Saturday, May 31

World Aids Day - some discrepancies

I am watching that admirable man, Nelson Mandela on TV, with his AIDS charity 46664 holding a concert on the occasion of World Aids Day. Quite an interesting global effort to drive solutions on this disease, but again, I am a bit curious about  which diseases get global attention and which do not. For example, see here. The graph of projected global deaths from various selected diseases on page 12 shows that cancers, heart diseases and strokes deaths are higher than AIDS. Another interesting factoid:

The total number of tobacco attributable deaths is projected to rise from 5.4 million in 2005 to 6.4 million in 2015 and to 8.3 million in
2030. Tobacco is projected to kill 50% more people in 2015 than HIV/AIDS and to be responsible for 10% of all deaths.

So you don't really get the same kind of attention to tobacco deaths across the world as you get for AIDS, do you? I suppose this is what is called as the diseases of affluence syndrome. Or is this because AIDS is more "sexy" than say "dysentery"? which kills more? See this (Annex Table 3). This shows how the deaths pan out in various regions by cause. Then map how many "World ???? Days" do you see against that mortality list. Curious, no?

Another couple of points for which I do not have any facts or figures but just struck me. Why there is more western media attention paid to AIDS in Africa compared to AIDS in say India?.

And another discrepancy, at the concert in Johannesburg, most of the attendees seemed to be white in colour. I am not sure why that was the case. Bit puzzling that.

All this is nothing to take away from the fact that AIDS needs to be fought, but wearing my economist hat, I am curious why resources are being invested in diseases which, prima facie, show lesser returns). I wonder if there is any kind of resource modelling aspect around? Then again, World AIDS Day is more "sexy" than World Dysentery Day??

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Tax Sensitivity in Electronic Commerce

I have talked previously about taxation on the internet. But there is quite a lot of underlying sensitivities and economics around what is the optimal level of taxation so that you do not kill the golden goose by over taxing the transactions. Here's an example of a paper which delves deeper into this issue.

Generally speaking, if you have high sales tax locally, then people will shop online more (solely based upon the situation in the USA, other countries levy online sales tax). It is a big issue, I quote:

Bruce and Fox (2001), using the concepts from these studies, estimate the annual revenue loss from business to consumer (B2C) commerce alone to be between $1.7 billion and $2.6 billion. Furthermore, each study predicts continued growth in state revenue losses in the future as the number of Internet users increases.

The author finds that actually, the tax sensitivity is not that high as previously thought. I quote further results:

Further analysis based on a splined tax rate indicates that only those facing the highest tax rates are still sensitive to rate changes. I also find that users who have been online for many years are significantly more sensitive to changes in the tax rate than are new adopters. Finally, including broadband and security variables in the model does not improve the significance

this is interesting. As it so happens, the only people who seems to be sensitive to local tax changes are those who are well experienced with the internet and/or are higher tax payers. Unfortunately, this is fairly typical in western societies, the people who really need to care about their financial situations (generally the people at the lower end of the scale) dont. So perhaps the fact that the government is stepping in to remove taxation is helping the consumers on their behalf. But that doesn't remove the problem of the slowly reducing tax income of the states. They have to think about a better way to handle this kind of issue of income shortfall. Perhaps a form of value added tax?

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Suicide bomber falls down stairs ...

(Perky, enthusiastic, arrogant suicide bomber) Hi, I am here for the 72 virgins.

(bored bureaucrat Gabriel) Say what?

(very self righteously, looking around for applause and appreciation) Oh!, you don’t know me. I am the latest suicide bomber, I am a martyr, and I am here to claim my 72 virgins.

(muttering, poxy gits, cant even let a man drink his mint tea in peace) Wait a sec, let me check the records.

(impatient and slightly unsure about the 72 naked girls who will drape over himself soon but covering it with arrogance) Sure, but come on, get a move on, I want to get to my virgins who must be panting away for me.

(apologetic) Ummm, there seems to be a problem. Looks like you actually did not die in a martyrdom operation but just blew yourself up after falling down stairs. I do not remember anything in the by-laws about giving virgins to people who fall down stairs and blow themselves up.

(gobsmacked, outraged!)What do you mean there is no bylaws? Sure there is, it is all about the niyaat. I wanted to blow up some kids, policemen and some teachers in the greater glory of god. It was those mean Zionists who supplied bad cement to the infidel republic of Afghanistan and that caused the stairs to have crumble. It was not my fault.

(trying to calm the chap down with reference to rules) I am sorry, mate, but if we started to give out 72 virgins to everybody who died in an accident, then we will run out of the virgins. You know our actuaries actually plan to have the relevant number of virgins in stock based upon our mortality tables of suicide bombers.

(collapse of confidence in front of rules and technical talk, appeals to universal brotherhood) Come on, brother, I do deserve it, I was a nice chap, see? I even put khol around my eyes.

(bureaucrat points to the human element and being reasonable) I realise that you are good looking but I have a responsibility towards the virgins as well. How do you think they will feel when they are at the beauty parlour getting their armpits fixed and then their neighbour leans over and says, “Hi, welcome, you must be news, my suicide bomber killed 12 children and 4 soldiers. How about you?” what will your virgins say? “well, ummm, ah, he sort of injured 2 stair steps and 3 people”. And then burst into tears. Between you and me, mate, these virgins are very temperamental, they want proper terrorists, not somebody who had an accident with some stairs.

(looking very disappointed by this time). But cant I claim the 3 injured people?

(patiently refers to rule book) Ah, no, my clumsy friend, you cannot claim accidentally injured people. See? By law 2.34.5 sub-section 3 clearly says that collateral accidental damage must be done in close proximity not exceeding 23 meters from the original main target.

But hey (perks up), I even made a martyrdom video!. Surely, the virgins would like to be with somebody who has made a movie?

(Shock / Horror as he stands up in a rush overturning the chair) You made a video? Do you not realise that making a video is haram? You are not allowed to represent a living being because Allah will ask you to recreate it on judgement day and when you cannot do so, then you will have to spend the rest of eternity in hell.

(withdraws hastily). It was not my fault, it was the fault of those Arab Taliban mullah’s, they told me to do this. They said that they have a fatwa from some fellow.

(glares). So you go about listening to anybody who says anything and don’t read the quran yourself? No wonder you fell down the stairs.

(near tears by this time). Please, Sir, I realise I made a mistake in making that video, but none of it was my fault. It was the Arabs, Americans, Zionists, Infidels, apostates and all who made me do all that and not fulfil my holy mission.

(still very upset) I do not care, this is not good. I have a good mind to send an inter-office memo to the office of Arabs Affairs.

(gingerly but curiously). The Arabs have their own office? What about Afghans?

(gets distracted). Of course, rest of the world are just fine, we just have to deal with the normal run of the mill human problems. But gosh, the Arabs need special attention. Why do you think I appeared in Saudi Arabia in the middle of a desert? And not in say Mauritius or in Helsinki? So yes, they need special attention. I am here in the rest of the world office on deputation, I got tired of handling them.

(whining). But Sir, cant anything be done for me?

(mollified by all the whining and now just wishing to get back to his mint tea) Well, I do have 2 slightly used shop soiled virgins. The last batch had a bit of water damage from a leak in the warehouse and we didn’t catch it in time. I was going to send them back but if you are ok with some slightly cranky homaresses of virgins, I can give them to you.

(bit relieved), well I will take them. Hang on, what do you mean, last batch? When was this last batch received?

(basilisk stare after raising head from filling up the form). Why? 1400 years ago. What is your problem with 1400 year old virgins? Nobody else had a problem with 1400 year old virgins ever before.

(hastily) no no, no problems, Sir, glad to take them (accepts the signed approval form)

(airily waves over to the next window). Go to Tariq over there with the form. He will issue you the heavenly clothes, the vouchers for the beauty parlour and the checkout forms for the virgin warehouse.

(Goes back to his mint tea, muttering) the very cheek, wanting 72 virgins for injuring 2 stairs. What’s next? Wanting 72 virgins for writing an op-ed or blog post?


News Story

Who speaks for Muslim women?

This is a curious blog-post which TBS chucked over to me. We have our differences over these three ladies that the post mentions, Asra, Ayaan and Irshad. I have written about Asra Nomani. Well, the post refers to two other women, namely, Ingrid Mattson and second is Zarqa Nawaz. I have heard of those two ladies definitely. But I think there are few questions came to mind.

  1. Why do Muslim Women need spokesmen (pun intended)?  (Compare to Hindu or Jewish or Christian women). I dont know much about the Christian or Jewish role models or spokespersons of today but thinking about it, I have never heard of anybody who is a purely Hindu female spokesperson. We have had spokespersons who spoke for Hindu Women like Raja Ram Mohon Roy. We have had Hindu Females who were leaders ranging from Indira Gandhi to Mayawati, but I never got the feeling that they were speaking purely for women. I have to admit that I dont know much about this area so am willing to be corrected, but boy, oh! boy, as soon as you talk about Muslim women, there are absolutely legions and battalions of men and women who form up to speak on their behalf. Curious, no?
  2. How do we decide on who speaks for whom? See my previous post on who is the best judge.
  3. Do you need to be outside the fold to speak about the fold or inside the fold? (abused women - do they escape the abusive household first or do they stay inside and try to reform the bad husband)
  4. Who are the other ladies in the west that are being followed? I mean, if Asra, Ayman and Irshad are on the far left of the scale, Ingrid and Zarqa are sort of in the middle, who is on the right? Yvonne Ridley? I have to admit that I find Yvonne Ridley a bit of a clown, but hey, she wears a hijab and says all the right things I guess that all Muslims like to hear, no? But she still does not have a following (i hope she doesnt!) How about Farhat Hashmi? Or Raheel Raza? (See my book review here.  And and and?
  5. Looking at the comment given below, you can see immediately how two identities are colliding. Women generally look at these 3 ladies as ladies first and all women as women first. Obviously, the author of the post looks at herself and others as Muslims first and women second.
  6. All reformers face resistance. So the fact that these 3 women's are feeling resistance is not a problem at all. I mean, look at Jesus, how many Jews took up his call? Christ, they even helped to crucify him (just kidding and punning!). Or talking about meeting resistance, even Prophet Mohammad met resistance all through his life. Very few followed him for a very long period of time, no?
  7. At end of the day, what seems to be the problem is if somebody gets money and/or publicity which seems to be a problem. I am not very sure why that is a problem. I mean, this criticism seems to be driven more by jealousy than anything that is logical. For example, what exactly is wrong with earning money? It is not like we do not have examples of preachers and mullah's who do exactly the same thing for money, going on TV, banging on and on about how to be a good Muslim and earning quite a lot of dosh for that (see the above example of Farhat Hashmi). Nothing wrong with getting publicity or getting money is there? Until and unless you are a socialist or an introvert, in which case, the problem is economic philosophical or emotional, neither of which applies in this case.
  8. And at end of the day, I am curious why people rush to judgement to that extent specially when it comes from a religiously mandated angle. I mean, if it is indeed religiously driven, then should not they believe in "Narrated Umar Ibn Al-Khattab: "Allah's Apostle said, "The reward of deeds depends upon the intention and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended." And its even in Bukhari Volume 5, Book 58, Number 238!. So this judging of niyaat is curious to say the least. (On a separate basis, this bloody publishing of Hadith's for the same author has to be fixed, somebody says that Hadith is Book 1, number 1, somebody says its 5, 58, 238, somebody says 86, 85, someone says, 1, 2, 51. etc. Go ahead, search the net.

Still, some strange questions indeed.

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Has the internet increased exports for firms from low and middle-income countries?

We know globalisation has always been driven by technology. Better technology, better communications. Whether we are talking about the bronze age to the telegraph to the internet, with each jump in technology, globalisation has improved and extended.

Globalisation can be defined as increased communications, increased trade, increased resource transfers, increased knowledge, etc. on a global basis. And people do complain about globalisation mucking up the poor. Is that true? One way of answering this question is to ask whether the internet has improved exports for lower and middle income countries. This is, of course, assuming that the internet drives globalisation, which I am saying it does.

This paper checks this hypothesis and finds "a strong correlation between exporting and internet access at the enterprise level. Moreover, this correlation remains after controlling factors that might affect both exports and internet connectivity and self-selectivity".

The authors check eastern European and central Asian republics as their sample countries and most importantly, use firm level data rather than country level data (as country level data can be skewed by few very larger firms). The authors found that the firms having internet connectivity export more than firms who did not. But before you get all excited and get everybody hooked up to the internet, the authors also found that non-internet firms which already exported did not show more exports when they did get connected to the net.

But conscious of the fact that correlation does not mean causality, they further generate regression models and determine that even after controlling for various factors, the link between exports and net access is strong thereby giving credence to the fact that if you get net access, your exports will start at worst and improve at best.

So overall, it does seem to be prudent for Governments interested in pushing for better export performance to improve internet access and penetration rates across the country. Also for globalisation opponents, it might be worthwhile for them to consider the plus's of their argument as well.

I was a bit disappointed with the selection of sample countries, I would have preferred if they had added some of the lesser developed countries from Latin America and Africa but I suppose data availability was the challenge.


George R.G. Clarke, Has the internet increased exports for firms from low and middle-income countries, Information Economics and PolicyVolume 20, Issue 1, , March 2008, Pages 16-37.
Many commentators have suggested that the internet is one of the forces driving globalization. This paper assesses one aspect of these claims, looking at whether internet access appears to affect the export performance using data from enterprises in low and middle-income economies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The paper finds a strong correlation between exporting and internet access at the enterprise level. Moreover, this correlation remains after controlling factors that might affect both exports and internet connectivity and self-selectivity.
Keywords: Internet; Development; Exports

The problem of conversion, can you be Danish and Muslim at the same time?

The fact that Immigrant Muslims and native Europeans are at loggerheads is not in doubt. Just look at the current huge hoo-haa around the Archbishop's silly statement. The Muslims are firmly noted as the "other" and this is across most of the countries in Europe. Specially in Denmark, where the feeling is much stronger than other countries (it has even elected clearly racist parliamentarians!). But what about the native Danes who covert to Islam? I got some very interesting clues from this paper.

Converts are seen as dangerous and possible traitors because (1) they have abandoned the Lutheran Protestantism and (2) they violate the unspoken rule of not showing their religion in public by wearing veils, praying at work, using different language, etc..

I would have thought that conversion would not show up that dramatically but apparently it does. The author talks about women changing clothing by wearing the veil, changing names, growing beards (for men that is), wearing different headgear, changing social locations such as pubs and churches to mosques etc. Estimates run from 2100-2800 Danes who have converted over the past 3 decades.

So why did they convert? Well, reasons range from a religious quest, search for the meaning of life, identification with the "other", rebellion against the common, and identification with the downtrodden/oppressed Muslims, identification with Islam as opposed to materialism, capitalism and modernity.

An interesting if unrelated joke point about this illness which converts seem to face called as convertitis and I quote, "which is at the same time an allusion to the generally assumed pathological nature of the conversion and a partial affirmation of this....The newly converted often exhibit a so-called fanaticism with their new religion, which is expressed in very ritualised behaviour such as only wearing Islamic dress and a preoccupation with the Islamic rules of what is haram ('forbidden') and halal ('allowed') - of doing things 'right'. This often leads to ironic situations where converts repudiate people who are born Muslims for not doing things in 'the right way' or not living up to what is defined as being 'Muslim'..

But all jokes have a kernel of truth. Converts who are going down the Islam route to find God usually end up in the Sufi or spiritualist camp. The other way is the literalist way and it shows itself with a pre-occupation with rules and regulations, it involves huge amounts of fixations and unquestioned beliefs and relates more to the Salafi or Hizb-ut-Tahrir type of fundamentalist school.

But when asked about their conversion and the path to/following conversion. Converts frequently talk about conversion as a love story which is very beautiful to hear personally. I quote,

This is especially reflected in the many cases that involve the relationship to a Muslim man or woman, where physical love conflates with metaphysical and spiritual love, both initiating identical processes of radicalism and transformation. It can also be seen in the various metaphors of love used to describe the conversion process, such as in the phrase 'Allah opened my heart to Islam', as well as other terms revolving around religiosity and conversion like 'submission', 'surrender', 'attraction', 'fascination', 'admiration', seduction', and 'willingness'.

But the converts are usually very hesitant to talk about their relationships with Muslims of immigrant background and would prefer to keep it secret. Why? I quote, "The avoidance of talking about one's often intimate interactions with people who belong to the immigrant minority population seems to be related to converts' reproduction of a public discourse that associates Islam with alienation, forming an enemy image that threatens Danish society"

Seems like there is serious psychological trauma involved, with converts being deeply defensive or offensive when asked about their conversions. Awkwardness and defiance is frequent on one end while on the other end, out and out rebellion is visible. Curiously, while some Dane converts have consciously and totally rejected Danish culture (as defined by pork eating, alcohol drinking sexual promiscuity...), others have not and say that they dont see any harm in being Danish and Muslim.

Family reaction seem to be a major factor in conversion, and there is unfortunately and sadly far too much family breakdown after conversion. But that just means that after conversion, the relationship to the original family breaks down and a new relationship with the "others" begins.

There is an amusing interlude about how a convert woman removed the legs of the sofa because her Muslim Husband did not like to sit on tall sofa's but then made it taller by padding it up by cushions and padding. But seems like converts then take on the racial overtones that is common, for example, referring (in a bad way) to "Arabs".

Religious observances such as Iftar during Ramadan being celebrated in the way they used to celebrate Danish Christmas (without, obviously with the church bits) with the same kind of food, discussions, drinks, etc. And in the end, integration proceeds quietly. Quite a sensitive and interesting paper, very well written without prejudice or discrimination on this small minority in steadily and increasingly Islamaphobic Denmark.

JO - Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Routledge, Jensen, Tina Gudrun, To Be ‘Danish’, Becoming ‘Muslim’: Contestations of National Identity? 1369-183X, 2008, 34, 3, 389-409
AB - This article discusses the relationship between national, ethnic and religious identities as embodied by so-called ethnic Danes who convert to Islam. The point of departure is the constructed polarisation between Islam and the West. The article explores how converts experience their apparently contradictory identities as ‘Danish’ and ‘Muslim’. Identity is dealt with as processes of both difference and similarity, whereby the constructions of ‘self’ as ‘same’ and ‘other’ as ‘different’ are questioned. In exploring the space between ‘self’ and ‘other’ among Danish converts, it is argued that they negotiate their identities as both Danish and Muslims by engaging in an ideological struggle over otherwise commonsense meanings. This process opens a space for re-making identity by connecting relations between these identities, which are otherwise perceived as having nothing in common.


FDI causes child labour, yes? Wrong!

It is almost a truism in the modern day and age that FDI is bad, and one ways that it shows up is that it causes child labour. What nobody see's is the impact on the child itself (see here for an interesting email discussion that I partook in). Blame the foreigner for making our children work, while we are quite happy to have children work as servants or not to provide any other economic way to allow the children to actually study. But its better to kick out the foreign investor, no?

But here's a study which checks what is the impact of FDI on child labour. The authors find that FDI is negatively correlated with child labour and even after controlling for per capita income, the effect totally disappears. Nothing, no impact, zilch, zero, nada.

Another very interesting conclusion that the authors come to is and I quote, "A key policy implication of this finding is that policies that increase the income effects of FDI may be especially useful in combating child labour. Such policies include payroll tax reductions that encourage multinationals to increase employment and wages. Thus, rather than interpreting these findings as an indication that FDI has no effect on child labour, we believe that our results point towards the need for nuanced policy that exploits these indirect effects."

This was a very curious conclusion to draw. I can understand concluding that dont swear at FDI, guys, if nothing, there is no relationship to child labour at all. But why talk about income effects? How will reducing payroll taxes actually help improve child labour? Well, the fact remains that child labour exists because of a variety of factors, not least because their parents are not gainfully employed. Get their parents into employment and you will lop off a very large number of children having to work. Which parent would want to see their children work when they could be playing and studying? But, all those payroll taxes do is to make it difficult to increase employment.

Ronald B. Davies and Annie Voy, The Effect of FDI on Child Labor, Journal of Development Economics In Press. 

The role of gender and beauty in economics

We know that being beautiful helps in the workplace, yes? Or rather, if you are ugly (like me), then you face problems. Also, if you are a male (also like me, but that gets washed out because of the ugliness, see above), you benefit. So appearances do matter. But has anybody delved deeper into this? This paper has.

What they did was to create an experiment where they controlled various variables around the contribution by each member, gender, relative attractiveness, and that of the group. They found, when performance is not known to the respondents, they tended to reward beauty and females. So as long as you are in a group, then the eyes will normally fall to the beautiful females. On the other hand, when performance is known (even when it is the same) the female premium vanishes. The author's point to 3 factors behind this result.

  1. relative beauty is rewarded. So if you are attractive compared to others, then you will get more money. As as simple as that. If you are butt ugly, then you will get peanuts. 12% is the premium, and that's a huge amount! And this seems to be because you expect beautiful people to be more cooperative. But if you then let the respondents know about their individual contributions, the weight of defeated expectations actually works against the attractive people. So the lesson is, get dressed well and put on make up, but dont let anybody know about your salary.
  2. Second, women earn 7% more than men when individual contributions are not known. Simply because we think that women are more helpful! This is also because attractiveness seems to play a bigger part in the case of women compared to men!
  3. But this disappears when contributions are known, and the payoff for men is a startling 15%.

I quote a line from their conclusion: The most striking result from this research is that, on average, men and women did not behave very differently, and attractive people did not behave appreciably differently than unattractive people. Nonetheless, beauty and gender had significant effects on earnings. This happened because beauty and gender affect the way people were treated by others.

It is quite interesting how people behave to stereotypes. Now if you are a manager, you need to think about how to manage these bias's inside yourself, while if you are an employee (male or female), you need to make sure that you look attractive. And if you are female, enhance your visible contributions if in an open group. If you are male, stop ogling those attractive women!.

The triumph of Christianity in the Roman empire: An economic interpretation

What a fascinating paper. Imagine trying to use economic models to describe how Christianity moved from being a sect to a religion in the Roman Empire? You see, the author tries to explain and understand how a religion which started off being exclusive became open to all while on the other hand, became very doctrinarian and dictatorial about theology.

So being open as well as rigid at the same time, and how did that help in making the success of the religion in a relatively short period of time? Also, why did all the theological debates around 320AD break out at the same time across a wide variety of countries ranging from Egypt to Asia Minor? The answer can be found in the rational choice theory and the author applies it to the fight between paganism and Christianity.

You see, there was never a question of conversion in Greek or Roman times, you can switch from one deity to another, no problems, as long as you are ok with the Roman Religion (see the parallels with today's secular regimes?). So what did Christianity bring to the table, so to say? and I have to give a lenghty quote here because this is the crucial bit.

Modern historical research ([Harnack, 1908], [Nock, 1933], [Bardy, 1949], [Latourette, 1954] and [MacMullen, 1984]) has shown that the Christian message made converts because it promised individual spiritual salvation, made this promise credible by a unity of doctrine and organization founded on books embodying God's revelation to humankind, and backed this long-term promise with a short-term network of mutual protection and charity that paid tangible benefits to members. Christianity asked of its converts a complete renunciation of all other cults and “insurances” against misfortune and an uncompromising break with the religious traditions that had seemingly made the Roman state the greatest power to date. Against these heavy costs, however, were to be set the benefits of spiritual salvation and material within-group security. These benefits would become especially valuable when the old order appeared to be incapable of further guaranteeing the security and prosperity it had prided itself of for centuries, as happened in the third century.

Its when political dislocation occurred that Christianity took root as paganism was not able to satisfy the Roman's (and that's broadly defined as all members of the Roman empire, not just the inhabitants of current Rome or Italy) ecumenical and spiritual needs.

The author talks about how the Jews were quite heavily involved in proselytisation at that time and how the Christians had to break away from being just another Jewish cult or salvation group and they used the unique theological basis of Jesus, his life, his incarnation and re-incarnation to produce clear blue water between the Jewish and Pagan practices. But this, in the initial cases, was restricted to only few members, admission was very carefully controlled. This could therefore keep the doctrine clean and controlled within a controlled group of people.

But if it had to grow, it had to throw open the doors to outsiders and that would mean that the doctrines would be exposed to different interpretations and then it would again dribble away into sectarianism at worst or paganism at best. So, the compromise that was drawn, and perfectly economically based, was that they threw open the doors but closed the doors on doctrine such as the Council of Nicaea. I quote:

Finally, first imperial favor and subsidization of the church, then disestablishment and financial starving of pagan cults, and lastly the lifting of Christianity up to the rank of official religion of the state under Theodosius in the 390's, with the accompanying proscription of all non-Christian cults, solved the church's problem of adverse selection in recruitment. By disrupting the traditional public cults of the literate upper classes and thereby lowering their opportunity cost of joining in, the church was able to sustain its huge organizational growth.

The author then creates an economic model to predict this movement (see beginning equation and graph) which shows how Christianity moved from sect to an universal church modelling the relationships between benefits of being a pagan versus Christian, the membership conundrum and equilibrium points. He concludes that the rise of Christianity was not a historical accident or an inevitable occasion but a perfectly logical and economic choice made by Romans of that time.

But this does not explain how Christianity dribbled away in Europe nor how Secularism arose from the basic tenets of Christianity. Or how it is arising in USA. Or how its flourishing in Latin America, Africa and Asia? Or how it arose via missionaries in the European imperial times in countries as wide ranging as India to Madagascar?

Or why it did not take root in China, India, or Japan? In particular, why did it not take root in these 3 countries which will, arguably, have the most pagan religions of all (Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism and perhaps Animism as well?). Mind you, it is perfectly rational for conversion to happen in these countries. Whether it is because of fear, or economic benefits or peer pressure, generally, you can boil this idea of adopting another religion down to economic factors. As for why you continue in that religion is a different matter and for future research.

This paper offers an economic interpretation of Christianity's transformation from sect to universal religion in the Roman empire. It first points out paganism's apparent inability to provide individual security in times of distress, such as the third century C.E., as a reason for the increasing demand for monotheism. It then reviews Christianity's monotheistic competitors and points out the reasons why they lost out. Next, it addresses the Christian church's choice between exclusive membership and open access to all applicants on the day of its triumph and shows, by means of a cooperative model, that open access and universal membership were a superior policy if coupled with doctrinal radicalization. Finally, it analyzes the theological controversies of the fourth and fifth centuries by means of a Hotelling-type linear spatial model of doctrinal strictness ranging from paganism to Judaism, and traces the theological choices that were made back to the church's need to distance itself from its potential competitors.

Shifting borders and shifting sands

You must have seen this picture many times:

As an amateur historian, I am always curious about the boundaries and how history is framed. For example, the first photo establishes a state called as Palestine in 1946 which sort of puzzled me because there was an Ottoman Empire then and not a country known as Palestine. Mind you, there wasnt a state called as Israel either before 1948! If one thinks about Zionism as a driver, then this should go back to centuries and millennium. But as an ideology, you can go back to 1882 when the immigration started. But the immigration went into the Ottoman Empire and not into a state called as Palestine.

On the other hand, you can then draw the Palestinian parallels to the Philistines. You can also legitimately argue that the Roman state unit called as Palaestina created after they defeated the Jews was one of the ancestors of current day Palestine.

Now if I go back a bit further, you can see where the challenge comes from. Look here at how the Roman Empire grew and shrunk over hundreds of years. 

Obviously, the latter part of the presentation talks about the Byzantine empire and how it got taken over by the Ottoman Empire and then the Ottoman Empire then disintegrated into various countries just like the Roman Empire did. Borders shift all the time when seen from a distance. See more here for Ethiopia.

But this was even more interesting, how do you look at the Persian Empire? They also ruled over vast swathes of the Middle East. Did you know, the bastion of Sunni thought, Al Azhar, was actually founded by a Shia empire? Curious, no? Check out the Middle East changes here.

How about the Armenians? See their history here. How about Kosovo? It has had a long history and how there is talk about it seceding from Serbia. And as soon as it does, it will be recognised by the USA and UK. And when it does, a huge spear called as hypocrisy will go through almost every political structure.

If Kosovo can be independent, why cant Palestine be? Or Northern Cyprus? Or Kurdistan in Turkey? Or Eastern Shia in Saudi Arabia? Or Baluchistan in Pakistan? Or Kashmir in India? Or Southern Thailand? Or Darfur from Sudan? The basic principle is the same no?

But over the long view, you can see how boundaries rise and change.

Muslim Children education in India

I came across these two articles on the education of Muslim children in India. First one talks about the % of Muslim children educated in madrassah's being only 4%. The fact that the children are being educated in a madrassah is not the problem. Why would religious education be a problem when Christian Covent education or Hindu Ekal Vidyalaya education isn't?

The challenge that comes is from the lack of modern subjects in the madrassah curriculum but that will take much longer to overcome. Where are you going to get the teachers from? These are tiny schools in tiny villages and places where there is no public schools. If you have a graduate who has knowledge of science, mathematics, arts, etc. etc., you need to wonder why on earth would he become a teacher there?

So the economics are not right and that is why you have the problem of ghost schools or no attendance at government schools as well. But as long as you dont have howling bigots emerging from these religious schools, that's fine, nothing wrong with providing a religious and moral education to the young chaps.

The second article talks about the % of Muslim children enrolled in primary classes (presumably public government schools). I quote:

During 2006-07, only 9.38% Muslims were enrolled in primary classes in the country and only 7.62% at upper primary level.

Best case scenario? that 9.38%+4% means 13.38% of Muslim children are getting some kind of education. If there is a worst case scenario, then all the children who go to a madrassah also go to a public school, then the % is 9.38%. If I compare this to the overall net enrolments rate (and yes, I realise that there is a heroic assumption behind this that the 2 numbers are the same, all I am referring to is that they are similar!), we get to a net figure of 92% for males and 87% for females for 200-2005. So, if I am not totally missing the plot, there is a gigantic difference between the national figures and the Muslim Children figures. (Incidentally, here's a good overview of our education system, see the copied table at the bottom).

Well, there is no debate about what needs to be done, and frankly, the last thing you need to do is to create a separate government funded religious school system, that will simply store up trouble in the religiously sensitive state. So you improve the public school system. Here's a fascinating overview of what can be done to improve, and what did not work.

Stop looking at them as Muslim poor or uneducated. Look at them as Indian uneducated. Every Indian who is uneducated is a blot on India, not on Indian Muslims. Indian Hindu's share the blot just like Indian Females or Indian Tamils. Let us not go down the religious route on this frankly delicate matter but lets select the Indian districts which have the worst educational performance and improve them, move from bottom up. That way, ALL poor and uneducated Indians will improve, you will avoid sectarianism and religious strife and India will benefit. By all means, keep tracking the progress of the Muslim kids, but the government efforts should be religious neutral. Let civil society take care of their religious education while the Government look after all citizens.

Here's another view of how to address this.  Here's a good link to a scheme which shows the link between education and diet. Dont look to the government for everything even though it is trying its level best (see here), here's how NGO's and local society have gotten together to develop local schooling.

Money is being spend on the children as the graph below shows but I am still wondering why that huge difference is for National numbers and Muslim student numbers. Money is being spent, improvement is happening across the board, where is the problem?

Educating the masses
After primary education was made a national priority, enrollment—especially for girls—showed dramatic gains.

Primary education (grades 1-5 for ages 6-11)
   Total gross enrollment ratios1
       Among boys
       Among girls

Upper primary education (grades 6-8 for ages 11-14)
   Total gross enrollment ratios
       Among boys
       Among girls

Secondary education (grades 9-12 for ages 15-18)
   Total gross enrollment ratios
       Among boys
       Among girls

Tertiary education (postsecondary to postgraduate for ages 19-24)
   Total gross enrollment ratios
       Among boys
       Among girls






(percent of GDP)
Total public spending on education and training
Total public spending on elementary education and training


Public spending per elementary student
(constant 2002 prices)

   Sources: Data from India´s Ministries of Human Resource Development and Finance; and World Bank estimates.

   1Gross enrollment is the ratio of the number of children enrolled in primary education, regardless of age, to the population of the age group that corresponds to the nationally defined ages for primary schooling. A gross enrollment ratio in excess of 100 percent typically reflects the inclusion of underage as well as overage students who have entered school late or repeated grades.


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The Jews as Contested Ground in Postmodern Conspiracy Theory

A fascinating paper on how Jews always seem to end up in conspiracy theory land. It is because of this reason that any other argument, even well argued, is generally looked upon suspiciously because it emanates from this morass of ignorant and stupid thinking across vast swathes of the world (and yes, in premier universities as well which clearly shows that you can join a university but there is no guarantee that you will gain a mind!). I quote the abstract:

Normally conspiracy theories remain at the margins of a culture. But when conspiracism moves from the margins to the center, and from passive responses to active ones-Nazis and communists in the twentieth century-it can produce convulsions of paranoia and violence that leave tens of millions dead. After World War II, Western culture appeared to have definitively marginalized conspiracy theory. And yet, at the turn of the twenty-first century, there has been an aggressive rise in (traditional) Muslim conspiracism, and a remarkable vulnerability to conspiracy theory in the West. In response to 9/11, a "postmodern" and politically-correct conspiracism has developed that reverses the normal pattern: it accuses "us" and exonerates "them." Thus highly self-critical Westerners acknowledge the accusations of paranoid jihadists. As always with modern conspiracy thinking, the Jews, especially the Zionists, stand at the center of the storm.

Read and Wonder at the weak minds!

The difference between stupid and smart

I have spoken before (and here) about the attempts of Reliance Fresh to set up a highly efficient set of retail stores in India and how a bunch of moronic politicians managed to kill off this initiative in certain parts of India. But recently I went to India and actually managed to take some photo's which show up this difference clearly.

The first set is from Lucknow where the lords of stupid rule, it is one of the heartlands where this special genus seems to spring forward with startling regularity. Given the fact that a huge amount of Indian intellectual thought actually emerged from this region makes is so interesting that idiots also come out from there who have, lets be polite, just a passing acquaintance with common sense and economics.

They have even formed suicide squads against Reliance Fresh in Orissa. Well, why not? if you can do suicide bombing for inner struggle objectives or secessionist objectives, why can you not do it for opposing Reliance Fresh Stores? (the mind boggles)

But let us move on.

Just next to my father in law's office, I spotted this door.

Moving closer, it looked a bit sad, with bricks piled up, and the shutters down.

Moving closer to the store, i went down the stairs and peeked through the glass door. Everything was pristine, new, but coated with dust. For some reason, I was feeling a bit like Howard Carter and Lord Carvanon.

The shelves were empty if stacked up, the glass was incredibly dirty and you can see yours truly the hulking fat git shadowed on the glass.

I looked around and even though it was the middle of the day in the middle of a commercial part of town, it was a nice dozy place, no jobs, no activity, no nothing. Even the bloody dogs were spooning!

And now compare it with this Reliance store in Indore. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to get down and take some pictures as we were under severe time pressure (sod's law, we reached the school on time, but there was nobody there, I guess I have forgotten the chalta hai timekeeping system that I grew up with!). It was early morning, about 0845 hours. And you can see the store open, guards outside, well lighted store, all shelves piled high with goods, clean windows and shoppers already making a bee-line to shop.

Sad, very sad. One part of the country is flourishing and another part has dogs snoring. And the tragedy is that both cities are in states which are equally pushing each other aside in the bottom rankings of all Human Development Indicators of States in India. But one is doing something (very little but something!) while the other?

Separatist Movements Seek Inspiration in Kosovo

A whole bunch of comments on various places (here and here for example) were placed on my previous essay where I said that the current Kosovo declaration will cause problems. Here's a well argued article on this topic. The six cases they quote are:

Spain: The Basques and the Catalans

Cyprus: The Turkish Cypriots

Romania: The Magyars in Székely Land

Bulgaria: The Muslim Pomaks

Greece: The Turks of Western Thrace

Slovakia: The Hungarian Minority

I wonder if those who are getting all excited about Kosovo independence will also join in asking for independence for these and the other minorities such as here, here, here and here.


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Freeloaders versus good citizens around the world

A question that is so frequently asked in the third world countries relates to the comparison between Singapore and Country XXX about litter. See here for an example. In other words, when you would not dream of littering in a country like Singapore, why would you do so in India, Nigeria or what have you?.

But I am still not sure that littering is avoided in Singapore because their citizens are very heavily brought into the civic sense and have a sense of community or is it the threat of draconian corporal punishment if you spit or litter. My feeling is that it is a mixture with a bit more of the latter than the former, but I am happy to be corrected.

In other countries, public goods are not considered to belong to one self, they do not identify with civic society and thus are very happy to go about littering or spitting. I remember Mish, one of girls I worked with at Solly's, she went to Nepal to teach English to orphans, I spoke to her and she said in an outraged indignant tone after praising them to high heaven, but they all spit so much. As it so happens and what I found out, one does not spit in Brazil, I am afraid. But I digress. Anyway, these people who do not believe in civic society and exhibit littering behaviour are called as free loaders.

For example, if you were not involved or engaged in local government or society, then you would have no hesitation in chucking a stone at the local electronic traffic information board or destroy a bus shelter or throw litter on the ground. Leaving aside the issue of upbringing or culture or what have you, the assumption is that it is somebody else's problem and somebody else will handle it. In other words, free loaders.

But these freeloaders are punished by the law, such as in Singapore, and their behaviour changes. But one interesting question is, what is the reaction of the freeloaders to this punishment and would they retaliate against them? I read about this in the FT recently. I quote:

Students in 16 cities around the world played a "public goods" game, in which everyone is given monetary tokens. They could either keep the tokens for themselves, or put them into a common pot that yields extra interest to be shared between all the players, whether or not they contributed to the pot. After one round, everyone's contribution is revealed and players can "punish" each other by taking tokens away.

Now this was the interesting part where the national differences came through (beware of generalisations, I hate Paris but I love France, I love France but hate them frogs... :)). In countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Greece, Turkey and South Korea where you have strong authoritarian institutions (either on the governmental or patriarchal society level), the freeloaders took revenge and hit back at their punishers with the sad outcome that the overall pot was reduced for everybody.

In countries of Western Europe, US, Australia and surprisingly China, there was much less freeloading and more social behaviour, less punishment was observed and the earnings actually increased over time. I think its worthwhile to quote the full conclusion by the study leader:

"The findings suggest that in societies where public co-operation is ingrained and people trust their law enforcement institutions, revenge is generally shunned. But in societies where the modern ethic of co-operation with unrelated strangers is less familiar and the rule of law is weak, revenge is more common."

Curious, no? specially the anomaly around China? But more broadly, trust in the law is crucial for civic society and that will require less authoritarianism, less patriachal behaviour and more individual freedom. For the society to be trusting, you have to trust the individual, to trust the individual, you have to have respect for individual rights. But as long as you have this idea that the government knows best or some weird religion knows best, you will end up with a bunch of anti-social freeloaders who drag down the entire society. But this, this was just an experiment and the results have to be taken with a grain of salt!

Is this why the Saudi Clerics are to be re-trained?

Sarva Dharma Sambhav, or all paths lead to God, is one of the guiding principles of modern life, or  at least of Hinduism. But when I read this, I figured, we have a long way to go before we believe in this principle. Given that people mistakenly believe that Hinduism has Idol Worship, this hits close to home, I quote:

Riyadh: A resolution calling for the enactment of an international pact to forbid religions from being defamed or insulted as well as their symbols, leaders and prophets, has been voted out by the Saudi Shoura (Consultative Council).
A total of 77 members opposed the recommendation while 33 voted in favour. Those who opposed it argued that such a pact would force people to recognise religions, which advocate idol worship, and that "would be unacceptable."

"Some consider Buddhism, Qadianism and Baha'ism as religions. Can we make it obligatory for Muslims to respect these faiths and avoid criticising them?" he asked.

The answer is YES, it does not matter what you believe in, as long as it is personal to you and you do not infringe on the rights of others (I know this is a generalisation, but you know what I mean. If your religion means that you get to cut off my ear and offer it roasted to your goddess, then no, not allowed, but if you want to worship my ear as a goddess and you do not insist in sitting on my shoulder to worship it, then by all means you can go for it).

Is this why this happened? In other words, would the training to be given to the Saudi Clerics train them on how to be liberal? and how to be more accepting of other religions and sects? I am a bit doubtful about this for many reasons (see one here), I quote from the end of the article

But critics are sceptical about whether such initiatives would work as long as the powerful, and ultraconservative, religious establishment in Saudi Arabia continues to exert enormous influence over society.

Only last week, a prominent cleric called for the beheading of two liberal writers who had questioned the orthodox view that Muslims can not change their religion.

The problem is, if you want, you can find evidence either way in the Quran, e.g. either by looking at the no-compulsion in Islam sure or for the verses's looking for the unbelievers. But it does not need to be like that. Islam as a religion is a great way to reach God, to be good people and citizens. Just as Hinduism is as well. We do not need arguments and fights. But bear in mind,that  this kind of medieval thinking has no place in the modern liberal and secular world. If you wish to be with the Neanderthals, then fine, but don't expect others to fjoin you! It should be promising to find out what the training produces! :)

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Recycling ships

Ships are living creatures. Ask any sailor and he will agree and he will further say that ships are feminine. That combination of steel, paint, oil, blood, sweat, tears, sand, sea, wind and waves can be nothing but feminine. But unlike ladies, when ships reach the end of their lives, they are treated rather brutally. They are driven up dirty, oily beaches, and then are ripped apart unceremoniously till the only sign that a living breathing ship ever existed would be some oil stained patches of sand and a heap of unidentifiable steel pieces. The process of recycling a ship in the countries such as India, Bangladesh, China etc. has been highlighted in the western media. For us poor innocents who saw those videos and photographs that entire process looks horrifyingly like the personification of Dante’s hell. So I went poking around.

First of all, you think I am exaggerating? I am not. Here, take a look at some of these links on this ship breaking industry.

  1. Ship breaking in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
  2. The science behind the complaints
  3. Two photo essays  here and here.
  4. A video essay here.

See that I mean by Dante’s hell? Naked feet treading over hot oily sand, breathing in noxious fumes, no safety equipment, clearly devastated ships, fires and sparks around the place, dark eyes and mud, earnings in the bottom layers and garbage pickers. It is indeed a hell on earth. But, according to some estimates, there are more than a million people across the world directly engaged in ship breaking. Almost 200,000 in Bangladesh itself.

And for very poor people in poor countries such as India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc., the fact that they have employment is important. It will make the difference between starvation and existing. But this thought seems to have passed people by. When people get shocked at the sight, think about why ships are not being broken up in the USA, UK, Japan, Greece or the shores of Italy? Well, we in the west have put in so many rules, regulations, laws, notifications and ordinances that recycling equipment is simply not cost effective to break up ships here especially when you have lower cost locations available. You have to wear special shoes, wear a gas mask, worry about decontamination of the ground and so on and so forth. And if you lose your job, you will always have a welfare cheque or you can move to another job.

But there are no such human health and safety or environmental requirements in Alang in Gujarat in India or in Chittagong in Bangladesh. And still people are glad to have those jobs. If you put in those requirements for gas masks and decontamination in Chittagong, then you know what will happen? The ships will go to Sierra Leone to be broken up. The 200,000 people in Bangladesh will starve because as you know, jobs or welfare cheques are not really that readily available there. So while you blanch at the nightmarish conditions, do look at the smiles on the faces as well, they are doing honest jobs which the west has made it uneconomic to do in their own lands. But here is the Greenpeace site, quite an interesting site to read. The judgement call to judge employment versus environment protection is very difficult to read and make. Not an easy one at all.

There is an international convention which bars the transfer of hazardous waste between countries. The full name is, Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Quite a mouthful, eh? It was setup in 1992 and almost 170 countries have signed up to this declaration but it does not seem to be stopping the trade very much. An example of a successful usage of this convention to stop a dirty ship from landing on the shores of Pakistan or India was the case of the scrapping of the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau in 2006.

After a huge global protest campaign by Greenpeace who protested against the French violating the Basel Convention, the French decided not to send the ship to India to be broken up and the poor ship is currently tied up at the Naval port of Brest, gently rusting away. Quite a big victory, eh? It would have been if at exactly the same time, several other ships loaded with asbestos would not have been in the process of being broken up in Alang, India. And if no more French ships loaded with asbestos had landed in India. Or if Greenpeace had continued to campaign to make sure no more asbestos laden ships landed in Alang. But life goes on. An indication of the importance of this subject to Greenpeace can be seen at their main site for ship breaking. Notice the last date of update? It is early 2006. I suppose the camera’s and reporters have gone away but the labourers who are breaking the ships are still there.

The other main reason for scrapping in these countries is that they provide good quality steel at rock bottom prices. Bangladesh is notoriously lacking in raw commodity materials and by some estimates, this ship breaking industry provides up to 90% of the iron and steel usage in the country. Similarly, other countries utilise scrap steel in their domestic iron and steel industry. Have you sent the prices of steel recently? They have gone up through the roof. The Global Carbon Steel Composite Index has gone from 138.3 in February 2006 to 217 in March 2008. So for the poor countries that have to purchase steel, it makes more sense for them to get it in this way.

The European Union and the International Maritime Organisation seem to be working up the courage to implement a convention on doing pre-cleaning of the hazardous materials on the ships before they end up on the breakers beach and ship breaking in general. These hazardous materials are really bad, such as asbestos, dioxins, oil, chemicals, you name it. Now this is a very tricky area. And will be very difficult to implement. Who pays for the clean-up? Does the last owner of the ship pay for it? Does the owner of the last cargo on that ship pay for it? Who will enforce the ruling? Do you enforce the ruling where the ship has been tied up at the last port of call? Or where the ship has been registered? (Can you imagine a country like Liberia or Sierra Leone taking action?).

Or do you make sure that every cargo owner pays some element of the cargo fees aside for eventual cleanup? And if the fees are not paid, then where is the money to clean up going to come from? General taxation? Which general taxation? Do you wish this to be paid out of EU funds? Or national funds? If so, why would say Luxembourg have to pay for clean up of ships while it is totally landlocked? Who will enforce it? Do you change the penalties by size of the ship or by the cargo capacity of the ship? There are quite a lot of questions to be answered, but seems like some form of a convention will emerge and very slowly, with loads of holes and exclusions, take shape. Then countries will sign up slowly, the industry will shift its patterns, and over many decades or so, get to a stage where a global standard has been agreed, implemented, operationalised and policed. Long way to go yet. If you think I am joking, head over to the International Labour Organisation website and see the conventions they have written, the number of parties who have signed up and then look around to see if that has made much of a difference, these things take time.

I love ships, I adore their shapes and I love their behaviour. They are definitely human to me and could be the inner sailor in me speaking. They are definitely contrary, need to be handled very gently and carefully and very expensive to run. So much so that Admiral Chester Nimitz said, "A ship is always referred to as 'she' because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder." Ships talk and murmur. Seriously, they do. Listen to them and you can listen to them talking, murmuring, creaking, screeching and whining. Not on those cruise ships, they are not ships, they are gaudy ornaments, sound proofed and carpeted all over. But a warship, a tanker, a container ship, a cargo vessel, serious vessels, who treat the sea warily and with respect, they talk to you.

Docks talk about ships taking birth in yards, joy you feel when the ship hits the water in the rush. It is very much like a human birth. Signing of the contract, the bringing together of men, materials and money in a womb like yard and the final birth as the ship rushes down and splashes into the water to be finally born. When a ship sinks and dies, it cries. Submariners who have torpedoed ships frequently talk about the sadness they feel when the ship dies. They talk about the haunting ship’s death groans when they hear the crumpling of the ships hull as it sinks down to the ocean depths.

But perhaps that is indeed the right grave for ships, the ocean depths. To be driven up a beach and then stripped naked, all the hull and steel cut away with flame torches, all the furniture and fittings unscrewed and unbolted, the oil drained away, till nothing is left but a patch of oil stained sand is somehow very distressing. But perhaps the fact that in the ship’s death, she has given back something to the humans who built and rode her while she was alive, makes the manner of her death worthwhile.

All this to be taken with a grain of salt!

More on Zimbabwe

That situation in Zimbabwe is turning more and more surreal by the day. Here's some surreal bits from just 1 story.

  1. The leaders wife is clearly telling everybody that she doesnt believe in democracy.
  2. She thinks that Mugabe only believes in one party rule
  3. They think that MDC burnt down a homestead.
  4. She says, with a straight face, that they are humans. How amusing
  5. She thinks that MDC is responsible for the violence
  6. Mugabe thinks that the problems with food shortage is because of drought
  7. Mugabe thinks that the food production problem is again due to drought

What a bunch of ignorant stupid moronic clowns. And these are the people who are being supported by the other African Leaders. Sod them.

Nigerian thug in chief defends Zimbabwean thug in chief

Typically, these crooks hang together. Have you noticed that? All these African leaders, by and large, are basically thieves and crooks. This man, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, came to power in one of the most blatantly rigged elections recently. So a man who comes to power with fraud will obviously stick up to a man who rules by fraud, no?

So when this man says,

"We do not support violence. We ask for caution and restraint. Whatever crisis there is, there must be restraint to resolve it according to law," said Yar’Adua in his first public statement on the crisis.

"We cannot behave like the Western countries in respect to the Zimbabwean crisis... We cannot come out and start making judgments on the internal problems" of Zimbabwe, he said.

I was sneering cynically at him. What a hypocrite. This man is at the same level as that other man, Thabo Mbeki, who talk utter and total bullshit. What is clear is that these leaders have no idea about what the rule of law is and have no, absolutely no care about their citizens. Which is why whenever they say stuff like this, their image falls even further. Esphoks.

Saudi Arabia and creativity

Remember what I said about Saudi Arabia, IT and creativity? I quote myself:

Setting up a knowledge city and throwing money at it does not solve the problem of creativity or having knowledge industries. For that, you need to have creativity at the school level. They have to inquire and challenge everything.

And you cannot do creativity and questioning and challenging when I am too busy worried about being thrown in jail. I quote from the Human Rights Watch site.

On May 19, Saudi secret police apprehended Dr. al-Faleh on the premises of King Saud University in Riyadh, where he teaches political science.

I am reminded of a conversation I had with somebody in Malaysia about Islamic scientific hero's. I remember telling him that all the Islamic scientific hero's that OIC talk about, mostly were hero's despite Islam and the Islamic superstructure of religion, politics, economics, history and education. But for universities to impinging on freedom of speech and investigation is horrific. The problem is global, not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the UK.

3 Legal Systems and child rape

This was fascinating to discuss. The barebones of the argument are clear, it is a case of child rape and the fellow is sentenced to death. Incidentally, if it was up to me, I would bring back pre-historic punishments for child rape such as tearing apart limb by limb or boiling alive for these child rapists till they are near death but not quite dead yet. I am a firm anti death penalty man, but that doesn't mean that some nice chaps cannot be taken to a situation where they would wish they had crossed the boundary and seen the white light. But unfortunately, since it is not up to me, I have to leave emotion aside and think about some interesting comparisons.

Here we have 3 legal situations and I am just talking about child rape right now, ceteris paribus. First legal system (the domestic US Legal system) is what is currently in play, that the death penalty is only given for murder but the consensus which seems to be brewing is that the death penalty is fine for child rape.

The second legal system, which relates to international (read European and British) law, relates to the fact that the death penalty should not be extended to crimes which it did not cover. I quote:

International authorities have long agreed that nations that retain the death penalty must refrain from expanding the death penalty to crimes to which it currenlty does not apply--a principle that has been codified in a regional convention and reaffirmed by the jurisprudence of human rights bodies. There is an equally strong global consensus that nations should gradually narrow the categories of offenses for which the death penalty may be imposed.

Both are discussed here. But further to this, consider the legal situations relating to this in the Sunni schools of law (see here for example) . Punishment of rape (forget about child rape) is death but it is not "mandatory". In other words, it is up to the judge to evaluate if capital punishment is allowed. But bear in mind, this is slowly changing as well and this entire gamut of rape is being slowly modified. See here for example. While this story concentrates on the women side and not on the punishment side, it still bears quoting:

Under the Hudood ordinance, rape is included in matters covered under Islamic law, like marriage and divorce. A woman who reports that she has been raped must produce four male witnesses to prove it. If she fails to do so, she can be prosecuted for adultery. Thousands of women have been punished under the law, often on the flimsiest evidence. That risk has kept many women from trying to bring their attackers to justice.

The legislation passed Wednesday will move rape cases to criminal courts rather than Islamic courts. The new legislation allows forensic and circumstantial evidence to be used as a basis for convictions, as with other crimes.

Now the question is, if you move to the secular (chuckle) criminal court, what does that do for punishments? Do they follow model 2 and let the child rapist escape capital punishment? Or do they follow model 1 and leave the Islamic punishment of capital punishment in? So many questions. If this happens, then women will lose out (4 witness issues, women punished...) but on the other hand, the child rapists will escape capital punishment.

Three legal systems, 3 situations, 3 rapists and 3 victims. Justice is served where? how? for whom?

Wednesday, May 28

More on Univ of Nottingham's freedom of speech issue

I was forwarded an email by a friend of mine who works in another university, I personally think this is too understated, but still...


Dear All,
Some of you will have heard of the shocking events in Nottingham over the past few weeks. For those who haven't, briefly, a student studying Islamic terrorism for his master's dissertation downloaded an al-Qaeda manual (from a US government website!), which he sent to an administrator friend to print. Another university employee saw this document, contacted university authorities, who then called the police. Both men were arrested and held for six days, before being released without charge. Of course, their homes were also searched, computers and phones seized and their families questioned (some say harassed).
Apparently, in talking to one Nottingham university academic, one police officer remarked that the incident would never have occurred if the persons involved had been 'blonde, Swedish PhD students' (the two men were of British-Pakistani and Algerian backgrounds).
The University of Nottingham's response was to suggest that the document was 'not legitimate research material'. (The student was studying for an MA in International Security and Terrorism!) The university has also been accused of complicity with police attempts to gain information about a student anti-war campaigning, e.g. a student newspaper Ceasefire.
Links to more reports are below.
I've written a letter to be sent to Colin Campbell, University of Nottingham VC. The text is below and the hard copy's in the print room: feel free to sign it. I guess I'll send it at the beginning of next week.

Dear Sir Colin
We are writing to express our grave concern at recent events concerning the detention of two members the University of Nottingham under the Terrorism Act, and, in particular, the University of Nottingham's role in these events.
We can just about understand the sequence of events that led to the police being called and their arresting the men. But, even here, alternative courses of action were possible. For example, a few questions and phone calls would have quickly established the connection between Hisham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, and the latter's status as a student on your master's programme in International Security and Terrorism. Rizwaan Sabir had every reason to be interested in the downloaded document, a fact that could easily have been confirmed by his tutor Bettina Rentz, his programme director or head of department. (Moreover, this material was freely available on a United States government website.)
We feel your university's failure to support the two men following their arrest is inexcusable. Its response was essentially to ignore the plight of its student and its employee. Worse, your spokeman's statement that the document was 'not legitimate research material' could be taken as a de facto condemnation of the men.
We have also heard some reports that University of Nottingham spokespeople have made comments about stopping the activities of groups or individuals who 'unsettle the harmony of the campus', presumably a reference to peaceful student protest and activism. We have not been able to verify these reports, but if true, we would find them deeply disturbing too.
It appears that the University of Nottingham has failed both to defend academic freedom and in its duty of care to its students and staff. It is possible too that your university is attempting to limit political freedom.
The University of Nottingham has a fine reputation across many disciplines and for both its teaching and its research. Many of us here in the School of Management at University of Leicester have collaborated with your staff on various projects and we frequently advise our most promising students to continue their studies in one of your university's departments. Obviously, we fully expect our research connections with individual staff to continue. However, many of us feel that we would be neglecting our duty of care to our students and our adherence to the principles of academic freedom, were we not to mention these events to students who ask our advice on pursuing higher degrees at the University of Nottingham.
Yours sincerely,