Saturday, July 11

Killing a city

The first time I heard this term, urbicide, was back when the Bosnian war was raging. Its a term reflecting the direction of utter violence on the city. I was reminded of the photographs of Berlin, Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the second world war for utter destruction. Here are some iconic photographs of Berlin.

And of Nagasaki:

And of Hiroshima:

You dont normally expect to see images of such devastation nowadays. But still it happens. See here for some photographs of Sarajevo.

But despite Sarajevo being in the doorsteps of Europe, we again saw another urbicide in Lebanon, aimed at those truly damned people, the Palestinians.



See the background to this conflict here. And this paper (from which I have shown the pictures above) which brought home the battle. I quote the abstract:

During the summer of 2007, Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon was the scene of a fierce battle between the Lebanese Armed Forces and a militant Islamist group called Fateh al-Islam. When Palestinian evacuees returned after the conflict, they found Nahr el-Bared utterly destroyed, houses smashed first by shells and bombs, then by vandalism and arson, possessions stolen and broken, offensive graffiti daubed on walls. I argue in this paper that the battle of Nahr el-Bared, and particularly the month of looting and arson that followed the battle, was a case of urbicide in a space of exception. The seemingly unrestricted destruction of homes, the theft of possessions and arson, went beyond any possible military necessity and became the deliberate and systematic erasure of the camp. This urbicide was made more possible by the very nature of the political spaces of the camp, which are in Lebanon but not of Lebanon, in which Lebanese sovereignty and law are not fully enforced, in which a whole range of non-Lebanese actors exercise political power outside the control of the Lebanese state. In these spaces of exception in which the rule of law is suspended, the looting, arson and vandalism took place without sanction. Palestinian homes and lives had become sacred in the sense that they could be destroyed without sanction, without recourse to legal redress, because there was no law.

Here’s a good clip of what the Lebanese Army did to the camp:


Some of the comments that Adam Ramadan makes are truly horrifying. I quote:

Nahr el-Bared was not the named target of Lebanese military action, nor was urbicide the stated aim. The war was against Fateh al-Islam, but that group quickly became conflated with Nahr el-Bared and Palestinian society (Neil Smith's (2001) analysis of the conflation of scales that allowed the events of 11 September 2001 to be seen as an attack on the American nation, and justifying an American attack on Afghanistan, is relevant here). Military actions against Fateh al-Islam blurred more easily with military actions against the fabric of the camp, while across Lebanon Palestinians were subjected to increased surveillance, stop-and-search procedures, and some even spoke of arbitrary arrests and torture. Indiscriminate shelling by the army hastened the evacuation of civilians which, in turn, allowed for more indiscriminate shelling. The Lebanese army sieged the camp for 16 weeks, shelling from the ground, firing air-to-ground missiles from helicopters, and ground troops leading seven assaults on the camp.13 In spite of this fierce siege, the Lebanese army was unable to win a fast and decisive victory against the well armed and well trained fighters of Fateh al-Islam, and army casualties reached 168 by the time the battle ended in early September. The camp was a hostage to the outsiders of Fateh al-Islam, and its houses and narrow alleyways provided the perfect terrain for the kind of urban warfare many of the militants might have experienced in Iraq. Driven to fear and fury by the deaths of so many soldiers by Fateh al-Islam actions, army actions were displaced onto the stones, the buildings, the streets and the infrastructure of the camp. And the state of exception in which the camp existed, coupled with Lebanese discourses of the camps as impenetrable security islands and threats to the Lebanese body, and Lebanese demographic anxieties, allowed a course of action that seemed to maximise the physical destruction of the camp. Particularly after the eventual defeat of Fateh al-Islam, when for a month the destruction continued with looting, arson and vandalism, Nahr el-Bared was erased by urbicide.

Martin Shaw (2004: 141) has argued that urbicide is a form of genocide, but I would not extend this argument to the case of Nahr el-Bared as there was no orchestrated or deliberate killing of civilians: “The deliberate and systematic extermination of an ethnic or national group” (Oxford English Dictionary definition of genocide) did not occur. The camp was shelled widely in the first few days in spite of the presence of a very high and dense civilian population14 (perhaps this was “killing deliberately by mistake” – Amyreh, 2002, in Herold, 2004: 329) but there was an organised evacuation of civilians early in the conflict so that the army could freely target Fateh al-Islam fighters wherever they might or might not be in the camp. Most Palestinians from Nahr el-Bared were displaced to Beddawi, where they were forced to stay in improvised shelters, school classrooms, garages and storerooms, seriously disrupting not only the society of Nahr el-Bared but also that of Beddawi camp which had to host the displaced. And more than a year on, there is still no sign of the Nahr el-Bared being rebuilt, and this prolonged displacement is forcing Palestinians to choose whether to wait for the chance to return to Nahr el-Bared or to attempt to make a new life elsewhere in Lebanon or outside. Lebanon officially opposes Palestinian integration in the country, and unofficially encourages Palestinian emigration. When this agenda coincided with this battle against terrorists in a space without law, the result was urbicide and ethnic cleansing

This is what bewilders me, a son of a refugee myself, is this decades long dependency on being a refugee. These Palestinian refugee camps have constantly been kicked ferociously like Nabatieh in 1973, in Jisr el-Basha in 1976 and in Sabra and Shatila in 1982. These Palestinians have been betrayed by their leaders, their fellow Arabs, their allies (variously USSR, China, USA, you name it) and of course their enemy, Israel. The UN perpetuates their misery. Lebanon and Egypt make it difficult for them to live, breathe or prosper. And still they live on, in their ghettos and concentration camps. The New Jews indeed. And what a situation to be in.

See how the Lebanese celebrated after their victory over the Palestinians in the camp and the Saudi / other assorted terrorists of Fateh al-Islam.

And all this while the urbicide is quietly going on.

Babes of the BNP

Thanks to Salil. This made me laugh away to glory. I quote:

You no longer need to be a hatchet-faced National Front refugee to join the whites-only club. The fascist menace no longer wears jackboots. It no longer flags down the number 25 bus with a hearty “Sieg Heil”. Nope, ours is a new, gentler, more airbrushed age. Feminism’s here, so now girls can dig race hate too. As the BNP’s attempts to reposition itself as a mainstream party have advanced its perimeter far beyond the usual crewcuts-n-tats brigade, we spoke to three of the more acceptable new faces of the unacceptable. What a bunch of hotties! Phwoar! Makes you aroused to be British.

Some of the interviews were brilliant: First we have this hottie:

When people say the BNP is a fascist party, what do you think?
Fascist – I don’t understand that word.

Think of Nazi Germany, or 1930s Italy.
I can’t even remember when that happened really, but I’m against them anyway.

You’re against who?
The Germans. I know that sounds evil… I was brought up that way.

But not the Nazis?
No, I don’t agree with that at all.

What’s the best thing about living in Britain today?
I hate Britain, and I want to move to Spain in the next couple of years, ‘cos our country’s not England anymore. It’s very rare for English people to live here anymore. When I went to Lanzarote, I felt more English there than I do here, and that’s no exaggeration.

But won’t you then be an immigrant too?
Yeah but the answer to that is I would go over to their country and respect their country. I wouldn’t go over there and try and do suicidal bombs [sic]. The immigrants that come over to this country should be making this a good country and proud of it and helping this country, but most of them don’t.

As a hypothetical solution to the immigration problem, what about dividing Britain down the middle, and using the left half for immigrants, and the right half for everyone else.
Sorry, I don’t get that. Am I’m being really thick? No. I don’t think so.

Absolutely peed myself laughing my head off. And this is their bedrock support? hehehehe. How funny.

Friday, July 10

What happens when you decentralise education?

The current British Government is well known to centralise down to buttock clenching levels right up to the Prime Minister’s backside. Specially with targets, budgets, inspections, report cards and the like. Typical control freaks. But what happens when you decentralise education? let it be free? become easy to control at a local level? Well, a peek across to Sweden will give us some indications (I quote some bits from the paper)


Sweden undertook a conscious spatial decentralization of its system of higher education beginning in 1987. This policy was motivated by a complex variety of political, social, and economic factors. In this paper, we analyze the effects of university research activity on economic productivity and upon the level and distribution of innovative activity in the economy. We provide quantitative evidence on the effects of the decentralization policy upon output per worker and upon the award of commercial patents for innovations and discoveries. We also provide new evidence that the policy has increased aggregate productivity and economic output, but that the economic impacts are greatly attenuated over space and distance.

During the past 15 years, Swedish higher education policy encouraged the decentralization of post-secondary education. We investigate the spatial and economic effects of this decentralization on productivity and creativity. We provide several tests of the hypothesis that the establishment or expansion of university research in a region improves productivity and enhances creativity. We find systematic evidence that output per worker is higher and the award of patents is greater in regions that have received larger university-based investments as measured by the number of researchers employed on staff. We also find that changes in productivity are higher and new patent awards are more frequent in regions in which the “new” universities and institutions are located than in regions in which the “old” universities are located.

Our analysis permits us to hold constant the important factors affecting economic activity by municipality, labor market area and time, thereby improving the precision of estimates. The results are broadly consistent across theoretical models and statistical results. There is strong evidence that an expansion of university presence in a community, measured by the number of university-based researchers, is associated with increased output per worker in that community and with increases in the patents awarded to inventors in that labor market area.

The importance of the university in affecting productivity and creativity is consistently larger at the margin for the new institutions. For patents, at least, this could arise if the new institutions specialize more narrowly in technical specialties than do the more traditional institutions of higher education. Of course, some of the new institutions are, in fact, expansions of institutions that formerly provided some technical training (e.g., military facilities). This may explain some of the differences.30

The productivity gains are highly localized. The spillovers from researchers employed at the old established institutions are concentrated. Roughly 40% of the cumulative gain in productivity is within 10 km of the institution. For the new universities the attenuation is even more pronounced; between one-third and one-half of the total effect upon productivity is registered within 5 km of the university.

Our findings are consistent with a substantial, but highly attenuated, external effect of investment in higher education, augmenting the productivity of local areas and the local economies in which they are situated.

Now this is quite interesting. And lessons are to be learnt from this. The first one is that the universities need to have their purse strings removed from central government and handed over to local regional authorities. That will push the decision making lower down the chain. Second that I would say is that the local universities should also have their fees handcuffs taken off. If you can charge more, go ahead and charge, plus with a system of bursaries if required to top up on means tested students. Third, local industry and banking/financial services needs to be brought into the picture for the universities to make sense of potential employment and/or SME generation. Finally, overall investment in universities helps in dramatic improvement in local labour productivity, the holy grail. But looking at this anal, stupid government, I despair that anything of import will be done. They will starve the universities by tying them to the government and because of their anal controlling nature, will not let them loose either. Why on earth cannot we have more private universities, I dont understand. Even India is letting them being setup now. sighs.

Thursday, July 9

Walling off Saudi Arabia

Heh, i dont think anybody will be calling this as wrong, would they? Not when its Saudi Arabia doing it, lol. But look at the map, its surrounded with neighbours who are pretty mean and has issues with quite a lot of them.


View Larger Map

Yemen we know, they have had fights, across the water, they had fights with Egypt but now its ok, Iraq is full of messy characters, over on the other side, they have Iran. Bahrain and rest of the tiny UAE and other bits are ok, but its an interesting response indeed. I quote:

Saudi Arabia on Wednesday moved to bolster security along its borders with Iraq and Yemen with the award of a contract to build a 9,000km security system.

The project – awarded to EADS, the European aerospace and defence group – is also intended to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.

In March, EADS and Al-Rasheed Trading Contracting, its Saudi partner, were awarded a contract to construct a fence along Saudi Arabia’s 900km border with Iraq. Wednesday’s announcement adds a further 8,000km of security fence to the project.

Demystifying Compliance for IT

We all know the propensity of organisations to jam things into the compliance/mandatory bucket, and security/compliance projects for IT are no exceptions. While this is a vendor (rather unfortunate name I would have said) driven white paper, its refreshingly pragmatic and tells it how it is in terms of what can be required and what areas to see when the IT folks walk in asking for funding or sponsorship. Similarly, if we want to setup something which is good and relevant for our applications and security, some guidance needs to be given to the IT folks. This paper can assist COO's, auditors, PMO's, service delivery and change management folks who frequently have to deal with this from an up or downstream perspective. I quote the top piece :

Top Five Compliance Myths
Myth #1: Compliance equals regulations with speci!c actions
The reality: Most regulations have fuzzy or no detail about IT
implementation. And many compliance demands arise from
internal assessments of risk of business disruption or litigation. You
need to engineer for compliance just as you engineer for availability.

Myth #2: Compliance is an IT security issue.
The reality: Sure, a lot of compliance mandates have a security
dimension because they are trying to control the risk of things like
information leakage and sabotage. But just as many mandates are
concerned with the integrity and availability of mission-critical
applications, and so preventing, detecting and responding to
ordinary failures matters just as much. And beyond that, there are a
lot of mandates that govern business issues such as use of insider
information, which are really outside the realm of IT although IT
systems play a role in recording the evidence.
Myth #3: I have to store my original logs for 7 years.
The reality: Where does it say that? Almost no mandates, and
certainly not the most common ones concerning IT departments,
specify log retention times. Log retention times are driven by
assessments of what it will take to service other requirements such
as the need to investigate incidents, detect long term patterns, and
prosecute intruders. You may want to keep 7 years available, but you
may choose different strategies for more recent vs archived data.
Myth #4: A speci!c set of reports will make me compliant.
The reality: See Myth #1. The regulations almost never list a specific
report. There are reports that can clearly assist with particular
requirements, such as the need to review failed logins, but they
require a lot of fine-tuning for each unique environment. At best, a
set of standard reports is a starting place. The dirty secret: most
compliance report packs are developed by product managers
reading the regulations and taking a guess at what kinds of reports
might be helpful.
Myth #5: I need to buy a commercial solution to be compliant.
The reality: Your decision to buy a log management system rather
than roll your own logging infrastructure should be based on ROI. A
well designed system should save you on initial development and
integration as well as make ongoing log reporting, ad-hoc analysis
and alerting more efficient. But the regulations don’t say you have to
buy a commercial system, and the vendors of these systems don’t
have any special insight into what it takes to make you compliant.
So if these are myths, what’s the truth?

The economic cost of the US education gap

I quote:

A persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries deprived the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008, McKinsey research finds.1 Moreover, each of the long-standing achievement gaps among US students of differing ethnic origins, income levels, and school systems represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains. Together, these disturbing gaps underscore the staggering economic and social cost of underutilized human potential. Yet they also create room for hope by suggesting that the widespread application of best practices could secure a better, more equitable education for the country’s children—along with substantial economic gains.

How has educational achievement changed in the United States since 1983, when the publication of the seminal US government report A Nation at Risk2 sounded the alarm about the “rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools? To learn the answer, we interviewed leading educational researchers around the world, assessed the landscape of academic research and educational-achievement data, and built an economic model that allowed us to examine the relationships among educational achievement (represented by standardized test scores), the earnings potential of workers, and GDP.

I dont have access to the article itself, but presuming that its kosher, the amount is staggering. Can you imagine? And this is for one of the most developed countries. What’s the damage to the other countries? This is why I say that poor countries are poor because they are consciously made into being poor, like India. Its their leadership and other civil society actively keep people poor and less educated. Its the same all over the world, the loss and under utilisation of human potential. Shocking.

Wednesday, July 8

Muslim Nobel Prize winners

I have written many times about why I think the idea of trying to link religion to science is evidence that the argument is very very weak. If you are indeed trying to say that there is something called as Muslim science or one should be proud of any medieval Muslim scientist just because they were Muslim (and ignoring any other scientist from another religion), then we have a bit of an issue. I discussed this on a list which had sent around a typical email talking about why people should be proud of Muslim scientists.

My first response:

Only if their respective achievements were primarily due to them belonging to Islam. If there is no connection or causality, then the fact that they were Muslims is about as important as them having hair or living in the northern hemisphere. ;)

My second response:

I am afraid then I am bit confused with Mike's original point. If he is saying that we should celebrate their success because they are Muslims, then yes, definitely.�
But he goes on to talk about Muslim Science & Technology which is frankly silly. One might as well as make the argument that so many Muslim Scientists have actually have had to face opposition from the Muslim jurists and theologians who presumably would know what Islam is. Reminds me of the emails I see about Jewish nobel prize winners. As it their religion had anything to do with the pursuit of science as Jack mentions. Hence the confusion.�

Then when i was asked about the opposition, this is what I wrote:


I didnt mean to refer to the article itself, but we do not have to go that far back to prove that point. We were talking about nobel prizes earlier. Out of the handful of Muslim nobel prize winners, we have Mahfouz who was given death threats, nearly assasinated and frankly because of the attack, his golden pen was almost silenced. The man who wrote for days on end, forgetting to eat, sitting at that souk cafe and churning out wonderful prose was condemned to just be able to write for few minutes per day.

How about Abdus Salam? A man, who was by all accounts a brilliant teacher and researcher, who wanted to setup educational institutions in his country, was buried in a cold and lonely grave without any official recognition. His grave stone first said, the First Muslim Nobel Laureate, and then amazingly enough, on government orders pushed by clerics, the word Muslim was chiselled off. Guess what the gravestone says now? First Nobel Laureate.

A lesser case can be thought of for Pamuk who was castigated and a criminal case launched against him. While you cannot say this was for strictly religious reasons, there is that strand in that nationalistic framework which got him into trouble. Zewail seems to be the only person who escaped this, perhaps because he never worked in a muslim country or perhaps the extremists did not understood his work :)

sighs, this argument is really silly. Think about ibn Rushd or our man Omar Khayyam who got into trouble. When luminaries of that ilk can get into trouble…

Hindu American Foundation are wrong about meat eating Hindu’s

So Burger King used the image of a Hindu Goddess to put a play on the sacred.


Then we have this strange Hindu American Foundation getting all upset about this. Ok, this is what bewildered me.

Hindu depictions of divinity in the form of Gods and Goddesses are sacred to Hindus and the use or consumption of meat in a religious context is generally proscribed.  In fact, Hinduism has the highest proportion of vegetarians among the major religious traditions. 

Now obviously, the chaps have absolutely no idea about Hinduism and the fact that meat eating is perfectly fine in Hinduism, has been for thousands of years and a huge number of Hindu’s merrily eat meat. As it so happens, most of the coastal Hindu’s are very happy with eating fish meat or other forms of meat. Proscribed? goodness me, guys, learn about your own religion, please. What proscription are you talking about? Yes, some people are vegetarians, but not all and that is due to belief not proscription. Plus since when did Hinduism proscribe? Its almost like this conversation is being held by a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim whose holy books proscribe, ban, forbid stuff and you are supposed to follow them like a metronome. Bah. And then they compare it with Mexico complaining about usage of their flag. Bizarre. Clueless. And why is an American organisation getting excited about a Spanish Hindu? how weird.

They claim to promote Understanding, Tolerance and Pluralism. By not understanding the history of meat eating, by being intolerant and ignorant of non vegetarians in Hinduism and not being Pluralistic in understanding the concept of godhead and basically being frankly humourless, they should really think again. Silly buggers. God knows when they will get some common sense to realise that all that this makes is to make them look idiotic and silly. So Burger King, you dont need to apologise, just send them the usual pap of a letter and ignore them. Silly gits.

Tuesday, July 7

Fire Drills

I used to view fire drills and evacuation from the office with equanimity. At one point, while I was working at another bank, i was even the resident fire marshal and first aider (want to get CPR’ed by me? hehehe, didn't think so), so I was the person who would chivvy people along and worry about clean corridors and stuff.

And after 9/11, nobody minded checking out and doing fire drills. Anyway, it was a great time to go have a beer. Its actually good to be a fire marshal, everybody is your friend (as they want to know when the drill will happen and they would go off in the elevators to the pub, have couple of pints and then return).

Here at the current bank, I didn't get a chance to hook into the network yet and one of my team members who was a fire marshal resigned. So, I was startled when I heard the fire alarm at 11AM. Previously, the unwritten rule was that you dont have a fire alarm in the morning because of business meetings. And you can have a beer post lunch :)


I swore under my breath but then took off manfully. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread. It was ok for the first 10-15 flights but then it started to get progressively more and more difficult. Many people were smart enough to duck out at the 34th, 25th or the 15th transfer floors but damnfool BD had to keep on going down just to gain the experience. At near the bottom of the building I looked up and saw the sheer number of flights that I had walked down, you can still see people coming down. The worst was the women who were wearing heels, that must have hurt badly, you could hear the click clack of the heels. Many of them took them off. I couldnt because of knees, but they were trembling by the time I came down. Not good.

And suffered for the past 2 days for it. But thinking more about it, if a fire does break out badly, given my time of about 10 minutes to get down, I could barely make out. Some lessons, try to be first out, dont delay, you need to have a clear run. Second, a rubber soled shoe is much better than a leather soled shoe if you have to ever walk down so many flights of stairs, much better on your feet and knees. Keep a spare under your desk if necessary.

Third, just keep on bloody going, no point in taking a breather, you will clog up the stairwells and it doesnt help. Fourth, but trying to head for a lift is stupid frankly, that’s just being lazy, you need to know how to do it at least once. Fifth, while politeness has its place, safety first. If you have a slow moving person in front of you who is slowing down the entire backlog of people, ask them to politely move to the left or right and then move on quickly.

But it was quite interesting and sad at the same time, i was remembering all my friends from Cantor and SunGard in NY who died at the WTC. Sighs, not good.

Uganda bans female circumcision

This is good news indeed. See previous blogpost about this horrible disgusting practise. And I liked what President Museveni says (even though appealing to God for this basic human right of not being mutilated isn't really my cup of tea), God made this body, who are you to muck it up? I quote:

KAMPALA — Uganda will pass a law banning female genital mutilation, which is rampant among pastoralist tribes in the country’s eastern region, the president said in a statement Friday.
Uganda fights circumcision rite
"The way God made it, there is no part of a human body that is useless," President Yoweri Museveni told a gathering in the eastern Karamoja district.
"Now you people interfere with God’s work. Some say it is culture. Yes, I support culture but you must support culture that is useful and based on scientific information," he added.
Last year, the United Nations passed a resolution that called female genital mutilation a violation of the rights of women and said it constituted "irreparable, irreversible abuse."
The resolution also said female circumcision increases the risk of HIV transmission, as well as maternal and infant mortality. The UN estimates that between 100 million to 140 million worldwide have undergone the practice.

Accelerating benefits from off/out sourcing

I was invited to speak at a conference by my friend, Amit Badani, a chap who is brilliantly connected and networked. Anyway, I thought of posting my bullets…

Accelerating the benefits of outsourcing: creating immediate impact and value addition whilst de-risking the outsourcing process


1. Acceleration of benefits realisation


  1. •Lift and dump – as is
  2. •Re-engineer and then migrate
  3. •Migrate and re-engineer
  4. •Re-engineer, migrate and then re-engineer
  5. •Continuous improvement


  1. •Size of the team
  2. •Type of and geographic spread of the function
  3. •Prior history
  4. •Cost constraints
  5. •Time constraints
  6. •Technology dependencies
  7. •Data dependencies
  8. •Service delivery dependencies
  9. •Risk Management
  10. •Quality, churn and availability of offshore resources
  11. •Legal constraints


2. Select Process for Immediate Impact

  • Internal complexity of process
  • Demographics of the offshore resource profile
    • –Type
    • –Number
    • –Qualifications
  • Clarity of benefits
    • –Monetary
    • –Quantitative
    • –Qualitative
  • The CIA rating of the process
    • –Confidentiality
    • –Integrity
    • –Availability
  • Links with other services ranging from technology, compliance, legal, operations, front office, etc.
  • Senior management pain points – what’s keeping them awake at night?


3. Value Addition over and above the identified benefits

Some processes which can be selected to provide benefits over and beyond normal labour arbitrage benefits.

  1. Automated reconciliation of data
  2. Netting processes
  3. Capital utilisation
  4. ABC analysis of profitability, sales, costs, resource usage, etc.
  5. Process standardisation
  6. Infrastructure standardisation relating to communications such as call centres and help desks, underlying technology infrastructure such as networks, servers, data storage, etc.
  7. Reduction of operational risk
  8. Automated capture of initiating transactions such as replacing paper with web forms or XML type of interactions
  9. Centres of excellence
  10. Process based organisational structure
  11. Revenue leakage
  12. Cost avoidance
  13. Productivity enhancements
  14. Volume absorption
  15. Service Catalogues