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September 29, 2004


September 27, 2004

In a very timely post on the frightening ability of Americans to sometimes completely delude themselves, Prashant noted the passing of Arthur Blood - dissenting diplomat and then US consul general in East Bengal - who protested the Nixon administration's complicity in the Pakistani crackdown in (what is now) Bangladesh in which as many as 3 million civilans may had died.

The complete cable that Blood sent in protest, alongwith all other US government documents related to the Bangladesh war are now declassified and are available here.


Interesting article on yesterday's NYT magazine on blogging and its impact on the American political landscape (I am not finished reading it)

Billmon (who used to run a prominent lefty weblog) has a critical piece on the mainstreamization of blogs in LA Times. I am not very sympathetic to his viewpoint on this subject and this post responds to some of the charges.

I think the idea that the prominest blogs stop being subversive and/or suck the Oxygen out of blogosphere is old, justified and in the nature of things. Way back, before the left oriented blogs like DailyKos or Whiskey bar were as prominest as they now are in North America, before the conservative warbloggers like Instapundit became so popular, bloggers in North America used to handwring over the prominence of what went under the name of "A list bloggers".

Clay Shirky wrote an interesting article on power law distribution last year. What he wrote and what I said in my commentary then, is still valid.

However, there are some caveats. I think single topic weblogs are still a powerful idea. Internet (thank you google!) makes it much easier to find sites catering to your interests. If you are not trying to tackle something as broad as North American politics, there is still enough space for interesting niche weblogs.

If you do want to tackle a broad enough subject, the only way to do it now in a way that attracts a large readership is to provide a diversity of original voices

In fact, as Billmon's own experience showed, it should be the preferred option if the motivation is fame or influence.

September 25, 2004

Random links

Good story in the Guardian about how Bangalore's creaking infrastructure is failing to scale up to the needs of the booming IT industry and its growing population.

Also in Guardian, 70 anecdotes about Leonard Cohen on his 70th birthday

Zadie Smith gave a talk about her American road trip peddling her new book

Isaiah Berlin virtual library

Great hackers is Paul Graham's new essay

Lastly, if you havent yet checked out, you ought to check out Vivisimo

September 20, 2004

Events calender

Sulekha Mehta has a book reading in Asia Society on Sept 28

Sepia International has a Raghubir Singh retrospective from Sept 30 to Oct 30 (Opening reception is on Sept 30th 6-8 PM). I doubt very much wheather we would get to see another Raghuvir Singh retrospective in quite some time either in India or in USA. If you happen to be in the tristate area, you might want to try to drop in. I am hoping to check it out.

September 19, 2004

Gallery hopping

I checked out a few exhibitions in NYC last weekend:

Alex Webb's ongoing exhibition at Ricco/Maresca is good. The other ongoing show in that gallery by Bill Barminsky looked quite interesting too.

Alessandra Sanguinetti's solo exhibition in Yossi Milo is available online. The series is also described here. Her earlier work is displayed here.

Garry Winogrand's exhibition in Pace/MacGill through Oc 16 (review here). You should check it out if you happen to be in the neighbourhood.

Howard Greenberg has an intriguing series of nudes by Kenro Izu against a dark shadowy blue background on large format cyanotype over platinum/palladium prints on exhibition. The prints were intriguing. I know very little about printing; so let me just quote from The gallaery press release:

"Using a custom built large format camera, Izu produces 14x20 inch negatives. He then prints the negatives directly onto a fine watercolor paper that has been hand coated with a platinum emulsion. The addition of one to two layers of blue cyanotype adds nuance of multiple tones, bringing luminous abstract forms out of a rich velvety darkness. ....."

September 18, 2004

MT Upgrade and comments

I seem to have managed to sort out the back end problem associated with the Movable Type upgrade.

In spite of the inherent pain involved in any MT upgrade, I would highly recommend it to any blogger still running an older version of Movable Type.

I was quite depressed about the amount of spam this weblog was attracting; hated having them on the site, having to clean them up. I was seriously thinking about taking down the individual page archive rather than waste time trying to manage spam when MT released this version which provides much more sophisticated comment management module.

I am planning to have the comments functionality back up in a few days, but with a caveat. You will need to register in Typekey (run by MT) to be able to comment on any post here. Typekey has a fairly simple registration process (and I certainly dont want the overhead of moderating comments if they can keep the spammers at bay). Also, if you register with typekey, apparently you will be able to use their authentication for any other Movable Type powered weblog (so long as that weblog accepts typekey registered accounts). Hopefully, at some point of time, Six Apart and Google will start talking to each other and one registration will suffice for both blogger and Movable Type accounts!

September 16, 2004

Ricardo’s difficult idea

A few days back, Amardeep Singh, (who writes a lively and erudite weblog primarily about South Asia) linked to an intriguing article on NYT describing an upcoming article by Paul Samuelson (apparently) questioning the economic arguments for free trade in services. Obviously questioning free trade is nothing new, but what is unusual about this is that an economist of Samuelson’s stature is writing it.

In the context of the article, Amardeep wanted an explanation of Comparative Advantage theory of Ricardo. A commentator has already linked to the Wikepedia entry on a comment to his post.

As a non-economist, I found this page to have the most lucid explanation. It also linked to “Principles of Political economy and taxation” in its entirely in both html and PDF. Modern theory of comparative advantage has apparently come a long way since 1817 when Ricardo wrote it, although Ricardo remains something of a patron saint of free trade.

One the reasons people keep taking potshots at comparative advantage theory is because the argument for free trade is built on the mathematical foundations provided by it. You can’t fight the idea for free trade in respectable economic circles without at least euthanizing Ricardo (kind of like you can’t talk about creationism without taking on the elephant in that particular room, Darwin’s theory of evolution).

As early as 1994 Krugman wrote a paper entitled Ricardo’s difficult idea that anticipated and addressed most of the challenges to the comparative advantage theory on the op-ed pages. (It is a little unfortunate that Krugman’s reputation as a political commentator seems to have overshadowed his academic reputation as one of the finest economists of his generation; he is also one of the most lucid writers on political economy for laymen like us). In order to get a context, it is worth reading that particular Krugman paper when reading any critique of Ricardo.

The last prominent op-ed attacking comparative theory that I had noticed was in January 2004; written by Charles Schumer and Paul Craig Roberts. This response by Noam Scheiber in TNR to that article was particularly witty. I think it still remains relevant as a rejoinder.

However, it would be ridiculous to even suggest that Samuelson doesn’t get Ricardo. (Although I do think that Western thinkers often make certain wrong assumptions about outsourcing and Dr Bhagwati in an interview for that article suggested as much). Stanislaw Elam once asked Samuelson to name one theory, which is both true and non-trivial in the social sciences. After several years Samuelson replied that it is the theory of comparative advantage.

"That it is logically true need not be argued before a mathematician; that it is not trivial is attested by the thousands of important and intelligent men who have never been able to grasp the doctrine for themselves or to believe it after it was explained to them.”

I don’t expect to get Samuelson’s scholarly article when it appears (when economists write for other economists, I suspect they take great care to ensure that it is inaccessible to those outside the fold!). Perhaps someone like Edward Hugh or Dr Delong would interpret that article for people like us!

September 9, 2004

Charities for Beslan

New York Times provided a list of charities accepting donations to help the relief efforts in Beslan, Russia. These are:

Beslan Relief Fund of the Orthodox Church in America,
Consulate General of the Russian Federation
Embassy of the Russian Federation,
International Foundation for Terror Act Victims
Terror Relief Fund

I understand that 'Doctors Without border' has also sent a team of physicians to Russia. I personally think that governments or most large organizations have way too much unnecessary overheads that eat into the donations. I feel that Medicins Sans Frontieres is one of the exceptions. Almost 86% of what they spend every year go into program services (management overhead is about 2% and the rest go into fund raising)

They go to the worst places; They are usually among the first ones to go in and the last ones to come out. That is why their closure of programs in Afghanistan caused such shock waves.

Their donation page is here.

September 7, 2004

Migration to MT 3.1

I have just migrated to the new version of Movable Type. The result on the backend has not been pretty. I suspect that things may be kind of unstable over the next few days. We may potentially be out of circulation for a few days while we try to iron out the kinks

September 6, 2004

gmail accounts

Following in the footsteps other webloggers, I am gonna send a gmail invite to the first 4 people who ask it. You can request it through comments here or you can send me a mail to kaush at kaush dot com.

September 5, 2004

Secularism: The debate degenerates

Regular readers may remember an older post on the debate sparked by the very public exchange of words between Ashish Nandy and Sanjay Subramanium on secularism in India. Subramanyam has since then responded to Amit Chaudhuri's rejoinder in The Telegraph.

An interesting new weblog called Locana provided a good overview of the conversation so far and the blogosphere's reaction to it.

Locana feels that Subramanyam has made his point well. (In that, he agrees with Amardeep Singh, who too felt the same, although he has a few significant caveats of his own in his post).

My views on Subramanyam and his debating tactics are closer to Chaudhuri's which he expressed in a later article (you have to use the text box on top of the page to select August 14, 2004 and then click on 'Opinion' using the right hand menu to find the the Chaudhury article). I would like to think that people may be letting their agreement with the position that Subramanyam has staked out (i.e. a defender of secularism) cloud their judgement on the quality of his argument. Subramanyam uses that secure perch to attack a broad range of subject matter ranging from Tagore (as a kid who grew up on Tagore, I found that last unexplained slur rather offensive) on one hand to what he considers colonialism friendly literature on the other.

Since I have not read any of Nandy's books, I would refrain from commenting on the merits of the Subramanium's innuendos (that Nandi is ignorant, repetitive and a closet RSS supporter).

My main problem with Subramanium is his intellectual sleight of hand. Subramanium's uses a variety of logical fallacies - ad hominem attacks, false cause, fallacy of many questions - rather than provide a disciplined argument.

Working in USA, I have seen Bush campaign employ slander very effectively; for the first three long years of their administration they had been very effective in shutting down dissent in USA. That sort of message discipline was originally practiced by the communists.

I lean towards the notion that the last few years of the revisionism and attacks have taken their toll. The secular liberal commentators in India feel under sieze and are in danger of coalescing around monolithic positions from which you stray at your peril. But it is still disquieting to see an Oxford don write a rejoinder in a newspaper so completely lacking in depth and so dripping with jargon and slander. The only charitable explanation that I can come up with is that Mr Subramanyam is a very angry man and his pent up anger and vanity washed out his inclination to engage on ideas.

The first time I read his piece in The Telegraph, I almost laughed and agreed with this headline. But rereading it now, I feel rattled enough to try to write something up and see if I can peddle it somewhere.