Friday, September 30, 2011

Soon they are going to take over

Europe belatedly get their shit together

Only Malta, the Netherlands and Slovakia left to vote to double the size of European bailout fund.
Imagine that, you need 17 countries to agree to do anything major in the euro zone. No wonder things are slow.
This is a good reminder on how Greece is about to end Europe as we know it

Explain Greece's crisis in a paragraph. 
Athens has run irresponsible deficits for a decade on top of an economy operating at a fraction of the productivity of Germany and France. If it were in control of its own currency, the solution today would be simpler. It would print more money to depreciate the currency until the value of goods fell relative to trading partners, which would grow exports. But Greece doesn't control its own currency. It's stuck with the euro, which bought ten years of low borrowing costs at the price of three years (and counting) of difficult, if not impossible, adjustments.

Did Europe just save Greece with this bailout? 
Not yet, and probably never. Greece's debt burden as a share of GDP is 140% and growing. Even with a 50 percent haircut, it would still face a fierce structural problem. The only longterm solution is for the country to revert to its own cheaper currency.

If Europe can't save Greece, why is it trying? 
Greece is a small economy. At $300 billion, its GDP is a tenth the size of Germany. But for the European Union, it still qualifies as too big to fail for two reasons. First, hundreds of billions of euros of Greek debt are on the balance sheets of Europe's largest banks. Second, if Europe lets Greece default, investors will interpret this as an indication that nobody is safe. That would make the debts of Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal much more risky. Risky debts are more expensive debts. More expensive debts means more bailouts. Europe probably can't save Greece. It can only save itself by propping up Greece until it's no longer technically too big to fail -- by (a) guaranteeing Athens' debts until Europe's largest banks are in a better position to take losses or by (b) backing its debts until Europe's other troubled governments solve their own problems. The Atlantic

Anwar al-Awlaki is toast

The dude followed bin Laden to la la land.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

End game

Fears that a fake CIA vaccination scheme created to hunt Osama bin Laden has compromised the operations of aid agencies in Pakistan have intensified after it emerged that a major NGO was forced to evacuate its staff following warnings about their security.  
Save the Children flew eight expatriate aid workers out of Pakistan in late July after receiving a warning from US officials at the Peshawar consulate. Two senior local staff were moved into five-star hotels in Islamabad. (Guardian)

Morocco's TGV

French President Nicholas Sarkozy is due to arrive in Morocco to oversee the start of construction on a new TGV high-speed rail link.
The line will connect Casablanca with Rabat and Tangiers.
The agreement between France and Morocco to build the line was signed during Mr Sarkozy's first state visit to the country in October 2007.

The project's budget is estimated to be $4bn (£2.5bn) and the trains are due to start running by 2015. (BBC)

A TGV runs at 320 KM/h average speed. 

Amazon lit the fire on other tablet manufacturers' hairs

It's $199 for a dual core processor and other goodies. Gizmodo has more. Apple takes the high end (at 500 bucks) and the Amazon takes the low end. I don't see any room for Windows 8 based tablets.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Anonymous Analytics

Poison fruit for mosquitos

To lay eggs, females do need blood for its iron and protein. But usually mosquitoes subsist on modest sips of nectar from flowers or from ripe or rotting fruit.  
And that, according to scientists from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is an Achilles’ heel — or Achilles’ proboscis — through which the pests can also be poisoned.  
“You can’t move flowering trees around,” said Yosef Schlein, a parasitologist at the university’s medical school. “So you have to use movable bait. That’s how we came up with fruit juice.” (NY Times)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Kungfu nun of Nepal

A Buddhist monastery near Kathmandu is enjoying a surge in popularity after its spiritual leader directed its 300 nuns to use martial arts techniques. (Guardian)

Dead Sea Scrolls are available online

Isaiah Scroll Get them here

Monday, September 26, 2011

Good news from Ireland

The seasonally adjusted Quarterly National Accounts from the CSO estimated that gross domestic product - the widest measure of economic activity - rose by 1.6 per cent between the first and second quarters of 2011. 
Gross national product, which excludes the profits of multinational firms, increased by 1.1 per cent compared with the first quarter of the year. Domestic demand, which excludes exports and imports, expanded too, growing by 0.8 per cent. (Irish Times)
That's the spirit. It looks like Ireland is bouncing back. 

Sounds like a good deal to me

Krasnow interviewed more than 200 women from different educational, social, and economic brackets, all of whom are in long-term marriages like hers (she defines "long term" as 15-plus years) in an effort to figure out what makes unbroken unions work. In addition to relating various pieces of more predictable advice (keep having sex!), many of Krasnow's subjects shared her experience of prolonged separations, crediting the considerable time they had spent apart from their spouses with making their marriages stronger.  
As Krasnow writes, the idea that absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that is a cliché. But it is a cliché for a reason: A review of relevant research confirms that there can be positive aspects to time spent apart from a spouse—at least for wives. (Like Krasnow's book, many of the sociological and psychological studies on the subject focus on separation's impact on wives, rather than husbands.) This time apart can take many different forms: The studies don't just talk about couples who take separate vacations or summer jaunts of the sort Krasnow and her husband have enjoyed. Research has shown that women who are married to fishermen and truckers—careers that can separate spouses for weeks or even months—also profit from time alone. (Slate)

787 Delivered

Boeing has delivered its first 787 Dreamliner to Japanese customer All Nippon Airways (ANA).  Guardian

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Pacific

U.S. Marines going ashore at Iwo Jima, a Japanese Island which was invaded on February 19, 1945. Photo made by a Naval Photographer, who flew over the armada of Navy and coast guard vessels in a Navy search plane.

Click here for more amazing pictures of WW II.

What Greece Giveth, Greece Taketh

European Union governments will spend the next six weeks building a financial firewall to protect their fragile banking systems against what is now seen as an inevitable Greek default.  
G20 sources said that up to 50% was likely to be wiped from the face value of Greece's €350bn debt – but not until Europe had put into place a war chest to prevent the contagion spreading. More money will be disbursed by the International Monetary Fund and the EU next month to keep the Greek government afloat, but this is seen as a short-term fix while Europe's leaders beef up the eurozone bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility. (Guardian)

Books lost to time

There are 24 books in the Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh—and depending upon the denomination, between 66 and 84 more books in Christian Bibles, divided between the Old and New Testaments.
Missing from these pages of scripture are what have become known as the “lost books” of the Bible. Sometimes the term is used to describe ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were tossed out of the biblical canon. 
But other books are lost in the true sense of the word. We only know that they existed because they are referenced by name in other books of the Bible.
Read more 
I bet the Vatican has them :p (insert conspiracy theories here) 

In praise of Radiolab

Take the opening of their show on the mathematics of random chance, stochasticity. The first aesthetic choice Jad and Robert make is that they don’t say you’re about to listen to a show about math or science. They don’t use the word stochasticity. They know those things would be a serious turn off for lots of people. In doing this, Jad and Robert sidestep most of the conventions of a normal science show – hell, of most normal broadcast journalism. I think our fellow public broadcasters do lots of accidentally counterproductive things without thinking twice, things that prevent lots of people from connecting with their work. On the very fine PBS science show Nova, the narration is that chipper TV style that says: “I’m talking to you in a big official voice. I’m talking to you like a grownup who’s teaching you something.” They accidentally make it feel like school. Radiolab avoids that entirely. I love science, but never watch Nova, because of the old-fashioned aesthetics. Nova can be corny. But I never miss Radiolab. (Ira Glass)
Other than porn, Radiolab and This American Life podcasts are the best reason for Internet to exist.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

But you can always be a movie star

The greater supply of models has prompted a contraction in rates—even for high-end work—to shockingly low levels. The average magazine shoot, for example, pays about $100 a day. For appearing on the cover of Vogue a model gets an additional $300. “Many magazines,” writes Mears, “pay nothing at all, though lunch and snacks are often provided.” (I’m guessing that most models don’t gain real compensation through snacking.) Payment for walking in a Fashion Week show in London (where rates, admittedly, are lower than in other cities) is $500. The median income across America in 2009 for a model was $27,330—income that includes no benefits. (TNR)

All is quiet

Abbas submitted Palestinian bid for full UN membership yesterday and everything is quiet. 

Reasons to avoid medical school

This is a fun rants.
 The medical profession is bad for you. Just ask any current doctor or med student. You will eat irregularly, eat poorly when you do get the irregular meal (and so much for the now-outlawed drug-company sponsored meals — god bless their generous hearts and bottomless pockets), have way too much cortisol circulating in your system from all the stress you experience, have a compromised immune system because of all the cortisol in your blood, get sick more often because of the compromised immune system (and the perpetual exposure to disease – it’s a hospital where everybody’s sick, duh), and be perennially sleep-deprived. If your residency is four years long, on average you will spend one of those years without any sleep. A whole year of no sleep. Do you get that? This is as bad for you as it is for patients — you’ve heard of Libby’s Law, right? Groggy doctors can kill patients when they don’t mean to.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The art of mechanical reproduction

When it comes to IVF, in-vitro fertilization, nothing is normal. Your world is upside-down. Your doctor compliments your wife on her monkeys. Then, when every dollar and exertion has gone toward a single hour of hope, it begins to snow. (The Morning News)

Faster than light particle apparently discovered

It is a concept that forms a cornerstone of our understanding of the universe and the concept of time – nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.  
But now it seems that researchers working in one of the world's largest physics laboratories, under a mountain in central Italy, have recorded particles travelling at a speed that is supposedly forbidden by Einstein's theory of special relativity. 
Scientists at the Gran Sasso facility will unveil evidence on Friday that raises the troubling possibility of a way to send information back in time, blurring the line between past and present and wreaking havoc with the fundamental principle of cause and effect. (Guardian)

If this result from Italy can be duplicated by other laboratories, holy crap. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Novel idea

Highland Park, Il.-based nonprofit software testing company Aspiritech is pioneering a new business model in the United States that champions the unique concentration and detail-oriented strengths of its 15 employees, all of whom have been diagnosed with disorders on the autism spectrum.  
The company - which was launched in 2010 by Moshe and Brenda Weitzberg after their son Oran, 32, who has Asperger's, was fired from his grocery job - is on track to pull in $120,00 in revenue for 2011, according to an article from the Associated Press, though 60 percent of that is from donations. (TPM)


"The IDF's investigation of the incident was recently completed and its findings indicate that the Popular Resistance Committees in Gaza sponsored the terror attack, but the terrorists who executed the attack were Egyptians," reporter Alex Fishman wrote. "The Egyptian terrorists were responsible for the sniper fire from within Egyptian territory, and the three squads of suicide bombers who went onto Route 12 to attack the Israeli vehicles were also comprised of Egyptian citizens." Fishman reports that the operational cell numbered 20 people, including the Palestinian handlers. One, the story says, was an Egyptian police officer on active duty.  
The findings would explain to the mystified residents of Gaza the utter absence of either the mourning or celebration that routinely occurs in the Palestinian enclave after a successful terror attack against Israel, which pulled out of the strip in 2005 but still keeps a tight clamp on its boundaries. In the days and weeks after the complex, multi-layered attack near the Israeli resort city of Eilat, no young militants from Gaza were said to be missing after the attack, and no funeral tents went up at the homes of families for neighbors to pay their respects for the loss of a "martyr." Gazans did not know what to make of it, especially when the Popular Committees, a militant group that ranks third in size behind Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, insisted it was not in fact responsible -- although a spokesman for the group also acknowledged to TIME that Gaza militants have been warned by Egyptian authorities (whom they want to cultivate) not to carry out attacks from their territory. (Time)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

US Embassy Party this Thursday

If you are in Cairo, there's an awesome party with the US Marines at the US embassy this Thursday from 7.30PM until Midnight. The cover charge is 30LE and it will get you one drink. Their bar is packed with tons of imported beer that you cannot get in Cairo (average 20 LE).

Contact me at so I can add you to the list.  So far I have 40 people in my list (out of probably 300 - 400 in total list - it's going to be packed and awesome).

UN Two Step

International efforts to forestall a showdown in the UN security council over the declaration of a Palestinian state are solidifying around a plan for the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to submit a request for recognition but for a vote on the issue to be put on hold while a new round of peace talks is launched. 
The deal is being pushed by the Middle East "Quartet" of the UN, EU, US and Russia, which is attempting to persuade Abbas to back away from a diplomatic confrontation with Washington, which says it will veto the Palestinian bid. The US president Barack Obama is expected to meet the Palestinian leader at the UN on Wednesday as Abbas comes under intense pressure from the US and Europe to compromise.  
Diplomats said the proposed compromise would see Abbas submit his letter to the security council, which would then defer action. In parallel, the Quartet would issue the framework for renewed negotiations that would include a timeline for the birth of a Palestinian state. (Guardian)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oktoberfest 2011 is here

The Atlantic has more pictures.

German's Pirate Party won a local election

The Pirate Party will take seats in the Berlin parliament. With some 1,000 members, the party focuses heavily on Internet issues, but also plans to breathe fresh life into the German political system. Spiegel 

 What a cool concept.

New warnings from Dr. Doom

He was one of outspoken critic of pre 2008 collapse economic system. He was right then. And now he is issuing new warnings.
The latest economic data suggest that recession is returning to most advanced economies, with financial markets now reaching levels of stress unseen since the collapse of Lehman Bros. in 2008. The risks of an economic and financial crisis even worse than the previous one—now involving not just the private sector, but also near-insolvent governments—are significant. So, what can be done to minimize the fallout of another economic contraction and prevent a deeper depression and financial meltdown? (Slate)

UN headlines this week

There are other things to discuss other than Palestinian's bid for UN full membership.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Burning Man - someday we will all be there

Out in the open desert, beyond the tents and cars, we encountered the most bizarre, most visually stimulating environment I've ever seen. A giant metal octopus rolling across the sand, with actual hot flames spewing out of its tentacles. A pirate ship blasting eardrum-crushing hip-hop music, with a slew of bare-chested women writhing atop its decks. A frigging full-scale Thunderdome, complete with shrieking spectators rattling in its rafters, and a pair of gladiators in animal costumes attacking each other with Nerf bats. Lasers careened across the sky. Choking dust storms howled into our eyes and noses. Everyone was in aviator goggles, and knee-high leather boots, and fur vests. (slate)

Tax The Rich Edition

The bottom line is that a proposal to tax income over $1 million could raise anything from very little money, as in the Center for American Progress’s plan for a one percent surtax, to around a trillion dollars, as in Schakowsky’s plan. There’s also the possibility for it to be, in reality, a large tax cut, if the administration trades their option to let some portion of the the Bush tax cuts expire in return for a small and politically popular tax increase on income over $1 million. We’ll know more tomorrow. WP

The importance of being Burmese

Over these next few years, Asia's geography will see a fundamental reorientation, bringing China and India together as never before across what was once a vast and neglected frontier stretching over a thousand miles from Kolkata to the Yangtze River basin. And Burma, long seen in Western policy circles as little more than an intractable human rights conundrum, may soon sit astride one of the world's newest and most strategically significant crossroads. Mammoth infrastructure projects are taming a once inhospitable landscape. More importantly, Burma and adjacent areas, which had long acted as a barrier between the two ancient civilizations, are reaching demographic and environmental as well as political watersheds. Ancient barriers are being broken, and the map of Asia is being redone. (FP)

This map is useful while reading above's article. 

The Rise of Localist Politics

Yet over the course of a century, human experience has not validated the rational planning assumption — and a response is coming, if the rising generation is any indication. The people who grew up under the realized model of the rationally planned society are increasingly inclined to shrug it off. Rational planning seems to have created a demand for precisely the things it required people to give up. People who have grown up this way — particularly young people now in their teens, twenties, and early thirties — feel isolated and long for a sense of place. They want to make a difference, not in mass organizations or abstract causes, but in connections and relationships close to home. Where their parents protested, these young people volunteer. They often find their first taste of community life in college, where they live, work, and play in the same environment, and can participate in the community by choosing from among the hundreds of student groups and activities on offer. A 2010 study at the University of Northern Colorado found that students who were involved in at least one campus organization considered the university to be a community; those who weren’t involved did not. In short, it seems that to feel connected to the big, they need to be active in the small.  (Atlantis)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

10 principles for a Black Swan proof world

Directly from the author of the book. It's worth considering.
No.6. Do not give children sticks of dynamites, even if they come with warning.

MIT Guide to Lock Picking

Get it here just in case you need it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Secret cities of Yemen

How Plastinated Bodies are made


Naturally they are made in China.

Rogue Trader cost $2B loss in UBS

UBS, the largest Swiss bank, said Thursday that a rogue trader in its investment bank had lost it ‘‘in the range’’ of $2 billion.  
The bank said ‘‘no client positions’’ were involved in the ‘‘unauthorized trades,’’ which it said would possibly lead the bank to post a loss for the third quarter.  
 In a statement, the bank said the matter was still being investigated and disclosed no other details. (NY Times)
In the good old days, these type of things will result in public hanging.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A murder in Pakistan

Shahzad, whose parents migrated from India after Partition, making him a muhajir—Urdu for “immigrant”—was an affable outsider within Pakistan’s journalistic circles. Asia Times Online is not connected to any of the country’s established newspapers; its editorial operations are based in Thailand. Shahzad had no local editor to guide him or restrain him. Only a few other journalists had written as aggressively about Islamist extremism in the military, and not all of them had survived. (New Yorker)
 The article is worth reading all the way through.

Women in WWII

Symbolic of the defense of Sevastopol, Crimea, is this Russian girl sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who, by the end of the war, had killed a confirmed 309 Germans -- the most successful female sniper in history. The Atlantic
Click on the link. The pictures are amazing. 

4% of the Internet is porn

Forbes Magazine investigates.

Admit Palestine this September

Eighteen years after one of the most hopeful moments in the Mideast peace process, the Obama administration and its allies are waging a frantic, last-minute campaign to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to avoid unilaterally declaring statehood next week at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. (Daily Beast)

US opposition to the UN process in admitting Palestine is a dumb move. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy news of the day

While most of the peripheral countries are on the road to improvement, Greece threatens to slide into bankruptcy. Germany's coalition government of Chancellor Merkel's conservatives and the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) has little sympathy for Athens' plight, because a Greek bankruptcy would also help to rectify some domestic political disagreements. Berlin's tough stance is primarily intended to make it easier for those CDU and FDP parliamentarians who see Greece as a bottomless pit to support the government's line in a key vote in the German parliament, the Bundestag, on reforming the EFSF on Sept. 29.

Laws of productivity

It's good for the Man and worker bees alike. It's based on years of research in different context.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Photographs in a Chinese film shoot

My friend Sheila Zhao works as a photographer in China and these are her latest series of photos of the country.

Krugman on Euro

Financial turmoil in Europe is no longer a problem of small, peripheral economies like Greece. What’s under way right now is a full-scale market run on the much larger economies of Spain and Italy. At this point countries in crisis account for about a third of the euro area’s G.D.P., so the common European currency itself is under existential threat.  
What Mr. Trichet and his colleagues should be doing right now is buying up Spanish and Italian debt — that is, doing what these countries would be doing for themselves if they still had their own currencies. In fact, the E.C.B. started doing just that a few weeks ago, and produced a temporary respite for those nations. But the E.C.B. immediately found itself under severe pressure from the moralizers, who hate the idea of letting countries off the hook for their alleged fiscal sins. And the perception that the moralizers will block any further rescue actions has set off a renewed market panic.  
Adding to the problem is the E.C.B.’s obsession with maintaining its “impeccable” record on price stability: at a time when Europe desperately needs a strong recovery, and modest inflation would actually be helpful, the bank has instead been tightening money, trying to head off inflation risks that exist only in its imagination. Krugman

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New York City was home ten years ago although I was away when the attacks happened. That day was an epoch of my generation, a generation of idealists suddenly thrown out of its idyllic youthful existence into the immediate tasks of holding together a world torn apart. And here I am writing these words in the middle of another epoch, the transformation of a region accustomed to lost hope. Challenges remain, but the mission continues and the dream endures.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The morning after - Israel Embassy riot in Cairo, Egypt

Israel Embassy is located on the building at the top right hand side of this picture. You can see the newly build wall (which was a stupid idea) has been torn down. You can see the pockmarks of tear gas shells on the road. 

The tallest structure in this picture (on the right side) is the Israel Embassy. They occupy the top 3 or 4 floors of this residential building (not sure about the exact floors). At the bottom you see the already destroyed walls that was erected merely 10 days ago. Egypt's military APCs can be seen at the ground entrance to the building.

Israel Embassy riot in Cairo


Security forces fired tear gas and drove armoured vehicles at protesters, who responded by throwing stones and petrol bombs. Hundreds were injured.

The protesters broke into the embassy building, entering consular offices and throwing out documents, officials said.

Israel's ambassador has flown out of Egypt back to Tel Aviv.
Hundreds of protesters remain near the embassy, burning tyres in the street, chanting slogans against Egypt's military rulers.

Egypt's governing military council is meeting later on Saturday to address the situation, says the BBC's Bethany Bell in Cairo. (BBC)

My office - the war zone. The good news: the traffic flows again in Giza area. The bad news: Last night's orgy of violence is most likely to be repeated today. I am in my office right now checking to make sure everything is fine. The square are pocked with mark of tear gas shells, there are signs burnt police trucks, all the Israel embassy walls are gone.

My office is across the Israel Embassy building (the embassy occupies the top 3 of a 16 floor residential building) and I can pretty much see everything going on if anything happens in the scene.

I was not in my office last night. The protests yesterday got out of control and ended up with fresh clashes between some protesters

Well the spirit of non violent protests in Tahrir Square apparently could not navigate Cairo traffic hence missing in the Israel Embassy protest yesterday. What a fucking shame.

The best report comes from NY Times

 "The scale of the protests and the damage inflicted represented a departure from the previously peaceful character of the demonstrations staged periodically in Tahrir Square since the revolution in January and February.

Organizers of Friday’s demonstrations had said they would call for a list of familiar liberal goals, like retribution against former President Hosni Mubarak and an end to military trials of civilians. But thousands of people marched off from the square to express their anger over disparate recent events, including a recent dispute along the border with Israel and a brawl between soccer fans and the police at a match on Tuesday.

Thousands of hard-core soccer fans — known here as ultras — were for the first time a conspicuous presence in the protests and a dominant force in the violence. They led the attacks on the Interior Ministry and the security building near the Israeli Embassy, and they kept up the fight outside the embassy long after others had gone home. At the Interior Ministry, political activists tried to form human barriers to protect the building, urging protesters to retreat to the square and chanting, “Peacefully, peacefully.”

 “Those who love Egypt should not destroy it!” they chanted."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

No Double Dip Recession for US

Data on retail sales and car sales for August, as I noted, were positive. The ISM manufacturing report, released on September 1, indicated that the goods sector of the economy was still expanding in August, although new orders slowed. The ISM services report, released yesterday, showed the vast services sector gained strength in August, with new orders rising. Macroeconomic Advisers, the non-partisan, highly trustworthy, reality-based forecasting firm, continually updates its projection for current quarter GDP growth based on new data coming in. The current estimate: the U.S. economy is expanding at an annual rate of about two percent. For those keeping score at home, that's twice the rate of second quarter growth, and five times the rate of first quarter growth. Of course, these assessments can change rapidly, and horrific numbers from September could signal a slowdown. Or they could reaffirm the existing trend. We'll know in about a month. (Daniel Gross)
It's good to know. 

Free at last

After being in captivity for 14 years as test animals, these Chimpanzees were finally being released last week and saw the outside world for the first time. SMH  has more.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Democracies and Dictatorships

Kishore Mahbubani, a retired Singaporean diplomat, published a provocative essay in The Financial Times on Monday that began like this: “Dictators are falling. Democracies are failing. A curious coincidence? Or is it, perhaps, a sign that something fundamental has changed in the grain of human history. I believe so. How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold. Then the simple cellphone enabled people to connect. The truth spread widely to drown out all the lies that the colonel broadcast over the airwaves. 
“So why are democracies failing at the same time? The simple answer: democracies have also been telling lies.” 
Mahbubani noted that “the eurozone project was created on a big lie” that countries could have monetary union and fiscal independence — without pain. Meanwhile, in America, added Mahbubani, now the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, “No U.S. leaders dare to tell the truth to the people. All their pronouncements rest on a mythical assumption that ‘recovery’ is around the corner. Implicitly, they say this is a normal recession. But this is no normal recession. There will be no painless solution. ‘Sacrifice’ will be needed, and the American people know this. But no American politician dares utter the word ‘sacrifice.’ Painful truths cannot be told.” (Tom Friedman)
There's no need to read the rest of Tom's column. The best part of this one the direct quote taken form Kishore Mahbubani's column in FT (which is not accessible publicly). 

Local blogging done right

Still a big problem

There are still unhealthy amount of obsession towards the Jews. On the other hand, the same can be said of the US congress. 

The next iteration of the Euro zone

Many economists argue that the euro zone needs to become a transfer union, where payments flow from richer to poorer states, if the single currency is going to survive. But a look at existing systems in different countries shows that the design of such a union is crucial -- otherwise some countries will become permanently dependent on handouts. (Spiegel)

Design of an Apple Store

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A retarded way to run a judicial system

As a Buddhist, Tan Cheow Hong didn't expect to run up against Malaysia's Islamic laws.  
Then last November, his estranged wife showed up at their child's school with a court order from a Sharia judge, who had granted her temporary custody of their 7-year-old.  
The wife took their daughter away with the help of Islamic officials and police.  
"If I had tried to stop them they would have arrested me," says Mr Tan. He says he had no idea his wife had become a Muslim. The next day his wife converted their daughter to Islam without Mr Tan's consent. That means both mother and child are now subject to Islamic law, which does not apply to non-Muslims like Mr Tan.  
He is now filing for child custody through the civil court while his wife is fighting for the case to be heard in the country's Sharia court. (BBC)

Fucking unbelievable.  

Finally a contender to the throne

Standard working hours around the globe

Find it here and decide if you need to move somewhere else. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

The great bank robbery

For the American economy – and for many other developed economies – the elephant in the room is the amount of money paid to bankers over the last five years. For banks that have filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the sum stands at an astounding $2.2 trillion. Extrapolating over the coming decade, the numbers would approach $5 trillion, an amount vastly larger than what both President Barack Obama’s administration and his Republican opponents seem willing to cut from further government deficits.  
That $5 trillion dollars is not money invested in building roads, schools, and other long-term projects, but is directly transferred from the American economy to the personal accounts of bank executives and employees. Such transfers represent as cunning a tax on everyone else as one can imagine. It feels quite iniquitous that bankers, having helped cause today’s financial and economic troubles, are the only class that is not suffering from them – and in many cases are actually benefiting. (Nassim Nicholas Taleb of the Black Swan fame)

The West is screwed either way. 

The Finnish Model

The transformation of the Finns’ education system began some 40 years ago as the key propellent of the country’s economic recovery plan. Educators had little idea it was so successful until 2000, when the first results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in more than 40 global venues, revealed Finnish youth to be the best young readers in the world. Three years later, they led in math. By 2006, Finland was first out of 57 countries (and a few cities) in science. In the 2009 PISA scores released last year, the nation came in second in science, third in reading and sixth in math among nearly half a million students worldwide. “I’m still surprised,” said Arjariita Heikkinen, principal of a Helsinki comprehensive school. “I didn’t realize we were that good.” (Smithsonian)

This article about Finnish education system is a bit long but it is worth reading every word of it. 

Historic Frauds

An exhibit in the Swiss city of Neuchâtel is taking visitors back through centuries of forgeries and fakes that have long stumped archeologists and the art world. Italians associated with the Mafia were arrested for trying to pass this horse off as an 800-year-old bronze statue, but not before they cashed a check for $40 million. (Spiegel)


If you ever come and visit Egypt, do not miss the Oasis of Siwa. It is the best place in Egypt.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A story from the housing trench

I work at a real estate office. We primarily sell houses that were foreclosed on by lenders. We aren't involved in the actual foreclosures or evictions - anonymous lawyers in the cloud somewhere is tasked with the paperwork - we are the boots on the ground that interacts with the actual walls, roofs and occasional bomb threat.
When the lender forecloses - or is thinking of foreclosing - on a property one of the first things that happens is they send somebody out to see if there is actually a house there and if there is anybody living there who needs to be evicted. Lawyers are expensive so they send a real estate agent or a property preservation company out to check. There is the occasional discovery of fraud where there was never a house on the parcel to begin with, but such instances are rare. Sometimes this initial visit results in discovering a house that has burned down or demolished, is abandoned or occupied by somebody who has absolutely no connection with the homeowner. Sometimes the houses are discovered to be crack dens or meth labs, sometimes the sites of cock or dog fighting operations, or you might even find a back yard filled with a pot cultivation that can't be traced back to anybody because it was planted in yet another vacant house in a blighted neighborhood. The house could be worth less than zero - blighted to the point where you can't even give it away (this is a literal statement, I have tried to give away many houses or even vacant lots with no takers over the years) or it could be a waterfront mansion in a gated golf community worth well over seven figures that does not include the number "one". Sometimes they are found to have been seized by the IRS, the local tax authority, the DEA or the US Marshal. Variety is the rule. The end results are the law. (Reddit)

Exciting September

The administration has made it clear to Mr. Abbas that it will veto any request presented to the United Nations Security Council to make a Palestinian state a new member outright. But the United States does not have enough support to block a vote by the General Assembly to elevate the status of the Palestinians’ nonvoting observer “entity” to that of a nonvoting observer state. 
The change would pave the way for the Palestinians to join dozens of United Nations bodies and conventions, and it could strengthen their ability to pursue cases against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Senior officials said the administration wanted to avoid not only a veto but also the more symbolic and potent General Assembly vote that would leave the United States and only a handful of other nations in the opposition. 
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic maneuverings, said they feared that in either case a wave of anger could sweep the Palestinian territories and the wider Arab world at a time when the region is already in tumult. President Obama would be put in the position of threatening to veto recognition of the aspirations of most Palestinians or risk alienating Israel and its political supporters in the United States. (NY Times)
The peace process is not going anywhere and you have a intransigence government in Israel. There is little point to wait to push via UN General Assembly. There is no need to take the worse possible consequences of this (a renewal of war). What it will do is to put additional pressures for both parties to start a real talk with real compromises. 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

10 things to know about time

Number 9
"Aging can be reversed. We all grow old, part of the general trend toward growing disorder. But it’s only the universe as a whole that must increase in entropy, not every individual piece of it. (Otherwise it would be impossible to build a refrigerator.) Reversing the arrow of time for living organisms is a technological challenge, not a physical impossibility. And we’re making progress on a few fronts: stem cells, yeast, and even (with caveats) mice and human muscle tissue. As one biologist told me: “You and I won’t live forever. But as for our grandkids, I’m not placing any bets." (Discover Magazine)

Backing the wrong horse

China offered huge stockpiles of weapons to Colonel Moammar Gadhafi during the final months of his regime, according to papers that describe secret talks about shipments via Algeria and South Africa. 
Documents obtained by The Globe and Mail show that state-controlled Chinese arms manufacturers were prepared to sell weapons and ammunition worth at least $200-million to the embattled Col. Gadhafi in late July, a violation of United Nations sanctions. 
The documents suggest that Beijing and other governments may have played a double game in the Libyan war, claiming neutrality but covertly helping the dictator. The papers do not confirm whether any military assistance was delivered, but senior leaders of the new transitional government in Tripoli say the documents reinforce their suspicions about the recent actions of China, Algeria and South Africa. Those countries may now suffer a disadvantage as Libya’s new rulers divide the spoils from their vast energy resources, and select foreign firms for the country’s reconstruction. (Globe and Mail)
This was a dumb dumb move by some in the Chinese bureaucracy. There are tons of Chinese companies operating in Libya and they are going to lose big on this.

How to ruin HP in one year

Bristle when Oracle's Larry Ellison tells the New York Times: "The H-P board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs." 
And file lawsuits when Mr. Ellison hires Mr. Hurd. Boast that you're going to attack Apple's iPad with your $499 TouchPad. Then dump your TouchPad in a $99 fire sale and announce you're just not going to offer it anymore. (WSJ)

There is no market for Tablet, only a market for iPad

An executive at Android tablet maker Lenovo claims that Samsung sold only 20,000 of the 1m tablets that it shipped last year as it tried to "buy share" from market leader Apple.
The dramatically low figure suggests that Samsung's efforts with its first 7-inch tablet, launched exactly a year ago, fell far short of targets.
Andrew Barrow, director of consumer products and pricing for Lenovo Western Europe, told the Guardian that the problem with trying to substantially undercut the price of the Apple iPad, of which around 30m have so far been sold, was that "any [manufacturer] would be giving money away." (Guardian)

iPad is pretty much killing any potential competition in the Tablet market.

Beijing in the eye of a dissident

Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don’t care who their neighbors are; they don’t trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper. (Ai Weiwei)
Read the whole thing. 

Shit hits the fan at Wikileaks

In the end, all the efforts at confidentiality came to naught. Everyone who knows a bit about computers can now have a look into the 250,000 US diplomatic dispatches that WikiLeaks made available to select news outlets late last year. All of them. What's more, they are the unedited, unredacted versions complete with the names of US diplomats' informants -- sensitive names from Iran, China, Afghanistan, the Arab world and elsewhere. (wikileaks)
Wikileaks got hacked and now unedited and un-redacted version of the US State Department diplomatic dispatches are completely in the open. Some people might get killed over this. Fuckin' a.