Saturday, February 03, 2007

A short history of post-Soviet Russia

I read it, so that you don't have to.

Michael Specter has written a very good summary of present-day Soviet politics and has provided the context to the strange death of Alexander Litvinienko in London with Polonium 210 poisoning. The article appeared in the New Yorker and is titled "KREMLIN, INC. - Why are Vladimir Putin’s opponents dying?"

  • Gorbachev encouraged the press to open up and start criticizing the government etc.
  • Boris Yeltsin supported democracy and freedom. But he lost his way. He did not negotiate with Chechnya when the separatist movement started there and lost the First Chechen War because he thought Russia would crush the rebellion easily. He was suffering from heavy drinking etc. and would have lost elections to Communists led by Alexander Zyuganov in 1996.
  • Oligarchs who controlled TV channels, liberals who ran newspapers and others muzzled themselves and propped up an unpopular Yeltsin to stave off the Communists. In doing so, they went down a slippery slope from which Russian democracy has never quite recovered.
  • When Putin came to power, Russians were suffering. But with high oil prices, it has been extremely resurgent. Putin has taken advantage of the high oil prices (Russia exports 30% of world's oil) and has stifled all opposition completely and sucked democracy out. No elections for state governors, no opposition on television. Even Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, is being harrassed regularly.
  • Anna Politkovskaya, a fearless journalist reporting on Russian atrocities in Chechnya was killed in Moscow. Litvinienko was mysteriously killed in London. Most people blame Putin for those deaths.
  • Russia is a dying country. Male average lifespan is 59, less than that in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Population is projected to go down to 100 million by 2050 from 150 million right now.



Friday, February 02, 2007

Mechanical Turk to look for Jim Gray's boat

If you've ever used a database and have a few minutes to spare, please help look for Jim Gray's missing vessel via the Amazon Mechanical Turk.

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Orkut WTF

According to GigaOm, Google's had some outages today. But WTF is this? "No donut for you"???


Dumbass Indian Consul General

From Gaurav: Indian Consulate in San Francisco left visa application unshredded out there. Instead of apologizing, they come up with these crazy reasons:

"As we see it, the documents are not confidential," said B.S. Prakash, the consul general. "We would see something as confidential if it has a Social Security number or a credit card number, not a passport number."

At the Indian Consulate, Consul General Prakash said there may be a cultural dimension to the level of outrage related to the incident among Western visa applicants.

"In India, I would not be alarmed," he said. "We have grown up giving such information in many, many places. We would not be so worried if someone had our passport number."

Deputy Consul General Sircar said that in other countries, Indian officials are able to go to the roofs of their offices and burn documents they're no longer able to store.

"In America, you cannot do that," he said.

From the best and brightest of India's babudom.



Pramukh Swami on the throne

Pramukh Swami is the head of the main Swaminarayan sect (BAPS). As such he's an ascetic, but he's an amazing organizer and businessman too. BAPS is a thriving organization worldwide with lots of temples, including the stunning new Akshardham in New Delhi. His followers think he's God. Two thoughts about the image above:
Jai Swaminarayan!

Update: Some anonymous Swaminarayan devotee says Pramukh Swami is a sevak, das etc. I think Pramukh Swami should skip thrones and other ostentations. Doesn't behoove a das, imho. The swiftness of the response was impressive too. I'm going to now write a nasty post about Scientology one of these days and compare the response times.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Jim Gray update

Jim Gray is still missing. Coast Guard will continue the search over a much larger area. But they don't want private search parties to start off since they fear they'll end up having to "rescue the rescuers." Sergey Brin wants Google engineers to look for clues in the satellite imagery. The scale of the search is massive. Some of the computer models used in the search for him surely use the database features he invented.



Wednesday, January 31, 2007

How often do Google Earth satellite pictures get updated?

In this article on Jim Gray's disappearance, Gray's daughter Heather is quoted as saying:
Google engineers are also helping in search by looking at their Google Earth satellite photos for any signs of a boat in distress.
I didn't think that Google's satellite images got updated daily. I thought it was like a yearly process, no?



Heterodox: Popular word these days

Amartya Sen repeatedly uses the word "heterodox" in "The Argumentative Indian". It stumped me for a while until I looked it up in the dictionary. I still can't understand why he doesn't say "unorthodox". Now Greg Mankiw's gotten into the act also.

Google comes up with 4.5M hits for unorthodox vs about 780K hits for heterodox. Wikipedia baffles with this one: "The noun heterodoxy is synonymous with unorthodoxy and heresy, while the adjective heterodox is synonymous with dissident and heretical."

I'd never use heterodox - I honestly don't think I need it. If I want to say unorthodox, I'll say unorthodox. If I want to say heretical, I'll say heretical.


Investment advice from me

Let's say you consider yourself to be pretty smart, like in the top quartile of humanity. Let's say you know that some (all?) of your friends fall into that bracket too. Let's also say that you like stock-picking as a hobby (who doesn't have silly loss-making hobbies?).

Then here is a useful Hewitt report for you. It says that flow of top-quartile performers is correlated with shareholder value of a company.

Buy shares of companies you and your star-performer friends are going into and sell shares in those they are leaving.

Ganguly back as captain - for an over or two

From Prem Panicker's report on the 4th ODI between India and W. Indies:

PostScript: An unlooked for moment came early in the West Indies chase. Sachin Tendulkar was off the field; Rahul Dravid pulled up with a knee niggle of some kind and, for a very brief while, the clock turned right back as Sourav Ganguly marshaled the field as default captain.

Tendulkar walked back onto the field shortly thereafter; Dravid was back an over later, too. But the roars that greeted Ganguly as he directed traffic spoke to the fact that in public perception, he is if anything larger today than when he was last seen in action.

Absence: nothing like it to soften the heart.

Funny. No "hai-hai"s for Dada this time.



Monday, January 29, 2007


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Getting Rich: Pankaj Mishra reports from Shanghai

I read it, so that you don't have to.

Pankaj Mishra is an Indian fiction and non-fiction writer. This article was published in the London Review of Books.

Most of this article is a comparison between China and India with some historical perspective but mostly a comparison of India and China today, from a sociopolitical angle. Some random notes:
* India and China were friendly during the first 10 years after Independence (trying to counter the US influence, according to the author)
* Indian actions led to the 1962 war between India and China which India lost
* Some Chinese regard Nehru and Gandhi as greater than Mao
* China went through much better land reforms than India and has less feudal baggage, while India manages diverse opinions better and
* Both India and China have undergone reforms, but they only tend to support the elite
* There is an emerging New Left in China that is opposed to rampant capitalism

My opinion:
* The article does not deliver on its promise. He doesn't seem to have spent enough time in China. He keeps referring to the "New Left" in China and lays out what it does not stanford for, without really defining what it does stand for.

2 stars out of 5


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