Friday, March 21

Hamas man dies in likely 'work accident' at Gaza training camp

Heheheh, this was funny, work accident indeed! We need some guys from health and safety departments working with Hamas :)


A Hamas militant on Friday was killed and two others were wounded in an explosion apparently caused by a "work accident" at a training camp run by the militant group in Gaza.
On Thursday, a similar incident occurred when
two members of Hamas' armed wing died and another was wounded in a blast at a training base in the central Gaza Strip, after the men had been handling explosives.

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Ban Perfumes!

Gosh, after smelling some horrid ones, I can well appreciate this step. Some perfumes should be classified as chemical compounds capable of making men's eyes water (in more ways than one!) and this specially during when we are in close company like in the Tube!

But how is the ban going to be enforced? I cannot see myself volunteering for the job of sniffing every visitor and patient in a hospital?

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Abkhazia, the country that doesn't exist, prepares to follow Kosovo's example

Further to my essay on the spectacularly silly decision on recognising Kosovo, here's another example of how another country wants to become independent. I quote:

Abkhazia has a president, a flag, a national anthem and even a visa system for foreign visitors but the country doesn't appear on any maps. Officially, this small piece of sub-tropical Black Sea coastline with a population today of about 170,000, is a province of Georgia.
But since a vicious war in the early 1990s, it has been functioning as an independent state and, in the aftermath of Kosovo's independence, the Abkhazians hope their statehood will be recognised by the international community.
Shortly after Kosovo declared independence, the Abkhazian parliament, located in a seafront building in the capital, Sukhumi, issued a call for international recognition.
"After the recognition of Kosovo by many Western states, the geopolitical situation has significantly changed," read the parliament's statement. "Any legal decision has a universal character... All people have the same rights to freedom and independence."
On the seafront promenade, in the shadow of war-damaged buildings, old men while away the days drinking Turkish-style coffee and playing chess and backgammon. "Why is Kosovo any better than Abkhazia?" asked one. "It's exactly the same situation. We're a small country trying to stand on our own two feet."
The local papers are awash with Kosovo headlines and accusations that the West is engaging in "double standards" by recognising Kosovo but not Abkhazia. Western countries have said that Kosovo is a unique case, voicing support for Georgia's "territorial integrity", and a resolution to the Abkhazian conflict that does not alter Georgia's official boundaries.
Abkhazia's main hope for recognition is Russia. Vladimir Putin has hinted on several occasions that if the West recognised Kosovo, Russia may recognise Abkhazia and three other "breakaway states" on former Soviet soil.

Socialized Compensation

Some comments on a mailing list on this editorial.

Releasing compensation over 3 years is what happens with most of the investment banker’s compensation and this has been the rule, well, I can only confirm from 1995. You only get a piece every year. And more importantly, the compensation is generally 80% in stock. So their performance is firmly tied to the bank’s performance.

What floor is he talking about? Stocks have been burnt literally to death and stock wealth is near zero, it sounds like the editorial author would like the investment bankers to be feathered, tarred and drummed out of town.

Also, just to let the chappies know, Bear Stears was the counter-party to trillions of dollars worth of deals with financial institutions around the world. If the bear had gone under, not just the bankers, but the world financial system would have seized up.

What the Fed (and rest of the central banks) are doing is to make sure that the wholesale markets, which have seized up, are open and functioning. If that seizes up, then you have much more than just a bank going under which is the problem.

Have you seen the world trade figures? Last December, the world trade figures were ZERO growth and a large reason for that (despite bludgeoning commodity and agriculture and industrial production, import/exports) is that the wholesale markets are literally frozen despite the dollops of money shoved into them by the Fed and other central banks)

Driving off the cliff periodically is a feature of human history, asset bubbles have been identified going back to ancient Egyptian times (there have been runs and bubbles on land, beer and agricultural commodities, wood, etc.… ).

We will have a million properties (and rising) overhang in the USA, the dreaded inflation monster rampaging, food prices increasing…, this recession has a long way to run yet.

Just some of my disjointed thoughts

Have a good Easter, folks


Bhaskar Dasgupta (for shorter daily comments) (for longer weekly essays)


Well, that's clear then!

Thursday, March 20

London Picture

Found a strange structure just behind Covent Garden Theatre place. Strange, eh? Looks like some kind of a passagewayDSC00237

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Churches in Saudi Arabia and Turkey

Now the Catholics want to open up St. Paul's birthplace in Germany which is apparently falling down or is non-existent. Needless provocation, things will get better without pushing on the religious lever, guys. And the Catholic Church wants to extend and build churches in the Arabian Peninsula as well. Talk about poking and prodding scabs. It will start bleeding and will create problems. Learn what happened with the crusades!

Radical Christian Missionaries in Iraq

Very worrying, this is why I am very jaundiced about proselytisation and conversions despite having freedom of religion completely. That does not mean you go about doing what these fellows are doing!


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Drunkenness in USA

Somebody commented that they didnt get that much drunkenness in the USA compared to Europe after I wrote about drunken behaviour.

Well, check this link out.

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

A picture worth a 1000 words!

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

India receives $27 bn in remittances in 2007

Way to go, do more and more, get rid of this habit of getting monies from government bodies and multi-lateral bodies. Savings, investments and personal funds transfers are far more economic and effective than other flows and do more for the poor than all the gods, religious leaders, NGOs and governments combined. Read and applaud. I quote:

The top five recipients of remittances in 2007 were India ($27 billion), China ($25.7 billion), Mexico ($25 billion), the Philippines ($17 billion), and France ($12.5 billion), according to the report titled 'Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008'.

"In many developing countries, remittances provide a life line for the poor. They are often an essential source of foreign exchange and a stabilising force for the economy in turbulent times," said Dilip Ratha, senior economist with the World Bank, and co-author of the report.

But found that figure for France curious, why are people remitting money into France?

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

Banking Crisis Hits Japan

Following last week's news that Origami Bank had folded, we are hearing that Sumo Bank has gone belly-up and that Bonsai Bank plans to cut back some of its branches. Karaoke Bank is up for sale and going for a song. Meanwhile, 500 staff at Karate Bank got the chop. Analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank, with staff there fearing they may get a raw deal.

complete groaner!

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

Offshoring from Poland to Germany!

Now I have heard everything, read this and wonder!, how important it is to have a stable regulatory and tax regime.

A new trend is emerging among Polish companies no longer willing to put up with the rising cost of hiring skilled labour and dealing with the country's complex bureaucracy. They have begun recruiting and opening bases in Germany, a country better known for its well-paid skilled workers.
Mr Wieczorek says the stable regulatory environment in Germany comes as a relief compared with the instability that prevails in Poland.
Land in Germany is cheaper too: the factory in Pasewalk cost one-tenth the price of space in Poznan.
Expanding in Germany has a further advantage. The company can market the products as made in Germany, thereby benefiting from its reputation for high-quality engineering.
And Mr Wieczorek concedes that his German staff are less skilled than his Polish workers. "We have trouble with qualifications in Germany and the more complicated work is still being done in Poznan," he says. "We have to spend a lot of time here bringing our German workers up to Polish standards."
But Mr Mordasewicz says the government of Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, must address companies' complaints about impenetrable bureaucracy, frequently changing regulations, a somnolent court system and a lack of infrastructure.

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

Price of Rice through the roof

I keep on moaning about food prices here, guys, but nothing much seems to be happening on that front. National policies by restricting exports will not do much at all and actually might make the problem worse. Now see the problem with rice. I quote:

Rice prices surged to a fresh 34-year high on Tuesday as the Philippines awarded a tender for the staple at an average price of $708 a tonne, up almost 50 per cent from the price it paid in late January.
The sharp rise reflects a market suffering from tightening supply after key producers India and Vietnam this month both imposed further restrictions on rice exports. Supplies from Thailand are also low, traders said.
The jump in rice prices would exacerbate rising inflation in Asia and risks triggering social unrest, analysts said. The Philippines, one of the world’s biggest rice importers, is particularly exposed.
European brokers quoted an indicative price for high quality Thai rice, a global benchmark, of about $640 a tonne, up from $515 in late February. In the last three months, the price has surged about 72 per cent.
Ben Savage, managing director at Jackson Son & Co, the London-based rice broker, said that prices have also been boosted by poor weather in southeast Asia, where the grain is a staple for about 2.5bn people.
“It has been surprisingly cool both in Vietnam and Thailand and that has delayed the crop and reduced yields,” Mr Savage said.
He said that price should become a bit more stable in the comings weeks as more supplies are delivered to the market, but added: “We do not expect to see prices much lower in the short term, nor a return in 2008 to last year’s levels.”
Thai rice prices last year averaged $334 a tonne, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Vietnamese traders quoted a price of $610 a tonne for the country’s high quality rice, up from $550 last week and $355 in December. The rise in Vietnam’s prices comes as the country this week halted signing new contracts for exports until May, extending a previous curb intended to keep its domestic market well supplied.
India has also further restricted foreign sales of rice raising the minimum export price for non-basmati rice to $650 a tonne, up from $500 a tonne. The measure has, de facto, closed the export market, industry executives said.
Vijay Sethia, president of the All India Rice Exporters’ Association said the step was aimed to restrict the outflow of rice from the country.

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

Great idea, if you get public money, you get to show it to the public

So if there is subsidies given to farms from public money coming out of my pocket, then we should see it, no? So great idea! I quote:

As of next year, member states will be required to make public a list of all recipients of EU agricultural subsidies, together with full details of amounts received, putting an end to the traditional secrecy surrounding handouts from the EU’s largest fund.
According to a new Regulation adopted by the Commission on 19 March, the data will have to be published on special national websites by 30 April 2009, so that members of the general public can monitor how money under the EU’s €55 billion Common Agricultural Policy budget is being spent.

Read the full thing, its amazing!

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

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

Priorities over war games

I received this email on an email, notice the heading.

-----Original Message-----
From: ......

Sent: 14 March 2008 02:58

Subject: [india-unity] Screwed up priorities of India?

64 countries invited for war game

Fri, Mar 14 03:13 AM

India will show off its military prowess to observers from 64 countries at a joint war game being conducted by the Army and Air Force in Rajasthan next week. As many as 94 military attaches and observers, including personnel from China, Israel, the US and the UK will witness "Exercise Brazen Chariots" that will showcase the latest equipment and tactics used by the Indian forces.

India will field its frontline fighters, including Su 30 MKIs, attack helicopters, the T-90 Main Battle Tank, advanced UAVs and SMERCH Multi Barrel Rocket Launchers, at the exercise that will be conducted in the Pokharan firing ranges.

"The aim of the exercise is to give an opportunity to observers from foreign countries to see our military assets and witness the capabilities of our forces in a joint operations environment," said Major General V K Narula, Additional Director General of Public Information, during a briefing at the Army Headquarters.

However, there will be no representative from Pakistan at the exercise as the country has not been invited. Army officials said India currently did not have a bilateral agreement with Pakistan to witness each other's military exercises. While Israel has confirmed its participation, Iran will not be present at the exercise.

This is what I responded with:

Priorities as in they should have done the war games on counter terrorism rather than army/air force?

Actually, these war games are part of the elaborate game that nations play, it is preferable to actually fighting a war as it shows off the equipment and tactics in a staged environment. It is like the very highly visible home security alarm system unit attached on the front of the house, it tells would be thieves that the house is protected.

So from that perspective, these kinds of war games are useful. But not only that, it is very useful for making more allies, and helping to get better arms deal conditions (after all, you are showcasing their equipment...., think of it as an industrial fair...) and finally, it allows our soldiers and airmen to actually get to practice with their weapons in as near battle conditions as possible.

But xxxxx, we also constantly do counter-intelligence war games, but they do not hit the press for obvious reasons. From what I understand, almost every week, there is a war game in Delhi and in the other paramilitary training colleges.

Or did you mean priorities about something else?

Generally, our system of national resource allocation works on the basis of compromise done in parliament which is based upon democratic credentials. People obviously try to keep on trying to get money for their own pet clauses and reasons and again as it should be, but one should remember one aspect. Resource allocation is not binary. You cannot say something like, why spend 100 quid on the military when you could have used the 100 quid on 2 hospitals. It is a great soundbite, but effectively tells anybody in the know that that argument is stupid. Taken to the logical end, you will end up with no military and only hospitals. Great for the country, no?

But welcome to human decision making.... :)

Stopping Drunken Behaviour in Public

This might sound like a dirty topic but there is a serious element to this discussion. How do you stop people peeing in public? By all means, the people seem to have done all that they could to stop this from happening. I quote:

Two public toilets were placed in downtown Linköping close to the town’s entertainment district following discussions about how to alleviate the problem of public urination on walls and building entryways in the downtown area.

The temporary toilets are well illuminated and clearly identified with large signs. The problem instead is apparently that some people, primarily young men who have been drinking alcohol, prefer to pee on walls.

When asked what to do about these men, suggested answers were:

The solutions offered including public shaming, castration, fines, electrified walls or the classification of people peeing in public as terrorists. A minority felt public urination shouldn’t be punished at all, while one respondent felt the politicians should be punished, for not creating more public toilets.

It is a question of incentives. What these punishments are supposed to do is to make sure that you as a rational human being, do not pee against a wall under threat of punishment.

But the point is, the chaps are drunk and in which case and by default, they are unable to take rational decisions. I mean, to get drunk itself is a bit of an irrational decision, no? (I know you will quibble with me, but remember the quote, "how come whenever anybody wants to drown his sorrows, he never uses water?").

So the question for us to ponder is, what do you do when citizens are inebriated or drugged up to such an extent that they are unable to distinguish between right and wrong, good and bad behaviour, encouragement and punishment?

The standard answer is, throw them in jail, public shaming, castration, fines or wire up the genitals via the liquid stream to an electrified wall (god, the man who came up with that idea has an evil mind!) will simply not work. It might work with that man itself, after getting a genitalia shock, he might not relieve himself again, but that will not stop the next drunk young man from doing so.

Taken to the worst case scenario, alcohol abuse and inability to function is a national problem in many countries. Russia is suffering very badly from this phenomena although it has reduced a bit from the very bad days of the last decade. In the United Kingdom, the problem of youth drunkenness is hitting crisis situations. See here for some statistics in Europe for binge drinking.

So what are the policy responses? Here is a very good overview of what you can do to combat this problem. I quote the key bits:

Firstly, not all alcohol policy measures are equally effective. Secondly, policy measures that influence and change the physical, social and cultural environment around alcohol are more effective in preventing and reducing alcohol related harm, than measures targeted at the individual drinker. Thirdly, policies exclusively targeted at young people, while ignoring the wider adult population, are doomed to failure. Fourthly, while education programmes can influence beliefs and attitudes about alcohol....educational strategies show little or no effect in reducing alcohol consumption or related harm.

.....the ‘best value’ for an effective alcohol policy response should combine measures targeted at the general population (taxes, controlling access to alcohol, RBT, Lower BAC), at high-risk groups (minimum age, enforcement of on-premise alcohol laws, community mobilisation) and at high-risk drinkers (brief intervention).

So to go back to our problem with our young men and the stinky walls, jack up the price of alcohol (via taxation) to eye watering levels (pun intended), increase the permissible age of drinking, mobilise local community / neighbourhood people (get your local neighbourhood old lady armed with an umbrella to poke your pee'er in the back).

But will it completely stop drunken men relieving themselves? Doubtful. Not sure. Mind you, I can only be a tiny bit relieved that I am following in the footsteps of that ancient Egyptian dad who is moaning at his son (as translated from the Sallier papyrus) and I quote:

I am told that you neglect your studies, have a desire for enjoyments, and go from tavern to tavern. Whoever smells beer is repulsive to all; the smell of beer holds people at a distance, it hardens your think it proper to run down a wall and to break through the board gate; the people run away from you...Do not give the beer mugs a place in your heart; forget the beer-pots...Don't undertake to drink a whole pitcher of beer. If you then talk, so from your mouth comes nonsense...your drinking companions stand up and say only: away with the drunkards.

What do you think? Can we ever stop drunken behaviour? If we can, then I will raise a glass or two (or more) of Balvenie to you :)

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

Wednesday, March 19

Divorce around the world

Society is changing, and the answer is not to go back to basics (which is what?), but to think about how to manage this change. And for those people who think that divorce is a peculiarly western phenomena, please note the figures. I Quote:

I've heard this from many men over the past three months. It's like an epidemic virus violently threatening the Egyptian family, which we wrongly thought was immune to the virus that struck families in Western societies, simply because we still preserve the characteristics of the "happy orient."
Statistics indicate that divorce and the collapse of the family institution have become a phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Divorce strikes 46% of all marriages each year, compared to 33% a few years ago. A staggering 42% of divorces occur among newly-married couples in the first to fourth year of marriage.
Divorce rates among young people in the first year of marriage has risen to 34.5%, according to recent statistics by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMS). The figure is terrifying. In Austria, for example, divorce rates hit 48.9%, which has led the Austrian government to declare an emergency to tackle a disaster that threatens the security and safety of the community.
These statistics are not only in Egypt, but also in most of the Arab world. The divorce rate in Kuwait has reached 46%, according to a symposium on spinsterhood organized by Arabiyat forum. It hit 48% and 38% in the UAE and Qatar, respectively. Clearly this social phenomenon has undermined the family institution and threatens the next generation.
In France, for example, two thirds of schoolchildren come from broken homes and many of their parents live with second husbands and wives.
Psychologists are observing these students to predict future behavioral patterns. One must wonder about the psychological state of Arab society following three decades of its men not living under sound social conditions — at least from the old-school perspective that children must grow up in both their parents' care.
I recently met a group of university professors. When I told them that I was planning to write an article about divorce, all fifteen confessed that they were separated from their wives. One female workmate also said that the marriages of six of her close friends all lasted less than a year.
Regardless of the statistics, I vouch for the fact that this phenomenon has reached unprecedented heights.
What has really happened in the past few years? Some social research claims that poverty accounts for a considerable percentage of divorces and that sexual incompatibility between couples is another reason.
I disagree. Poverty, need and bedroom problems are as old as sin. So what has happened then?
Some point an accusing finger at women's emancipation as the culprit behind the collapse of the family. Once more, I beg to differ. I think that women have lost much of what they gained in the past ten years.
The divorce phenomenon is, without a doubt, the product of changes in society as a whole; the way marriages are conducted, the absence of any sense of belonging to the homeland, to a common cause or an institution.
With this feeling predominant among most young people, how can they have a sense of belonging to the institution of marriage? Young people these days change jobs and even careers as if they were changing their t-shirt. At the same time, many girls want to get away from their own broken homes, and so accept any proposal just to escape, only to continue their escapism by leaving their husbands.
Social pressure, not only financial problems, push people into a tight corner every day, and the prevalent fast food culture has made caution a thing of the past.
Globalization, the information revolution and the satellite revolution, which shower us with a barrage of images and poisoned values, have all nipped marriage in the bud. When I look at my children I wonder how long their marriages will last. Will it be years, months or hours?

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

Divorcing and marrying all for the sake of your child's admission to school

This made me laugh. But typically, people will operate on the basis of incentives. Classical economic and rational behaviour! I quote:

Most British parents will do almost anything to get their children into the best school, but perhaps few would go to the lengths of some Spanish couples.
In Spain, entry into secondary school is based on a points system. Judges in Seville believe that some parents are divorcing just to earn the crucial points needed to get their offspring into the top schools. Since last year, children of divorced or separated couples get two extra points when education authorities decide which school the offspring will go to.

Judges were particularly dubious about how keen many couples were keen to wrap up their divorces before the March 31 deadline for applications for school places. Registering a divorce normally takes two to three weeks, but some couples seem in a greater rush to complete the process, said another court source.
Parents who manipulate the system are helped by the "express divorce", which became law in 2005. And some judges found that a few weeks after couples asked for official separations, they ended up in front of the same court to request reconciliation - just after they completed their school applications.

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

Nigeria corruption - pretty much sad and known!

More news from that font of good governance and good administration also known as Nigeria.

BBC NEWS Africa Panel alleges Nigeria corruption

I quote:

The government of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo paid $50m (£25m) to non-existent companies, a parliamentary panel alleges. The panel was established earlier this year to find out what happened to money spent on improving power generation between 1999 and 2007.
President Umaru Yar'Adua has said $10 billion was spent with little sign of improvement to electricity supplies.

So 10 billion was spent on electricity without any improvement. So they set up a panel and they found that money was spent on non existent firms such as "Special Projects", "Space Master" and "Sassy Fund". It would be funny, it it was not so sad and serious.

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

An arcane argument over Mark to Market

Further to my essay on Mark to Market, here's a nice article on an arcane aspect of it. I quote:

“Fair” values for bank assets could be different for accounting and regulatory purposes, the UK regulator has warned, in a move that could see banks forced to top up their capital reserves.
The Financial Services Authority has held “round table” meetings with banks and leading auditors to discuss the issue as part of its scrutiny of valuation techniques in the current market turmoil.
Although the FSA has not changed its rules, officials have warned banks to take extra care over their regulatory valuations.
Both regulators and accounting systems rely on “fair” or market value of assets. Regulators then require banks to adjust the accounting number, if necessary, to more closely reflect actual liquidity. In today’s markets this is most likely to involve booking assets at potentially steep discounts to the current price if that amount is unlikely to be realised when the whole asset is sold.
Accounting standards previously included this notion, known as the blockage factor.
The most common example is discounting some of the total value of a large shareholding since selling the entirety in one go would depress the market, meaning the bank could not realise the full price per share that the holding was worth technically.
“The FSA made the point they are concerned about prudential valuation,” said one person present at the meetings.
“They recognise that in normal markets both values might be the same but when liquidity dries up, they might well diverge. Their focus was around the risk of uncertainty around valuations like asking what would happen if mortgage default rates rose further.” If a bank lowers its valuation reckoning on a particular holding, it could weaken its regulatory capital reserves.
The FSA’s research stemmed from work commissioned by the Basle committee on bank regulation.
At the meetings, regulators also presented their research into banks’ efforts to value securities in illiquid markets.
The general conclusion was that the models being used had improved.
“[The FSA] wasn’t as explicit as saying ‘things are either getting better or worse’, but it is fair to say all banks’ processes are getting better,” said one senior financial services auditor. “Like anyone living through a crisis you’re going to learn something from it.”
As markets seized up and prices became harder to find for many securities, banks have been forced to develop a number of new models to value their holdings in the third quarter of last year and have improved them since, auditors said. The FSA’s report contained nothing that surprised them, they added.
The recent meetings were the second involving auditors from all the biggest firms, who welcomed the FSA’s role in convening the groups.
“We can only look at our own audit clients and they can look at a wider range of firms, which is helpful,” said one attendee. “The fact they’re engaging with us on this is a positive development.”

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

Unpalatable choices again for the USA

So here's the problem

1. To reduce greenhouse gases, dont purchase fuels which have a higher greenhouse gas content than conventional fuels. This will obviously drive down carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, or at least, not increase it over and above using normal fuels.

2. To reduce dependence on the horrible middle east and other assorted countries where oil is found, get oil from your next door neighbour who is a friend and colleague. This will reduce transport costs, you can control the output better, less risk of political instability and terrorism and so on and so forth.

Unfortunately, the oil that is produced in Canada violates the first problem. And here's where all that is wrong with American politics comes to the fore. Read and weep.

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

UK is still a banana republic

Here we go again, we still have postal fraud in this day and age. Now its the turn of the conservatives to show how to commit fraud in elections in the UK. I quote:

A Tory councillor was found guilty of using bogus postal votes to ensure he was voted into office in Slough. Eshaq Khan beat Lydia Simmons, a former mayor of Slough, by 119 votes to win the council's Central ward in last year's local elections.
Election commissioner Mr Richard Mawry QC said: "The only reasons they came to light at all were the incompetence of the fraudsters and the blatant nature of the frauds.
"It would have been pleasant to conclude this judgment by saying that this had now all changed. "But I cannot. Despite the 2006 Act, the opportunities for easy and effective electoral fraud remain substantially as they were on 4 April, 2005."

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

Tuesday, March 18

More on Kosovo

An excellent article here. And says loads about where all the problems emanating from Kosovo's independence are landing. I quote:

  1. Two governments fell apart last week in neighbouring states: first in Serbia, the country from which the Kosovar Albanians broke away, and then in Macedonia, where the Albanian minority party walked out of the coalition government.
  2. Vladimir Putin is adamant self-determination in the style of Kosovo is a dreadful precedent: it is what Chechnya attempted in the 1990s, resulting in two devastating wars. Moscow's nightmare is that there might be further attempts at secession by other groups in the north Caucasus.
  3. Yet Russian politicians seem to be positively flirting with the idea of recognising Abkhazia's break with Georgia, as well as that of South Ossetia, another tiny rebellious part of the former Soviet republic that is practically on the Chechen border.
  4. For both Russia and the Nato allies, that should be a nightmare prospect. Nato members do not want to invite Georgia into the alliance with an unresolved conflict involving Russia. Abkhazia is also close to the hearts of many top Russians who have dachas on the coast. But Russia would not want a war just down the road from its Winter Olympics venue - intended to be a showcase of the new Russian economy. Reason suggests they should do a deal. The danger is they will blunder into a confrontation.

What stupidity, now the world has to pay and pay more for that extremely stupid decision to recognise Kosovo.

A great analysis on the danger of food price inflation

A great article here. I quote some extracts:

Most governments now agree that the astounding surge in food prices last year – the cost of food rose almost 40 per cent globally, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, and has continued to rise this year – is structural, meaning that prices will not retreat to former levels. This is because newly wealthy consumers in countries such as China and India, who can increasingly afford to improve their diets, as well as the biofuels industry, are expected to maintain a rapacious demand for basic food commodities such as wheat, corn and soyabeans.Agricultural commodity prices





























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A tale of two druggies

So we have two druggies in the headlines in the UK. The first is Dwayne Chambers who used performance enhancing drugs. He has been vilified, he has been told that he will never be at the top table, he has been told that his behaviour was unacceptable. And I think his ostracism has made an impact in the world of sport and it makes it clear that drug usage is bad, sad and would not be tolerated.

Compare that to Kate Moss, she is feted, she is welcomed, people want to rub up against her and she is actually getting better money and publicity after being outed as a druggie.

It is hypocritical. Disgusting.

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

Another school bites the dust in Pakistan

And more school-children are now stopped from attending their school after terrorists blew up another girls high school in Pakistan. Cannibals cannibalising their own, obviously they want the girls to study in the madrassahs and seminaries where they can be brainwashed into being nice little terrorist momma's. Here's one example of brainwashed bints. Here's also a good overview of the Pakistani Militant Women.

You see, if they are educated and smart, if they have the benefits of a secular modern education, then they generally would not participate in the plans of those howling medieval obscurantists.

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

Food riots and deaths in Egypt

As sadly predicted on this blog, the sharply rising cost of food stuff's is creating havoc in emerging markets. Here's an article which talks about it. I quote:

CAIRO - Sky-rocketing food prices in Egypt since the start of the year are being matched by a rumbling wave of popular discontent and unprecedented strikes and demonstrations.

The official annual inflation rate reached 12.5 percent in February, although the cost of foodstuffs including subsidised bread has risen by 26.5 percent over the past year, also according to official statistics.

The evolution of other staples is equally grim. Dairy products are up 20 percent, oil is up 40 percent. The Egyptian press publishes a list of rising costs, with some products up 122 percent since February 2007.

"And you have to remember that inflation is much higher than the figures put forward by the government," Ahmed al-Naggar, economist at Cairo's Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, told AFP.

The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme said this month that average household expenditure in Egypt had risen by 50 percent since the start of the year.

The government says that rising prices are attributable to the rising global cost of commodities such as flour, of which Egypt is one of the biggest importers.

The deepening crisis is accompanied by violence. Two people were killed this week when fighting erupted in a bread queue in the Cairo suburb of Helwan, a security source told AFP.

At least 70 people were killed when bread riots erupted in January 1977 after the government tried to reduce subsidies on the staple, of which Egyptians are the world's biggest consumers.

I again warn the United Nations and other worthies, better handle this, raise a point in the UNSC, this is now a world wide issue and before you get into serious geo-political trouble, better address this otherwise we are in deeper trouble.

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

More avoidable tragedy

On one hand, there is no government in Belgium and nothing happened. In another country which is a completely failed state, no government at all, we have a situation where such kind of instances happen. Kids playing with an old hand grenade and sadly, it exploded killing 3 children.

Nothing much can be done in the short term but I can mourn the death of those three young children and the bad wounding of the little girl. May Gods bless you and give you a better life next time.

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

Belgium forms government after 9 months - YAWN!

Seems like Belgium has finally decided to setup a government after 9 months of no government at all. Doesnt look like it has suffered much has it? And then talking about Brussels, it was voted as the most boring city in Europe.

Brussels, the capital of Europe, is the most boring city on the continent, despite its renown for its waffles, chocolates, and comic books, according to a survey of international travellers published on Wednesday (12 March).

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

South Africa's Conditional Universal Jurisdiction -- and Its Potential Effect on Zimbabwe

Now this is an interesting take on the ICC protocols, I always thought that the ICC is restricted to national boundaries and only to nationals of their own. But apparently, if you are present in any other country, including UK and South Africa, if you are a suspect in genocide or bad crimes, then you could well be arrested.

Very curious and very interesting indeed. I presume if this works, then Donald Rumsfeld will stop travelling to the UK? :) (Like what happened with the British police and the Israeli Army General, see here for more details)

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

Does Shariah mean the rule of law?

An interesting article from Noah Feldman but which curiously misses out many points which I would have thought he should have touched upon.

  • Individual rights primacy over group rights
  • rights of minorities
  • rights of women
  • ability to change
  • same punishment for same crime is not necessarily the same (specially if
    you are of a different minority)
  • Why would a liberal democratic originated jury based codified system
    should give way to a medieval system with all the problems given above?

All the problems Noah mentions are not problems with the current system. I am living in the here and now, and if I steal 5 p, then i would not get my hand cut off, but in some other places, that can happen. The problem is NOW, not 200 years ago, but then this article was a bit
confused in the thinking.

And the sad thing is, the silly archbishop which he mentiones, has had ancestors spend years, decades and centuries spreading a liberal legal system across the world where justice is blind and every body is treated equal, classical liberalism and overturned centuries of strange and bizarre imposition of laws. You notice how Noah Feldman doesn't talk about how Ibn Batuta had problems in every country he went to because he was trying to apply a harsh set of laws on
countries where there they did not apply.

So no, not impressed by the article at all, very confused, limited thinking and did a very poor job of explaining what Sharia was, is and applicability.

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

The identity of the STIG blown!

Its all the woman's fault for getting raped

Typically, I wouldnt have reacted to this piece of drivel but this bit caught my eye.

Burka-clad women in the public gallery yelled abuse at the judge — and one screamed that the victim was a prostitute.

Well, I cannot say much more than to say that women's greatest enemies seem to be their own ilk rather than the men. Very sad. Also see what I wrote earlier about women supporting female genital mutilation.

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

Monday, March 17

Some photo's from Auschwitz

Sad and horrifying photographs. Read and weep.

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What It's Like to Be a First-Time CIO

This article spoke to me, the author is one of the rare people who are honest in a C level suite and that's seriously rare. And yes, what he did simply makes sense but is not known commonly, seriously suggest reading the whole lot.

Editor's Note: Jason Scott joined Innovation Ads, a full-service online advertising agency, as its first-ever CIO on September 7, 2007. Scott, 31, had never held the CIO role before. Most recently, he ran IT for Corporate Express Imaging, a $450 million division of office products supplier Corporate Express. Scott started out as an administrative assistant in the IT department at Corporate Express Imaging when he was 20 and still in college. Over 10 years, he climbed the corporate ladder at Corporate Express only to realize that he'd have to leave the company if wanted to become a CIO.

Six Tips for Surviving Your First Ever CIO Job
1. Expect the unexpected.
2. Identify your go-to people. Seek out one or two members of the IT staff whom you can ask for advice and approach with questions about the company as you get up to speed.
3. Don't rely on your go-tos too much.
4. Trust your instincts, judgment and experience.
5. Read up on your new company, industry and any and all unfamiliar technologies your company is using.
6. Solve some small, visible problems within your first few weeks on the job to help build some momentum.
--M. Levinson

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

Burials more carbon intensive than cremations

Now here's a counter-intuitive result but which makes perfect sense once I have thought about it. Burials are more carbon intensive once you factor in all the costs related to maintaining a grave! I quote:

The study found it was better for people to be cremated, compared with the long-term impact of burials, even though four times as much carbon dioxide was produced during the initial cremation process. "On the day that a cremation or burial takes place, the volume of carbon dioxide produced is higher for cremation than for burial," Centennial Park chief executive Bryan Elliott said.
"The report found that each cremation at Centennial Park generates approximately 160kg of carbon dioxide equivalent. "Each burial at Centennial Park generates approximately 39kg of Co2. "However, when the long-term environmental footprint is considered, burials at Centennial Park have a 10 per cent greater impact than cremations. "This is because we must look after the gravesite for a number of years by watering and mowing the surrounding lawn area and maintaining the concrete beam on which the headstone is placed. "Burial is a more labour and resource intensive process, consumes more fuels and produces larger quantities of waste than cremation."

Although you could quibble about what all you can include in the cost, but it does make sense. We can keep graves for 75 years here in the UK (I think), now think of the costs and that is not even including the indirect foregone opportunity costs (of using the land for something else such as a hospital or a business...)

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

AL Queda opens new front in terrorism

first it was normal terrorism

then it was chemical terrorism

then biological terrorism

now its aurical terrorism

who is their patron saint? Saint Cacophonix

3/17/08Hussein, Retired Kuwaiti pop star joins al-Qaeda, 15 Mar 08, "The retired singer will soon appear in his new military outfit in Afghanistan, in a video expected soon on a website known to be affiliated with al-Qaeda extremists, according to the paper." There's a related video montage: "From superstar to Quran reciting"

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

Its all in the branding

I learnt this the hard way. Just producing the content is not enough, you have to find a place to publish the content and then make sure the presentation of the content is fine. Otherwise you are simply chopped liver. But here's an interesting joke on this issue


A woman, renewing her driver's license at the County Clerk 's office,
was asked by the woman recorder to state her occupation.

She hesitated, uncertain how to classify herself.

'What I mean is, ' explained the recorder,
'do you have a job or are you just a ...?'

'Of course I have a job,' snapped the woman.

'I'm a Mom.'

'We don't list 'Mom' as an occupation,

'housewife' covers it,'
Said the recorder emphatically.

I forgot all about her story until one day I found myself

in the same situation, this time at our own Town Hall.
The Clerk was obviously a career woman, poised,
efficient, and possessed of a high sounding title like,
'Official Interrogator' or 'Town Registrar.'

'What is your occupation?' she probed.

What made me say it? I do not know.
The words simply popped out.
'I'm a Research Associate in the field of
Child Development and Human Relations.'

The clerk paused, ball-point pen frozen in m midair and
looked up as though she had not heard right.

I repeated the title slowly emphasizing the most significant words.
Then I stared with wonder as my pronouncement was written,
in bold, black ink on the official questionnaire.

'Might I ask,' said the clerk with new interest,
'just what you do in your field?'

Coolly, without any trace of fluster in my voice,
I heard myself reply,
'I have a continuing program of research,
(what mother doesn't)
In the laboratory and in the field,
(normally I would have said indoors and out).
I'm working for my Masters, (first the Lord and then the whole family)
and already have four credits (all daughters).
Of course, the job is one of the most demanding in the humanities,
(any mother care to disagree?)
and I often work 14 hours a day, (24 is more like it).
But the job is more challenging than most run-of-the-mill careers

and the rewards are more of a satisfaction rather than just money.'

There was an increasing note of respect in the clerk's voice as she
completed the form, stood up, and personally ushered me to the door.

As I drove into our driveway, buoyed up by my glamorous new career,
I was greeted by my lab assistants -- ages 13, 7, and 3.
Upstairs I could hear our new experimental model,
(a 6 month old baby) in the child development program,
testing out a new vocal pattern.
I felt I had scored a beat on bureaucracy!
And I had gone on the official records as someone more

distinguished and indispensable to mankind than 'just another Mom.'


What a glorious career!
Especially when there's a title on the door.

Does this make grandmothers
'Senior Research associates in the field of Child Development and Human Relations'
And great grandmothers
'Executive Senior Research Associates?'
I think so!!!
I also think it makes Aunts '

Associate Research Assistants.'

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

Robert Fisk: The cult of the suicide bomber

Quite an interesting article here. Where Robert Fisk talks about the cult of the suicide bombers in Lebanon. If I understood him correctly, there is a vast surge of young Muslim men who are ready to go about blowing themselves up, mainly targeting other muslims (some non-muslims, Americans and Brits are also caught up but that seems to be incidental...). And also, if I understood his reasoning, it is because USA/UK attacked Iraq and Afghanistan.

That might very well be the case. But here's something for you to chew upon. If the Americans and British withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, will this genie go back into the lamp? Nope. So what now? What exactly can be done to address this problem? I look forward to Fisk's next book for the answer :)

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

Sunday, March 16

Charting circulation declines at U.S. dailies

Now this is further corroboration on what I have been bellowing about, that the new media is changing the old media. I quote the figures:

PAPER -- Daily (M-F) Sept. '07 - Copies, Gained/Lost Since Sept. 03-- % Change

USA Today -- 2,293,137 -- 46,141 -- 2.1%
The Wall Street Journal -- 2,011,882 -- (-79,180) -- (-3.8%)
The New York Times -- 1,037,828 -- (-80,737) -- (-7.2%)
Los Angeles Times*   -- 794,705 -- (-201,133) -- (-20.2%)
New York Daily News -- 681,415 -- (-47,709) -- (-6.5%)

New York Post -- 667,119 -- 14,693 -- 2.3%
The Washington Post -- 635,087 -- (-97,785) -- (-13.3%)
Chicago Tribune -- 559,404 -- (-54,105) -- (-8.8%)
Houston Chronicle* -- 502,631 -- (-50,387) -- (-9.1%)
Newsday -- 387,503 -- NA

The Arizona Republic*, Phoenix -- 385,214 -- (-47,070) -- (-10.9%)
The Dallas Morning News -- 373,586 -- NA
San Francisco Chronicle -- 365,234 -- (-147,406) -- (-28.8%)
The Boston Globe -- 360,695 -- (-89,843) -- (-19.9%)
The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J. -- 353,003 -- (-55,669) -- (-13.6%)

The Philadelphia Inquirer -- 338,049 -- (-38,444) -- (-10.2%)
Star Tribune*, Minneapolis -- 341,645 -- (-38,709) -- (-10.2%)
The Plain Dealer*, Cleveland -- 332,894 -- (-32,394) -- (-8.9%)
Detroit Free Press -- 320,125 -- (-32,589) -- (-9.2%)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- 318,350 -- (-64,071) -- (-16.8%)

Notice one thing? only the tabloids are showing positive increase in circulation, all the high brow newspapers are down.

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Swedish dads steer clear of paternity leave

This is quite curious, why on earth would you steer clear of paternity leave? I would have leapt at the very idea of spending months on end with my little babies when they were born. But not so in the case of the Swedes. I quote:

Swedish fathers enjoy one of the most generous paternity leave policies in the world but few dads take advantage of the opportunity, with mothers in gender-equal Sweden still leading the charge in childcare.

Fathers take on average only 20 percent of the 16 months of paid parental leave offered in Sweden to either mums or dads, according to Statistics Swede—a skimpy average that has sparked a broad debate over how to encourage more fathers to take the paid time off and reduce inequalities in the home.

"You have to ask yourself what it is that pushes most women to stay at home, and one of the reasons is that the person who earns the most is often the one who is going to stay at work," Sweden's Gender Equality Minister Nyamko Sabuni told AFP.
Women are over-represented in low-income jobs, such as teachers or nurses, and on average earn 84 percent of the average male salary, according to Statistics Sweden.

There you go, you got the answer, economics again, people want to get more money and whoever earns less (in this case women) gets to stay at home while daddy (who presumably earns more) gets to go to work.

Access to Credit should be recognised as human right

This post made me think. Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus of microcredit fame has said that access to credit should be recognised as a human right. Now, there are two aspects to this argument

1. That the state has a right or a duty to provide credit to its citizens which is something that I do not agree with. This habit of looking to the Government for everything and handouts is wrong. This is at par with the argument that there is a fundamental human right to employment. No, there is no human right to employment. Nobody owes you anything for employment, that is your own responsibility. That is not to say that people who are clearly unable to work should not be helped (such as physically disabled...) but generally, there is no right to work. Similarly, there is no right to credit or even access to credit. But the flip side is true and more on that at the bottom

2. That credit is the only thing which is stopping people from leading economically productive lives which is again debatable. Just having the credit available does not mean that people will take the credit and suddenly become entrepreneurs. That is not necessary, to be economically active, you can rely on somebody else having credit, or loaning out credit or relying on your own energy and being self sufficient.

But overall, it does make sense not because of the call for the right but because what I know that poor people are poor because of governments and not despite them. Governments actively connive in removing access to credit to their citizens. That is actually true. Let us look at the ways it is done. First by giving subsidies and deficit financing, they soak up funds in the market which can be given as credit to needy people.

Second by having inefficient means (such as corruption, bureaucracy, etc. ) even well meaning ways of passing on credit are bad (such as rural work schemes or forcing state owned banks to make loans cheaply such as in Iran). Third is by not having good land and other asset registries (like patent systems) or good land based infrastructure (such as rural markets, good deep secondary patent and land markets, good legal systems where land and asset rights can be protected, exchange and markets where these can be traded..... (see for example, work done by Hernando de Soto)

But, food for thought indeed! Giving people credit is a laudable aim and Governments can do worse than do that. Specially for countries like Iran, Bangladesh and India, the dead hand of the state has to be removed or at least made efficient in asset discovery and credit generation.

But then, remember that you CAN go too far. For example, see this. Well, you have a very simple way of getting credit, just send a text message and in 15 minutes, about $500 will land in your account. And when credit is that easy, it creates problems on the other side. I quote, "Swedish authorities, who are so concerned about the out-of-control debt build-up among some young and low-income Swedes that they in January banned interest payments superior to the cost of the initial loan.The main danger of the new lending system is that it gives people "the possibility to get money very, very quickly, which is stimulating impulsive actions without thinking," Also lets not forget the sub prime crisis where funds were lent to people who were clearly unable to repay the loans

So yes, credit should be available but not too easily.