Leeds for my master’s degree in Education."
I just came across her name looking for some information about K.A. Abbas and if the following interview is any indication, her book should be interesting, From
Vijaya Mulay: Still documenting, at 87 :
"Do you think India is sufficiently aware of the quality and quantity of documentary films that are coming out today? If not, why? And what can be done to remedy the situation?
I am not clear exactly you mean by “India being aware”. India is many things. I am presuming that you mean the government, the elites, the middle class, etc -- those with some modicum of power in their hands. If this is so, my answer is no, they don’t. But for me they are not important enough to bother about. It is ‘we the people’ (not merely of the Barkha Dutt weekly NDTV programme variety, but everybody) who have to learn to use this facility that has become so very user-friendly, to give voice to those who have never been heard before. We must use it as part of our common weaponry to make the world a better place."

Afghan singer Nashnas sings a Saigal song

Nashnas & Kundan Lal Saigal (Jab Dil He Tot Gaya)
from this page in a Saigal site

Sunday, May 16, 2010


My yahoo mail has been compromised. If there are any messages from my yahoo mail address, please ignore.

P.S. Some friends recd. the following mail from the hacked account which I cannot access now. Luckily two of them consulted other friends to check whether it was genuine. In both cases there was an impulse to help.

> Date: Sat, 15 May 2010 17:12:32 -0700
> From:
> Subject: I Need Your Help
> To:
> Hope you get this on time. Sorry I didn't inform you about my trip to UK for a program. I'm having
> some difficulties here because I misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money and
> other valuable documents are. Presently my passport and my things are being held down by the
> hotel management pending the time I make payment.
> I would like you to assist me with a loan of £1,800 to pay my hotel bills and to get myself back
> home. I will appreciate whatever you can afford to assist me with. I'll Refund the money back to
> you as soon as I return. Let me know if you can be of any help as soon as possible. I don't have a
> phone where I can be reached, please let me know your response immediately
> Best Regards,
> Swarup

Friday, May 14, 2010

Radia conversations

Some excerptshere taken from 'Raja lobbied for telecom ministry'.
M.J.Akbar's summary
From M.J.Akbar's summary:
"The unambiguous fact is that Dr Singh and Mrs Sonia Gandhi were aware of this, but chose silence because the price of disclosure would have been the collapse of Government. DMK has levelled a cash pistol at the head of Government, and the head has nodded in acquiescence because the alternative was to watch its brains being blown up. DMK blackmail has worked, and would have continued to do so but for the integrity of some journalists.

The most important question awaiting an answer, unless a large, interconnected, corporate-politician-media establishment protects the brazenly guilty, is: how did a lobbyist know of portfolio distribution? It is ironic that one of the reasons that brought the UPA back to power was a reputation for financial integrity, bolstered by the Prime Minister’s personal image (which remains clean).

Radia was privy to specific details of the politics of Government formation, much more than can be discerned by common or even uncommon sense. The tapes are proof of her contacts, at one level; at another, they also reveal the squalid civil wars within the DMK. The war of succession between the Brothers Alagiri and Stalin is only one detail of a diamond-studded opera that is surely beyond the fantasy of any television soap.

This much we know thanks to a leak in Government, possibly initiated by an officer who saw this option as a last resort. But think of the perhaps hundreds of conversations between minister and middle-woman that could not be taped. How much sleaze is stored in them?

Nothing, it is said, clears the mind like the prospect of a hanging. Judging by Raja’s face after the story broke, nothing confuses the mind like the prospect of demotion, to paraphrase from Hindi, from raja (royalty) to runk (commoner)."
See also Madhukar Shukla's post Nira Radia Papers - Raja, Tata, Ambani connection for more links.


The current BP oil spill discussions Obama to force BP to pay more cleanup costs for Deepwater disaster may provide some guidelines for Nuclear Liability Bill. There are reports that Obama hopes for speedy passage of Nuclear Liability Bill.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


From Morning Rant: ‘What ARE [U.S. Economists] Looking At?’:
"It seems to us that U.S. economists in positions of great power to shape public policy and market expectations are failing to do their job. They seem to be stuck in U.S.- and econometrics-as-the-center-of-the-universe paradigms. We’d caution clients against following the shtick of economists calling for a steady-as-she-goes economic recovery and strongly urge them to deeply probe representatives espousing these views."
From a review of Raghram Rajan's book 'Fault Lines:How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy'Professor Finds Many Fault Lines in Crisis :
" No democratic government can let ordinary folk suffer when the harshness of the market brings the party to an end, as it inevitable does. Big finance exploits what Mr. Rajan calls this "government decency" and bets accordingly."
From Bad writing: What is it good for? Via 3quarksdaily):
"Sadly, if bad writers have one thing in common it's that they're all firmly convinced that they're good writers."
That sounds like Dunning-Kruger effect "where people with low levels of ability in a certain field vastly over-rate their talents because they lack the skills to judge their own competence." More discussion of Dunning-Krueger in All Are Skill Unaware:"However, many psychologists have noted Kruger and Dunning’s main data is better explained by positing simply that we all have noisy estimates of our ability and of task difficulty."
And finally a problem that I face everyday Who Cares What the Experts Say? - The Democratization of Science (via 3quarksdaily):
"Yet the democratization of scientific expertise carries danger with it. If experts cannot be trusted in a world whose problems are complex, who do we trust? To many, it seems, the answer may just have to be themselves (or their social or political interest group). While it may have been unwise to give as much unguarded confidence as we have in the past to the experts on any issue, it is crazy to assume that our untested, "common sense," and sometimes skewed judgments on complex questions are an appropriate substitute."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Latest from Kokichi Sugihara

Gravity-defying ramps take illusion prize. Video:
Impossible motion: magnet-like slopes

Guide to construction and more at Sugihara's webpage:
NEW! Impossible Motions

Bonfire of intellectuals

Ron Rosenbaum's review of Paul Berman's "Flight of the Intellectuals" in Slate Bonfire of the Intellectuals:Paul Berman's outraged attack on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's attackers has some memorable phrases and quotes.
See also Kafila discussion ‘Boycott of Israel would not serve any useful tactical purpose’: Amitav Ghosh

A Pakistani flm song

I heard it for the first time today. From another YouTube video nain se nain mila , the information is:
Film: Wadah
Release Day: May 02, 1957
Raag: Darbari
Taal: Ektala (12 Beats) with a Short Part in Teental (16 Beats)
Asthai Lyrics: Traditional
Antara Lyrics: Saifuddin Saif
Female Dancer: Sabiha Khanum
Male Dancer: Lala Ghulam Muhammad
Choreographer: Lala Ghulam Muhammad
Director: W Z Ahmed
Lead Cast: Santosh Kumar, Sabiha Khan
Female Vocalist: Zahida Parveen
Male Vocalist: Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Composer: Rasheed Atre
P.S. The full movie is available on YouTube. The part with the above song:

Dani Rodrik's trilemma

Greek Lessons for the World Economy:
"Deep down, the crisis is yet another manifestation of what I call “the political trilemma of the world economy”: economic globalization, political democracy, and the nation-state are mutually irreconcilable. We can have at most two at one time. Democracy is compatible with national sovereignty only if we restrict globalization. If we push for globalization while retaining the nation-state, we must jettison democracy. And if we want democracy along with globalization, we must shove the nation-state aside and strive for greater international governance."
P.S. Dicussion in Economist's view Europe's "Political Trilemma":

Monday, May 10, 2010

On herbicide resistent weeds

In view of Activists voice concerns over Biotech Regulatory Authority Bill:
“whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products…shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than six months but which may extend to one year and with fine which may extend to two lakh rupees or with both”, it may be good to have some 'scientific' information though there are some concerns Do Seed Companies Control GM Crop Research?.
International Survey of Herbicide Resistent Weeds has a list of weeds, suggested action and some downloadable books.
Glenn Davis Stone has several articles on BT cotton in India
A survey article by Evolution in Action: Plants Resistant to Herbicides by Stephen B. Powles and Qin Yu in Annual Review of Plant Biology is behind a firewall but some of Stephen Powles earlier papers are at his university site .
Link to an interview with Powles Powles: weed resistance will worsen via the excellent article by Carl ZimmerHow To Make A Superweed. Powles says "The three big countries for glyphosate resistance will be the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

That’s because all three countries have massively adopted Roundup Ready crops. The same problems being experienced in the United States are appearing, will continue to appear and will explode in Argentina and Brazil. But leading the pack is the United States."

Australian producers “have had a long-term problem with multiple herbicide resistance in ryegrass. We’ve learned that such an environment requires diversity.

“We’ve learned a few tricks to keep such weeds under control. We won’t be forced out of business by the situation. But to survive, we’ve had to introduce some practices into our farming systems.

“One of them is in our seeding rates — and our main crops are wheat, barley and canola — have risen by up to 40 percent. We’ve tried to make our crops more competitive against the weeds because we can’t be so reliant on herbicides. That simple agronomic practice — as well as manipulating our crop-seeding date — has meant we’ve done a pretty good job of suppressing weeds.

“In the United States, over the time the great Roundup Ready technology has been available, seeding rates for soybeans have actually gone down. That’s because it’s been easy to kill weeds with Roundup. I’m not sure if the same is true for U.S. cotton.

“So, U.S. farmers will increase their seeding rate. They won’t want to do that because of the expense. But if you can’t kill the weeds with glyphosate anymore, that’s one thing that will be tried.

“Another thing that’s coming is herbicide rotation. It may be counterintuitive, but I always say to farmers, ‘If you’re getting great weed control with a herbicide, change it!’ Diversify your herbicides.”

In Australia, “we use any herbicide that still works but don’t use them all the time. We rotate them and mix them in a smart way.

“Finally — and this may be considered a bit far out — is Australian farmers have realized we must do something about the weed seed production. We don’t want them to return to the crop field. We have a few no-chemical — as well as chemical ways — of stopping weeds producing seed.

“I think U.S. farmers will find something similar. Dead weeds don’t produce seed and therefore don’t pass on resistance genes.”

Towards the end of their paper Powles and Yu say "There has been insufficient attention and appreciation of the role of herbicide dose in resistance evolution, and yet where herbicides are used at sublethal dose (some plants are affected but survive), there can be rapid resistance evolution (110, 111). High herbicide dose results in high mortality but selects for rare resistance genes capable of endowing high-level resistance. However, selection at lower herbicide dose (most plants killed but some survivors) selects for all possible resistance-endowing genes, both weak and strong. Especially in cross-pollinated species this can allow the rapid accumulation of resistance genes. Considerable research attention to the role of herbicide dose (selection intensity) on resistance evolution is justified......Finally, we believe that unraveling the precise details of the biochemical, genetic, and molecular means by which plants evolve herbicide resistance will contribute to wiser use of precious herbicide resources, new innovations, and more sustainable strategies for pest weed management. Through this knowledge we believe that there will be future chemical innovations such as P450 synergists to overcome metabolism-based resistance, judicious herbicide combinations, and conceptualization of new resistance-breaking herbicide structures to overcome target-site resistance. Similarly, this fundamental knowledge is essential in creating realistic population genetics/management simulation models and practical control strategies to achieve sustainability through integrated and diverse weed control strategies that maximize herbicide longevity. As there are no foreseeable new technologies that can rival herbicides for weed management in world cropping, herbicide sustainability is an imperative that must be achieved to help guarantee world food supply. Thus, the major challenge to herbicide sustainability posed by the global evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds demands considerable ongoing public and private sector multidisciplinary research focus."

In other words, it is a complicated affair where a strong liason between science and farm is needed. This seems to be the case in countries like Australia. Glenn Stone talked of technology deskilling farmers in his paper Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal.
P.S. Links to related posts with excerpts We’ve A Super Weed, Super Weed, We’re Super-Weedy, Yow and

Friday, May 07, 2010

Neanderthal mark in the human genome

Reports of Human-Neanderthal Mating Left Its Mark in the Human Genome
Neandertal genome yields evidence of interbreeding with humans
in Discover Magazine and Science News. Carl Zimmer raises some questions in
Skull Caps and Genomes:
"Today, the people of Europe and Asia have genomes that are 1 to 4 percent Neanderthal.That interbreeding doesn’t seem to have meant much to us, in any biological sense. None of the segments our species picked up from Neanderthals was favored by natural selection. (Microcephalin D turns out to have been nothing special.)

While working on this post, I contacted two experts who have been critical of some earlier studies on hominin interbreeding, Laurence Excoffier of the University of Bern and Nick Barton of the University of Edinburgh. Both scientist gave the Neanderthal genome paper high marks and agree in particular that the interbreeding hypothesis is a good one. But they do think some alternative hypotheses have to be tested. For example, interbreeding is not the only way that some living humans might have ended up with Neanderthal-like pieces of DNA. Cast your mind back 500,000 years, before the populations of humans and Neanderthals had diverged. Imagine that those ancestral Africans were not trading genes freely. Instead imagine that some kind of barrier emerged to keep some gene variants in one part of Africa and other variants in another part.

Now imagine that the ancestors of Neanderthals leave Africa, and then much later the ancestors of Europeans and Asians leave Africa. It’s possible that both sets of immigrants came from the same part of Africa. They might have both taken some gene variants with them did not exist in other parts of Africa. Today, some living Africans still lack those variants. This scenario could lead to Europeans and Asians with Neanderthal-like pieces of DNA without a single hybrid baby ever being born.

If humans and Neanderthals did indeed interbreed, Excoffier thinks there’s huge puzzle to be solved. The new paper suggests that genes flowed from Neanderthals to humans only at some point between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago–before Europeans and Asians diverged. Yet we know that humans and Neanderthals coexisted for another 20,000 years in Europe, and probably about as long in Asia. If humans and Neanderthals interbred during that later period, Excoffier argues, the evidence should be sitting in the genomes of Europeans or Asians. The fact that the evidence is not there means that somehow humans really did find the self-restraint not to mate with Neanderthals."

Thursday, May 06, 2010

From an old article by Pankaj Mishra

He first discusses the role of literature, in partucular prose fiction Little Inkling
"This is the truest function of a national literature: it holds up a mirror in whose unfamiliar reflections a nation slowly learns to recognise itself. The writer, exercising his talent and imagination, discovers new subjects, or deepens old discoveries; and he himself grows in the process. In Chekhov's late fiction, you find a highly developed sense of the complex world he has been writing about: he has finally come to grips with his subject; and in the last long stories, he describes what is in many ways a makeshift colonial society like ours, adrift after a century of half-hearted modernisation, full of formless or divided individuals at odds with their environment, whose deepest desires, dissatisfactions, frustrations, rages and resentments have their source in some power external to their lives.
It is a steadily accumulating literature that creates a nation's self-awareness. In our own case, this self-awareness has been conflated with national identity and maintained rather precariously after the independence movement by military or cricket victories, nuclear bombs, beauty queens, fashion designers, software tycoons or the lone Booker or Nobel prize-winner. Much more than poetry, it is prose fiction with its awareness and concern about the individual and society that brings about a larger sense of an interlinked community-something impoverished and fragmented countries like India and Russia particularly lack. It could be said that few people had really noticed the wretched condition of the serfs until Turgenev wrote about them in A Sportsman's Sketches, which not only established Turgenev's career but also went on to influence the Tsar's decision to abolish serfdom."
He then goes on to discuss Indian writing in English "Writing has become yet another technical skill to be acquired from the West in the private pursuit of social and financial glory." Possibly the same can be said of much academic work.
( via a comment in Chapati Mystery)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Social experiments to fight poverty: Esther Duflo

Social experiments to fight poverty: Esther Duflo on
Abstract: "Alleviating poverty is more guesswork than science, and lack of data on aid's impact raises questions about how to provide it. But Clark Medal-winner Esther Duflo says it's possible to know which development efforts help and which hurt -- by testing solutions with randomized trials."
Her accent is a bit hard to follow. One can turn on the language button to see what is being said.
(via Chris Blattman)

India attempting to better regulate mining industry

From India to protect forests from mining:
"Much of India’s mineral wealth lies in densely-forested, remote areas inhabited by poor tribal people. Radical Maoist insurgents have built up a strong influence in these areas, partly by promising to protect these lands from corporate incursion. Mr Ramesh said getting environmental clearance for mining projects was traditionally merely a “formality” and companies “found creative ways of getting around it”. But he said India could no longer afford to approve every proposed mine. “There are areas where mining has clearly exceeded the carrying capacity,” he said.

The ministry will also soon make a decision on whether to allow Vedanta, the UK-listed miner, to go ahead with a highly controversial bauxite mine that has been criticised by ethical investors, such as the Church of England, and environmental activists.

Mr Ramesh blamed India’s “pathetic” track record of resettling those who lost land to mining projects for helping to fuel the Maoist insurgency now raging in mineral-rich central and eastern India.

The stand is backed by Sonia Gandhi, the president of the ruling Congress party."

Monday, May 03, 2010

Discover interview with S.T. Yau

Discover Interview: The Math Behind the Physics Behind the Universe .
There are some slightly technical parts but there also many non-technical interesting responses. I met him often during the academic year 1980-81 in Princeton. He tried to get me to work out a geometric proof of a known topological result. It was clear that it could be done and I did not want to do it and often used to avoid him. But he remained friendly and gracious. Later it turned out that there was a geometric proof much more elegant and basic than I imagined and so he was right afterall. Some excerpts from the interview:

"Q. How did you go from that rough-and-tumble young man to the focused person you are now?
A. In the early 1960s my father was chairman of the department of literature and philosophy at Hong Kong College. The college president wanted to make a deal with the Taiwanese government to send in spies. My father refused to go along and resigned. That created a big money problem because he had eight children by then. My father had to run around among different, distant colleges to support the family. Back in China he’d lent a friend some money, and after the Communists took over, the friend moved to Macau, a city near Hong Kong, and ran his own schools. So he told my father, “I cannot return your money, but your daughter can come to my school, and I’ll give her free room and board and free tuition.” So my older sister went to Macau to study and got some flu, some funny disease, we never knew exactly what. She came back and she was treated, but she died in 1962. Then my elder brother got a brain disease; at the time we didn’t know what it was. My father had all kinds of burdens on his shoulders and then he got a disease, which I believe was cancer, but we didn’t know much in those days. My mother was running around trying to get funding to help my father. Finally we raised some money, but it was too late. He died after two months in the hospital in 1963, in the middle of my studies in the ninth grade. We could no longer afford our apartment, so we were kicked out. That’s when I realized I would have to make decisions for myself.
Q. Disproving the Calabi conjecture would have been a major achievement; how did you announce it?
A. In August there was a big conference at Stanford with the top geometers in the world, including Calabi. I talked to Calabi and told him my idea. He said, “That sounds great. Why don’t you give a discussion about it to me?” It was scheduled for 7 p.m. Calabi brought a few colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, and then a few others heard about it, and a few others. There was a little crowd. I talked for about an hour, and Calabi was excited. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and I hope it’s right,” he said. All the other people said, “Great, finally we can stop the wishful thinking that Calabi is true.” Then Calabi wrote to me in October. He said, “I’m trying to reconstruct your argument, and I’m having some difficulty. Could you explain the detail?” I started to reconstruct it and I found a problem too. I got totally embarrassed. I did not respond to Calabi at that moment and instead tried extremely hard to patch up the proof. I couldn’t, so I looked around to find other examples where Calabi was wrong. I didn’t sleep for two weeks. But every time I found an example that was close, the proof fell apart at the last minute. Finally I said, gee, this cannot be such a delicate matter. Now I had much deeper insight into the issue and felt there must be some truth to the whole thing. I determined that it had to be right.
Q. So after all that work trying to prove that Calabi’s conjecture was wrong, you decided it was correct after all?
A. I began developing the tools to understand it, and by 1975, only one part of the proof was left. That year my wife got a job in Los Angeles. I moved to UCLA. All in a short time, we got married, bought a car, bought a house in the Valley, and had to look for furniture. My mother came from Hong Kong for the wedding, and then her parents came—they all stayed under one roof and got into fights; it was complicated and crazy. I was fed up, so I locked myself in the study and thought about Calabi instead of the family problems, and I solved the whole thing. I went over the proof three times in detail, and I went to see Calabi in Pennsylvania. On a snowy Christmas Day, he came with me to visit mathematician Louis Nirenberg at New York University. We spent all day Christmas going over it, and I spent the next month writing up the proof for publication."

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Uses of preschool

Crooked Timber's post Early Lessons gives several links to US preschool programs starting with High/Scope Perry PreSchool in Ypsilanti. Very interesting transcript of a radio program by Emily Hanford here a summary here. Excerpts from the summary (the transcript is more interesting):
"By the time study participants were 40 years old, the differences between the people who went to preschool and the people who didn't were startling.

The people who'd gone to preschool were more likely to be employed; they made more money. They were more likely to own homes and cars, to have savings accounts. They were more than twice as likely to say they had positive relationships with their families. The men who'd gone to preschool were more involved in raising their children. And the biggest difference of all had to do with crime.

The people who had gone to preschool had far fewer problems with the law. They were half as likely to be arrested. In other words, preschool cut the crime rate in half.

By cutting crime and sending fewer children to special education, the preschool saved society a lot of money. That got economists and business people interested in the Perry Preschool. They like Perry because it makes economic sense. Investing in preschool pays off.

The total cost of the program was $15,166 per child (adjusted for inflation from 1962 dollars to 2000 dollars). The return to society on that initial investment was $244,812 per child.

Preschool is a "social program from which everybody wins," says economist Steven Barnett, director of the Institute for Early Education Research. Good for the kids, and good for the taxpayers too.

Now states are rapidly expanding public preschool programs. State spending on preschool has nearly doubled in the last five years. More than 80 percent of American 4-year-olds go to some kind of preschool.

Everyone is hoping for the dramatic results - and the financial savings - the Perry Preschool achieved. But those results may be threatened by another movement in American education: the testing movement.

In recent years, education policy has come to be dominated once again by the immediate need to raise test scores. And preschool supporters fear that tests don't measure important things that preschool teaches children - how to get along in school, how to be curious, how to try hard. They say preschools are being pushed to "teach to the test" and that preschool will become too much like what kindergarten has become.

"Children now spend far more time being taught and tested on literacy and math skills than they do learning through play and exploration, exercising their bodies, and using their imaginations," write the authors of a recent report on how kindergarten has changed in recent years.

Preschool supporters worry that preschool is becoming too much like schools for older children, and not enough like the Perry Preschool.

And economist James Heckman worries too. He has analyzed the Perry Preschool results and published several papers. He believes the Perry Preschool helped children develop a set of what he calls "non-cognitive" skills - things like sociability, the ability to work with others, the ability to focus on tasks. His says these skills are crucial for success in school, and in life.

But he says schools don't focus enough on helping students develop "non-cognitive" skills. Those skills are seen as soft, squishy, too hard to quantify. He says schools today are too focused on cognitive skill testing much the way they were too focused on IQ 50 years ago. And the lesson of the Perry Preschool is that doing well in school, and in life, is about more than a test score."
P.S. See also the teaching experiments of L. P. Benezet Interesting teaching experiment and
The Benefits of Long Childhood
Change in play, change in kids