Saturday, December 31

Book Landscapes

While I know that books can lead you to fantastic landscapes, this is just extraordinary. Some of the works that tickled my horrified fancy.

There are more on the link. What a skill but what a horrible thing to do to books Sad smile

Friday, December 30

When in doubt, blame the hungarians

I read this in the FT. I quote:

A Hungarian acquaintance argues that every organisation that Hungary has joined for the last 150 years has collapsed shortly afterwards. The Hapsburgs were one of the Europe’s most successful dynasties. But then in 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed, and by 1918 it had disappeared. Hungary chose the losing side in both the first and second world wars. After 1945, it became a member of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. Given this long record of failure, the EU should have been on its guard when it welcomed Hungary as a member in 2004.

Heh, very amusing indeed. But why am I talking about it? I was speaking to one of my colleagues who is Austrian with a very amusing sense of humour.

I was wearing a poppy at that time, paying homage to the soldiers of the UK and Commonwealth who fell in the various wars for their country. Wars, by definition, are an indication that the politics, jaw jaw and diplomacy has failed. And then it falls on the soldiers to do something about it. Anyway, he said that he doesn't want to celebrate it as his grandfather and other relatives fell in WW1 and WW2. We had a long chat about the Astro Hungarian empire and Vienna and and and. Its a fascinating story. Its a fascinating story relating to how one of these structures (a precursor of the EU) worked and how it worked and how it ended. It was pretty big, it contained modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, large parts of Serbia and Romania and smaller parts of Italy,Montenegro, Poland and Ukraine.

Is that bloody EU listening?

In the meantime, Hungary’s debt has been downgraded to Junk Status.

Thursday, December 29

Mera Bharat Mahan

One of the things that I am currently doing is to finish reading the Dharma Shastras. Its a monumental work, and will take the rest of my life to finish. But here’s a small thing which I found very nice in an electronic copy of the Ramayana. See the screen print.


The book is published by RamNarayan Lal but printed by Ramzan Ali Shah. Now there’s your inter faith work right there. One of the holiest books of Hinduism, printed by a Muslim. This is why, despite the assorted morons in both Muslim and Hindu fundamentalist and idiotic groups, India will succeed. You are welcome. Mera Bharat Mahan.

Wednesday, December 28

Norway a 'pimp' for my prostitute client

First of all, I dont think prostitution should be outlawed. One of the world’s oldest professions, history itself tells us the futility of trying to ban or outlaw prostitution. This does not mean that forcible prostitution is ok, but voluntary one, sure, by all means, knock yourself out. You hump bricks, you hump men, in both cases, its physical exertion in exchange of monetary gain. But then, here’s an interesting dilemma which shows the inherent stupidity in government legislations. .

and heh@take it lying down..

Norway’s tax office risks facing pimping charges if it insists on taxing a 29-year-old Lithuanian prostitute, the woman’s lawyer has said.

The eastern branch of the Norwegian Tax Administration (Skatteetaten) slapped the woman with a 1.2 million kroner tax bill after tracing undeclared income to her bank account, newspaper VG reports.

The woman said she acted in good faith when she didn’t tell the tax office about the money she earned from prostitution from 2006 to 2010.  

Her lawyer, John Christian Elden, said the Norwegian state was not authorized to demand a cut of earnings from prostitution.

“This contravenes the penal code and is punishable as a pimping offence,” Elden told the newspaper.

“The provision [regarding prostitution in Norwegian law] is set up in such a way that it protects people who have to prostitute themselves, while also enabling them to retain their income.”  

Never before has a Norwegian court heard a case involving a valued added tax bill for prostitution, and Elden has said he and his client won’t take it lying down.

“If the tax demand stands, we’ll report the state for pimping,” he told VG.

Elden said the hefty tax bill would essentially force his client to prostitute herself again to pay off the state paymaster.

The head of the regional tax office’s anti-evasion unit, Jan Egil Kristiansen, said he was prohibited from commenting on individual cases.

“But all business activity is liable for tax and VAT. There’s no exception for prostitution,” he told VG.

Tuesday, December 27

Stop poking foreigners. A view from Ron Paul

He says it as he see’s it. I love this idea that American troops should haul their hiney’s back home.

I do think that the UK should withdraw its troops from across the world and stick with trading. Its a waste of time, money and resources.

Where are British Troops stationed?

Ok, leave aside the UN deployments. Why the hell are we in the Balkans? In Germany? Gibraltar, Ascension Island, Diego Garcia, etc. etc? What a bloody waste of time and energy.

In comparison, look at what USA is doing.

Another view

This is unbelievable. And just out of interest, there are NO foreign military bases in the USA. Now there’s a classic case of imperial overstretch. Ron Paul talks about Rome, and that’s a very good point.

Incidentally, here’s a great article on how empires collapse. But we should know, we Brits have seen our empire collapse when we overstretched too much and we simply couldnt afford it.


Sunday, December 25

Merry Christmas everybody

I didn't know that there is actually no proof that Jesus was born on Dec 25th on the year dot (sorry, I always wanted to say this). I quote:

The 12th century Syriac bishop, Jacob bar-Salibi, had this to say: It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.

Obviously, we don't really know the date of the birth of Jesus Christ.  The gospels do not say and the early church didn't much care about his physical birth.  Until the Church Fathers got around to settling such questions in the 4th century, there was a grab bag of guesses.  According to St Clement of Alexandria (2nd C):There are those who have determined [the day] of our Lord’s birth; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Emperor Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20]... Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].

Clement dismissed such dates out of hand.  Instead, his own calculations showed that Christ was born on November 17, in the year 3 BC.  A century later, a  God-inspired theologian announced that Christ, the new "sun of Righteousness", was born on March 28 since the Creation began with the spring equinox (= March 25] and the Sun was created on the fourth day.  So that was that (or so he thought).  Before long, however, another learned priest calculated that the birth date was April 2 in the year 8 AD -- 5500 years to the day after the Creation, as he had worked it out himself.  And then, of course, there were many who celebrated 8 January (Epiphany), still Christmas day in many Orthodox churches.
But no one had yet suggested December 25th.
It is only with the famous Calendar of Philocalus (a list of the early bishops of Rome and Roman festivals) written in 354 AD  that we find, given for the year 336, December 25: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae, "Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea".

But worry not, its the date of the birthday of the Sun. Since I am also named after the Sun God, I will celebrate my birthday on Dec 25 with a tree, exchange presents, sing songs, eat like a pig and wear silly hats, and pop crackers.

Merry Christmas everybody, have a wonderful time.

Saturday, December 24

Stop Spending My Money

From ZeroHedge.

This level of debt is extraordinary. And somehow, all this has to be paid off. As I keep on saying, somebody has to pay for this, its the consumer, shareholders, taxpayer or your children. What the hell is going to happen to this country? The level of deleveraging required will be over couple of decades. And then so many people are still whining that we aren't spending enough, whether its on benefits or public sector pensions or what have you.


Also see this graph from here.

We are so screwed. The world will be paying off its debts for decades to come. Welcome to the great debt hangover.

We owe over £900 BILLION!

Friday, December 23

The Magic of Education.

This was a pretty brutal article. I don't agree with this but then I teach at various business schools where its much more applied. I quote:

I've been in school for the last 35 years - 21 years as a student, the rest as a professor.  As a result, the Real World is almost completely foreign to me.  I don't know how to do much of anything. While I had a few menial jobs in my teens, my first-hand knowledge of the world of work beyond the ivory tower is roughly zero.
I'm not alone.  Most professors' experience is almost as narrow as mine.  If you want to succeed in academia, the Real World is a distraction.  I have a dream job for life because I excelled in my coursework year after year, won admission to prestigious schools, and published a
couple dozen articles for other professors to read.  That's what it takes - and that's all it takes.
Considering how studiously I've ignored the Real World, you might think that the Real World would return the favor by ignoring me.  But it doesn't!  I've influenced the Real World careers of thousands of students.  How?  With grades.  At the end of every semester, I test my students to see how well they understand my courses, and grade them from A to F.  Other professors do the same.  And remarkably, employers care about our ivory tower judgments.  Students with lots of A's finish and get pleasant, high-paid jobs.  Students with a lots of F's don't finish and get unpleasant, low-paid jobs.  If that.
Why do employers care about grades and diplomas?  The "obvious" story, to most people, is that professors teach their students skills they'll eventually use on the job.  Low grades, no diploma, few skills.
This story isn't entirely wrong; literacy and numeracy are a big deal.  But the "obvious" story is far from complete.  Think about all the time students spend studying history, art, music, foreign languages, poetry, and mathematical proofs.  What you learn in most classes is, in all honesty, useless in the vast majority of occupations.  This is hardly surprising when you remember how little professors like me know about the Real World.  How can I possibly improve my students' ability to do a vast array of jobs that I don't know how to do myself?  It would be nothing short of magic.  I'd have to be Merlin, Gandalf, or Dumbledore to complete the ritual:
Step 1: I open my mouth and talk about academic topics like
externalities of population, or the effect of education on policy preferences.
Step 2: The students learn the material.
Step 3: Magic.
Step 4: My students become slightly better bankers, salesmen, managers, etc.
Yes, I can train graduate students to become professors.  No magic there; I'm teaching them the one job I know.  But what about my thousands of students who won't become economics professors?  I can't teach what I don't know, and I don't know how to do the jobs they're going to have.  Few professors do.
Many educators sooth their consciences by insisting that "I teach my students how to think, not what to think."  But this platitude goes against
a hundred years of educational psychology.  Education is very narrow; students learn the material you specifically teach them... if you're lucky.
Other educators claim they're teaching good work habits.  But especially at the college level, this doesn't pass the laugh test.  How many jobs tolerate a 50% attendance rate - or let you skate by with
twelve hours of work a week?  School probably builds character relative to playing videogames.  But it's hard to see how school could build character relative to a full-time job in the Real World.
At this point, you may be thinking: If professors don't teach a lot of job skills, don't teach their students how to think, and don't instill constructive work habits, why do employers so heavily reward educational success?  The best answer comes straight out of the ivory tower itself.  It's called the
signaling model of education - the subject of my book in progress, The Case Against Education.
According to the signaling model, employers reward educational success because of what it shows ("signals") about the student.  Good students tend to be smart, hard-working, and conformist - three crucial traits for almost any job.  When a student excels in school, then, employers correctly infer that he's likely to be a good worker.  What precisely did he study?  What did he learn how to do?  Mere details.  As long as you were a good student, employers surmise that you'll quickly learn what you need to know on the job.
In the signaling story, what matters is how much education you have compared to competing workers.  When education levels rise, employers respond with higher standards; when education levels fall, employers respond with lower standards.  We're on a treadmill.  If voters took this idea seriously, my close friends and I could easily lose our jobs.  As a professor, it is in my interest for the public to continue to believe in the magic of education: To imagine that the ivory tower transforms student lead into worker gold.
My conscience, however, urges me to blow the whistle on the system anyway.  Education is not magic.  Professors can't make students better at whatever job awaits them with learned lectures on arcane topics.  I'm glad I have a dream job for life.  I worked hard for it.  But society would be better off if taxpayers saved their money, students spent fewer years in school, and sheltered academics like me finally entered the Real World and found a real job.

Then on the other hand, one reads a letter like this. I am frankly surprised and disagree for one very good reason. I see no reason why every university has to have every subject under the sun. And the letter writer commits what I call as a basic mistake, assumes that leaders have to be technical experts. In other words, a university president has to be a teacher, or a phd. A very weak argument and perhaps a telling argument, running a university in cost constrained times requires skills which obviously this professor does not have have. Finally, open letters are frankly useless, they immediately tell me that the author is more interested in banging their own drum and ranting rather than actually trying to find a solution. Ah! well.

An open letter to George M Philip, President of the State University of New York At Albany

Dear President Philip,

Probably the last thing you need at this moment is someone else from outside your university complaining about your decision. If you want to argue that I can't really understand all aspects of the situation, never having been associated with SUNY Albany, I wouldn't disagree. But I cannot let something like this go by without weighing in. I hope, when I'm through, you will at least understand why.

Just 30 days ago, on October 1st, you announced that the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian and Theater Arts were being eliminated. You gave several reasons for your decision, including that 'there are comparatively fewer students enrolled in these degree programs.' Of course, your decision was also, perhaps chiefly, a cost-cutting measure - in fact, you stated that this decision might not have been necessary had the state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed your university to set its own tuition rates. Finally, you asserted that the humanities were a drain on the institution financially, as opposed to the sciences, which bring in money in the form of grants and contracts.

Let's examine these and your other reasons in detail, because I think if one does, it becomes clear that the facts on which they are based have some important aspects that are not covered in your statement. First, the matter of enrollment. I'm sure that relatively few students take classes in these subjects nowadays, just as you say. There wouldn't have been many in my day, either, if universities hadn't required students to take a distribution of courses in many different parts of the academy: humanities, social sciences, the fine arts, the physical and natural sciences, and to attain minimal proficiency in at least one foreign language. You see, the reason that humanities classes have low enrollment is not because students these days are clamoring for more relevant courses; it's because administrators like you, and spineless faculty, have stopped setting distribution requirements and started allowing students to choose their own academic programs - something I feel is a complete abrogation of the duty of university faculty as teachers and mentors. You could fix the enrollment problem tomorrow by instituting a mandatory core curriculum that included a wide range of courses.

Young people haven't, for the most part, yet attained the wisdom to have that kind of freedom without making poor decisions. In fact, without wisdom, it's hard for most people. That idea is thrashed out better than anywhere else, I think, in Dostoyevsky's parable of the Grand Inquisitor, which is told in Chapter Five of his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. In the parable, Christ comes back to earth in Seville at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. He performs several miracles but is arrested by Inquisition leaders and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The Grand Inquisitor visits Him in his cell to tell Him that the Church no longer needs Him. The main portion of the text is the Inquisitor explaining why. The Inquisitor says that Jesus rejected the three temptations of Satan in the desert in favor of freedom, but he believes that Jesus has misjudged human nature. The Inquisitor says that the vast majority of humanity cannot handle freedom. In giving humans the freedom to choose, Christ has doomed humanity to a life of suffering.

That single chapter in a much longer book is one of the great works of modern literature. You would find a lot in it to think about. I'm sure your Russian faculty would love to talk with you about it - if only you had a Russian department, which now, of course, you don't.

Then there's the question of whether the state legislature's inaction gave you no other choice. I'm sure the budgetary problems you have to deal with are serious. They certainly are at Brandeis University, where I work. And we, too, faced critical strategic decisions because our income was no longer enough to meet our expenses. But we eschewed your draconian - and authoritarian - solution, and a team of faculty, with input from all parts of the university, came up with a plan to do more with fewer resources. I'm not saying that all the specifics of our solution would fit your institution, but the process sure would have. You did call a town meeting, but it was to discuss your plan, not let the university craft its own. And you called that meeting for Friday afternoon on October 1st, when few of your students or faculty would be around to attend. In your defense, you called the timing 'unfortunate', but pleaded that there was a 'limited availability of appropriate large venue options.' I find that rather surprising. If the President of Brandeis needed a lecture hall on short notice, he would get one. I guess you don't have much clout at your university.

It seems to me that the way you went about it couldn't have been more likely to alienate just about everybody on campus. In your position, I would have done everything possible to avoid that. I wouldn't want to end up in the 9th Bolgia (ditch of stone) of the 8th Circle of the Inferno, where the great 14th century Italian poet Dante Alighieri put the sowers of discord. There, as they struggle in that pit for all eternity, a demon continually hacks their limbs apart, just as in life they divided others.

The Inferno is the first book of Dante's Divine Comedy, one of the great works of the human imagination. There's so much to learn from it about human weakness and folly. The faculty in your Italian department would be delighted to introduce you to its many wonders - if only you had an Italian department, which now, of course, you don't.

And do you really think even those faculty and administrators who may applaud your tough-minded stance (partly, I'm sure, in relief that they didn't get the axe themselves) are still going to be on your side in the future? I'm reminded of the fable by Aesop of the Travelers and the Bear: two men were walking together through the woods, when a bear rushed out at them. One of the travelers happened to be in front, and he grabbed the branch of a tree, climbed up, and hid himself in the leaves. The other, being too far behind, threw himself flat down on the ground, with his face in the dust. The bear came up to him, put his muzzle close to the man's ear, and sniffed and sniffed. But at last with a growl the bear slouched off, for bears will not touch dead meat. Then the fellow in the tree came down to his companion, and, laughing, said 'What was it that the bear whispered to you?' 'He told me,' said the other man, 'Never to trust a friend who deserts you in a pinch.'

I first learned that fable, and its valuable lesson for life, in a freshman classics course. Aesop is credited with literally hundreds of fables, most of which are equally enjoyable - and enlightening. Your classics faculty would gladly tell you about them, if only you had a Classics department, which now, of course, you don't.

As for the argument that the humanities don't pay their own way, well, I guess that's true, but it seems to me that there's a fallacy in assuming that a university should be run like a business. I'm not saying it shouldn't be managed prudently, but the notion that every part of it needs to be self-supporting is simply at variance with what a university is all about. You seem to value entrepreneurial programs and practical subjects that might generate intellectual property more than you do 'old-fashioned' courses of study. But universities aren't just about discovering and capitalizing on new knowledge; they are also about preserving knowledge from being lost over time, and that requires a financial investment. There is good reason for it: what seems to be archaic today can become vital in the future. I'll give you two examples of that. The first is the science of virology, which in the 1970s was dying out because people felt that infectious diseases were no longer a serious health problem in the developed world and other subjects, such as molecular biology, were much sexier. Then, in the early 1990s, a little problem called AIDS became the world's number 1 health concern. The virus that causes AIDS was first isolated and characterized at the National Institutes of Health in the USA and the Institute Pasteur in France, because these were among the few institutions that still had thriving virology programs. My second example you will probably be more familiar with. Middle Eastern Studies, including the study of foreign languages such as Arabic and Persian, was hardly a hot subject on most campuses in the 1990s. Then came September 11, 2001. Suddenly we realized that we needed a lot more people who understood something about that part of the world, especially its Muslim culture. Those universities that had preserved their Middle Eastern Studies departments, even in the face of declining enrollment, suddenly became very important places. Those that hadn't - well, I'm sure you get the picture.

I know one of your arguments is that not every place should try to do everything. Let other institutions have great programs in classics or theater arts, you say; we will focus on preparing students for jobs in the real world. Well, I hope I've just shown you that the real world is pretty fickle about what it wants. The best way for people to be prepared for the inevitable shock of change is to be as broadly educated as possible, because today's backwater is often tomorrow's hot field. And interdisciplinary research, which is all the rage these days, is only possible if people aren't too narrowly trained. If none of that convinces you, then I'm willing to let you turn your institution into a place that focuses on the practical, but only if you stop calling it a university and yourself the President of one. You see, the word 'university' derives from the Latin 'universitas', meaning 'the whole'. You can't be a university without having a thriving humanities program. You will need to call SUNY Albany a trade school, or perhaps a vocational college, but not a university. Not anymore.

I utterly refuse to believe that you had no alternative. It's your job as President to find ways of solving problems that do not require the amputation of healthy limbs. Voltaire said that no problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. Voltaire, whose real name was Fran├žois-Marie Arouet, had a lot of pithy, witty and brilliant things to say (my favorite is 'God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh'). Much of what he wrote would be very useful to you. I'm sure the faculty in your French department would be happy to introduce you to his writings, if only you had a French department, which now, of course, you don't.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you have trouble understanding the importance of maintaining programs in unglamorous or even seemingly 'dead' subjects. From your biography, you don't actually have a PhD or other high degree, and have never really taught or done research at a university. Perhaps my own background will interest you. I started out as a classics major. I'm now Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry. Of all the courses I took in college and graduate school, the ones that have benefited me the most in my career as a scientist are the courses in classics, art history, sociology, and English literature. These courses didn't just give me a much better appreciation for my own culture; they taught me how to think, to analyze, and to write clearly. None of my sciences courses did any of that.

One of the things I do now is write a monthly column on science and society. I've done it for over 10 years, and I'm pleased to say some people seem to like it. If I've been fortunate enough to come up with a few insightful observations, I can assure you they are entirely due to my background in the humanities and my love of the arts.

One of the things I've written about is the way genomics is changing the world we live in. Our ability to manipulate the human genome is going to pose some very difficult questions for humanity in the next few decades, including the question of just what it means to be human. That isn't a question for science alone; it's a question that must be answered with input from every sphere of human thought, including - especially including - the humanities and arts. Science unleavened by the human heart and the human spirit is sterile, cold, and self-absorbed. It's also unimaginative: some of my best ideas as a scientist have come from thinking and reading about things that have, superficially, nothing to do with science. If I'm right that what it means to be human is going to be one of the central issues of our time, then universities that are best equipped to deal with it, in all its many facets, will be the most important institutions of higher learning in the future. You've just ensured that yours won't be one of them.

Some of your defenders have asserted that this is all a brilliant ploy on your part - a master political move designed to shock the legislature and force them to give SUNY Albany enough resources to keep these departments open. That would be Machiavellian (another notable Italian writer, but then, you don't have any Italian faculty to tell you about him), certainly, but I doubt that you're that clever. If you were, you would have held that town meeting when the whole university could have been present, at a place where the press would be all over it. That's how you force the hand of a bunch of politicians. You proclaim your action on the steps of the state capitol. You don't try to sneak it through in the dead of night, when your institution has its back turned.

No, I think you were simply trying to balance your budget at the expense of what you believe to be weak, outdated and powerless departments. I think you will find, in time, that you made a Faustian bargain. Faust is the title character in a play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It was written around 1800 but still attracts the largest audiences of any play in Germany whenever it's performed. Faust is the story of a scholar who makes a deal with the devil. The devil promises him anything he wants as long as he lives. In return, the devil will get - well, I'm sure you can guess how these sorts of deals usually go. If only you had a Theater department, which now, of course, you don't, you could ask them to perform the play so you could see what happens. It's awfully relevant to your situation. You see, Goethe believed that it profits a man nothing to give up his soul for the whole world. That's the whole world, President Philip, not just a balanced budget. Although, I guess, to be fair, you haven't given up your soul. Just the soul of your institution.

Disrespectfully yours,

Gregory A Petsko

But this week, I am very disappointed with the American Academy. The Harvard University faculty voted (and this is important to note) to drop 2 summer economics courses taught by S. Swamy. Why? because S. Swamy wrote a bad rant against Muslims. First of all, I am very disappointed that Harvard Faculty do not believe in freedom of speech. Calling it hate speech was amazing, this is from liberal arts professors? I am gobsmacked. Just what is the difference between these professors and the goons who destroyed Hussein’s paintings? Nothing much, same old same old, I am afraid. Shameful. And then Sean D Kelly, chair of the philosophy department said this: “I was persuaded … that the views expressed in Dr. Swamy’s op-ed piece amounted to incitement of violence instead of protected political speech, I do not believe this, this professor is a professor of philosophy and is now hiding behind legalities instead of the pure philosophy of free speech? I think his phd should be withdrawn, lol.

Shameful. Very very sad. No wonder academics are being held up to closer scrutiny and when they cannot even defend basic principles of humanities and liberalism, why wouldnt they be cut down to size?

Thursday, December 22

See why I am terrified of Diya?

I wrote this email to her from work.

I have to go to Annie Auntie's office in central London on Thursday, 12-1pm. Its near the natural history museum. Do you want to come with me? We can go there after the meeting?

She responds back:

From: Diya Dasgupta []
Sent: 20/12/2011 15:36 GMT
To: Bhaskar DASGUPTA
Subject: Re: this thursday


I read the email and told you I'll come (just in case you do not understand 'yes'.)

see you at 5,

diya xxx

My life is woe, I tell you, this at the age of 8? sighs…

Wednesday, December 21

Two grief stricken moments

Before we laugh at the North Koreans, remember the extraordinary scenes at Diana’s death? One was a dictator and the other one was a princess who divorced and was a basket case.

But in both cases, we saw hysterical nationwide reactions to both deaths.

Tuesday, December 20

Vegetius–the ancient Roman War Chronicler

You might have heard about Clausewitz or Sun Tzu and a whole host of other people who wrote on war, son. Vegetius was one of the ancient Roman historians. While there are debates about how good a writer he was, his book, De Re Militari, is a good exposition on how the early Roman Empire came to being. One can argue that the Roman military was one of the most successful in the world. So what did he say as general advice? Here are some of his maxims.

  • “Men must be sufficiently tried before they are led against the enemy.
  • Valour is superior to numbers.
  • The nature of the ground is often of more consequence than courage.
  • Few men are born brave; many become so through care and force of discipline.
  • An army is strengthened by labour and enervated by idleness.
  • Troops are not to be led to battle unless confident of success.
  • An army unsupplied with grain and other necessary provisions will be vanquished without striking a blow.
  • A general whose troops are superior both in number and bravery should engage in the oblong square, which is the first formation.
  • He who judges himself inferior should advance his right wing obliquely against the enemy's left. This is the second formation.
  • If your left wing is strongest, you must attack the enemy's right according to the third formation.
  • The general who can depend on the discipline of his men should begin the engagement by attacking both the enemy's wings at once, the fourth formation.
  • He whose light infantry is good should cover his centre by forming them in its front and charge both the enemy's wings at once. This is the fifth formation.
  • He who cannot depend either on the number or courage of his troops, if obliged to engage, should begin the action with his right and endeavour to break the enemy's left, the rest of his army remaining formed in a line perpendicular to the front and extended to the rear like a javelin. This is the sixth formation.
  • If your forces are few and weak in comparison to the enemy,you must make use of the seventh formation and cover one of your flanks either with an eminence, a city, the sea, a river or some protection of that kind.
  • When an enemy's spy lurks in the camp, order all your soldiers in the day time to their tents, and he will instantly be apprehended.
  • Consult with many on proper measures to be taken, but communicate the plans you intend to put in execution to few, and those only of the most assured fidelity; or rather trust no one but yourself.
  • Punishment, and fear thereof, are necessary to keep soldiers in order in quarters; but in the field they are more influenced by hope and rewards.
  • Good officers never engage in general actions unless induced by opportunity or obliged by necessity.”

You can see quite a lot of these maxims are dedicated to internal army organisation but some of these general points apply in real life as well, son.

For example, the first one is important, train your team before putting them into operations. By itself, size is of no matter, the courage and individual matters much more. Unfortunately, by itself, the individual or even the collection cant do much when we are talking about the nature of the ground – in business we refer to this as the macro economic environment or the regulatory landscape. Few men are born brave, but care, discipline and training can improve your staff members hugely. And so on and so forth.

The Roman Legions were a formidable force and has been fairly well documented as compared to other ancient armies such as of the Greeks, Egyptians, Sumerians, etc. Much to learn from them, son, much to learn. Much of western civilisation has descended from what these Roman Leaders and legions did.

Monday, December 19

Gobsmacking–a public sector body actually reducing tax

I am so impressed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, who have proposed to cut council tax by 3.75% and this is the 5th year out of 6 that they have managed to do so. I quote:

This saving is due to several cost cutting measures including combining services with Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea councils in order to cut management and overhead costs by half.

This tax cut will be realised without resorting to the kind of ‘bleeding stump’ approach of shutting libraries and cutting services that some councils have taken, say H&F:

“While planning to cut [council] tax, H&F is intending to freeze parking charges, keep all its libraries open, maintain weekly or even twice-weekly refuse collection and plough £1.3 million into extra town centre police.  It is also one of just two councils in London offering homecare to people in the ‘greater moderate’ as well as ‘substantial’ or ‘critical’ banding.”

Further savings are to be made by selling off underused property, co-locating services among other measures in order to pay off about half the council’s debt and reduce annual interest payments.

We are pleased to see that some councils are giving taxpayers a break. The dramatic savings that H&F are proposing show that other councils can follow suit with tax cuts by cutting out waste. Sharing services can be a sensible way forward, too. It’s a shame that other councils are choosing to increase council tax, like Brighton & Hove who are looking to impose a 3.5 per cent hike.

The welcome move by the Department of Communities and Local Government to use money generated through other taxes to help councils freeze council tax bills cannot compete with genuine tax cuts. Funding from central government grants may be falling but since council tax has doubledover the last ten years, there is plenty of space for efficiency savings and for more creative solutions.

Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council, spoke at a TaxPayers’ Alliance fringe event at the 2011 Conservative Party Conference. He explained the position they were in when they took over and how things have changed since then. Council tax has fallen from one of the highest levels in the country to one of the lowest, while debt levels have been reduced at the same time.

My local council, on the other hand, has also slashed spending and is just managing to freeze council tax, so including the impact of inflation, can be considered as a reduction of sorts. But since that impacts my income as well, the best I can say about Harrow is that its flat.

Sunday, December 18


Now this spoke to me. I actually have a poster of this series. I am a long away away from this but at least my son could pick this up. Old fashioned? Yep, somethings are forever…

Saturday, December 17

Terrible Beauty

So true.

To be the father of growing daughters is to understand something of what Yeats evokes with his imperishable phrase ‘terrible beauty.’ Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened: it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body.”
- Christopher Hitchens,

How US Universities actively discriminate

This post was very interesting. I quote:

Comparing schools which can and cannot legally discriminate suggests a lot of discrimination. At Yale the class of 2013 is 15.5 percent Asian-American, at Dartmouth 16.1 percent, at Harvard 19.1 percent, and at Princeton 17.6 percent. These figures are above the Asian share of the population but compare:

The California Institute of Technology, a private school that chooses not to consider race, is about one-third Asian. (Thirteen percent of California residents have Asian heritage.) The University of California-Berkeley, which is forbidden by state law to consider race in admissions, is more than 40 percent Asian — up from about 20 percent before the law was passed.

Interestingly, the Obama administration has recently reversed Bush era rules and interpretations in order to promote race-based admissions:

Bush guidelines: “Before using race, there must be a serious good faith consideration of workable race-neutral alternatives.”

Obama guidelines: “Institutions are not required to implement race-neutral approaches if, in their judgment, the approaches would be unworkable.”

Friday, December 16

High Performance Teams

This is an interesting graph. This purports to be a way to create innovation strategies. But here’s one thing that I disagree with, this isnt the way to get high performance teams. Given that I am a project manager, I have to usually create high performance teams very quickly and get them to start delivering very quickly. Innovation is a very woolly subject, but to create it? this kind of simplistic modelling is a challenge although I suppose some simplistic chaps might be taken in. So I get the question? How to get innovative?

ha! as if I knew. But look at the nodes, nothing other than basic management theory. Quite how that will suddenly produce innovation is not explained.

Thursday, December 15

Flying is cheap - Ask the Pilot

Dear Son
I like this fellow. He writes here.
fascinating fellow, the kind of information he gives and his opinions, brilliant.
Having flown a shed load of time, it makes sense to know about what's happening with your mode of transport.
Have a read on his website, very amusing.

Flying is cheap - Ask the Pilot -

Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 20:30 ET
Flying is cheap
Some of you aren’t buying it, but even with those dreaded extra service fees, air travel is affordable
Patrick Smith

I’m telling you that flying is cheap. That was the message of my July 27 column, in which I cited data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. According to BTS, the cost of the average airline ticket, adjusted for inflation, fell 21 percent between 2001 and 2010, despite soaring jet fuel costs.

This is fairly remarkable, I noted, in light of people’s relentless hostility toward the airlines. “Say what you want about delays, airport security hassles, etc.,” I wrote, “the fact is that flying remains astonishingly safe, mostly reliable and increasingly affordable.”

Well, that didn’t go over so well.

“This article amounts to nothing more than a commercial for the airline industry,” complained a reader. “… not only misleading but outrageous.”

The primary point of complaint, brought up several times in the letters section, was my neglecting to account for those add-on fees that have become so popular: fees for checked luggage, fees for a bulkhead seat, buy-on-board food, and so on. In airline lingo, these supplemental fees are known as “unbundling.”

“Bottom line is that it does not seem that airlines are lowering the cost of flying at all,” posted one reader. “They are just moving the cost from base fare to additional fees.”

But are they?

Last year, U.S. carriers reportedly earned $5.5 billion in extra service fees. That sounds like a lot, but only a fraction of passengers actually purchased these extras. Even if we spread the total among every single person who flew, it works out to only around $6 per passenger. In other words, supplemental fees do not come remotely close to closing the gap on that 21 percent. (And contrary to what several posters and emailers have contended, the BTS data does include fuel surcharges and taxes.)

And remember, this is all about the average fare. If you check three suitcases, opt for a particular seat, and purchase an $8 veggie wrap on your flight from Los Angeles to Miami, then sure, this particular ticket might wind up costing more than it did 10 or 20 years ago. (Just as fares in certain markets, to and from certain cities, have indeed gone up. While many others, of course, have gone down.)

As I’ve pointed out previously in this column, people feel nickel-and-dimed by unbundling, but it helps keep overall fares down by allowing people who desire certain extras — those wishing to check a bag, make a reservation change, purchase an on-board snack, etc. — to absorb a higher share of the cost. Those who don’t want such things don’t have to buy them.

It’s funny, because if fares today were equivalent to what they were in the days prior to deregulation, many of the same people who whine about unbundling would probably think it a great idea: “Hey, how about this: I don’t check a bag, and you knock $50 off my ticket? And I don’t need an in-flight meal, so how about another $10 for that?”

Am I changing your mind at all?

Probably not. To some extent this is a fruitless exercise. There is a segment of the population that simply will not accept anything positive when it comes to flying.

“I find those numbers hard to believe,” voiced one reader How do I respond to that? At a certain point this is like arguing religion or conspiracy theories.

Or how about this letter, from somebody using the moniker “TeslaCoil”:

“Someone might ask Salon to address the question of having a paid employee of a major airline writing a column about air travel … this kind of disingenuous shilling is on the same level with the old, ‘cigarettes are good for you!’”

Really? Is that the legacy of this column, nine years on: disingenuous shilling? And would it truly be better for Salon to pull the plug on me, leaving you to get your air travel insights from TV news?

And I love the equating of airlines with, of all entities, tobacco companies. I learned long ago to never underestimate people’s contempt for airlines, but this is simply ridiculous. I realize that flying can be a less than pleasant experience. But it’s reasonably dependable and, as I noted earlier, astonishingly safe. While a carrier might lose your suitcase or leave you stranded for the night in St. Louis, one thing it is all but certain not to do is get you injured or killed. Commercial flying has never been safer than it is right now, and the past 10 years have been the safest in aviation history. This hasn’t been a fluke. It’s safer because the industry, together with regulators and other concerned parties, made it that way. TeslaCoil’s comment insults me, because I am an important part of the safety chain. I am sitting at the front end, doing the best I can to get you where you’re going promptly and safely.

Writing for Salon, my intent has never been to excuse airlines for bad behavior. Any number of my past columns attest to this. I’ve given carriers their due over dirty planes, delays, poor communications and otherwise irresponsible customer service numerous times. But I’m also prone to pointing out the positive — if for no other reason than doing so is virtually unheard of. For all of its hassles and inconveniences, global air travel remains an exciting, technologically remarkable realm that too many people take for granted.

And yeah, it’s an affordable one too. Time again, maybe, to drag out that old American Airlines ticket coupon that I keep on a bookshelf here at home. A friend of mine found it in a flea market a few years back. It dates from 1946. That year, a man named James Connors paid $334 to fly each direction between Shannon, Ireland, and New York City. Using the Consumer Price Index conversion, that’s equivalent to well over $3,000 today.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Lastly, a nod to Nicola Clark, correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. Clark’s Times story on the Air France 447 findings was one of those I singled out for ridicule in my column on Aug. 4.

In speaking with Ms. Clark, I’ve learned that most of what irked me about the story was the result of a poorly worded lede and some editorial cutting and trimming. Based in Paris, Clark has been covering the Air France mystery for more than two years, and has spent much time with the investigators. I would like to make it clear that her understanding of the recently published findings is considerably more complete and nuanced than readers — mine and perhaps hers as well — have been led to believe.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Do you have questions for Salon’s aviation expert? Contact Patrick Smith through his website and look for answers in a future column.


Patrick Smith’s Ask the Pilot, a long-running feature on Salon, is the Web’s most trenchant and insightful source for all things air travel, from safety and technology to airline culture and airport security. Send questions to and look for answers in a future column. -

(via Instapaper)

Ineptocracy (in-ept-oc-ra-cy)

New Word

Ineptocracy (in-ept-oc-ra-cy) System of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Wednesday, December 14

Attractions: U.s. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida

My dear Kannu
here is something that is an interesting read about how two adults take their young child to Disneyland. As you remember, we have been to Eurodisney twice, once with you and once with you and Diya. I have to admit that I loved both the visits, even though at the second one, we had to sit and watch ManUtd lose to Barcelona which took some of the shine off. It was fun and games, i really enjoyed the time with you kids and loved seeing how you kids enjoyed yourself.
Disneyland makes people happy and as the old quote goes, Walt Disney has been responsible for more of human happiness than all the religious leaders of the world combined. Which is true. Disney cartoons, the amusement parks, the movies, they make people happy. And that's a very good life aim to go for, be happy.
As you read this article, you will see that both the parents are dripping with cynicism. I suggest you be careful of this feeling, son. People who are cynical are basically miserable people. You will notice that their cynicism is soul destroying and screws up everything else.
Look at the parents below. Their little child is having oodles of fun, playing with Mickey Mouse and having fun with eating ice cream or going on the merry go round. What is the predominant feeling of the parents? They are busy worrying about economics, about racism, about demographics, about liberalism and so on and so forth. They see every interaction with suspicion, every cheery wave with doubt and every smile as a hidden mechanism to exhort money. So instead of enjoying with their child, instead of looking at mickey mouse with the same wide eyed amazement like their child does, or running through the fountain of water or imagining the castle as a real one and telling their little girl that she is a princess and you are an ogre, they are miserable characters.
Try not to be cynical, son. While there is something in the philosophical school of Cynicism (, this cynicism is different, it involves going around assuming the worst in everything and not having fun and not being happy.
Be happy son, life is fun and good, being cynical and constantly being miserable is best left to others, at end of the day, you want to be happy in your life. Cynical people make a hell out of a heaven.
Anyway, be happy son.

Attractions: U.s. Journal: Pinellas County, Florida Attractions : The New Yorker

The first thing I did at Walt Disney World was to take an oath not to make any smart-aleck remarks. A Disney public-relations man had told me that attitude was everything. So I placed my left hand on a seven-Adventure book of tickets to the Magic Kingdom and raised my right hand and promised that there would be no sarcasm on my lips or in my heart.

“And do you further swear or affirm,” I asked myself, “that you will not concoct any of those theories about how Disney World may reflect the escape fantasies of American Society or about how Disney World may be the symbol of the Final Plasticization of All Life, or any of that kind of thing?”

“I do,” I replied. “I certainly do. We’re just going to have a good time.”

I mention this ceremony in order to make it clear that I was committed to taking Disney World on its own terms even before my three-year-old daughter, Abigail, became a personal friend of Mickey Mouse—the two of them having become acquainted while posing together for a Paris-Match photographer and then, a day or two later, Abigail having been snatched by Mickey from a gaggle of children and taken on a private parade around the lobby of the Polynesian Village, one of the two resort hotels already built right on the grounds of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. My wife, who had not taken the oath, reacted to the picture-taking by expressing concern for whoever it was who had to earn his living by walking around inside a Mickey Mouse suit in eighty-five-degree weather making cute gestures.

“He’s a very nice mouse,” Abigail said when the posing was over.

We agreed that he seemed nice, but once Abigail had run ahead to investigate more of what she insists on calling Dizalee World, my wife was whispering about Mickey behind his back—pointing out that his face was a lot flatter than the faces of real mice, which can be taken as a corroboration of the flat-face explanation of Disney’s cartoon method. (“The human face is flattened, compared with most animals, and any species that resemble man in this way are at an advantage,” Ramona and Desmond Morris wrote in their book “Men and Pandas.” “Walt Disney has always made use of this fact when creating animal heroes. They are given exaggeratedly flattened faces, whereas the animal villains are given dramatically elongated snouts.”)

I knew, though, that she was still more concerned with who was inside Mickey than with how flat Mickey’s face was. All of the employees we had encountered at Disney World—the Lodging Hostesses, the desk clerks, the Serving Hostesses (my wife persisted in calling them waitresses), the newsstand cashiers, the street cleaners (I believe my wife wanted to call them Litter Hosts)—had been the kind of well-scrubbed, wholesome, eternally smiling young Americans whose reaction to being within fifty yards of any other human being is to shout a cheery hello and ask him if he’s having fun. Into the spirit of things from the start, I smiled whenever they smiled, and I said I was having lots of fun whenever I was asked. But my wife insisted on analyzing the hiring policy. She wanted to know, for instance, why an enterprise that had seven thousand new jobs available in central Florida hadn’t tried to retrain some underemployed black migrant workers instead of soaking up every clean-cut middle-class kid between Key West and Philadelphia. As she went on about how hot it must be inside a Mickey Mouse suit, I suddenly realized what she was thinking. Knowing that Disney would have to hire a certain percentage of blacks to avoid trouble, and being acquainted with the theory that too many black faces would spoil the fantasy of escape into the safe old days, she had figured out the logical place to put any black migrant worker who actually was hired: in the Mickey Mouse suit. My wife had probably been thinking that the Mickey Mouse who roamed the Magic Kingdom, waving and bowing and shaking hands, always remained silent not because speech would have broken the mood (the supposition of most of the people who feel compelled to analyze) or because mice can’t talk (my belief, under oath) but because visitors to Disney World would have been shocked to discover that Mickey Mouse had a heavy Southern Negro accent. Attitude is everything.

A lot of the customers at Disney World seemed too attraction-wise to have the proper attitude for enjoying Disney World. On our first day, we went to see the Mickey Mouse Revue, which turned out to be Abigail’s second-favorite Adventure in the Magic Kingdom—partly, I suspect, because of her personal contact with the star. After we had watched an introductory film about the history of Mickey Mouse animation—my wife poking me all the while to remind me about the flatness of the faces—some doors on our right opened automatically and a voice with what I can only describe as a Kappa Kappa Gamma accent came over the public-address system instructing us to move into the main theatre for the revue. Walking parallel to the stage, we stopped at seats directly in the center, but then the voice came again, asking that everyone fill up the seats as far to the right as possible. A woman sitting next to us started to rise, but her husband put his hand on her arm and said, “Don’t move. It’s only a tape.” A few minutes later, as we were all enjoying the overture led by a magically mechanized Mickey Mouse, who looked almost as realistic as he had with an alleged migrant worker inside of him, someone behind us said, “I bet Disney’s got five hundred grand tied up in the technology of this one alone.” What kind of talk is that for the Magic Kingdom?

From then on, I tried to keep Abigail away from strangers, afraid that one of them would try to persuade her that her favorite Adventure, It’s a Small World, was not nearly as impressive as the Hall of Presidents, since making automated figures that seem like dolls is not nearly as much of a technical triumph as making automated figures that seem like Presidents. (Abigail happens to prefer dolls to Presidents.) I tried to insulate Abigail from that kind of thinking—I avoided the temptation to refer to Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel as a merry-go-round, and I shouted “Hiya, Donald!” every time we got anywhere near Donald Duck—but my wife was a consistently non-magical influence. Although I had been able to assure her, after making inquiries, that the man in the Mickey Mouse suit was a white ex-jockey rather than a migrant worker whose growth had been stunted from too much bending in the fields, and that the people wandering the grounds inside the skins of hairier Disney characters were cooled by a form of dry-ice air-conditioning, she persisted in viewing Disney World as if it were an enterprise constructed by a corporation rather than the magically ordained Vacation Kingdom of the World. As the sun grew hotter every day, she suggested that a truly forward-looking firm would have thought of doming Orange County. She constantly pointed out that the cars of the futuristic monorail system that was available to whisk us from the Adventures of the Magic Kingdom back to the Polynesian Village hotel were not as modern as those in the shuttle trains of the new Tampa airport. When we were entertained by a fine banjo group during a twenty- or thirty-minute wait for the monorail train one day, she did not attempt to lead everyone in a sing-along—as I had seen a woman do in a similarly entertained line in front of the Country Bear Jamboree, my own favorite Adventure in the Magic Kingdom—but merely sighed occasionally and mumbled something about the wait for the downtown I.R.T. local. I said, “Nice of them to entertain us while we’re waiting to be whisked,” but it sounded lame.

She did not seem to react well to the ferocious friendliness of the young Disney World employees, particularly when it came in conjunction with the service problems that any tourist operation is bound to have in its first few weeks—problems complicated by the fact that the young people manning, say, the Polynesian Village seemed to owe their cheerfulness partly to not having had enough experience in hotel work to have been turned sullen.

“But attitude is everything,” I tried to explain to my wife one morning as we had breakfast at one of the restaurants on the old-fashioned Main Street of the Magic Kingdom. “For them and for us. The next time our Serving Hostess asks me if I’m having fun, I’m not just going to say yes—I’m going to say, ‘I sure am, Serving Hostess! It’s real great to be here in the Magic Kingdom!’ ”

My wife stared at her plate. “If one more of those cute little girls smiles at me and asks me if I’m having fun as she serves me cold eggs, I’m leaving,” she said.

My attitude was bound to be affected by that kind of talk. I began to find that when I was dealing with a Walt Disney World employee my cheerfulness varied inversely with his cheerfulness. When I asked a shining young thing outside the Mickey Mouse Revile about the wait inside and was told, with a smile, that the show was continuous—a statement that I knew from a previous visit was somewhere between an evasion and a falsehood—I found myself resenting the smile more than the misinformation. One afternoon, I spent a few hours trying to prevail upon somebody at the Polynesian Village to fix the television set in our room, and I found it more and more difficult to answer that I was having fun as a series of talks with relentlessly friendly young people at the front desk resulted in nobody showing up at our room except a man who said he had been sent to fix the air-conditioning. Returning from one of my negotiating sessions late in the afternoon, I had to admit to my wife that I did not trust myself to return to the front desk. In my final conversation with one of the smiling young clerks, I had caught myself as I was about to pound my fist on the desk and shout, “I demand to see a grownup!”

I had to guard my attitude while standing in line. If we were standing behind a few hundred people who wanted to see the same Adventure, I would try to brighten things up by commenting that it was thoughtful of Disney to provide strolling mariachi bands that were free of those occasional sour trumpet notes and drink-cadging episodes found among mariachi bands in places like Mexico, but secretly I wanted to be in a shorter line to another Adventure—any Adventure. I found myself thinking that if Walt Disney Productions really does take over the country or the world (a possibility my wife kept raising), the way it would solve, say, the welfare problem in New York would be to put a huge line in front of the welfare office and have no waiting at all at the office in which people were signed up as busboys—signed up by smiling young things who assured everyone that busboy jobs almost always lead to middle-management positions. “No theories,” I had to remind myself.

By our second day in Disney World—a Sunday—I had devised a scheme by which we might take Abigail on the Skyway to Tomorrowland, a kind of ski lift across the Magic Kingdom, without having to wait in the line that always seemed to stretch halfway through Fantasyland. The key to my scheme was for us to be at the Fantasyland section of the Magic Kingdom when it opened, at ten o’clock. I knew there were relatively few people actually staying on the grounds at Disney World, since the two resort hotels were still not ready for complete occupancy. Very few people from the outside world could arrive early, I figured, because they all had to drive some distance and then face what I had heard was at least an hour’s wait at the main gate. At exactly ten o’clock, we rushed through Cinderella’s Castle into Fantasyland and headed past Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel toward the entrance of the Skyway to Tomorrowland.

Abigail stopped walking. “I want to ride the merry-go-round,” she said.

“But we can always ride on Cinderella’s Golden Carrousel,” I said. “Now is the best time to go on the Skyway to Tomorrowland, because the Skyway to Tomorrowland is even more fun if you don’t have to stand in line for an hour before you get on it.”

“I love the merry-go-round,” Abigail said.

People were streaming past us. I could feel my entire scheme threatened. “Why aren’t these people in church?” I said to my wife. “What’s this country coming to?”

I turned to Abigail and tried to explain the problem. “Look, Abigail,” I said. “Here’s the plan. We ride the Skyway to Tomorrowland over to Tomorrowland. Then, while we’re in Tomorrowland, we ride the cars on the Grand Prix Raceway before those damned little boys have a chance to line up for eight blocks in front of it. Then we trot over to Adventureland and take the Jungle Cruise—unless it looks very uncrowded, in which case we pop into the Swiss Family Island Treehouse and then take the Jungle Cruise. That still may give us time to hit Peter Pan’s Flight back in Fantasyland if a lot of those people take their time coming up Main Street.”

I looked at Abigail. She was thinking it over. “Then we go on the merry-go-round,” she finally said.

“Exactly,” I said, proud that my daughter understood how a little scheming might be necessary even in the Magic Kingdom. As we hurried off toward the Skyway to Tomorrowland, I looked forward to a cheerful afternoon in the Magic Kingdom—the rest of them lined up at the Skyway or the Grand Prix or someplace while Abigail and I rode the merry-go-round, almost as carefree as we are when we ride the merry-go-round in Central Park and don’t have to worry about how long the lines in front of other Adventures are getting while we’re going round and round.

Early the following morning, I happened to be in the Magic Kingdom without Abigail or my wife. Business hours had been more effective than church in keeping the early-morning quiet, and it was possible to take a peaceful stroll down Main Street. Our no-line sweep the previous morning through what I had dreaded as the most crowded Adventures had been great for my attitude; as I walked toward Fantasyland, I answered a popcorn vender and a street sweeper and the driver of an old-fashioned car by saying I certainly was having a good time. I knew I would soon have to turn more analytical in order to defend Disney against any criticism my wife might have that morning after she and Abigail had been whisked over from the Polynesian Village.

“This reproduction of an old-fashioned Main Street is just a way to get people to buy things,” she would say.

“But that’s what an old-fashioned Main Street was,” I would reply. I stopped in front of the old-fashioned Emporium and wondered if I had enough time to stop in and buy Abigail a Mickey Mouse luggage tag.

“If they want to be so authentically American,” she would say, “why do they have frozen orange juice instead of fresh orange juice in the Florida Citrus Growers’ stand and ‘Indian crafts’ from Hong Kong instead of real Indian crafts at the Frontier Trading Post?”

“Because there’s a bigger profit margin on frozen orange juice and Hong Kong Indian crafts,” I would say. “And a bigger profit margin is authentically American.”

As I walked through Cinderella’s Castle into Fantasyland, it started to rain. I suddenly realized that I had an extraordinary opportunity. It was a rainy Monday morning, the relatively few people in the Magic Kingdom were seeking shelter, and I was only a couple of hundred yards from the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage, normally known as the Adventure with the most fantastic line in Fantasyland. There was bound to be practically no line at all. I would be able just to toss an E coupon from my seven-Adventure book at the attendant and walk right aboard. On the other hand, I had been on the Submarine Voyage at Disneyland, in California, and I remembered being so bored that halfway through the voyage I had considered asking the captain if I could possibly be shot to the surface. But could I pass up the opportunity to avoid a two-hour line? I walked slowly over to the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage. “Sorry, sir,” the cheerful young man at the gate said to me. “We’re closed until noon.” Thank God.

Abigail arrived shortly after that, and, forgoing the opportunity to walk casually into a lot of Adventures we hadn’t seen—Abigail, it turned out, prefers old familiar Adventures—we returned to It’s a Small World and then had some more carefree rides on the merry-go-round. ♦

(via Instapaper)

Tuesday, December 13

Now this is how Bibliophiles celebrate Christmas

Acid Picdump (147 pics)

Foreskin issues

This was an interesting aspect which i recently learnt about, people wanting to do something about their circumcision. This is the technology that we are taking about. I wasn't sure why people wanted to do this, till I came across this medical peer reviewed article. I personally think that we shouldn't circumcise babies, its a barbaric custom, akin to FGM. And to say that it reduces AIDS is stupid, there are quite a variety of ways that one can beat AIDS. And why take the choice away from babies? They aren't sexually active are they? And if they want to avoid aids by having their foreskin removed, they can do it when they are sexually mature and can take proper decisions.

I quote:

If a man is circumcised, he faces an increased risk of experiencing delayed orgasm, and his female partner has an increased risk of not feeling sexually fulfilled.

This is the clear-cut conclusion of a new Danish research article, which has received international attention.

Some 5,000 sexually active men and women were surveyed about their experiences and possible problems with their sex lives. With a specific focus on circumcised men and their women, the results are startling.

“Circumcised men are three times as likely to experience a frequent inability to reach an orgasm,” says one of the researchers, associate professor Morten Frisch of SSI, a Danish research, production and service enterprise.

Research into the effects on women is unique

This is one of only a few studies of the sexual consequences of male circumcision, and in one area in particular it is groundbreaking:

“Previous studies into male circumcision have looked at the effects it has on the men. But scientists have never really studied the effects this has on the women's sex lives,” says Frisch.

“It appears that women with circumcised men are twice as likely to be sexually frustrated. They experience a three-fold risk of frequent difficulties in achieving orgasm, and an eight-fold risk of feeling pain during intercourse – also known as dyspareunia.”

Circumcised men prefer it rough

The study has received international attention. Politicians from California, for example, have been in contact with the researchers because they want to ban circumcision in their federal state. (Photo: Colourbox)

There appears to be a very simple reason why circumcised men and their partners are having problems with their sex lives.

The circumcised man develops a thin layer of hard skin on his penis head, which decreases the sensitivity. This means that in order to reach an orgasm, he needs to work harder at it, and that can lead to a painful experience for the woman.

“We conducted a survey, but the data does not explain why these problems occur. There are, however, some good suggestions in the scientific literature,” he explains.

When the penis enters the vagina, the foreskin is pulled back. And on its way out again, the foreskin goes back to cover the penis head. This way the foreskin stimulates both the man and the woman.

The gliding in-and-out movement of the foreskin, combined with the in-and-out movement inside the vagina, constitutes what is known as ‘the gliding movement’.

“When a circumcised man moves in and out of a woman without 'the gliding movement' caused by the foreskin, it can have a painful effect on the woman's mucous membrane. This could explain the pain and the tendency towards dryness that some women with circumcised men experience.”

Sources of error were filtered out

A vast majority of the circumcised men in the study were circumcised based on a doctor's estimate.


In the U.S. some 50 percent of all boys are circumcised.

Circumcision is – or rather has been – common in many English-speaking countries. This is due to a trend from the Victorian age where doctors recommended that boys should be circumcised as this would make it more difficult to masturbate.

At the time, masturbation was thought to lead to a long list of problems, including mental illness and typhus.

“Only five percent of all Danish men are circumcised, yet we have statistically valid evidence that male circumcision can be associated with sexual problems.

The study did not involve many religiously circumcised men – Jews and Muslims, for example. But even with these factors taken into account, the data pointed in the same direction. The statistical analyses also took a long list of additional relevant factors into account, including:

  • Age
  • Cultural background
  • Religious background
  • Marital status
  • Levels of education
  • Household income
  • Age at first intercourse
  • Number of sex partners
  • Frequency of sexual activity with one partner in the past year

“We adjusted for all these factors in an attempt to ensure that circumcision is the actual cause, and that the link isn’t attributable to other factors.”

Bottom-line results were clear

Frisch mentions an example of how things get muddled up if researchers do not adjust for possible sources of error when they work with statistics:

“If, for instance, you look at people who drink lots of beer, you'll see that they face an increased risk of developing lung cancer, compared to those who don't drink much,” he says. “But it's not the drinking itself that causes the lung cancer. There just happens to be a correlation between drinking and smoking, and it is actually the smoking that causes the lung cancer.”

These kinds of error sources were taken into account, and the bottom-line results were clear:

“We’re seeing a consistent picture. Even though most circumcised men – and their women – do not have problems with their sex lives, there is a significantly larger group of circumcised men and their female partners who experience frequent problems in achieving orgasm, compared to couples where the man is not circumcised.”


Narrowed foreskin is popularly known as ‘Spanish Collar’ and scientifically as ‘phimosis’.

For half a century, large surveys have shown that problems with phimosis sort themselves out in childhood for up to 99% of boys. Nevertheless, this condition is still being used as a major argument for routine circumcision in many countries.

In addition, there are significantly more women with circumcised men, who experience vaginal pains during intercourse or feel that their sexual needs are not met.

Further studies needed

Frisch hopes this new study will be replicated by researchers in other countries and cultures.

“That way we can ascertain whether this phenomenon applies to Danes only or whether it extends into other cultures too,” he says. “All in all, I have a humble approach to our findings, so I would also like to see whether other Danish studies would reach the same conclusions.”

Study resonates internationally

According to Frisch, the study has received a great deal of international attention. For example, he has been contacted by politicians in California, who are very pleased with the results of the study because they want to ban circumcision in their federal state.

Others are less excited, saying the research is controversial.

“This is a highly sensitive issue, and some people oppose the publication of this kind of research. Some people have actually tried to stop the publication of our article,” he explains.

A question of ethics

Certain groups and individuals are lobbying in favour circumcising all men, explains Frisch. Not necessarily out of religious concern, but because they believe that circumcision has a health-promotional effect. In Africa, for instance, there are indications that circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection.

Monday, December 12

Facts of life

Dear Son
Here is an interesting email that I got referring to facts of life. One thing which you will notice is that this is quite brutal. As you would know, i am an incurable optimist and dreamer, wishing impossible wishes and dreaming impossible dreams. In terms of challenges, son, I have rarely come across anything that I couldn't do if I put my mind to it. But there are some limitations definitely, like my naval career due to my medical issues etc. etc. But these facts of life are interesting if brutal. Worth remembering son, because this provides you with rules which you can live with. I wont disagree with anything that's written here. Lets see, first the rules and then i will note my views on these rules which you can ignore if you wish. But its surprising how many people do not believe in these rules. That's because people don't know themselves. If you know yourself, then you will be one in a million.

  • Life is not fair.
  • No one is exempt from death.
  • Physics rules the universe and biology rules life.
  • The universe does not care.
  • The only constant in life is change.
  • There is always a choice.
  • Wishing never makes it so.
  • A person can't exceed their limits.
  • A person is responsible for their own happiness.
  • It is impossible to change the character of another.

So my views.
  • Life is not fair. Indeed its not. And never expect it to be fair. You can be fair to others, but don't expect things to be fair. Kids die. Innocents are destroyed, earthquakes happen. People are left without jobs and are poor. We have to deal with it, no whining. Nobody said that life is fair.
  • No one is exempt from death.Another brutal rule, but straightforward. I know when we are young, we don't expect death to happen, but it does, son, and I have experienced it first hand way too many times to be surprised.
  • Physics rules the universe and biology rules life. It does indeed, fairly straight forward. The sun doesn't rise in the west and we are, at end of the day, animals with a thin veneer of civilisation. So when push comes to shove, the biological imperatives will take over.
  • The universe does not care. This is a follow-up from the first one. The universe is a big old place, we are a tiny piece in it.
  • The only constant in life is change. Now this is something that i life and breathe. Never expect anything to remain constant, nothing, everything changes, son.
  • There is always a choice. Yep, there is always a choice, question is, whether you are happy to pay for the choices.
  • Wishing never makes it so. Wishing never makes it so, but wishes combined with dedication, passion, energy and enthusiasm will make it so.
  • A person can't exceed their limits. Recognise your limits son, know what you don't want to do or what you cant do, and you will be more successful.
  • A person is responsible for their own happiness. Absolutely right. People are usually the cause of their own unhappiness. If you are happy with what you have, if your desires are controlled, you will be happy. But you will frequently see people blaming others for their own unhappiness. That is utter bollocks. You have a choice, remember? You have a choice and since you have a choice, you also have a choice to be happy or unhappy. Personally speaking, always go for the bit that makes you happy, staying unhappy, moaning, whining is boring and people get turned off by people who moan and whine. Be happy, stay happy, keep others happy.
  • It is impossible to change the character of another. Oh! yes, character cannot be changed on the say so of anybody else. But people still try, lol.

Hope these help, Son. I know you are smart and you think, I know you will be a success and I love you and am proud of you for it.

Mark of the Beast Evil Symbols in Afghanistan

Michael Yon, one of my favourite photographers, came across this poster on a wall in Afghanistan.

My Persian (which is related to Dari) or if this is Pushto means that I cannot translate it but I found it fascinating that all these symbols, usually related to Christianity, ancient Egyptian and some hand symbols are all considered to be signs of the devil.

Saturday, December 10

Trustees and education

We are advertising for more trustees at Home Start Hillingdon. Here’s one which went into the Women in Technology Group.

3 - Enthusiastic volunteer trustees required for Home-Start, the UK’s leading family support charity
Home-Start is the UK’s leading family support charity - they support families struggling to cope with young children who with serious problems such as mental illness, alcoholism etc. Home-Start train volunteers (who are themselves parents) who then work with social services, health, police, etc. to recover the family and avoid the children being put into care (each child in care costs up to £50,000) and Home-Start have managed to intervene in about 100 families per year over the last 12 years or so in Hillingdon. They have had a few trustee retirements recently and they would like to increase the number of trustees who have experience in fund raising. This is a high governance charity (since they work with children) and would appeal to people who want to gain board level experience of running a firm. They also have three MPs as their trustees and work closely with the local council. It would also ideally suit people who are within commuting distance of Hillingdon (north west London) as they hold their monthly meetings there and fund raising takes place in and around Hillingdon. In particular Home-Start Hillingdon would like to seriously increase the amount of technology they use - such as having revenue generating efforts through a web shop, having a better website, providing financial education to their families via mobile or e-learning, providing e-coaching, assisting the volunteers with knowledge sharing on the website, better Facebook/social media interaction etc. So somebody who has an interest in applying technology to assist and help fundraise would be ideal. Trustees can expect to spend around 12 hours a month on this rewarding role which enables much needed support for vulnerable families. For more information please contact Bhaskar Dasgupta, an existing Home-Start Hillingdon Trustee, on 07545 236 207 or Tanya Link, Office Manager at Home-Start Hillingdon, on 01895 252804 or

In other aspects relating to HSH, I had a nice meeting with LSE SIFE team and HSH Senior Coordinator and we agreed to push for more financial education training to our great volunteers and the families. We will do the first pilot run in Q1 2012 and then see how we can improve the offering. If it works out, it would be brilliant. The LSE SIFE team has been doing great, they have hooked up with Microsoft, did a great job in reviewing the current offerings for financial education out there and have got a full fledged team working on this. Good stuff chaps.

The background to this is important. The families which we help, are usually one step away from calamity and total disintegration. While the volunteers help in recovering these families, if we can give them some help with improving their financial condition, that would be brilliant. The kids wont have problems, well, not too many, but will be able to get the little bit extra. So I am very chuffed about this..