Saturday, September 22

Goodness me, the Indian Government actually thinking about efficiency?

I am absolutely gobsmacked. The Government recognises that its way of working is not efficient? And is willingly giving up power? what's next? actually working for the people? Ok ok, so I shouldn't be so cynical, good steps here. I know there is much to moan about but hey, small steps, my friends, small steps in order to fix the infrastructure issues plaguing the country.


Private co to handle Delhi-Mumbai $90 bn corridor
NEW DELHI: The biggest ever infrastructure initiative in India, the $90-bn Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) project, will be managed by a private company.
The Cabinet has said that DMIC Development Corporation will be a private entity, where the government will hold only 49% equity, allowing private infrastructure companies to participate in 51% equity of the company, sources close to the development told SundayET.
It will be the first such instance in India where such a large infrastructure project will be handled by a private company. According to the plan, the Central government would hold 26% of the equity of the company.
Six state governments, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, through which the corridor will pass, would each hold 3.83% equity amounting to 23% stake in the company.
The rest 51% will now be held by private Indian infrastructure companies. Sources said that execution will be much faster as DMICDC will be constituted as a private entity. “If the government holds 50% equity, all government rules from employing people to going through other regulations need to be adhered to. Taking decisions will be much slower then,” sources said.
In fact, the DMIC steering authority, chaired by finance minister P Chidambaram, will oversee all policy matters regarding the corridor. In addition to representation from commerce, labour, food processing, industry and infrastructure-related ministries, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, will also be a member of the steering authority.

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Another Hindutva Rage Boy shows his brains have dribbled out

Talk about being a moron and an idiot. And this chap was supposed to be a Member of Parliament and a leader of a Hindu group. Truly some village somewhere is missing an inhabitant. He not only knows next to nothing about his religion, but he is a barbarian to boot. And he is claiming authority to speak on behalf of Hindu's. Not only an idiot, moron, illiterate but also delusional!!!!!

Read and weep.

*AYODHYA/LUCKNOW, SEPTEMBER 21:* Senior VHP leader and former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti on Friday declared at a press conference that VHP saints of Ayodhya would weigh in gold anyone who beheaded Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi and cut out his tongue.

Speaking out against the BJP's opposition to the Ram Sethu project, Karunanidhi had recently questioned the existence of Lord Ram and said that Valmiki described him as a drunkard.

"We will follow the commandments of our religion and nobody can stop us," said Vedanti. He said the VHP would file a complaint and a lawsuit against Karunanidhi in Ayodhya.

Vedanti's statement has got the endorsement of the BJP and VHP units of Uttar Pradesh. Said Hridaya Narain Dixit, the spokesperson of the BJP's Uttar Pradesh unit, "Karunanidhi has demeaned Lord Ram, and what Vedanti has said only reflects the sentiments of crores of people across the nation."

VHP organisational secretary Trilokiji said he had not heard exactly what Vedanti said, but the VHP would not oppose Vedanti on anything he said against Karunanidhi for the comments on Lord Ram. "This is because all Hindus of the country are one against Karunanidhi," said Trilokiji.

Meanwhile, VHP leader Vishnu Hari Dalmiya said at a seminar in Gorakhpur that the UPA government's insensitivity towards the religious feelings of the majority community had led to the Ram Sethu controversy. He said Ram Sethu was a unique structure and that studies had shown it was not man-made. Dalmiya criticised Karunanidhi and the BJP for trying to derive political mileage from the issue.

Update: 23 Sept 2007: All too typically, the other morons got into the act by attacking the BJP offices in Chennai, India. Brilliant behaviour on both sides.

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Defining ‘Modern’ Malay womanhood and the coexistent messages of the veil

A difficult paper to read, the jargon was unfortunately too obtuse for me, but I could extract some interesting snippets. What this is telling me is that if the women are educated, specially having a tertiary education, then the fact that they are wearing a veil allows them to skate over the patriarchal theological requirement of veiling and actually dramatically change the male/female power dynamics of the country. The fact that there are more women than men in university, marriage age is getting delayed and delayed, assets are in the hands of the women, all while they wear the veil means that the conceptual framework around the veil, the patriarchy, the religion, and male-female relationship is undergoing a silent revolution.

Very interesting indeed and women all over the world should take not just a leaf but whole shrubs and trees from this study.

Audrey E. Mouser, Defining `Modern' Malay womanhood and the coexistent messages of the veil, Religion, Volume 37, Issue 2, Negotiating Women's Roles and Powers: The Practice of World Religions in Contemporary Asia, June 2007, Pages 164-174.

Abstract: The gender constructions and performances of Malay women are often perceived by outside researchers as `shrouded under a veil' of increasing Islamic conservatism. Urban Malay women, however, argue that women actively engage in the construction and performance of gender identities. Based on research conducted in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during 2001 and 2003, this article argues that women advantageously alter, transform and utilise the constructs placed upon them by Islam, by ethnic identification and by conceptions of `modernity'. Often one image of `womanhood' is presented and in public - an image that is socially accepted, honoured and respected - while less publicly alternative forms of `womanhood' articulate individual goals and aims. Using an agent-oriented perspective, this article further includes an analysis of women's individual renegotiations of larger cultural constructs and the ways in which the tudong, or headscarf, has become a symbol by which individual women express their understanding of social position and personal freedoms in an industrialised Islamic context.


Some quotes:

Urban Malay women between the ages of twenty and fifty were invited to participate in the study because they were raised in the context of the revitalisation of Malay ethnic and Islamic identity. The metropolitan area of Kuala Lumpur and Klang Valley are areas dominated by middle-class populations. In order to illustrate diversity within a population and still see whether there are cultural commonalities, I identified a stratified sample of women to achieve a maximum level of population variation. To understand current attitudes towards gender and marital patterns, I used a wide variety of approaches in the fieldwork process, including participant observation, open-ended and semi-structured interviews, life histories and in-depth interviews. The interviews were conducted on specific issues such as Islam and Muslim identity, marital history and relationships with partners, the importance of children and family, satisfaction with the implementation of syariah2 family law, and concern over industrialisation.


While middle-class women utilised the dominant ideology of the Islamic revival and governmental policy to meet certain personal and familial goals, working-class women worked on the periphery, utilising industrial development and economic gains to obtain social capital. Their wages were used to help defray the costs of raising younger siblings. This economic capital was converted into social capital as these young women acquired a more forceful role in household decision-making because of their contributions to the family income. In turn, they often delayed marriage and child-bearing, and they gained enough personal buying power to ‘flex their economic muscles’ within the domestic market. As a result, they were often accused of being ‘pleasure-seekers’, ‘un-Malay’, or ‘un-Islamic’ by a Malay population unhappy with how young Malay women were defining womanhood


Zaleha, a twenty-four-year-old female medical student at University Malaya who wears the tudong, is concerned about her marital future. She is the eldest of four children, and her parents have recently divorced. Her father had been engaged in numerous extra-marital affairs through the course of the marriage, and remarried only after her parents had divorced. She was witness to his verbal and psychological abuse of her mother, followed by neglect of the children after the divorce. Although she is interested in marriage after her education is complete, she is cautious. She is concerned that her marital choices are limited because of her advanced education. Additionally, even if she were to find a potential spouse in her class he would also be prone to abuse her or to engage in extra-marital affairs, neither of which she is willing to accept. Zaleha is also hesitant because she has witnessed her mother's experiences with the family court system in Malaysia, and argues that there is no way for a woman to protect herself once she is married. ‘Men can do anything they want’, she says. She has decided to focus her energies on becoming a doctor, and she will consider marriage and children only later. Zaleha's story exemplifies a change in gender roles, increased education, and awareness of potential marital difficulties that embody the changing nature of ‘womanhood’.


Malay women, such as Zaleha, have utilised the availability of government funded Malay-only scholarships for higher education for more than their male counterparts.6 In fact, the article ‘PM challenges males to balance varsity gender ratio’ in The Star, August 27, 2003, noted that nearly 70% of all college students at Malaysian universities are female. Women are becoming more educated than men and are becoming active, visible, and powerful in industry, academia, government and social activism, and therefore economically independent. As a result, women are postponing marriage and are altering the nature of relationships, of courting and of sexual activity.

This delay in marriage contradicts the prevailing pronatal position of the previous generation and of national goals. The unequal representation of male and female students in Malaysian universities and the subsequent changing nature of gender and sexual codes of conduct are of great concern to the government. Young Malay men are encouraged to attend universities so as not to let the women of the nation surpass them in education. Recently, the television and print media have focused on the ‘problem’ of so few male students on university campuses. Officials highlight the need for women to remain modest, and they challenge men to achieve higher goals than women in order to ensure that women do not become able to provide for themselves without the assistance of male partners.


In conjunction with this trend of women's educational achievement is the importance of women's gender roles through the wearing of the tudong, a headscarf or ‘veil’ (a form of purdah) that covers a woman's hair from public view. When tudong was initially adopted as part of common dress in Malaysia, it was representative only of women actively involved in the Dakwah movement. Today, however, wearing tudong has increasingly become a social expectation for Malay women in general. Women are often blamed for sexual crimes, rapes and illicit behaviour if they fail to cover themselves sufficiently so as not to elicit the uncontrollable desires of men. They bear the onus of maintaining the social conformity of men and women, for it is the proper performance of their gender that supposedly dictates the appropriateness of men's behaviours (see Zamani, 2002, p. 345). This expectation – that if women dress modestly, men will act accordingly – was challenged when Noor Suzaily Mocktar, a twenty-four-year-old Malay computer engineer was raped, sodomised and murdered by a bus driver in Kuala Lumpur on October 7, 2000. According to the article ‘Incident also by Sabah Minibus Driver’ in the Daily Express, October 14, 2000, she was dressed in baju kurong and tudong, appropriate dress by Malay-Muslim standards, and yet was still a victim of violence. As stated by Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir on July 19, 2003, at the memorial service of a recent violence victim, ‘It doesn't matter if we took care to keep our bodies and our hair out of the view of men; it still does nothing to protect us, as Noor Suzaily … found out’ (Women's Aid Organisation, 2003). Nevertheless, social pressure, challenges to women's purity for those who did not wear the tudong, and concern for personal safety from unwanted sexual advances by men have encouraged many women to make it a part of daily attire, regardless of their level of religiosity.


In many ways, however, wearing the tudong has become a ‘free pass’ for movement through society. By wearing the socially sanctioned ‘uniform’ of tudong and modest dress, women gain silent, unrestricted movement through society. In contrast, those women who choose not to wear the tudong are under constant public surveillance in order to ensure that they behave appropriately.


Women who were raised or matured during the Dakwah movement in Malaysia are choosing and directing the expression of gender roles in the post-Dakwah era. As individuals articulate the conjoining of industrialisation, ‘modernisation’ and a cultural revitalisation movement, so educational and occupational opportunities, gender roles, and family behaviours among Malays will change. Malay women are faced with change at the level of the meta-narrative and are therefore subject to conflicting norms and pressures on various fronts. As women redefine Malay gender roles, gender performance is no longer a matter of social class or participation in the global market economy. Gender performance has instead become a combination of both public images of virtue and dutiful religiosity, and the pursuit of economic, social and personal independence.
The tudong has become the stage upon which the articulation of gender performances often takes place. Individual choices about when, where and how to wear the tudong have come to symbolise opinions on the place of women in society and religion. That symbol is then reinterpreted by the larger Malaysian society, representing the public and private images of ‘womanhood’ as they are played out in the daily lives of women. Based on their perceptions of the changing nature of marriage, the syariah legal system, and social expectations contemporary Malay women express individual goals through their use of tudong.

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I am gobsmacked, the French wanting to learn from the Brit's?

Read this, I am not making this up!

After years of spurning British political methods as incompatible with the French social model, Gallic ministers are flocking to London to seek inspiration on how to modernise their government.
At least six French ministers have crossed the channel since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president in May.
The most recent was Eric Besson, the state secretary for prospectives and evaluation of public policies, who spent two days this week observing Gordon Brown's strategy unit and the national audit office.
"When you decide to get inspiration from good practice in foreign countries, the British example springs to mind," he told Le Figaro upon his return.

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China - Crime and Corruption

I have spoken before about the pervasive problem of corruption in China, while the country is sort of strangely ambivalent towards it. Sometimes the country will go all over the place, executing people for corruption, but in most other times, they will simple let it go. You see, this is because their legal system cannot cater for equality. It is only when everybody is treated equally, in a just and fair manner and quickly, only then will crime and corruption fall. Take a look at these three stories from today related to China and crime.

  1. China complaining about hacking attacks. China has been accused earlier about hacking and electronic spying!, so I guess turnaround is fair play, but China will realise that this is a double edged sword which can cut as well as hack.
  2. 140,000 Chinese officials voluntarily turn over bribes to higher authorities (who pocket them in turn???)
  3. A total of 140,660 Chinese officials have voluntarily turned bribes they have accepted over to higher authorities in past five years, China's disciplinary watchdog said here Saturday.
    The bribes, including cash, marketable securities and pay orders, were valued at about 676 million yuan (89.18 million U.S. dollars), according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) of the Communist Party of China

    During this period of time, China has punished 16 ministerial-level or higher officials for "serious corruption" including Chen Liangyu, former Shanghai Party Chief,Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of State Food and Drug Administration and Qiu Xiaohua, former head of the National Bureau of Statistics.

    Gan said the regulations were effective since they laid the basis for the government to investigate cases involving violation of party discipline and they also provided an opportunity for those who had made mistakes to make corrections.

  4. Another senior official sentenced to death.
  5. Huang Jinjiang, a former bank official in southwest China's Sichuan Province, has given death sentence for accepting bribes, local court sources said on Saturday.
    The Ziyang City's People's Court made the first-instance trial on Sept. 5. Huang was also deprived political rights all his life with the confiscation of all his personal assets.

As you can see, the issue arises from the fact that the party is above the law. And punishment is only executed if a lesson has to be taught or the great unwashed herd is too restive.

Laws are created, passed and implemented by the Party. Since power rests with the party, the legal system cannot override it, because when the party is supreme, then a court will never be able to say that a law is illegal by its very "party origin" nature.

Consequently, corruption will never be removed because the very nature of the party led government obviates against that desire. And I did end up a bit bewildered, turning over bribes??? Just what the heck is that?

Quite a long way to go for China, I am afraid, but it will suffer from conceptual issues in its fight against corruption and crime.

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The relationship between financial sector and a country's economic growth

A very interesting research paper has been published. This talks about the relationship between the future economic growth, the financial sector and the stock market index returns. They study 18 developed and 18 emerging markets and find that there is a positive and significant relationship between bank stock returns and future economic growth (GDP growth).

And while I do not have any references to hand, I think liberalising and strengthening the financial sector would be the easiest for governments to achieve compared to say for example the pharmaceutical or say the automobile industrial sectors.

The easy bit is from the perspective of good quality people, infrastructure, regulation and laws, removing corruption and making it easier to transact business, etc.

Cole, R.A., Moshirian, F., Wu, Q., Bank stock returns and economic growth, Journal of Banking & Finance (2007), doi: 10.1016/j.jbankfin.2007.07.006

Previous research has established (i) that a country’s financial sector influence future economic growth and (ii) that stock market index returns affect future economic growth. We extend and tie together these two strands of the growth literature by analyzing the relationship between banking industry stock returns and future economic growth. Using dynamic panel techniques to analyze panel data from 18 developed and 18 emerging markets, we find a positive and significant relationship between bank stock returns and future GDP growth that is independent of the previously documented relationship between market index returns and economic growth. We also find that much of the informational content of bank stock returns is captured by country specific and institutional characteristics, such as bank-accounting-disclosure standards, banking crises, enforcement of insider trading law and government ownership of banks.

Muslim dentist 'told patient to wear a headscarf or go elsewhere'

What is with this bloody headscarf and men? why cant they let things be, eh? Now its a Muslim dentist throwing his weight around and refusing treatment to a lady who was obviously not veiled. Jack Straw went after women wearing veils and asked them to take it off before attending his surgery.

I wrote an essay on this, see here. Generally, there are no problems but this kind of a behaviour is a joke.

To use my sister's treatment on these two, "esphokhs on them"!!!!

Hat Tip: Tarek Fateh.

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Parents want their children to be tested!

See this report about 52 different bodies complaining about the fact that children are tested too much. Only one body said no, and too was the Department for Education and Skills. Every person is very well experienced and vocal in blathering about the children except for one small, insignificant lot, the parents.

Listen, you over-qualified, under-experienced lot, read the international comparisons of our education system. I want my children to know where s/he are in relation to the world's students and the country's and the county's and the borough's. I want to know who is responsible for the performance. It has to be linked to the political structures. I want to fire people who are not able to reach performance levels. I want my child to be in the top 10 percentile of all global children.

What a bunch of silly idiots to keep on moaning about testing. I suspect it is more because testing throws up performance and shines a clear light on relative performance. Give bonus's to the head teachers and teachers who show good performance. Give independence and freedom to the head teachers.

My son just finished KS2, and he has got 5* in all topics. But that tells me very little. It does not tell me how he compared internationally. It does not tell me how he compared domestically. I simply do not know. And if I do not know where he is with respect to the curriculum and competition, how can I and my wife work on his weaknesses and improve his strengths, teach him to jump at relevant opportunities and fend away the threats?

Truly, sometimes I despair.

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More ruminations on the EU Constitution / Reform Treaty

The BBC has spent quite a long time trying to explain and clarify what the new treaty means. It is a long page. And the sad git that I am, I tried to struggle through the entire document. I think I understood quite a lot of it (but no examinations please!).

My opinion is that at best it is very contentious and at worst, it is looking at serious changes in the power structure between me (a citizen), my state (United Kingdom) and Europe (the supranational organisation).

Calling it pooling of sovereignty is very very smart and cagey. Pooling does not sound that bad, does it? But hold on a second, why am I supposed to have my pool of water mixed with water from other pools?

As a Libertarian, I am fundamentally against the continental European idea of the state being stronger than the individual, hence its Napoleonic legal framework (what is allowed is specified in the law books and everything else is illegal) compared to the British system of everything is allowed other than what is illegal.

So no, not impressed. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, where's my referendum? If the Dutch and Irish can have it, why cant we? If the local English parish councils can have their referendum, why cant I?

2007 and Madrassah's are still debating their curriculum

Remember the Charles Darwin quote? “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”. This is not religion nor culture. This is for human beings, those who change survive, those who do not, die out.

See this book review by Yoginder Sikand.

One such Islamic scholar, regarded as among the leading contemporary Indian ulema, is the Hyderabad-based Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani. Senior member of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and General Secretary of the Islamic Fiqh Academy, he is a prolific writer, with several books to his credit. One of his most recent books deals precisely with the question of reforms in Muslim education. Titled ‘Dini wa Asri Talim: Masail wa Hal’ (’Religious and Contemporary Education: Problems and Solutions’), the book provides interesting insights into the problems of Muslim, particularly madrasa, education, and spells out an ambitious set of proposals to encourage the ulema to be more socially engaged.

Nothing that he says would surprise you and me, but what does worry me is that this is 2007 and we are still having to have this debate about what constitutes a modern education! Rather worrisome, I am afraid. Change anyone?

Read and reflect

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How to reform the French job market successfully

The French Job market is jammed, that is for sure. If that was not the case, then you would not see a structural unemployment problem of 10%, and more than 30% at the youth end of the market. Sarko is trying to fix it but here is a very interesting research report on the ways the French Job Market can be reformed and fixed.

1. The first step must be to ensure greater security in career paths

2. Reforming the system of unemployment insurance is the second step

3. The third step is to reform the lay-off laws

4. The fourth step is to reform financing of unemployment insurance

It will be tough, but given the rocketing public sector deficit, it has to bite the bullet and do something. Go Sarko Go!

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OBL was so upset that his son married an infidel, I look forward to the fulminating video!

Jane Felix-Browne, a British woman who married a son of Osama bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, says the couple are divorcing under the pressure of the bin Laden family.

Awww. Even the Chinese

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picked this up!

Friday, September 21

Mocking the Powerless and the Powerful (Taking the piss - to use a Britishism!)

So now we find that the wonderful world of Sudan is going to setup its own Human Rights Council to investigate human rights abuses in Darfur. Guess who is going to lead it? Yep, Ahmad Harun, the same guy who has been charged with leading and mainly responsible for the genocide in Darfur. Who said the Sudanese did not have a sense of humour? lol

Mocking the Powerless and the Powerful
A trail of blood leads from the genocide in Darfur back to the highest levels of government in Khartoum. So Sudan’s announcement earlier this month that it would form its own committee to investigate human rights violations in Darfur never inspired tremendous hope. Khartoum’s choice to lead the committee, however, was even more cynical than we could have imagined and a deliberate slap in the face to the United Nations and the International Criminal Court.
Ahmad Harun — whose appointment was announced while the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, was in Sudan for talks on the crisis — is one of only two people the court has charged so far with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
As Sudan’s interior minister from 2003 to 2005, Mr. Harun recruited, funded and armed the janjaweed militias, who murdered at least 200,000 people and drove 2.5 million more from their homes. Now, as minister of humanitarian affairs, he controls the fate of the survivors. He decides when and where aid organizations can go, and some of these international agencies, on whom hundreds of thousands of refugees depend for their survival, have accused Mr. Harun of blocking their work.
The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Mr. Harun’s arrest in the spring, but Sudan denied its jurisdiction and refused to cooperate. The international community must not accept this. Today, more than 25 countries will meet at the United Nations to discuss the crisis in Darfur. Britain and France in particular — as members of both the Security Council and signatories of the criminal court treaty — should demand that Sudan arrest Mr. Harun and surrender him to The Hague. The United States should join them.
Holding government officials responsible for the genocide in Darfur will be a crucial part of any lasting peace deal. Powerful members of the United Nations and the African Union should stand behind the court — which has no means of enforcing its own warrants — not only as a weapon against this genocide but as a way to fight the next one.

How can we improve teaching and learning in school?

Quite an interesting paper here. I strongly suggest anybody who is interested in teaching, children and schooling to read it to know about the latest thoughts in school education and learning.

I read the 10 principles which are enumerated here.

  1. equips learners for life in its broadest sense
  2. engages with valued forms of knowledge
  3. recognises the importance of prior experience and learning
  4. requires the teacher to scaffold learning
  5. needs assessment to be congruent with learning
  6. promotes the active engagement of the learner
  7. fosters both individual and social processes and outcomes
  8. recognises the significance of informal learning
  9. depends on teacher learning
  10. demands consistent policy frameworks with support for teaching and learning as their primary focus

I have to admit I am disappointed. I did not understand what these guys are saying. A very large project ran this and all it came up with was a bunch of gobbledygook. What does "fosters both individual and social processes and outcomes" mean? Why do they have to make simple things complicated?

But this is an indication when the general thinking is, and if you pardon me, I think this kind of confused, rarified thinking is all to do with the troubles we have. Where is the insistence on extra-ordinary performance? Where is the challenge to their minds? Where is the motto of "if the student hasn't learnt, the teacher has not taught?"

Very disappointed, I am afraid.

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SOXA is no joke

I have spoken before about the fact that the American Legal system needs to work out some issues, primarily relating to the dreaded Sarbannes Oxley Act which imposes many onerous requirements on firms. But besides that, as the CFO Europe magazine reports sourcing data from Lehman Brothers, 214 CEO's & Presidents, 53 CFO's, 23 Lawyers and 129 Vice Presidents were convicted.

In my experience, prior to me joining my current firm, I found that SOXA was not taken seriously, well, not seriously enough on this side of the pond, primarily because the chances of any European being locked up or convicted for a SOXA blow-up being rather small. And nothing that I have read, heard, discussed and debated so far has made me change my opinion. This leads me to believe that it is only a matter of time before this is tested.

And, in my opinion, this is a false assumption.. The Americans can and will go after anybody who has broken American laws (see how the Natwest 4 are currently cooling their heels in the USA). Also remember that their justice system is much more susceptible to political and public pressures compared to ours. Given the strange antipathy that Europeans feel towards America
due to political differences, you can just imagine a screaming headline, "European Firm commits fraud on Mrs. Pensioner, Poughkeepsie, questions raised in Congress, Department of Justice to launch investigation and US Attorney to bring charges against CFO and COO of ABC Europe GMBH"

So if you have any American operations, and you are a CIO, CFO, VP or CEO, who has SOX exposure (your EXTERNAL auditor will be able to advise you about that), spend 1-2 hours getting briefed on the current exposure by your EXTERNAL auditor every quarter. It is time well spent and definitely not wasted. But if there is a control issue, then you have a bigger problem than SOXA, just what the heck are you and your management team doing allowing such huge control holes to exist in the first place?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

I hate spreadsheets

I hate spreadsheets because I think they are reaching the tipping point where they create bigger problems than they solve. And intelligence is no guarantee that you will not make whoppers. In the dim and distant past, I audited about 200 spreadsheets used by traders on the fixed income department of one of the leading investment banks of the world.

These spreadsheets were very complex ones, being used to price structured products which have loads of credit, fixed income, derivatives, long complicated power structures, etc. etc. And I did not find a single spreadsheet which was error free. Some had date issues, some had data issues, presentation issues, logical problems, etc. etc.

Why is this? this is because spreadsheets are too easy to use and give you AN ANSWER. And the tendency of a human being is to believe the damn thing shown on the screen. The same reason we tend to believe stuff on the Internet. Or why I still get crappy forwards of some poor bugger who is facing imminent destruction if I do not forward the email to 20 million other buggers!.

Also, because of the way spreadsheets are constructed, they lend themselves to silly problems, something which you wouldn't see in a proper program or computer system. This is why I firmly believe that if a spreadsheet is to be used for more than 3 cycles (deals, reports, months, whatever) we need to convert that into an application. And believe you me, you will find that it is cost effective once you put in the problems of updating it, losing it, documenting it, losing the chap who made it, etc. etc.

Incidentally, I was sent this link to a spreadsheet engineering research project at the Tuck Business School in Darthmouth, USA. Quite an interesting project. In particular, read this document which lays out a survey of people on awareness, risk and control aspects of spreadsheets.

Projections - are they worth it?

When we go into any company's website, you get an idea of the revenue and cost projections that the CFO is making for the coming quarter / year.

Yesterday, I had a bit of a chat with somebody who thought that this was set in stone and they were moaning about the fact that some company missed the projections.

I started thinking about it and here's my initial thoughts. Frankly, you are always much more accurate in terms of your cost projections than revenue projections. You do have a fair idea about what's fixed cost and what's variable cost. What's BAU costs and what's discretionary / Change Cost cost.

But frankly, what your sales revenues would be is sticking a finger up in the air. Yes, I know you take your or your CRM system, and then use a probability framework to judge your pipeline and that gives you a sales projection. So if you say that next year, you have a 50% probability of making a 1 million sale, then you assume your revenue would be 500k. And that's your projection. This is much more complicated anyway.

But life is much tougher in the CFO world, where you need to judge a zillion factors before you give such a prediction. You need to think about how much margin you want to keep, what do your shareholders want, which phase of your lifecycle you are on, where are you listed, who are the analysts who cover you, what are the risks?

You need to make a judgement on the known-known's, known-unknows and unknown-unknowns. You need to think about the overall tax load and the individual country/divisional tax loads, you need to think about cash balances and retained earnings, think about share buyback's and preference shares, earnings depreciation and asset depreciation. Oh! loads of stuff.

And remember, at the beginning of this process, you are relying on the word of a salesman who is going to give you an impression of how much he is going to sell next year! It is more of an art than science. And the fact that firms and banks generally hit analyst expectations means that everybody is blundering around but thankfully in the same manner.

Final comment, you are slated in the marketplace if you come in under expectations, but you win if you are above expectations. But if you consistently come in under expectations, then you are incompetent as you dont know your sales guys. If you consistently come in over expectations, then you are incompetent and an optimistic git!!

Who said the life of an accountant or CFO is simple and boring?

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Thursday, September 20

Clean breast of it? equality? I am all for it

Go for it! we all will support you! This relates to the case of the 2 bare breasted women who have sued in Sweden because they want to swim bare chested, saying if the men can do it, why cant they?

Besides the amusing (and punning!) element which is inherent in this case, there is actually a serious element as well. The swimming people folks stopped the ladies from wearing their bikini tops because of the security aspect, then there is a hygiene issue and finally there is what we call 'prevailing manners and customs'.

The first one is fine, and acceptable, but the solution is for people to be educated and if they misbehave, to be kicked firmly in the goolies and locked up for some time. For that matter, many people go wild when they see a woman's (see this blog entry for women outside in Yemen!!!), it does not matter whether the woman is clothed, veiled or what. The matter is that she is outside the house so is fair game.

I am very curious about the hygiene issue, what hygiene issue? leaking mammaries when breast-feeding? eh? But the last bit (which the pool people say is most important) is even more curious. This is a catch-all phrase.

Unfortunately, with women's rights, if they open it up to everybody, then the least common denominator gets to be agreed. So the fact that there are Muslim families mean that all the women have to be in that grotesque burkini? or worse in a burqa? Of course not.

This is not a common sense or pragmatic question any more, my friends, this is a matter of principle. And has to be raised to the order of principle, not down to silly sod ideas based upon false morality or patriarchy or old medieval ideas of how men should behave.

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Another bloody European White Elephant

As I was moaning about public investment before, here's another classic example of  a bureaucrat chasing a foolish dream with my money. Why does Europe need another GPS system? Why does the world need another one? And why am I paying for this? and when was this discussed? or even inquired? My MEP never told me about this nor was this discussed in any shape or form with the national parliaments. (I might be wrong, but don't think so!).

It was supposed to be done by private companies, and that's fine, I don't have an issue. But the private companies knew that there is no money to be made, so they went off to the governments and told them to forget about it.
So since the private companies wouldn't invest their capital, why is the EU wanting to invest mine? If the business case didn't stack up for the private companies, how is it that it is stacking up for my tax euro's?

And now, they decided to make a grab for the unused CAP funds. On the other hand, food prices are rising. Talk about stupidity compounded with idiocy.

Round V, Sarko on immigration

Round IV related to the unions. Now he has gone for the immigration bits.

The immigration bill has now been passed. The basic idea behind this bill is to force people to make sure that they know about the French language, the values of the French Republic, and to make sure that if you are applying for a family reunion visa, you are actually related to the family.

On the face of it, I don't have a problem with it at all. On the gluteus maximus of it, it further makes sense. If you do want to be a member of a community or a nation, then you should share some common elements of the state. Too much has been laid on the individual and not enough on the state. It is best to make sure to all current and prospective students that the state comes first and then other identifiers such as race, religion, colour, ideology etc.

Mind you, the state can do with some of this medicine as well and address the issues underlying the riots couple of years back. And most other European nations are doing the same. Immigration being such an emotive subject, I think this insistence on examinations, common standards, language, etc. will obviate quite a lot of immigration angst.

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The Burmese Generals have no reply to the monks

The monks in Burma have now got the bit between the teeth and have launched a non-violent movement against the Generals. The neighbours support or wink at the generals, preferring to have autocrats than pesky democrats. In many cases, most of the neighbours themselves are despots and autocrats, so its like asking the pot to call the kettle black.

But there is only one weapon against the guns of the generals, and that is non-violence. See here for my previous essay on it. It is also a cultural thing to a large extent. Non-violence will never work in say Palestine or in say Nazi Germany or in say USSR. They simply do not have the respect for life at all and dont give a toss about what others think or say. That is the reason why Palestinians and other Muslims have been killed mercilessly by others and also by themselves and nothing much happened. Same with the Holocaust in Germany and the massive killings in China and Soviet Russia. If you launched a non-violent movement at that time, you will simply be squelched.

But I do think that this protest in Burma has a chance, it has to be sustained, not like the last time when they gave up after 3000 people were killed, they have to keep on protesting peacefully. I know it is great and easy to suggest that you get killed while I am safe, but hey, that's what I would suggest. The monks are perhaps the only segment of the population that the generals respect. Use this single weapon and keep on poking the Generals.

Keep on going, my friends, best of luck to you.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Spainish Elections and Terrorism, the links

Elections ARE influenced by terrorism. The death of Rajiv Gandhi and so many others in terrorist attacks have influenced the elections directly in India. The 9/11 terrorist attacks impacted the election of President Bush in his second term directly. The Bali Bombings impacted the elections in Indonesia and Australia. And perhaps the closest impact was the Madrid Bombings and the Spanish General Elections.

So what was the connection? How much was the impact? Did it change voter behaviour? By how much? Did it change voter turnout?

Now here's a paper on this

Valentina A. Bali, Terror and elections: Lessons from Spain, Electoral Studies, Volume 26,
Issue 3, September 2007, Pages 669-687

Abstract: The present paper explores the ways a terrorist event can
influence electoral outcomes by examining the Madrid bombing terrorist attack
immediately before Spain's 2004 national elections. Uncharacteristically, rather
than "rally" public support towards the incumbent leadership this terrorist
incident contributed to the electoral upset. Based on individual level survey
data, the analyses suggest the terrorist attack mobilized citizens who are
traditionally less likely to participate in politics as well as center and
leftist voters, and encouraged some of these voters to switch to the opposition.
Quite critically, the incumbent government's unpopular foreign policies and
handling of the attacks had substantial and independent effects on their party's
defeat. Overall, this study highlights the key roles of timing of attacks and
priming of issues when understanding the effects of terrorism on

I further quote the introduction

The Spanish elections of 2004 were marked by two extraordinary yet possibly
related events: a large-scale terrorist attack shortly before the election and
an unexpected electoral upset for the incumbent party. On March 11th 2004, only
3 days before the national elections to the Spanish parliament were to take
place, Spain endured a large-scale terrorist attack at the hands of Islamic
militants, as later established. In the early morning, during the commuter rush,
several bombs exploded at three railway stations in Madrid resulting in almost
200 casualties and close to 2000 injured. Days later, the ruling Popular Party
(PP), led by José-Maria Aznar, lost in a surprising upset to the main opposition
Socialist Party (PSOE), led by José-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who then became the
new Prime Minister. Thereafter, pundits and academics alike were left to
determine whether the terrorist event had actually derailed in a matter of days
what some polls suggested was up to a 4% points advantage for the incumbent
government's party.

And the conclusion

There are several key lessons that the Madrid attacks can impart. First,
citizens' evaluations of the government's performance in the policy areas
related to the attack are clearly critical. If the citizenship generally
approves of the government's performance in those areas, a terrorist attack
close to an election may result in a rally of support or at least not hurt the
incumbent government. If, on the other hand, the government is vulnerable on
those policies, the attack may very well result in an anti-rally. According to
this logic, the incumbent parties in the Australian 2004 and British 2005
elections would have been quite challenged by a terrorist attack close to the
election, given the strong popular discontent with each government's foreign
policies at those times. On the other hand, a terrorist attack right before the
United States 2004 elections may have proved much less deleterious.

Another implication from the present research is the importance of the
timing of the terrorist act in relation to the elections. A terrorist attack,
distant from election times, should trigger, in principle, the mechanisms
associated with rally events. In such cases, an immediate focus on the
government's performance is not likely. In contrast, if the terrorist event
occurs close to election times, because of the political race and the media's
incentives, a speedy zeroing in on a discussion of the government's performance
becomes harder to avoid. Had the Madrid bombings occurred 3 months before the
elections, the time it took Spanish citizens to approximately return to “normal”
levels of concern with terrorism, the electoral outcomes may have been
different. Finally, the present research also highlights the importance of where
the terrorist event takes place. We might expect more forceful effects on
elections from one-shot terrorist attacks in societies with lower levels of
political participation and attachments.

I have to add that given this history, I would be very careful from a security perspective before any election as it is clearly possible to change the behaviour of the electorate via bombing! Secondly, a note to the political parties, do not be too far away from the general populace. Whether in Spain where the right got slated, or in Australia where the left got slated, be in touch with general opinion.

But will go back to my point, elections are a bigger way of changing your enemy's foreign policy, so if I was a terrorist, targeting the populace just before an election would be good!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

How excited do you get when you hear that the voter turnout was low?

I have to admit that I get quite excited when i hear that the turnout on some election was 20% or 30% or 50% or what have you. I also get excited when I hear that more people voted for the Big Brother tripe than vote for their MP. Its just not me, pundit after pundit has complained that the drop in voter turnout is a threat to democracy and our liberal societies at large!

But curiously enough, according to a whole set of new research which has been done, this concern is vastly over-rated.

Low electoral turnout has become common in many countries. Whether this is a
problem for a democracy depends on—among other things—whether higher turnout
would have made other parties more relevant. This introductory article discusses
the findings and approaches of previous work on this question and summarizes the
findings of the work published in this issue. The various articles, despite
using different approaches, looking at different countries and different types
of election, all show that any bias in election outcomes is typically rather
small and is not in a specific direction: sometimes the left would benefit from
higher turnout, sometimes other parties. Therefore the concerns about potential
bias consequent on low turnout are generally misplaced.

Georg Lutz and Michael Marsh, Introduction: Consequences of low turnout, Electoral Studies, Volume 26, Issue 3, September 2007, Pages 539-547.

While I am not planning to talk about all the papers, I am going to delve a bit deeper into one specific paper, which talks about Span and Terror. But for the rest, the next time somebody says that more people voted for Nigela than Anjum or Delia compared to the voting for the European Union Presidency, tell them not to worry! :)

Mind you, i am talking about bog standard liberal democracies, not the great democracies of Syria and Egypt who are in the heaven of 98-99% voter turnouts!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

10 signs that you are not cut out to be a project manager

It is my firmly held belief that every person working in a firm, and specially in a financial institution and very very specifically in an investment bank is both a salesman and a project manager, besides whatever else your job is. It is your job to sell the products, the bank for potential recruits, the industry, anything. You have to be a salesman.

Besides this, you have to be a project manager. In every employee's job, change is an integral process. Whether you are writing a document, or preparing a pitch or launching a new product, or upgrading a system or checking a failed transaction or what have you, you need to manage a project.

So after your basic technical skills on financial products, IT, operations, or what have you, you should also develop your selling/presentation skills as well as project managemet skills. But here's an interesting note on 10 signs that you aren’t cut out to be a project manager.

They are

#1: You are a poor communicator
#2: You don’t work well with people
#3: You prefer the details
#4: You don’t like to manage people
#5: You don’t like to follow processes
#6: You don’t like to document things
#7: You like to execute and not plan
#8: You prefer to be an order taker
#9: You are not organized
#10: You think project management is “overhead”

As you will see, none of this is anything specialised. Given that change is an integral part of your job, what do you want to be? a person who manages change? or a person who is managed by change?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Sarko fires 22,000 public sector people

Well, not fired but from next year, 1 in 3 retiring positions in the public sector will not be replaced. Man, the chap has some big brass tinkling ones!

very impressed!!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Brilliant interview questions - how many can you answer confidently?

Here's a list of brilliant interview questions by Oxbridge dons to prospective students. I am going to test these out on my son this weekend and report back. He is 11 years and 11 months and 27 days old so that has to be considered, but these 100 odd questions would be interesting to know. He attends the local council school so he is NOT a private schooled student.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

daily telegraph
Oxbridge 'prefers interviews to exam results'
By Graeme Paton Education Editor

Last Updated: 2:30am BST 17/09/2007

Oxford and Cambridge universities are increasingly relying on interviews to select the best students because A-levels and GCSEs fail to distinguish between bright and weak candidates, according to researchers.

Test your lateral thinking with the Oxbridge Q&A As a result many applicants could see their fate decided by their responses to famously bizarre questions put by Oxbridge interviewers to test their knowledge and powers of reasoning.

School exams alone are no longer a marker of sixth-formers’ ability as record numbers now leave with a string of A grades, it is claimed. Universities cannot even rely on references from teachers who are reluctant to criticise students for fear of being served with an official complaint.
Geoff Parks, the director of admissions at Cambridge, said interviews were becoming "more important" as other methods used to select sixth-formers are eroded. But according to Oxbridge Applications, which advises people applying to the ancient institutions, interviews are more likely to benefit those from elite independent schools or state grammars.

They are more likely to be "coached" by teachers to give the best answers, they say. Last year a student applying for a geography course at Cambridge was asked: "What is the population of Croydon?" Another applying for physics at Oxford was asked: "How high can I go up a mountain having only eaten a Mars bar?" James Uffindell, the founder of Oxbridge Applications, said interviews often punished comprehensive school pupils.

Figures from Cambridge show that 34 per cent of independent school pupils and 31 per cent from state grammars who apply get a place. However, just 21 per cent of comprehensive pupils get in. At Oxford, more than 32 per cent of independent school pupils who applied were admitted last year.

Mr Uffindell said: "Tutors are understandably having to reply on the interview — what else do you do when a quarter of all A-level papers are now marked an A? "This means pupils from the state comprehensives and the less well-known independent schools will find it harder to get in. They don’t have the amount of knowledge of the Oxbridge interview process that perhaps they have in the big private schools, where many teachers know the type of questions that are going to be asked and can provide coaching."

Earlier research by Oxbridge Applications showed that almost one in 10 state school students who had good grades did not apply to Oxbridge because they lacked confidence about the interview process. An Oxford spokesman insisted the interview process was fair to all
students. "One of the reasons for asking questions that require some lateral thinking is to really examine how a candidates thinks, rather than how they’ve been coached or what they’ve been taught," she said. "They are looking for raw aptitude, not polish.”

daily telegraph
Test your lateral thinking: Oxbridge questions

Last Updated: 2:30am BST 17/09/2007
Page 1 of 3

Suggestions for tackling the questions (source: Oxbridge
1. Does a girl scout have a political agenda? (Law, Oxford)
* An agenda is a set of beliefs or a single issue view which a person or organisation looks to get across either openly or subversively.
* This becomes political when it concerns the way society is organised, or how individuals interact with one another in the public sphere.
* The Girl Scouts is a group which has a certain set of views they look to promote, advance and enact. Part of being a girl scout is a belief in, and a desire to promote, this agenda.
* These concern the way society is organised or how individuals interact in the public sphere. For example, there is a strong belief in charity; a belief in community and group identity; a Christian theology and approach to life; support for hierarchical and ordered power structures.
* A girl scout thus has a set of beliefs she looks to advance, and these concern the organisation of society and the interaction of individuals within it. She therefore has a political agenda.
2. What is the purpose of comedy? (Modern and Medieval Languages, Cambridge)
* In this question I will address comedy as that placed in a play, poem or novel by an author for humorous effect.
* Comedy centres around disorder: the patterns of an event or words are broken from the path our experience has led us to expect. It therefore makes us consider something in an unconventional manner or from an unusual perspective.
* Comedy is therefore highly interactive. Its purpose is thus to ignite a reaction or perception within the recipient.
* It thus uses an unconventional outcome or approach to ignite a reaction. This can either by reflective or inspirational.
* It is reflective when it encourages us to appreciate a certain truism about human life or humanity. This might be tragic, joyful, or any variety of emotional values. We are thus merely reflecting on the disorder highlighted.
* It is inspirational when it looks to motivate us to change something. We are thus looking to change the disorder highlighted.
* The purpose of comedy is therefore to encourage a fresh perspective on a given subject. By challenging an expected order, one is left to either reflect upon the resulting disorder or to rouse the desire to change it. It interactivity ensures this perception is made. It is therefore used as a vehicle for highlighting an author's viewpoint to an audience.
3. Should the use of mobile phones be banned on public transport? (Law, Oxford)
* Does this area of society's conduct require regulation by law? What time of law? What do you understand to be the function of the law?
* Almost all laws place a restriction on the rights and freedoms of individuals-it is often a question of is this restriction justified in light of other factors, such as the public good, or the safety and security of others.
* Think about what factors are being balanced here (a person seeking to ban phones would perhaps argue the phone use is causing a nuisance, distinction between public/private nuisances, whereas this would be counterbalanced with the users claimed right to automatism).
* What are the student's personal opinions?
* Can he / she justify these?

4. Can you imagine a world without laws? (Physics and Philosophy, Oxford)
* What is a law? How are they defined? What is their purpose?
* Is our understanding of a system formed independently, or does it merely emerge through our experiences of interactions with the system?
* What do we mean by a physical law? Are they truisms, or merely an abstract concept we, as observers, have developed through study of a system and a desire to be able to formulate the system in terms we can understand.
* What is the most fundamental law, in your opinion?
Sample Cambridge questions (source: Oxbridge Applications):
1. What is the population of Croydon? Geography at Cambridge
2. Do you believe that we should eradicate Christmas on the basis that it offends other religious groups? Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge
3. What is the purpose of comedy? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
4. Why is the pole vaulting world record about 6.5m, and why can't it be broken? Computer Science at Cambridge
5. What do you think about those who regard global warming as nonsense? Geography at Cambridge
6. Is it more important to focus on poverty at home or abroad? Land Economy at Cambridge
7. If you were to form a government of philosophers what selection process would you use? Philosophy at Cambridge
8. Where does honesty fit into Law? Law at Cambridge
9. Is the environment a bigger crisis than poverty / AIDS etc? Land Economy at Cambridge
10. Do you think that getting involved in poverty abroad is interfering with others' freedoms? Land Economy at Cambridge
11. If you could have half an hour with any mathematician past or present, who would it be? Mathematics at Cambridge
12. What would happen if the Classics department burnt down? Classics at Cambridge
13. Make Poverty History is a commendable thought, is it a practical one? Land Economy at Cambridge
14. Are fair trade bananas really fair? Geography at Cambridge
15. The stage, a platform for opinions or just entertainment - what are your thoughts? Education Studies at Cambridge
16. What do you think about those who regard global warming as nonsense? Geography at Cambridge
17. Was Romeo impulsive? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
18. Why does French food interest you? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
19. Is there such thing as 'race'? History at Cambridge
20. What do you like most about the brain? Medicine at Cambridge
21. 'How would you describe a human to a person from Mars? Medicine at Cambridge
22. Was it fair that a woman's planning application for painting her door purple in a conservation area was declined? Land Economy at Cambridge
23. How many animals did Moses take on the arc? Natural Sciences at Cambridge
24. Should someone sell their kidney? Medicine at Cambridge
25. Do you think Chairman Mao would be proud of the China of today? Oriental Studies at Cambridge
26. What is the point of using NHS money to keep old people alive? Economics at Cambridge
27. How would you compare Henry VIII and Stalin? History at Cambridge
28. How would you simulate altitude in your living room? Medicine at Cambridge
29. In the 1920s did the invention of the Henry Ford car lead to a national sub-culture or was it just an aspect of one? History at Cambridge
30. On a hot day, what should you do with a fridge? Natural Sciences at Cambridge
31. Do you feel that music is an art incomparable to history in that history cannot be performed? Music at Cambridge
32. Is emotion an important part of religion? Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge
33. How does global development would affect your life personally? Land Economy at Cambridge
34. How would you reduce crime through architecture? Architecture at Cambridge
35. Define 'at fault'. Law at Cambridge
36. Why did they used to make the mill chimneys so tall? Engineering at Cambridge
37. Do you think Feminism is dead? Classics at Cambridge
38. Are you surprised that there is no Russian word for "privacy"? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
39. Why does the word 'God' and 'I' have a capital letter? Oriental Studies at Cambridge
40. Should obese people have free NHS treatment? Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge
41. Why do we psychoanalyse historians? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
42. What is Christmas? Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge
43. "Emma has become a different person since she took up yoga. Therefore she is not responsible for anything she did before she took up yoga." Discuss. Classics at Oxford
44. Imagine you are hosting the BBC4 Radio Show on New Year's Day, what message would you send to the people using this programme? Geography at Cambridge
45. Think of a painting of a tree. Is the tree real? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
46. 'What would you say if Gordon Brown were to take a report which shows that people who go to university earn more than those who do not, and then proclaim that going to university causes you to earn more? Economics at Cambridge
47. What books are bad for you? English at Cambridge
48. Should historians be allowed to read sci-fi novels? History at Cambridge
49. How would you describe an apple? Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge
50. If a carrot can grow form one carrot cell, why not a human? Natural Sciences at Cambridge
51. Is it moral to hook up a psychopath (whose only pleasure is killing) to a reality-simulating machine so that he can believe he is in the real world and kill as much as he likes? Philosophy at Cambridge
52. How do you make a place peaceful? Architecture at Cambridge
53. Chekhov's great, isn't he? Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge
54. There is a Christian priest who regularly visits India and converted to be a Hindu priest. When he is in England he still practices as a Christian priest. What problems might this pose? Theology and Religious Studies at Cambridge

Sample Oxford questions (source: Oxbridge Applications):
1. How high can I go up a mountain having only eaten a mars bar? Physics at Oxford
2. Do we have the right to interpret the story of the birth of Christ as a comment on Tony Blair's current political situation? English at Oxford
3. Should the use of mobile phones be banned on public transport? Law at Oxford
4. What is the most pieces of pizza I can get from 'n' cuts? Mathematics at Oxford
5. What are the origins of your Christian name? History at Oxford
6. Who is your favourite Metaphysical poet? (Bear in mind this was a MATHS interview) Mathematics at Oxford
7. One grain of wheat does not constitute a heap. If one grain doesn't make a heap neither will two. If two don't make a heap neither will three..... If 9,999 grains of wheat don't make a heap 10,000 don't make a heap…. Physics and Philosophy at Oxford
8. What problems do fish face underwater? Biological Sciences at Oxford
9. If you entered a teletransporter and your body was destroyed and instantly recreated on mars in exactly the same way with all your memories in tact etc, would you be the same person? PPE at Oxford
10. Explain why teachers might be changing jobs to become plumbers. History and Economics at Oxford
11. Will the bag ever become empty? Mathematics at Oxford
12. Can you imagine a world without Laws? Physics and Philosophy at Oxford
13. What is 'turning you on' in chemistry at the moment? Chemistry at Oxford
14. If I could fold this piece of paper an infinite number of times how many times must I fold it to reach the moon? Physics and Philosophy at Oxford
15. What food (out of a choice) was best to eat before an interview? Physiological Sciences at Oxford
16. Tell me about drowning. Medicine at Oxford
17. Is there a difference between innocence and naivety? English at Oxford
18. What do you think of assisted suicide? Medicine at Oxford
19. Would you give a 60 year old woman IVF treatment? Medicine at Oxford
20. I am an oil baron in the desert and I need to deliver oil to four different towns which happen to lie on a straight line. In order to deliver the correct amounts to each town, I must visit each town in turn, returning to my warehouse in between each visit. Where should I
position my warehouse in order to drive the shortest distance possible? Roads are no problem since I have a friend who is a sheikh and will build me as many roads as I like for free. Mathematics at Oxford
21. Why did Henry VIII call his son Arthur? History at Oxford
22. Is the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Jesus? Theology at Oxford
23. What makes a strong woman? Theology at Oxford
24. Does a girl scout have a political agenda? Law at Oxford
25. What is the difference between buying and selling of slaves and the buying and selling of football players? Economics and Management at Oxford
26. Is wearing school uniform a breach of human rights? Law at Oxford
27. Is being hungry the same thing as wanting to eat? PPE at Oxford
28. Why do firms exist? Economics and Management at Oxford
29. What is fate? Classics and English at Oxford
30. Why is there not a global government? PPE at Oxford
31. Why would you consider Toys R Us to be a failing business? Economics and Management at Oxford
32. If you could make up a word, what would it be? Why? English at Oxford
33. Is someone guilty of an offence if they did not set out to commit a crime but ended up in doing so? Law at Oxford
34. Should a Wal-Mart store be opened in the middle of Oxford? Economics and Management at Oxford
35. What do you think of teleport machines? PPE at Oxford
36. What makes you think that I am having thoughts? Mathematics and Philosophy at Oxford
37. When are people dead? Medicine at Oxford
38. Tell me about these eggs? Physics at Oxford
39. Are there too many people in the world? Human Sciences at Oxford
40. Do you know who decided to put English Literature on to the school syllabus? English at Oxford
41. Why are you sitting in this chair? History at Oxford
42. How would you travel through time? Physics at Oxford
43. Should there be an intelligence test to decide who could vote? PPE at Oxford
44. You have a 3 litre jug and a 5 litre jug. Make 4 litres. (it's from die hard 3) Mathematics at Oxford
45. Would you trade your scarf for my bike, even if you have no idea what state it's in or if I even have one? Law at Oxford
46. What was the most beautiful proof in A-Level Mathematics? Mathematics at Oxford
47. Is nature natural? Geography at Oxford
48. Don't you think Hamlet is a bit long? No? Well I do. English at Oxford
49. If you could go back in time to any period of time when it would be and why? Law at Oxford
50. Is the Bible a fictional work? Could it be called chick lit? English at Oxford
51. What trees did Disraeli plant at Hughenden Manor? History at Oxford
52. Was Shakespeare a rebel? English at Oxford
53. Are humans still evolving? Biological Sciences at Oxford

71% of students studying strategic fields in the UK are foreign, where are the British students?

Today is not a good day for me and education, my favorite subject. This is what the Sunday Telegraph is reporting. I can fully agree to this and this is what I have seen when i am trundling around the country lecturing in the Business Schools in Manchester, Bath, Swansea, South Bank, Cranfield, etc. Read this report in conjunction with the story. While we are indeed earning quite a lot, but life is more than just earnings. If students are studying media studies, wave surfing studies, and the history of film making, I am not sure how much value add these guys will provide.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Sunday telegraph

Unequal exchanges of knowledge - Liam Halligan

During a recent visit to one of our leading universities, a notice board caught my eye. Pinned on it was the student list for “Advanced Quantitative Techniques for Finance”. Every single name was Chinese.“Oh great,” I said to the professor hosting me. “An exchange programme. How many British youngsters have gone to Beijing University in return?”My academic friend gave me a grave, almost sorrowful look. “Oh no,”he said. “It’s no exchange. Only Asian students apply for thatcourse. British students say it’s too hard”.

Last week, an official study found that fewer than one in three postgraduates studying “strategic” subjects in the UK are actually British. No less than 71 per cent of those pursuing such advanced degrees in British universities – in areas like engineering, chemistry and computer sciences – are from overseas.I find this absolutely shocking. In an ever more competitive world, post-industrial nations like ours need desperately to move up thevalue-chain.

Yes, I know foreign post-grads pay through the nose subsidising British undergraduates. And I know we claim that technically adept foreign students “underpin the UK’s research base” – even though, increasingly, they now return home.But Universities Minister John Denham needs to think hard about what’shappening. We are failing to train a new generation of world-class British eggheads. And that will seriously hinder our economy in the years to come.

Are you bloody MAD? - School pupils 'should write their own tests'

The Telegraph reports that the students will be asked to mark their own class work and decide what their school tests should cover. Why have teachers at all, eh? What a stupid moronic idea! Its not like the UK is doing spectacularly well in our education system, you morons. Read this to know that we have to fix the basics, not come up with idiotic ideas.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

China worried about inflation and freezes government prices

I was speaking with Andrew, an old classmate last weekend. He has a flourishing business out in China and UK and travels there frequently. One of the things he mentioned in passing was how food is getting expensive. As so it proved when i read this FT report.

China is to enforce a freeze on all government-controlled prices in a
sign of Beijing's alarm at rising public anger over inflation - now at its
highest rate for more than a decade.
The move will freeze a vast array of prices still under government control, ranging from oil, electricity and water to the cost of parking and entrance fees to public parks.
An order was issued jointly by six ministries yesterday, following a vaguely worded announcement by the State Council, or cabinet, in August on the need to
prevent price rises.
"Any unauthorised price rises are strictly forbidden . . . and in principle there will be no new price-raising measures this year," the ministries said.

All governments fear the poor natives. Once upon a time, the Romans used to establish games and give bread to keep the natives under control. These days, if you control the prices and give them entertainment, they will be happy as well. So China is exceedingly worried about inflation. This is mainly due to the rising price of grain and pork. Be worried, be very worried. I think the central bankers around the globe have been too successful in controlling and managing inflation. Also the downward pressure on prices from cost competitiion from countries like China and India have kept prices low. But given bad decisions, pig diseases, bad weather and the brilliant decisions by President Bush influencing the oil prices, inflation is rising across the globe.

And this will hit the poorest the hardest.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

UK Government is exploring investing in super fast broadband to spur private investments

Generally, I am very leery of public investment. Again, generally, they are not efficient and almost invariably leads to corruption, inefficiency and various other political issues. Still, while saying that, there is a case for a role of the government and public investments in certain areas.

This differs from place to place, country to country, time to time. For example, somebody might complain that the government has to have a military at least. To which, I would say why? We have countries who have successfully outsourced their wholesale militaries, such as the Vatican or huge chunks of their military edifice such as the UK and USA. But while governments do have a role in public investment.

For example, when a situation arises that there is public good, or the private sector cannot afford/coordinate very large enterprises. Also a place for public ownership is when the creative destruction process of capitalism would seriously harm the state itself. For example, see the current mess around the railways, London underground, etc. It is a fine line to walk. Finally, there is a place for seed capital, or basic investment required that will spur private investment.

So when i hear that the UK government is considering some form of public intervention to spur private sector investment in ultra-fast broadband networks, I am a bit curious about the level of investment required. We do not have full details yet, but what I would look for is a strong regulatory framework, some non-financial benefits (like joint marketing), some guarantees of universal provision of some kind, very time limited subsidies/financial help (not more than 12-18 months, any more and technology will be obsolete).

We should also read about the experiences of public private partnership between municipal corporations and wireless network providers. That was not a very big success, I am afraid. Interesting days ahead.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Wednesday, September 19

Another d'oh story from the United Nations

I find it amazing that we still have pap like this being churned out!

Better IT connectivity can unleash Africa’s economic potential, UN officials say. 19 September 2007 – Better information technology links can help Africa to unleash its economic potential, United Nations and business leaders said today in New York.

You need to remove the dead hand of the state and cut off the greedy grasping hands of the corrupt elite. Then we can do something.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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Sometimes the little guy wins!

Brilliant story, a big attaboy here to Bernard Njonga who took on a corrupt leader, minister, various companies, the global trading system and won!

When it comes to chicken, Europeans seem to only like the breast. The rest of the chicken is almost impossible to sell and ends up being exported at dumping prices. But farmers in Cameroon are refusing to be the victims of globalization, they have fought the import of European chicken legs -- and won.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!

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What will happen if Iran tests a nuclear device?

Tough question, no? Something that has not been discussed widely. Its a bit early in the process anyway. Its just recently that the Homar President announced that he has got 3000 centrifuges working. So they are still about 3-4 years away from weaponisation.

Be that as it may, it may well happen like it did with India, Pakistan and North Korea. What then? Well, a nice little recent research paper explores this question in good comprehensive detail.

One has to remember that a military strike against Iran is only possible till it does not have a nuclear weapon. Only an idiot will launch a conventional strike against a nuclear powered weapon.

Remember what the Indian General said after the first Gulf War? Go to war with USA only when you have a nuclear weapon. So Iran has all the reason in the world to carry out a nuclear test on its own soil. But if it does do this, the pressure on USA for a military strike will be ginormous. And Israel can and might as well strike back hard.

There is also a smaller possibility that it carries out a nuclear test through its proxies from Hizbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda or other bits and bobs in Israel or perhaps even in Europe/USA.

Do not forget that Iran has been known to carry out intelligence operations in Europe. Although if Iran uses its proxies for a nuclear strike against Israel or USA, Iran could well be almost instantaneously incinerated and obliterated by Israel and USA. Israel has second strike capability.

I quote the conclusion of this report:

The United States must continue to examine and predict the likely sequence of events and outcomes of Iran acquiring a nuclear device. Based on the options that have been explored, the most likely scenario is for Iran to conduct an unannounced underground nuclear test. This would achieve its primary objectives of continued self-preservation and the implementation of a permanent nuclear deterrent. In light of this accomplishment for Iran, the global economy would be rattled in anticipation of severe military and political actions being leveled against Tehran. Military action would be more likely as tensions flared. The best solution for the United States and the United Nations would be to address the issues that caused Iran to pursue the path of acquiring nuclear arms. The international community has an interest in doing all that is possible to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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Iran President's foot in mouth syndrome strikes again

Inflation is an economic disease which hits the poorest hardest mainly because they are simply not able to cover the rampant price increases with their meager earnings.

The next lot who get hit by high inflation are the salaried folks, whose salary is rarely indexed against inflation. So you have a fixed income and you get hit by price rises. You cant handle it. See here for a previous essay.

But here's Iranian President Ahmadinejad joked about inflation, at a time when inflation is rising horribly hard, so bad that they are even thinking about lopping off zero's from their currency notes! He said and I quote,

Mr Ahmadinejad has frequently dismissed complaints of rising prices as the invention of a hostile media, and blamed "secret networks" for rising house prices.

This year, he responded to MPs' protests over the rising price of tomatoes by urging them to visit his local greengrocer in Narmak, in east Tehran.

Mr Ahmadinejad also answered recent criticism of his policies by saying he took advice from his local butcher. "There is an honourable butcher in our neighbourhood who knows all the economic problems of the people. I get my economic information from him," he said.

Mr Ahmadinejad, an engineer with a PhD in traffic management, is on record as saying: "I pray to God I never know about economics."

That echoes a comment attributed to the late Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, who is alleged to have said: "Economics is for donkeys."

Well, this donkey specialist (that's me!) thinks that the Iranian President is a homar al alooj. No wonder his own party and MP's are kicking him nicely and tightly.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

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