Friday, October 31, 2014

2014 October - Interesting Articles & Links

* Questions to ask about Art -

* 100 Books --

* Iran Hanging --

* Multitasking Marathoner --

* Fruit flies -- all one species --

* Ebola - Z-Mapp vaccine from tobacco leaves --

* Shirking at Work - Skiving -

* Mukul Kesavan on the Trilokpuri Riots --

* Insights on becoming a writer -

* Google hires --

* A Soldier on Haider -

* Linguistic family tree --

* Ebola --

* Personal Essay's - Conquering Journalism --

* Labnol - 10 Google links you should know --

* Leonard Susskind - The man who proved Stephen Hawking wrong --

* Satyarthi wins Nobel - #DontLookAway --

* India's Mars Mission - EPW -

* Crusader against India's obsolete laws -- A crusader against obsolete laws in #India -- #MiltonFriedman #AynRand

* A virus called Huang Long Bing --

* Mangalyaan --

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Poster - Modern Times

Every time you see the Modern Times, you notice something new.

Who, for instance, designed this neat poster for the "funniest movie of them all"?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The New Banks

This Friday will see the emergence of a new bank backed by China - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The Americans are not exactly pleased.

Since the end of the second World War, global finance has been dominated by the Bretton Woods institutions - World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both were created in 1944-45. Two decades later, in 1966, the Japanese economic miracle triggered the emergence of the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

The emergence of China as an economic powerhouse, and the reluctance of the WW2 champs to accommodate it, has resulted in the creation of two new banks this year - the BRICS Bank (now the New Development Bank), and now, AIIB.

The story so far can be summarized as follows:

State-owned development arms of the Chinese government are already dwarfing USA's presence. Earlier this week, the chairman of the US government’s Export-Import Bank said Chinese institutions had doled out an estimated $670bn in just two years, compared with ExIm’s outlay of $590bn in loans, guarantees and insurance over eight decades.

How long will it take for NDB and AIIB to upset the Bretton Woods apple-cart?


* (11 Nov'14) - Economist -

* (22Oct14) - NYT -

* (24Oct14): Reuters - ADB chief doesn't welcome Chinese-backed Chinese rival -

*  (2Sep14) - Straits Times- Asian investment bank: Realigning the status quo -
- According to ADB, countries in Asia need US$8 trillion (S$10 trillion) to cover their national infrastructure needs for the period 2010 to 2020. This works out to an average of US$800 billion a year. Currently, ADB lends only about 1.5 per cent of this amount annually.

* World Bank - FAQs --,,contentMDK:20147466~menuPK:344189~pagePK:98400~piPK:98424~theSitePK:95474,00.html
* NDB / BRICS Bank -

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Nobel for Triole's Economics

An excellent article explaining the work of this year's Nobel Prize winner in Economics - Jean Triole.

Cassidy, John (2014): WHY JEAN TRIOLE WON THE ECONOMICS NOBEL, The New Yorker, 13 October, 2014, URL -

After seeing the profs at Tsukuba-U in action, I loved this opening jab on the subject:

"....setting aside the merits or demerits of individual awards, the very existence of the prize has contributed to the pretense that economics can, with the application of enough mathematics, be converted from a messy social science into a hard science along the lines of physics and chemistry."



Business Standard Editorial (14 Oct'14) --
"PPP contracts [between a bureaucrat and a company] need to be carefully reviewed by independent authorities that can expose hidden rent backloading... PPPs can be expected to entail higher transaction costs." It is worth noting that this paper has been available since June 2007. This insight is something that Indian policymakers are only now accepting after considerable pain - though a clear independent authority is still not even on the anvil.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Kashmir before Haider

Yesterday, I saw the movie "Haider". I liked it.

For the first time Bollywood seems to have made an attempt to present a balanced picture of the endless cycle of violence in Kashmir. It is the story of a doctor who cares more about saving lives than about political affiliations; an army officer who reckons its better to blow up a home to kill a militant than to lose his men to sniper fire; an aspiring politician who snitches on his own brother so that he can marry his sister-in-law, and a son who goes through all this in a daze...

Yet, the image that is etched in my mind is that of a temple in ruins. It lends a dramatic backdrop to a mediocre song-and-dance sequence but as the cameras pan in and out of the broken stonework, questions come pouring out: Who built this massive shrine? When? Who brought it down? Why? What did the original structure look like?...

The Martanda Sun Temple stands on the Anantnag plateau, overlooking the Kashmir valley. The original temple is said to have come up around 370AD. A few centuries later, it was expanded by a king named Lalitaditya Muktapida (725-756AD). It stood for a thousand years before it was destroyed by Sikander But-shikan (idol-breaker).

During his reign (1389-1413AD)  -
"Hindu temples were felled to the ground and for one year a large establishment was maintained for the demolition of the grand Martand temple. But when the massive masonry resisted all efforts, fire was applied and the noble buildings cruelly defaced." 
Who would have thought that the same site would be used to portray yet another round of vicious violence...



* Review - First Post -

* Review - Mint -

* Lalitaditya on --

* The Connecting Link: Hamlet, Aligarh Muslim University and Wittenberg Univrsity --

Delhi Metro Kickbacks - Whudunit?

Another corruption scandal has come to light. Once again it is a foreign court that informs us that bribes were paid to Indian officials for a project in India.

This time, unfortunately, it is Delhi Metro that stands on the dock. According to UK's Serious Frauds Office, Alstom-France paid Rs 52 crore over six years to win transport contracts in India, Poland and Tunisia. Between the period 2001-2006, Alstom had won  a Rs 255-crore signalling contract for the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).

Details of this scam have been trickling down slowly over the past couple of months. Yesterday, we finally got a  rebuttal from DMRC. The venerable Dr. Sreedharan stated unequivocally that the "Bribery story hold no water". His point was that in his time, DMRC had sufficient checks and balances in place. "If at all bribe has been paid" Dr. Sreedharan pointed out, "It must have been to individuals outside DMRC with a view to siphon back the amount to individuals of Alstom Network, UK".

So who got the moolah?

Outside DMRC, there were two other key players involved - a consulting firm called Pacific Consultants International (PCI) and JBIC (now JICA). It is interesting to note that around the same period (200-2006), PCI has been indulging in activities that did little to enhance company credibility.

Consider the following -

* Viet Nam, 2003: In 2008, Huynh Ngoc Si, former deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City’s transport department and head of a major Japanese ODA-backed highway project, was convicted of taking bribes in 2003 by receiving $262,000 from executives of Pacific Consultants International, which was hired as the project consultant.
* India, 2004: PCI lost a case to the Joint Commisioner of Income Tax who held it liable deduct tax to the tune of Rs. 3,26,99,128 for various financial years involved. PCI had been claiming tax-exemption for its expat employees in India without any legal basis.
* Japan, 2008: PCI was fined JPY 70 million (approximately USD 680,000) by the Tokyo District Court, and three former PCI executives were given suspended sentences of imprisonment for 18 months, 20 months, and 2 years, respectively, for paying bribes to Vietnamese government officials in order to obtain consulting contracts for a highway project also funded by ODA and distributed by JICA.

India is now sending its officials to SFO-UK to collect details on the kickbacks.

For the sake of Delhi Metro, let us hope that DMRC officials come out squeaky clean!


* (ToI, ) -- Bribery Story Hold No Water --


* Soni, Anusha (BS-11Sep) - Bribe charges link Alstom to firms from Singapore, Hong Kong --
- Indo European Ventures Pte Ltd, Singapore and  Global King Technology Ltd, Hong Kong


Saturday, October 04, 2014

Cold Gradations of Decay

An interesting article on ageing: "Why I hope to Die at 75".