Saturday, March 9

Warrior Petraeus

Remember this man Son. He will be remembered as one of the great thinkers of the current age, a warrior monk, who thinks fights negotiates and wins. Notice also how politicians actually create more problems and do not allow problems to be resolved. The sections around the negotiations with Petraeus and Obama just show how the  destiny of nations is dependent upon some idiot sitting in the White House. One of the reasons why I hate the uk getting into foreign entanglements. Not because its needed but because I know we will screw it up, leave hundreds killed and thousands injured, cost money and really not solve the problem. And we don't learn. The uk has been getting entangled in these wars for the past 1000 years. And what did we get for those wars in every continent since the centuries ? Look around you. We are the same old same old with millions of Brits lying dead and mouldering in thousands of cemeteries around the world. Just read about how the British graves in Lucknow dating back to 1857 which mum wrote about are going to be demolished for a train line. 

150 years afterwards, what will people say about bush or Obama's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? When more soldiers died outside combat than in it? Such a fruitless exercise. 

But wars will happen as long as men have penis's and need to wave it around to show who is the bigger man. 

So back to Petraeus. Learn from how he fights the insurgents and terrorists. Profit from the stupid decisions taken by politicians who lead countries to war. Just because they are stupid doesn't mean that you have to be stupid as well. Don't ever buy defence stocks. Stocks which rely on stupidity of people don't work out very well son. 

It would be interesting to see how Petraeus career pans out. I'm wondering if the republicans will pick him? 



Warrior Petraeus by Thomas Powers | The New York Review of Books


David Petraeus; drawing by James Ferguson

Former General David Petraeus, now retired from the United States Army and unemployed, had been a professional soldier for thirty years before he commanded troops in combat. The year was 2003, the place southern Iraq. The war to overthrow Saddam Hussein was only a few days old when Petraeus concluded that the scrambling retreat of the Iraqi army was not going to be the whole of the story.

“Tell me how this ends,” he remarked to a reporter embedded with Petraeus’s 101st Airborne Division, heading for Baghdad. “Eight years and eight divisions?”

Army folklore says “eight years and eight divisions” was General Matthew B. Ridgway’s answer when asked what it would take to rescue the French from defeat in Indochina in 1954. No president who was thinking straight—certainly not Dwight David Eisenhower—would ever commit so large a force for so long a time to anything less than a matter of the first importance. Survival of the French colonial regime did not come close. What Petraeus was saying was, now we’re in for it.

Open-ended wars—getting over them, staying out of them, stumbling into them—were the constant theme of Petraeus’s life as a solider. He had been a high school teenager in the mid-1960s when General William Westmoreland was playing tennis two or three times a week in Saigon, where his formal title was Commander of the United States Military Assistance Command Vietnam, or COMUSMACV. His preferred courts were at Le Cercle Sportif, a private sports club near the Saigon River, built by the French colonial regime in the 1890s. It was there in March 1966, while the army under Westmoreland’s command was climbing toward its ultimate peak of 540,000 men, that the general suffered his only wound during four years of war—a fractured wrist suffered when he fell on the court.

Friday, March 8

We cannot helicopter our way out of trouble

I keep on banging on about this factor which doesn't seem to sink into people's minds. This topic came up last week at a lecture at EBS, where I said that we have a problem of too low productivity for the level of debt that we have. And that low productivity means that we are simply not generating enough cash and value addition for the level of spending and the consequent debt we need to issue to pay for that spending. In other words, the jaws are widening.
Lets put it in another way, the amount of value we add is lesser than the amount we have to pay, therefore we are, day by day, increasing the pain for our future and our children. So enough already with the moaning, what can we do? No short term solutions, I am afraid and this has to be handled on both sides
We have to reduce spending drastically
At the same time, we have to improve productivity, that means using our scarce resources even better, relaxing planning laws, improving our education system, putting in better infrastructure, increasing savings, etc. etc.


here’s the article in question.

Let's be honest with savers: dropping money on the economy will fuel inflation

It turns out that London Fashion Week isn't restricted to clothing, footwear and assorted accessories. This year the catwalk is full of economic ideas: some good, some bad and others just downright silly. Fashion goes through the occasional crisis - hems above or below the knee, femininity, masculinity or androgyny - but economics, despite its dismal reputation, is going through a far bigger upheaval.
Until recently, central bankers were supposed to keep prices stable and little else. Pre-financial crisis, the assumption was that low and stable inflation would guarantee maximum sustainable growth and, over the long run, low rates of unemployment. No more. We now, it seems, take our economic cue from Doctor Who. Jumping into a macroeconomic Tardis, we have gone back to the late 1960s. After decades of denial, policymakers now apparently believe that there is a trade-off between unemployment and inflation. Yes, the Phillips Curve is back.
For economists of a certain vintage - and I include Sir Mervyn King, the soon-to-be-former Governor of the Bank of England - this is a very odd turn of events. The Phillips Curve was jettisoned in the 1970s as, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the time, both unemployment and inflation surged. For some, most obviously Milton Friedman, this was clear evidence that that the postwar Keynesian consensus was dangerous nonsense, to be rejected by all right-minded policymakers. Now, after decades in the wilderness, the Keynesian empire is back.
As Sir Mervyn himself admitted last week following the release of the Bank of England's inflation report, "in the short run, we'll have to accommodate [higher inflation]; it's not desirable, but that's the hand we have to play" in order to support a recovery. This is a remarkable volte-face. Pre-financial crisis, no central banker worth his salt would ever have admitted to such a trade-off. Back then, anti-inflationary credibility was all. Now, it seems, it is nothing.
Such is the enthusiasm to restore economic activity to its pre-crisis poise that some - most vocally Adair Turner, the charismatic Chairman of the Financial Services Authority - are advocating using so-called "helicopter money". (To be fair to Lord Turner, he'd prefer to try the policy anywhere other than the UK.) This tactic involves the government of the day purposefully increasing its budget deficit by a considerable amount, funded through the sale of newly issued bonds to the central bank which, in turn, generously prints a few billion new dollars, yen, euros or pounds to provide the necessary finance. That newly minted money is then "dropped" by monetary helicopters into the economy via either a tax cut or a sizeable increase in public spending. It is, apparently, money for nothing.
So long as an economy has plenty of spare capacity, the benefits of such a stimulus translate into higher growth rather than higher inflation. But how do we know if that spare capacity is out there? The OECD, which tries to calculate such things, keeps changing its institutional mind on this fundamental issue. Its initial estimate that the UK economy was more than 6 per cent below potential in 2009 has now been revised to less than 3 per cent. That suggests helicopter money cannot easily be justified on the basis of spare capacity alone - unless we're prepared to accept the risk of higher inflation.
I'd go further. Those who advocate helicopter money while claiming inflation won't pick up are either being disingenuous or have not fully grasped how the helicopter is supposed to take off. If helicopter money is anything other than old-fashioned fiscal stimulus in disguise, it is likely to work only if inflation and inflationary expectations head higher, while interest rates remain low. We would need to be explicit about the pain that would bring to our ageing Western societies, heavily dependent on fixed pensions. It means savers would suffer.
With interest rates at zero, the cost of borrowing can be lowered further only by raising inflationary expectations: the more inflation is expected to rise and the central bank indicates that it will do nothing to stop it, the further so-called "real" interest rates will drop. If indebted households and companies understand this, they can borrow more, knowing that their debts will be eroded by inflation. Their borrowing should, in turn, trigger more demand, increasing both output and inflation. So long as the central bank doesn't renege on its promise to allow higher inflation, the result should be a lasting recovery - even if it hurts savers in the process.
The case in favour of all this is Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, which led to a remarkable economic renaissance in the 1930s. During the Depression, US output fell 30 per cent and prices by 20 per cent. Thanks to massive monetary and fiscal stimulus - the closest we've been to a successful application of helicopter money - output in FDR's first term rose 39 per cent while prices went up 13 per cent. FDR made no secret of his intention to raise inflation. Given what had gone before, he argued, it was morally right.
FDR's policies reveal two things. First, even with huge amounts of spare capacity, inflation can still surge: today's policymakers are far too coy about the likelihood of rising prices. Second, FDR was able to justify the pursuit of higher inflation only because of the deflation and depression which had preceded it. Today, however, the case cannot so easily be made. That, more than anything else, is the reason why in the modern era helicopter money is unlikely to remain airborne for very long - particularly in the UK, where our problems seem increasingly to be an absence of productivity, not a severe shortfall in demand.

Thursday, March 7

Letter from Italy: Slippery Business

Dear son

My friend Vikram Doctor shared this with me. As you know we cook with olive oil assuming that its nice and healthy. As it turns out, the world of olive oil is full of dodgy characters. And extra virgin is not so virginal at all

So why am I sending this to you? For you to see how government subsidies and rules distort the marketplace. And why a dis functional government can really screw up basic operating principles of a good society and economy. 

Fraud and crime is not stoppable. But incentives like subsidies etc will always encourage crime. And think of one statement. You can make more money and be punished less by stuff like this than by pushing drugs!




Letter from Italy: Slippery Business : The New Yorker

On August 10, 1991, a rusty tanker called the Mazal II docked at the industrial port of Ordu, in Turkey, and pumped twenty-two hundred tons of hazelnut oil into its hold. The ship then embarked on a meandering voyage through the Mediterranean and the North Sea. By September 21st, when the Mazal II reached Barletta, a port in Puglia, in southern Italy, its cargo had become, on the ship’s official documents, Greek olive oil. It slipped through customs, possibly with the connivance of an official, was piped into tanker trucks, and was delivered to the refinery of Riolio, an Italian olive-oil producer based in Barletta. There it was sold—in some instances blended with real olive oil—to Riolio customers.

Between August and November of 1991, the Mazal II and another tanker, the Katerina T., delivered nearly ten thousand tons of Turkish hazelnut oil and Argentinean sunflower-seed oil to Riolio, all identified as Greek olive oil. Riolio’s owner, Domenico Ribatti, grew rich from the bogus oil, assembling substantial real-estate holdings, including a former department store in Bari. He bribed two officials, one with cash, the other with cartons of olive oil, and made trips to Rome, where he stayed at the Grand Hotel, and met with other unscrupulous olive-oil producers from Italy and abroad. As one of Italy’s leading importers of olive oil, Ribatti’s company was a member of ASSITOL, the country’s powerful olive-oil trade association, and Ribatti had enough clout in Rome to ask a favor—preferential treatment of an associate’s nephew, who was seeking admission to a military officers’ school—of a high-ranking official at the Finance Ministry, a fellow-pugliese.

However, by early 1992 Ribatti and his associates were under investigation by the Guardia di Finanza, the Finance Ministry’s military-police force. One officer, wearing a miniature video camera on his tie, posed as a waiter at a lunch hosted by Ribatti at the Grand Hotel. Others, eavesdropping on telephone calls among Riolio executives, heard the rustle of bribe money being counted out. During the next two years, the Guardia di Finanza team, working closely with agents of the European Union’s anti-fraud office, pieced together the details of Ribatti’s crime, identifying Swiss bank accounts and Caribbean shell companies that Ribatti had used to buy the ersatz olive oil. The investigators discovered that seed and hazelnut oil had reached Riolio’s refinery by tanker truck and by train, as well as by ship, and they found stocks of hazelnut oil waiting in Rotterdam for delivery to Riolio and other olive-oil companies.

The investigators also discovered where Ribatti’s adulterated oil had gone: to some of the largest producers of Italian olive oil, among them NestlĂ©, Unilever, Bertolli, and Oleifici Fasanesi, who sold it to consumers as olive oil, and collected about twelve million dollars in E.U. subsidies intended to support the olive-oil industry. (These companies claimed that they had been swindled by Ribatti, and prosecutors were unable to prove complicity on their part.)

In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” one investigator told me.) The E.U. also began phasing out subsidies for olive-oil producers and bottlers, in an effort to reduce crime, and after a few years it disbanded the task force. Yet fraud remains a major international problem: olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it is costly and time-consuming to produce—and surprisingly easy to doctor. Adulteration is especially common in Italy, the world’s leading importer, consumer, and exporter of olive oil. (For the past ten years, Spain has produced more oil than Italy, but much of it is shipped to Italy for packaging and is sold, legally, as Italian oil.) “The vast majority of frauds uncovered in the food-and-beverage sector involve this product,” Colonel Leopoldo Maria De Filippi, the commander for the northern half of Italy of the N.A.S. Carabinieri, an anti-adulteration group run under the auspices of the Ministry of Health, told me.

Wednesday, March 6

College Essays Make Kids Stupid and Selfish

This was an interesting article.

Quick quiz: Which of the following is not an essay topic on the latest version of the common application to gain admission to U.S. colleges?

1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event -- formal or informal -- that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.

6. Discuss a particularly significant Facebook status update. What prompted it? Where were you when you posted it? How did you feel when only four of your friends “liked” it?

The common application, which is now accepted by more than 500 colleges, is the best example of how the admissions process has become an exercise in encouraging 17-year-olds’ narcissism. Also new this year, rising high-school seniors will be allotted 650 words in which to indulge themselves. Was that because the 500 they have been given previously just didn’t do these topics justice?

Now as one can appreciate, one can ask other questions which the author refers to

What about a historical event that influenced you? Again, there will be plenty of opportunity for reflection on your own life when you reveal that the Emancipation Proclamation actually released your great-great-great-grandparents from bondage.

Or that learning about the Holocaust made you change your view of Judaism and whether God is good. Or perhaps that reading about the women’s suffrage movement turned you into an ardent feminist. But it won’t be all about you.

How about an invention that most changed your life? You might write that it’s the cell phone or the iPad. You would at least have to reflect on why that is the case, know something about its development, what life was like before it, and even -- here’s the key -- construct an argument for why this particular thing was more influential than other things.

The navel-gazing essays require only telling a story, a “narrative” about yourself, as college administrators have it. Sure, there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It could be in a “five-paragraph” format. But it doesn’t reveal much about how you think -- just how you feel.

given that we will be working with Kannu’s college entrance essay, it will be interesting to see what he wants to write about. He has selected a topic which is surprisingly close to my last PhD, what is the impact of war on economies. I promise, I didnt have anything to do with it, so its quite interesting…Here in the UK, you have a different this kind of navel gazing or grazing is avoided..

A most extraordinary photo


Welcome to Paris

Tuesday, March 5

Original Sin | New Republic

An interesting article on the stupid party in the USA, son. 

A govt is needed. Limited no doubt but its needed. So the problem as you can see with the republicans in USA and the Tories here in the uk is that they have to deal with a populace which is heterogenising and atomising along with a huge welfare bill. And then these stupid people fight against gay marriage, immigration, helping the poor etc Etc. 

result? Irrelevance. 

Original Sin | New Republic


With Barack Obama sworn in for a second term—the first president in either party since Ronald Reagan to be elected twice with popular majorities—the GOP is in jeopardy, the gravest since 1964, of ceasing to be a national party. The civil rights pageantry of the inauguration—Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and Martin Luther King’s, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s swearing in of Joe Biden, BeyoncĂ©’s slinky glamor, the verses read by the gay Cuban poet Richard Blanco—seemed not just an assertion of Democratic solidarity, but also a reminder of the GOP’s ever-narrowing identity and of how long it has been in the making.

“Who needs Manhattan when we can get the electoral votes of eleven Southern states?” Kevin Phillips, the prophet of “the emerging Republican majority,” asked in 1968, when he was piecing together Richard Nixon’s electoral map. The eleven states, he meant, of the Old Confederacy. “Put those together with the Farm Belt and the Rocky Mountains, and we don’t need the big cities. We don’t even want them. Sure, Hubert [Humphrey] will carry Riverside Drive in November. La-de-dah. What will he do in Oklahoma?”

Monday, March 4

Where's _why?" by Annie Lowrey

Dear kannu

Quite an interesting story about a learner hacker, the history of a programming language and a programmer. 

It's fascinating. Programming. You did a little bit didn't you? When I your age, I was heavy into programming and stuff. Plus had my computer science friends to help as well. And was teaching this stuff. Heady days. So much ignorance and so much confidence. 

I loved programming. Seriously loved it. Kept on doing it seriously till You were born and then did a bit more in my first job and then didn't really do much in anger till I pottered around a bit in the next phd. 

It's a fun time. You are basically communicating. That's the trick which gk (my old friend from bhopal) who taught me. It's the language which we speak to the computer. I used to think of it as sculpture. A more forgiving type of sculpture. 

It was good. I still remember that late December night in 1995 when my programme ran and the model worked beautifully for the phd in Manchester. I shouted out in triumph. Success. Nailed the sucker in 4 months. Then basically bummed around for another 2.5 years waiting to collect the piece of paper :)

Ok. Enough nattering on. You have fun son, and read about these programming people. You will be using their products. You will be working with them. You will be investing in them directly or indirectly. You may even get attacked by these people! 



"Where's _why?" by Annie Lowrey [Send Me a Story]

On the mysterious disappearance of a beloved coding legend (and his code) with stops along the way for a short history of programming languages, an ethnography of code-based communities, and an inquiry into what it means to “die young without artifact.”
Where’s _why?
On the mysterious disappearance of a beloved coding legend (and his code) with stops along the way for a short history of programming languages, an ethnography of code-based communities, and an inquiry into what it means to “die young without artifact.”
Annie Lowrey | Slate | Mar 2012

In March 2009, Golan Levin, the director of Carnegie Mellon University’s interdisciplinary STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, invited an enigmatic and famed computer programmer known to the virtual world only as “Why the Lucky Stiff” or “_why”—no, not a typo—to speak at a CMU conference called Art && Code—also not a typo—an event where artsy nerds and nerdy artists gather to talk shop.

_why came to Pittsburgh and presented his latest project to a room full of a student programmers and artists. He was scruffily handsome, seemingly in his early- to mid-30s, with shaggy brown hair falling in his eyes and a constant half-smile. He looked like a member of an indie band—he actually was in an indie band—or the leader of an experimental improv troupe.

At this symposium, he wore a pair of oversize sunglasses and a tidy sports coat with a red pocket square, a silly riff on a stuffy professor’s outfit. He introduced himself as a “freelance professor.” “I don’t know exactly why I was invited here today. I’m not associated with anything of repute,” he admitted to giggles from the packed crowd.

He riffed on his nom d’Internet, Why the Lucky Stiff: “Some people want to call me Mr. Why. My nametag was filed under ‘L.’ The thing is, it’s just a middle name. There’s no first or last. It’s just one middle name. That’s just the nature of it,” he said.

Then he introduced his new product, a free interactive application called Hackety Hack, which he had built from scratch to solve a problem he called the “Little Coders Predicament” in a 2003 manifesto.

The Little Coder’s Predicament arises from the following problem: We live in world of astonishingly advanced technologies, easy to use and all around us. Your grandmother has a smartphone. Your 2-year-old can play with an iPad. But the technology behind such marvels is complex and invisible, abstracted away from the human controlling it. Nor do these technologies offer us many ready chances to do basic programming on them. For nearly all of us, code, the language that controls these objects and in a way controls our world, is mysterious and indecipherable.

Back in the old days, you could hack your Commodore 64 without too much trouble. But just try to get a sense of the millions of lines of code controlling a Windows computer, or the Google search engine, or your Android or iPhone. For starters, the user interface and legally enforced sanctity of the code will prevent you from even seeing it. And even if you managed to take a look, the code would be so complex you would struggle to understand it, let alone manipulate it.

For that reason, _why explained in the “Little Coder’s Predicament”—and over and over again at conferences and panels—too few people were learning to code. The learning curve was too steep. There needed to be a simple, fun, awesome way to draw people in.

“We need some instant results to give absolute beginners confidence. Simple methods for sending an email, reading a Web page, playing music,” he wrote. Moreover, novice programmers—especially kids—needed that ecstatic moment where they understand that they are controlling the computer, that programming ensures that the computer answers to them.

That’s what Hackety Hack did.

Sunday, March 3

Lionheart’s heart

Richard I, the lionheart had his heart embalmed. So what came out of the result?

Abstract: During the Middle Ages, the partition of the cadaver of the elite members was a current practice, with highly technical treatment given to symbolic organs such as the heart. Considered mostly from a theoretical point of view, this notion of dilaceratio corporis has never been biologically explored. To assess the exact kind of embalming reserved to the heart, we performed a full biomedical analysis of the mummified heart of the English King Richard I (1199 A.D.). Here we show among other aspects, that the organ has been embalmed using substances inspired by Biblical texts and practical necessities of desiccation. We found that the heart was deposed in linen, associated with myrtle, daisy, mint, frankincense, creosote, mercury and, possibly, lime. Furthermore, the goal of using such preservation materials was to allow long-term conservation of the tissues, and good-smelling similar to the one of the Christ (comparable to the odor of sanctity).

Here is the lead box in which his heart was stored


and the second photo shows what’s in the box.


i was quite taken aback. I would have thought that the embalmed heart will look vaguely like a heart, not these fragments and fabric components? Here’s an example of mummified organs


Curious, eh?

The Charles Schulz Philosophy

Words to live by…

The following is the philosophy of Charles Schulz, the creator of the 'Peanuts' comic strip.
You don't have to actually answer the questions. Just ponder on them.

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America pageant.
4 Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.
6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.


How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday.
These are no second-rate achievers.
They are the best in their fields.
But the applause dies...
Awards tarnish...
Achievements are forgotten.
Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:
1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with..


The lesson:
The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the
most credentials, the most money...or the most awards.
They simply are the ones who care the most.