Saturday, June 02, 2007

Morbi in New York Times

Brickmaking is providing employment to out-of-work farmers: it's a hazardous, polluted environment, but pays "decently." New York Times has the story.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Bill Gates spends $60 million and no one listens!

Summary: Bill Gates and another billionaire want to put education on the 2008 election agenda. They're spending $60 million in ads. But they're not doing it very competently, it seems...

Billionaires and Bake Sales

Published: June 2, 2007


Following Bill Gates over the years has been like watching Pete Townshend go from smashing his guitar with The Who to the aging master who just wants world peace and a complex string arrangement of “Tommy.” He was the high-voiced bully boy of Microsoft, snarling at people with less intellectual bandwidth, a Napoleon Dynamite with money — idiots!

But all of that changed when Mr. Gates and his wife, Melinda, decided to get serious about giving away their money, a net worth greater than the gross domestic product of more than half of the nations of the world. He brought his laser focus to ending malaria, the spread of infectious diseases, global inequity, computer illiteracy. This from a man whose name was Google-bombed with Satan.

Over time, the Gates Foundation has become not just an extraordinary force for change, but something of a shadow State Department as well, attracting hundreds of world leaders to the city on Puget Sound. In places, the foundation is more effective, and certainly more beloved and influential, than the current denizens of Foggy Bottom in the other Washington.

So, when President Hu Jintao of China came to the U.S. last year, he was feted at a grand dinner in the Gates’ home on Lake Washington. In the Capitol, Mr. Hu was snubbed by President Bush with a quickie lunch and a gaffe-prone reception complete with heckler — typical incompetence.

Now Mr. Gates wants to influence the upcoming presidential election. But his efforts to date show that he still has much to learn about getting American politicians to pay attention. And his latest venture is a prime example of just how nonresponsive our political system is to issues that may be widely supported by the public, but barely rate with the candidates.

Mr. Gates and Eli Broad, a fellow billionaire, said they will spend $60 million in an effort to get the candidates to talk about: schools! They have assembled a bipartisan group to point out such inconvenient facts as the million students who drop out of American high schools every year, or that the U.S. ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations in functional understanding of math and science.

The campaign could use a little remedial schooling. Three of the Republican candidates don’t even believe in evolution. Don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.

By any measure, $60 million is no small change. It is far more than the National Rifle Association or the National Education Association — two vaunted, entrenched interest groups — spent in the 2004 campaign. And it is nearly triple what it cost to Swift Boat John Kerry’s war record, an effective if dishonest campaign.

Most special interest groups can rally members and donate cash to politicians. The education group, called Strong American Schools, cannot support individual candidates or legislation, by the rules of their organization. Thus, the world’s richest man has little leverage in a wide-open presidential campaign.

At the early debates, the Gates’ group took out ads and held press conferences. But what did it get them? The candidates barely mentioned education, and when they did it was couched in the tired talking points tailored to their interest groups — vouchers and charter schools for Republicans, the untouchable teachers’ union for Democrats.

Education is such an orphan issue that Senator John McCain doesn’t even mention it on his Web site. If only Mr. Gates wanted to strip away environmental protections or weaken consumer laws — that would get the candidates’ attention. Witness the timber industry hacks who now guide the Forest Service after a decade of Republican contributions, or the bankers who bought a new bankruptcy law that makes it harder for poor people to stay out of credit card hell.

“We’re trying to create a Sputnik moment, to get people to see that our very economic future is at stake,” said Mr. Broad, a lifelong Democrat who says the party is too beholden to the teachers’ union.

To be fair, the new campaign is just getting started, and it may yet be split off into a group that has the legal flexibility to rate the candidates — which may be the more effective way to go.

Tomorrow, when Democratic candidates assemble for yet another debate, it is unlikely they will answer the hard questions that Mr. Gates is asking. But if he used that $60 million more directly, with muscle, the candidates would talk and talk and talk. Otherwise, it’s all apple pie at an empty bake sale.


Danish is dead!


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Audio photoshopping at NPR

Language Log has a fascinating story on audio photoshopping done by radio stations, especially NPR. Here are a couple of gems:

Lots of interesting - even underhand - stuff here... Read it.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Careful with Google Gears

Google announced Google Gears today, which is a Firefox extension that saves stuff (Google Reader feeds for now) for offline access.

My recommendation: Don't install it for now - it's pretty useless and you can't uninstall the Firefox extension.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

XDR-TB: A movie-like scare in the making

A person suffering from a scary, drug-resistant strain of TB flew to Europe and back earlier this month. Now CDC is looking for others who were on the same flight.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Best Western coming to Indian in a big way: 100 new hotels in 10 years

US group to open 100 hotels in India

By Joe Leahy in Mumbai

Best Western International is planning to roll out 100 hotels in India as the world’s largest hotel chain races to capitalise on the country’s chronic shortage of tourist and business travel accommodation.

Best Western’s licensee, Cabana Hotel Management, will invest more than $1.2bn in the initiative over the next 10 years, which will look to develop the mid-tier four-star market, a segment that is almost non-existent in India today.

“We decided that India is going to become a very important country for Best Western in terms of inbound and outbound tourism,” said David Kong, chief executive of Best Western.

With foreign investors flooding into the country, hotel rooms in India are routinely in such short supply that luxury hotels often charge $300-$400 a night for rooms that just a few years ago would have cost half or a third of that.

In some mid-tier cities, such as Bangalore, rates for five-star hotels can rise to as much as $800 a night excluding tax when the city hosts a major event.

The country has about 110,000 rooms in the organised hotel sector. Analysts said this was as little as half what the market needed and a fraction of what was available in developed countries. The US city of Las Vegas alone boasts 150,000 hotel rooms.

Mr Kong said Best Western already had six hotels in India but had decided to expand its offering in a bid to target not only travellers within the subcontinent but also the rising number of Indians travelling abroad for business and holidays.

The idea is to promote the brand in India’s domestic market in anticipation that, as the country’s middle class prospered, they would follow the example of their peers in China and become a major source of outbound tourism in the decades to come.

Indians familiar with the Best Western name in their home market would be more inclined to stay at the chain when they went abroad, he said. More than 6m Indians made overseas trips in 2005, according to Euromonitor – roughly twice the number of incoming visitors to India, half of which are business travellers.

Best Western will roll out the initiative through Signet Hotels, a subsidiary of its partner Cabana Hotel Management. The plan was to open 10,000 rooms across India, which will be priced at 20 per cent to 30 per cent below rates at five-star hotels.

Signet would also consider the possibility of sub-licensing the brand to other companies.

The hotel group’s push follows plans by French hotel group Accorand Dubai-based developer Emaar Properties announced last November to develop jointly 100 budget hotels in India.

Hyatt International Hotels plans to open 15 deluxe hotels in the next few years and Starwood, owner of the Sheraton brand, is aiming for 50 hotels by 2010.

Mr Kong said that to help deal with a shortage of trained workers, Best Western and Cabana Hotel Management would also begin work on a hospitality institute in India this month to train future staff.

Worst healthcare in the developed world

There is a lot wrong with the health system in the US and the answer is clear enough: a single-payor system, warts and all, is the answer for a country like India. Dr. Manmohan Singh, are you paying attention?


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