Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cleverlands by Lucy Crehan

Thoughts on 'Cleverlands' by Lucy Crehan
A shorter review from The Economist The lessons from world's swottiest countries : "As a science teacher in London she had read about countries that scored higher in PISA than England, and wanted to see their schools up close. So she taught in Canada, Finland, Japan, Singapore and Shanghai. “Cleverlands”, her first book, is her account of that odyssey."

Monday, August 21, 2017

Update on Gidla Sujatha

"Our neighbours in India have been actively trying to kick my mom out of her apartment. Her (upper) caste colleagues hate the fact that her daughter wrote a successful book. That is the irony; we cannot even celebrate the publication of the book because we are afraid that it will make people around us unhappy. Even fellow untouchables are not posting it on social media for fear of being exposed to their colleagues and (upper) caste friends as untouchables," she elaborated. From 'INDEPENDENCE WAS ONLY TRANSFER OF POWER; TRUE FREEDOM IS EQUAL ACCESS TO EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE'

A different kind of dystopia

Our technocratic dystopia

“I have a foreboding of an America in my children's or grandchildren's time -- when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
As if these words were not ominous enough, Sagan follows up just a page later with another paragraph which is presumably designed to reduce us to a frightened, whimpering mass.

“I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic or national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. 

The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.”

That was Carl Sagan in 1995 from  Carl Sagan's 1995 prediction of our technocratic dystopia by Ashutosh Jagalekar in his excellent post. He asks 
"In terms of people “losing the ability to set their own agendas or question those in power”, consider how many of us, let alone those in power, can grasp the science and technology behind deep learning, climate change, genome editing or even our iPhones? And yet these tools are subtly inserting them in pretty much all aspects of life, and there will soon be a time when no part of our daily existence is untouched by them. "

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Goldman's foray into cryptocurrency

"In plain english that’s the same as throwing cheap dollars at bitcoin, pump it higher (by preventing a dollar squeeze from ever emerging) at the same time as lining up investment funds and passive investors to dump the coins onto later.
If you’re thinking at least with bitcoin there’s no prospect of over-investment leading to the sort of over-production that could stifle the bull case in the long run, you’d be wrong. Every penny diverted from productive investments over to non-productive bitcoin, is a penny diverted from the productive sector to the consumption sector without any compensatory output guaranteed.
When the cost of dollars goes up accordingly to compensate, which it will eventually have to do, the opportunity costs of not being invested in the productive sector will be too great to ignore. Funds will then cash in their bitcoin gains and transfer over. The latter’s gain will be the former’s loss. But unlike the commodity market there won’t be an obvious fundamental floor to stop at on the way down.
If all this, meanwhile, is coupled with a boom in wider cryptocurrency production, the crash might come even quicker." from 
Meanwhile Tim Taylor has a long post Blockchain: new frontiers
Check also the old Post from Economist's View

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Michael Pettis discusses economics via accounting identities

Michael Pettis on current accounts and the Chinese economy transcript of a disucussion and may need registration.
The first part is a general discussion from US to Europe. Excerpts:
"Michael Pettis Right. Again, one of the big problems in this discussion is that we tend to think of savings as something that households do and households are one of three groups that save. And we tend to think of changes of saving as reflecting changes in thriftiness or all that stuff, prudence etc. 
Cardiff Garcia The other two groups by the way in addition to households are the corporate sector and the government.
Michael Pettis Yes, exactly. So if you look for example at Germany, Germany was running current account deficits in the 1990s, quite large. And then after the labour reforms of 2003-2004, they started running huge current account surpluses, the largest in the world. Many people said that was because German households, seeing an uncertain world, became thriftier, more prudent etc, but if you look at the numbers that’s not the case. Their household savings rate was unchanged. 
What happened was that the labour reforms, which is usually a euphemism for reducing wages, caused, and you can see it clearly in the numbers, the household share of German GDP contracted. And because the household share contracted, consumption contracted and savings went up. Who was responsibility for the higher savings? German corporates, because their profitability went up as wages went down, so it was business savings that went up and business savings went up simply because wages went down."
About China:
"Cardiff Garcia Michael, you wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal that a few years ago everybody thought that China was going to have a financial crisis. You said that wasn’t the case. You recently wrote that now everybody is saying that China might even be able to manage 6% or 7% GDP growth into the future for the next ten, 15 years and you said that’s wrong also. Let’s take the first bit: why is it that China will be able to avoid a financial crisis?
Michael Pettis..........Crises are caused by what economists refer to as sudden stops. That is when you have a significant mismatch between assets and liabilities and some event prevents you from rolling over the liabilities. That’s when you have a crisis. Now, if you look at the Chinese balance sheets, they look terrible, particularly the small banks. Not only do they have really awful assets but their funding base is terrible. It’s all purchased money, very little retail deposits. So you would think with these kinds of balance sheets, China should have a crisis. But as long as the banking system is closed and most of the money remains within the banking system and the regulators are credible, then that mismatch disappears because the liabilities can easily be restructured by the regulators. They can force banks to lend among themselves if there’s a run on any one bank......
 I think there’s a consensus on this now, they know what the reforms are, and they involve a transfer of wealth from local governments — from governments, but because of political centralisation it will be local governments — to the household sector. That’s the only way to increase consumption and reduce savings.....
Now, again wearing my banker’s hat, that means among other things you want to re-centralise the credit allocation process. So what I’m expecting to see, what I have been speaking to my students about for a couple of years, is that one of the indications that the President is being successful in his attempts to implement the necessary reforms is we should start to see a change in the credit allocation away from the local governments back towards Beijing. There are many ways this can happen.
For example we all know there are too many banks in China so there are going to be a lot of mergers. The big question is, do you have all of these local banks merged into the big Beijing banks, so you create these huge zombies but run by Beijing, or do they merge among themselves and create alternatives to the Beijing banks? If my model is right it’s going to be the former. That’s what the President will have to do. And what I suggested is that this is related to the fact that interbank interest rates have been extremely high recently. You know how the interbank lending works in China: it’s basically the big four lend to the local provincial and local banks because of their huge retail branch system. So what happens if you raise the interbank rate? Well if you raise the interest rates it’s a transfer of wealth from net borrowers to net lenders. Who are the net borrowers? They’re the small local provincial banks. Who are the net lenders? They’re the big Beijing banks.
So I don’t know if this was their plan but to me it’s very consistent with this whole process of the re-centralisation of power. Basically high interbank rates weaken the local banks tremendously at the expense of the big Beijing banks and that’s what I would want to see if Xi Jinping is going to be successful."

The Columbian exchange

"One of the big problems with both Acemoglu, Johnson, and Robinson's (AJR) work on development, and also with Spolaore and Wacziarg's QJE paper on genetic distance, is that they hadn't actually read, or properly internalized, the teachings of Crosby and Diamond. AJR argued that disease climate was a proxy for institutions and not geography, whereas clearly one might make a case that it's also a good proxy for climatic similarity. Areas of the world where European peoples died are also areas of the world where European crops and cattle also died. This was an insight that AJR missed. If Acemoglu got a John Bate's Clark for his work on institutions, then Crosby certainly deserves a Nobel. 

    Of course, there's more here. The insights of Crosby/Diamond don't end in 1500. First, history casts long shadows. But, aside from that, the world was largely agrarian even long after the Industrial Revolution in 1800. In Malthusian societies, agricultural technologies are very important. If you are a farmer in Angola, those new varieties of wheat, and farming technologies discovered in the American midwest in 1900, or even 1950, are not going to help you. If you live in Australia, the Southern Cone countries, or Europe, they will. " from 
The Wikipedia article Columbian Exchange.

Friday, August 18, 2017

A comprehensive article on Acute Encephalitis Syndrome

The Gorakhpur mystery New research promises to find the causes behind India's annual encephalitis outbreaks by Priyanka Pulla
"John and several other researchers, including Vashishtha, have been calling for a change in the definition of Acute Encephalitis Syndrome. AES is too broad a label, they say, because any illness meeting the criteria of fever, altered mental status and seizures is classified as AES. This means many encephalopathies caused by non-viral agents are also classified as AES by inexperienced doctors who don’t focus on case-definitions. This is harmful, John argues.
The term Acute Encephalitis Syndrome was never meant to be a diagnosis. It was merely a surveillance tool created by WHO so that it would not fail to count cases that could be Japanese encephalitis, but couldn’t be confirmed because of a lack of access to lab testing kits.
“In other words, AES means that Japanese encephalitis is most likely. It is purely a surveillance terminology. It has crept into clinical diagnosis, unfortunately, and now people are using it as a diagnostic category,” he says."
And much more.

Cyril Connolly review of 'Washington's long war on Syria'

Stephen Gowan’s new book, ‘Washington’s Long War on Syria‘:
"The Muslim Brotherhood – ideological precursors to al-Qaeda and ISIS – has been on a mission against the governments of Syria, Libya and Iraq dating back to the 1970s when it declared a ‘war without end’ against Ba’ath Arab Socialism which it viewed as being incompatible with the Quran.
The US found an ally and strange-bedfellow in the Muslim Brotherhood, which could carry out its economic decree by proxy."

Rajiv Malhotra interviews V.S.Ramachandran

One of those things. Many of the remarks seem innocuous, RM planting some ideas but did not really pursue them. There is a sly remark (after 1:09:20) by VSR about people trying to cover their inferiority by being part of a group which has achievers. This of course applies to several group phenonomena. In my extrapolation, I see this element in glorifying our ancestors and their works as well as currently trying to rub shoulders with achievers, not just Hindutva people but various groups. See, for example, Iqbal's pride in his Brahmin ancestry http://www.hvk.org/2002/0202/186.html

Thursday, August 17, 2017

More uses of blockchain technology

Indian women on record

Via http://www.womenonrecord.com, from a post of Rahul Banerjee

Adam Smith on impartial observers

Adam Smith's impartial spectator


Adam Smith claims that humans naturally sympathize with others and seek their approval. The process of matching our sentiments with others’ sentiments forms the basis of our moral judgment. But what do we do when sentiments conflict? Smith saw that we need to move beyond literal impartial spectators to reach some ideal by which we can judge others’ sentiments and our own. That ideal is a category that we develop inductively. The category then allows us to construct imaginary representations of a perfect impartial spectator to arbitrate conflicts between the views of literal impartial spectators and our own.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Indian Express on Gidla Sujatha's book

Ant to elephant, Andhra to New York, writer maps caste "“I still feel caste and it is like an un-get-rid-offable stench when I am visiting India, beginning at the check-in line at the airport.Our experience has been that whenever we have thought we have plumbed the depths of casteism, we find that it is even deeper,” 
The article does ot mention much about her mother Manjula whose story, her relations with her husband apart from caste oppression is a powerful part of the book. Her uncle is sometimes mentioned along with Kalekuri Prasad "Like the eminent Dalit revolutionary thinker K. G. Satyamurthy, who was one of the founders of the People’s War Group, Kalekuri Prasad too was a guile-less individual who never hid anything. There are many other similarities between them; to be honest, neither had any personal life of their own. They were both two great common men who were totally dedicated to society."
Perhaps, the unpublished writings of both of them will come out some day.

A long article on Julian Assange

A man without a country by in the New Yotker. The main claim seems to be that Julian Assangeis not neutral in his treatment of US and Russia and the author presents some circumstantial evidence. The clincher is "James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, put the conclusion bluntly to me: “It was done by a cutout, which of course afforded Assange plausible deniability.”"
In any case, if one looks at the conflicts around the world, US is involved in many more places than the Russians. More about James Clapper in the Wikipedia "Following the June 2013 leak of documents detailing NSA practice of collecting telephony metadata on millions of Americans’ telephone calls, two U.S. representatives accused Clapper of perjury for telling a congressional committee that the NSA does not collect any type of data on millions of Americans earlier that year. One senator asked for his resignation, and a group of 26 senators complained about Clapper’s responses under questioning. In November 2016, Clapper resigned as director of national intelligence, effective at the end of President Obama's term. In May 2017, he joined the Washington, D.C.-based think tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) as a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Intelligence and National Security."
P.S. What if the DNC Russian “hack” was really a leak after all? A new report raises questions media and Democrats would rather ignore from Salon.com
P.P.S. I knew Julian Assange in the early 2000's. He took a course on Complex Analysis from me. He got mediocre grades (mathematics did not seem to be his main interest) and we chatted off and on about politics. He never asked me for better grades in assignments and generally wanted to know what he did wrong in assignments.

Rahul Banerjee examines shit problems in Rewa

When pigs fly!!
"Rewa Municipal Corporation was given money under the NRCP a couple of years ago. The municipal planners under the direction of the planners of the State Government designed and constructed a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) from the funds provided which is ready. However, they forgot to lay sewer lines in the town to collect the waste water and direct it to the STP!! So the STP is standing like a monarch of all the shit that it can survey without any of it coming to it!! I have interviewed many people of Rewa town in the past few days but not one of them had heard that the STP had been built and none knew where it was situated. The engineer of the municipal corporation who is supposed to supervise and monitor its construction was evasive as to where this STP was located. Eventually I had to go through the google satellite map of Rewa with a tooth comb to find out where the STP was located!! Belatedly the contract for laying the sewer lines and constructing more STPs has been given to a firm now. The staff of this firm too were evasive about where exactly they are working and refused to give me any details. So STPs and sewerage lines are being built without the citizens knowing anything about this."

M.S. Swaminathan on Indian farming

Why can’t the government provide a higher income for farmers? M.S. Swaminathan
"The government is willing to pay Seventh Pay Commission salaries to insulate government servants from inflation, but they cannot provide a higher income for farmers to improve their lot? If you really look at what is happening now, farm loan waivers are posing a bigger burden on the government exchequer compared to what higher pay for farm produce will incur. But the government is not prepared to give the ₹20,000 crore or so for farmers by way of higher MSP. In 2009, the UPA government gave ₹72,000 crore as farm loan waiver, but no government is prepared to take long-term steps to ensure the economic viability of farming."
"Unfortunately, all policies today are related to corporate powers."