Saturday, January 28, 2012

Send in the clowns

OK, it is not a strange at this point to hear the words circus and Republican primaries in the same sentence.

There was Herman Cain in his clown shoes, Rick Perry and jokes about his misstatements, Newt Gingrich and his amazing human canon ball act (I read that on an editorial online – I cannot do better) and Mitt Romney and his high wire juggling. Of course, as of writing this, with the exception of Romney and Gingrich, the others seem to have fallen by the wayside. In theory, Ron Paul is still in the race, but where is he? Santorum announced earlier today that he has no plans to end his campaign, but… he was going back home to Pennsylvania to do his taxes this weekend… In the middle of a campaign… are you serious? Well, I guess, if your campaign isn’t going anywhere, you might as well go home and do your taxes!

Unless… that was a sly reference to Romney – and his tax woes!

If there was any time this primary season Romney seemed off script, it was on the tax issue. First there was the refusal to release his return – he dropped the ball on that one. Then there was the faux pas of earning “little in speaking fees,” all little of $300,000 plus – another ball down. And then, there was the issue of paying taxes at the rate of 14% - man overboard, I should say! Of course, Gingrich got the best of that deal heading into the South Carolina primaries. He clearly came off smelling likes roses. He looked good in the debates and obviously did well at the polls.

The stars seemed to all align themselves just perfectly for the Newt! Romney’s fumble… and then the clowning performance of Juan Williams (Fox) and John King (CNN) just served to wind up the former House speaker. Williams’ charge of racism and King’s bringing up the ex-wife’s charges against Gingrich were clearly not objective and the debates offered him the perfect platform to blast them from. The former speaker realizing that lambasting the media scored points with the audience pushed his advantage the rest of the evening.

The entertainment value aside, this is the weakest slate presented by the Republican Party in my memory. I realize that the rise of the Tea Party and the din of partisan politics have made this all but inevitable, but I still think the party can offer better choices -- candidates who might have made for much more serious contenders come November. While not my personal choice, I think, certain high profile leaders from Florida and New Jersey would have been much more winnable choices on the Republican ballot. While there is much to be said about the party discipline of Republican voters, I cannot think of any among the present crop garnering a clear majority of unquestioned support from within the ranks of their own party. Throw a third party candidate into this mix and it could be even worse for Republicans.

Labels: , ,

More Greek Drama

It’s choppy seas for the dollar this week as foreign-exchange markets focus on U.S. employment data, a European Union meeting and details of a Greek bond restructuring. Likely to rock the boat is January U.S. non-farm payrolls out Feb. 3, especially since it comes in the wake of the flaccid GDP numbers on Friday.

Expect to see a weak jobs number that could send the dollar lower as it increases the likelihood of a new round of bond buying by the Federal Reserve. That, in effect, pumps more dollars into the market, sending it lower against the other currencies. A strong payroll figure should hold the Fed from any such move firming the dollar.

But, the dollar is headed lower nevertheless… Last week the Federal Open Markets Committee reiterated its intention to continue boosting the economy with low interest rates for the next few years. Now, that should money scurrying out to places like India, China and even Europe where they are offering a better rate of return. The FOMC announced that it anticipates economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds target rate at least through late 2014. The Fed had earlier suggested that it would keep rates low until mid-2013.

Long-term Europe does not look so hot. The market is still waiting to find some resolution to the continent’s sovereign debt crisis. European Union leaders meet in Brussels on Monday to take the next steps towards creating a permanent bailout mechanism and enforcing greater fiscal discipline among members. The party pooper might as yet be Greece, which is in negotiations with its creditors reach a deal to reduce its privately held debt. How the Greeks restructure their debt could signal how the other southern European move to resolve their liquidity problems. Clearly, I am not seeing an early resolution to that problem; at least not this week.


What are the odds of that!

So, last year at the AP Reading, we played putput golf at one of those kitschy golf centers in Daytona Beach. Somehow, I managed to trap the ball on a cylindrical totem pole on a steep incline on the 8th hole. No! It is not a testament to my skill since I very smartly brought up the rear in our six-some. However, how does one manage to trap the ball on so impossible a spot? I had been thinking about the occurrence (probably far more than it merited), because when I came back to the hotel I wrote about it… Months later as I am clearing up the random thoughts that I am given to confiding to my computer and I have come across this one. I am not sure how much clarity in this train of thought was induced by the half dozen G&Ts I consumed before I put fingers to keyboard…

According to Bayes' theorem, the probability of event A (trapping the ball on the totem) given event B (finding a totem on a green) depends not only on the relationship between A and B (i.e., finding a totem on a green) but on the absolute probability (trapping the ball on the totem) of A not concerning B (i.e., trapping the ball on the totem in general), and the absolute probability of B not concerning A (i.e. the probability of finding a totem on a green). Thus, if 95% of the putts sucked so much as to trap the balls on the totem, this could be due to 5% false positives, 5% false negatives (good putts), or a random mix of false positives and false negatives. Using Bayes' theorem allows one to calculate the exact probability of trapping the ball on the totem, given a consistently bad putt for each case, because the probability of B (finding a totem on a green) will be different for each of these cases. It is worth noting that if 5% of bad putts result in a trapped ball, then the probability that an individual traps the ball on the totem is rather small, since the probability of totem actually showing up on a putting green is closer to 1%. The probability of a totem on a green is then five times more likely than the probability of trapping the ball on the totem itself. Answering your question, it is entirely possible!

Clearly, I have far too much time on my hands….!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Back in a Hobbesian World

A referendum on the Euro debt deal will mark the death of an idea. An idea that promised an end to the petty squabbles among nation states; whose advent should have marked the onset of a new multi-polar world. Reality is messy and visibly vulgar.

There is political and economic turmoil in Europe – people are out on the street in Italy and Greece and the tension is just below the surface in Portugal and Spain. The presence of police in riot gear suggests the era of supranational states is at an end. And that portends of the return to the realist world where states scrap with one another.

The debate surrounding the financial crises in Europe and the rescue of the euro is increasingly being cast in terms of national sovereignty. In a way it was inevitable. Over the last thirty years governments have abdicated financial authority to mobile financial capital, and blamed international financial institutions about their inability to do anything. At the same time, the free flow of information enabled by the Internet and global media networks have also constrained governments that in the past have controlled their populace by controlling their access to information. With the loss of the ability to control the population, state actors appear to have also lost the ability to protect them – from the blitz of foreign ideas, from the vagaries of international business cycles and the fickle flow of international capital.

Not ten years ago it was reasonable to suppose the postwar concord in Europe could be stretched to accommodate the re-balancing of global power. Everyone, it was thought, shared an interest in sustaining a rules-based international order. However, few waiting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting today harbor that view. Globalization is not a positive sum game.

The ideal of a common Europe was built on the understanding that European national interests were best achieved by co-operation. That made sense when the key drivers were France, Germany and the western core. In a sense the seeds of the Union’s unraveling were sown in its success. The current crisis casts the Union project as a zero sum game -- Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy’s profligacy paid for by German taxpayers. While the Germany state will not say that, many individual Germans will. Greece, both the state and its citizenry, have their own views on the legitimacy of the Euro deal brokered by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

All across the world, there appears to be a scale back from the orderly world of postindustrial constructivism to that of brass-knuckle realism. There are fights about recognition of sovereignty; seats on the United Nations Security Council and influence within global financial institutions.

Those who thought states would empower supranational institutions to make decisions for them are being forced to rethink their positions. Truth be told, the concept of global governance has always had a bit of a pie-in-the-sky quality to it. The suspicion that multi-lateralism was rigged in favor of western values and state interests was always alive in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe. But the idea that the end of multi-lateralism could start in the capitals of the Western world is a bit of a shock. The abuse of global financial system, the widening chasm between the have and the have-nots and the failure to achieve meaningful financial governance at home, have all served to bring western internationalist ambitions to heel.

In Europe, the Union, once touted as a global superpower is struggling to stay relevant just on the continent; while in America, all talk is about the parallels with Great Britain at the start of the last century. As unemployment rises and there are few signs of a robust recovery, calls for protectionism and economic partisanship are being heard in the American political debate. And its is not just the Tea Party in the United States or le Pen in France, the shrill voices of self-declared patriots all over the world are calling for a defense of national interests. Even in India and China, countries benefiting from globalization, there are few willing to stand up for it. As for the former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill was known to say, "All politics is local."

Across North Africa and the Arab world, newly emboldened citizenry is demanding democracy, threatening to dislodge disobliging dictators. Their slogans are not about Pan-Arabism or globalization -- they champion their nations states. They might not acknowledge it, but Thomas Hobbes is their patron saint!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

This you got to see...

So all the buzz on the blogosphere (at least the corner that I frequent) is about the Begairat Brigade and their new song Aaloo Andey. Now, the name itself pegs the group squarely in Pakistan; but nothing prepared me for how much Daniyal Malik, Ali Aftaab, and Hamza Malik were prepared to walk the razor's edge. The band’s name in Urdu, “Begairat,” is best translated as “shameless.” I am guessing you already got the “brigade” bit.

Apparently, they are a band from Lahore – the cultural capital of Pakistan and that quintessentially Punjabi city. The Punjabi overtone is hard to miss on the track, which mixes Urdu, Punjabi and English seamlessly. Aaloo Andey is their debut release and what a way to start. OK, so there are no sacred cows in Pakistan!

;) Get the joke?!

They take shots at everything -- from inflation to the ISI (the country’s feared intelligence agency); and everyone -- from the Chief Justice to the Chief Executive and the Army Chief. They appear to lampoon segments of Pakistani society, which they say celebrate killers and assassins. They seem unafraid to speak up, even on issues that have polarized public opinion, such as the popularity of Mumtaz Qadri – the security guard who shot down Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Punjab province, for his stance on the country's infamous blasphemy laws. Taseer urged a review of the law alleging it was used to target minorities. This in turn earned him the ire of the religious right. Aaloo Andey mocks people who celebrate Ajmal Kasab, the only one of the Mumbai terror attack killers alive and in police custody and even the mullah who escaped the Red Mosque siege under a woman’s veil.

But where the group really goes out on the limb is when they take a shot at Pakistan’s Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani, and the unprecedented extension of his term. But leaving aside the smart puns and the cheeky references these young chaps are making a serious social comment about how brutish and insecure life has become for the average resident of Pakistan. It is got to be more frustrating than funny when they rhyme that no one cares about the illegal operations of the security firm Blackwater (an American mercenary outfit said to be operating alongside the U.S. military), when there are plenty of attacks planned and perpetrated by local goons. However, I had to smile when they touch on the deep seated paranoia in Pakistan that blames the Zionists for all the country's misfortunes -Ali Aftaab holds up a placard that says “This video is sponsored by Zionists”

While the message might be funny – the truth it conveys is not a joke. The seriousness of their actions is not lost on the band members. As they sign off, a very morose-looking Ali Aftaab holds up a sign that says, “If you want a bullet through my head – Like this video.”

Oh, to be young! And wanting to change the world!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Still Being Told

Journalism was Jana
A free spirit – A lilting smile
Very friendly – still a messy pile
Of stuffed pillows
And Erin plain
Lived in jeans
Worn out sweaters. Stains
Steps and stairs and steps to climb
Where a tyrannosaurus mac
And Eniac’s cousin sat side by side
Old tales and breaking news
Paginations and stock reviews
Dismal drop-down ceilings
Muffled the fluorescent glow
And aged squeaky chairs
When you sat, they sank low
I miss Express and such desi lairs
Samovars and Samarkhands
I miss canceled trains and Bombay bandhs
I miss deadlines, I miss the dead
Futures past and life I dread

Watch this space...

Updated Self

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Is OPEC cooking its golden goose?

As OPEC members agree to cut production yet again, in the hope of shoring up crude prices at a time of weakening global demand; you don't have to be an analyst to see tough times for the cartel ahead. At present, the cartel pumps almost 40% of the world’s oil, and their decision will affect retail prices for gasoline and other petroleum derivatives in importing economies such as the USA, Japan, China, India and across Europe.

This OPEC meeting unfolds against a backdrop of global economic fragility. It is not the announcement of the output cut that will hurt -- I think the cut (heavily speculated) is already more or less factored into the market. There may yet be a short-term rebound in prices, but crude prices would eventually decline over the next year or two.

The U.S. will not doubt find the OPEC strategy to cut output “disappointing.” In the past U.S. Officials have stressed the need to step up crude production within the US. In fact the current administration has gone on the record in the past saying it wants to increase America’s energy production, to reduce reliance on imported oil. OK, GWB and DC have their eye on ANWAR. But, OPEC’s decision hammers home to everyone the importance of finding a domestic energy source and the need for a sustainable national energy policy that will ensure a stable, reliable, affordable and diverse energy supply.

Of course, OPEC could be shooting itself in the foot here, by ignoring signs from a weakening world economy. By propping up international energy prices, OPEC is not supporting the growing economies in Asia or the energy dependent mature Western economies. Additionally, OPEC will need to keep an eye on its 40% share of world oil production. High international prices will definitely fuel exploration and production in ex-OPEC regions, notably Siberia, the Caspian, Africa and South America. If the world economy is indeed slowing... OPEC's latest move could backfire. When oil can be found and produced for just $10 a barrel exploiting the world’s oil reserves is just too profitable at the current oil price. OPEC countries also need to support their energy-dependent customer economies, if they intend to be in business for long. Outside of traditional sources, surge over a critical price threshold could also push energy dependent economies to seek non-traditional sources. Japanese companies, notably its auto manufacturers have been developing alternative fuel engines for some years now. A workable engine burning something other than gasoline might not be that far off. Now, I am sure that's not good news to OPEC.

"What a difference a day makes..."

When Kogi Kaishakunin gave me these tracks, I had no expectations. That's not a bad thing. Au contraire, it is the best way to start. But, I have been listening to Jamie Cullum since then, and then again and again... This chap is good. Cullum's is a crisp, but yet somehow lusciously thick sound; jazzy and yet not remote, and never too eccentric. A quick scout over the Internet... Apparently, he is becoming something of a one man British invasion. I see that he appears on late-night shows and does concerts stateside; promoting his album (or the one that I have) "Twentysomething," and doing his thing. BTW, the disc kicks off with a wonderful song "These Are the Days," which has all the elements of what makes a good jazz vocal track -- wonderfully nimble piano, simple yet meaningful lyrics, scat singing against a backdrop of a strong bass line. And do I detect the hiss of a record player?! If there is, that just a nice cute touch. The songs chosen (there are many covers on the album) play to the advantage of Cullum's nasal voice. And even when covering someone else's lyrics, he stamps it with his own originality -- the distinct nasal tone and nimble fingers over the keys. Not since Norah Jones have I been so pleased with so young a jazz musician. And yet, somehow, it is not old school jazz. Cullum brings a grungy, scruffy university beer pub feel to it. But, I'll take it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Naghma e Azaadi

So my friend Sambar is discovering urdu poetry written by Ramprasad Bismil.
Ok, he is getting it from the Bollywood flick, Range de Basanti; admittedly a strange place to pick urdu couplets… or is it. As a patriotic song Naghma e Azaadi is full of the stern stuff, but it does not quite live up to the poetic challenge. Of course, by saying this, I am opening myself up to some flaming idiot with an uber-nationalistic streak. But, I digress, Sambar’s piece was all about the movie, Bismil’s verse was just something he mentioned in passing. I have come to place stock in Sambar’s reviews – I mean to say, his review of Veer Zara certainly put me off the movie for good. I haven’t seen The Rising yet, and after reading the review, I am not certain I want to; but Rang de Basanti certainly seems to have the right ingredients.

But coming back to Bismil’s verse, I cannot help but notice, the verse is almost statement of intent.

“…waqt aanay dey bata deNge tujhe ay aasmaN,
ham abhi se kya batayeN kya hamare dil mein hai
khainch kar layee hai sab ko qatl honay ki ummeed,
aashiqoN ka aaj jumghat koocha-e-qaatil meiN hai.”

Read in the context of current politics, these are scary lines. All I can do is quote Ghalib.

“Pani se sag ghazeeda dare jis tarah
Dartaa hoon aayine se ke mardom ghazeeda hoon main.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Damn Undergrads

Undergrads make their decision to take a class based on the strangest criteria. One of my students told me that she wasn’t really expecting to learn anything in ‘this’ class, but she found the discussions I fostered in class to be really “interestin” and she liked how I “stressed there were no correct answers in politics.” What! Was I on pot or something? Wait, this gets better. She liked how I was “not all politically correct-en-all.” I guess, on that last count I must confess, I believe in equal opportunity insults, though I am not usually a stickler for that point in class, especially not the ones that I teach. I do suspect she was talking of the one time I referred to the French as the cheese-eating frogs. Of course, she did not allege I was an easy grader. I am a niggardly grader... What other pleasure does an underpaid, uninspired and underachieving graduate student have to look forward to? Still, I suppose I should take all that she said as a backhanded complement, but... Sigh!

Somewhere out there is a website called and I and almost any other people who have professed anything before a gaggle of undergrads across the US of A are listed on it. We are graded on Ease of the course, helpfulness and clarity, with terse epithets summing up our performance. Individual listings also sport chilly-pepper icons (to indicate hotness). Needless to say my grouse is that I don’t have one...

Very Trying!

It is really hard to take yourself seriously, well any theory that you propose, when you cannot even devote the time to sketch it out in a convincing manner. I have been tooling with the draft of a research paper for far too long than I care to admit and I don’t think I have made much progress. Of course, the easy thing would be to blame it all on my fifteen-week old son… but I don’t think soliciting his intellectual contribution will further the cause of this doomed enterprise. Really! I think I need to exercise some discipline to make this three-ring circus work. While we are on that subject I don’t think I have put out a serious research note with any degree of perspicuity in the last two months. It has been the usual pedantic stuff. Suffice to say that I have just been driving on fumes. Even the STATA project at the University is stuck in second gear. Some days I am left with this immense sense of nothing! And I don’t know why? I am tired as hell!