Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Politically Incorrect guide to politics

This is a fantastic episode from John Stossel's 20/20. Part 1 is below:

Here's part 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. Part 2 discusses the financial crisis. 

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cris Lingle on Globalization & Culture

About an year ago, I helped arrange a lecture by Christopher Lingle on Globalization and Culture. It's now up on youtube.

Among other things, Cris predicts an impending crash in China. He correctly called the last Asian crisis before it happened, so I'm thinking there's something to itI think most of his work is based on Austrian Trade Cycle theory. I could be wrong. Here's part 2 of the talk. The wobbly camera work is mostly my bad. If you want more, here's a writeup I did based on the talk.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The funniest president

This is probably the best speech McCain has given. We now know the funnier candidate in this election:

Here's Obama's response
. I am also reminded of Reagan's humor.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Joe the Plumber and America's License-Raj

Apparently, John McCain's favorite Joe the Plumber, doesn't have a plumbing license. My first reaction is : There's something called a plumbing license?? 

I invite senators, Obama and McCain to visit Sri Lanka where I will introduce them to Sunil the plumber (locally known as Sunil the Paiyppa-baas) operating legally without any need for licensing. The Soviet America really needs to modernize itself into a free-market system and get off from this license-raj stuff. 

If you are American, I'd recommend you consider voting for Bob the Builder. He runs with a Son of a Butcher.

In Mutiny

There's a new blog in town, and I'll be blogging frequently in it, mostly about Sri Lanka's ethnic conflict. For now, I have blogged here and here

Thursday, October 16, 2008

My favorite seperatists

Via Sanjana, I learn that all this time, my favorite seperatists organization has been the MILFs. I shit you not.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good news on Reform

This is excellent news. From LBO,
Sri Lana's government plans to deregulate railway freight rates and invite private sector participation to increase movement of goods by rail, according to a new transport policy unveiled recently.

"Railway freight tariffs will be de-regulated and the Sri Lanka Railways will be permitted to determine tariffs competitively to attract freight transport from road to rail," the draft policy statement said.
The move is part of a series of measures to revive the heavily loss-making state railway service and shift movement of people and goods from road to rail.

The government expects to increase the share of passengers using rail to 10 percent by 2016 from six percent now, and freight to five percent from one percent now.

"Sri Lanka Railways will collaborate with the private sector towards achieving this objective," the policy put out by the transport ministry said.
Much more at the LBO article. This is genuinely a pleasent surprise. Now if only we can have the same policy for passenger rail and buses, we would have more or less fixed transport. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Now I'm more of a patriot

My weekly dose of patioritism has now been increased by 50 rupees. According to LBO,
Sri Lanka's government hopes to raise an additional two billion rupees a year in tax revenue through a recent increase in excise tax, a senior treasury official said.

The tax on a litre of hard liquor has been increased by 50 rupees and on a litre of beer by 10 rupees. The revenue from the tax hike in the remaining months of this year is expected to be around 300 million rupees, he said.

The tax hike would raise the retail price of a bottle of hard liquor by about 35 rupees.[..]

The government is strapped for cash owing to rising expenditure, especially on the war against the Tamil Tigers, and on a bloated bureaucracy. [link]
..tsk tsk tsk.. the things I do for my country..

Monday, October 13, 2008

Indian secularism

Vikram Nandwani is probably the best cartoonist I know. Here's his latest:

The background according to Vikram,
The NSA (National Security Advisor) said there was a need to effectively deal with organisations like SIMI and Bajrang Dal "because then there are many copycat organisations ... Several micro units of the same kind may come up." He claimed "SIMI and Bajrang Dal are not two sides of the same coin, but both of them are dangerous."
For those who are clueless about Indian politics, SIMI is an Islamic militant organization believed to be behind numerous terrorist activities. Bajrang Dal is a militant Hindu organization believed to behind the recent attacks against Christians in Orissa and Karnataka.

Despite it's many imperfections, my thoughts on the Indian constitution hasn't changed much, although I wouldn't sing it's praises quite so loudly as I did two years ago.

More to the point, my favorite Vikram-cartoon is probably the one he did when the LTTE 'Air-force' came to being.

Global air traffic

This is just very cool. It' a simulation of air traffic worldwide, over a 24-hour period. 

Just looking at that, can't help but feel that Sri Lanka would have been such a logical place for another heavy traffic point. But no..

Krugman wins the Nobel

Paul Krugman has won the Nobel prize for economics. He wins it for trade theory and location theory. I recall Jagdish Bhagwati, himself in the running for the prize for several years mention somewhere that Krugman, who also happens to be his former student will one day get the prize for this very contribution. 

I must say, I'm not particularly enjoying this Sitglitz-Krugman pattern in the prizes, but when Krugman stops his anti-Bushism, he's a very good economist and he's no protectionist. Krugman also has the rare privilage of having a permenent link from my blog, on a list which is otherwise dominated by libertarians or classical liberals. As you can see, I read the right people. 

So far, the best synopsis is from Tyler Cowen. More to come I'm sure.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Military Bloggers

Via the 50 most busiest blogposts, I stumbled upon The Army of Dude, a U.S. Mil-blogger who was based in Iraq, who also happens to be a good writer

For us mere mortals who don't really know what it's like to run around legitimately shooting people, while some other bastard is trying to blow you to bits, Mil-blogs provide great insight into what really happens in the front lines, which is probably too boring for the movies and too real, too long for the mainstream media. 

The curiosity got the best of me, and I tried to find a Sri Lankan Mil-blogger. Milblogging.com lists one,  The Long Ranger, the blogger I'm pretty sure is not in the front lines (do they have Wi-Fi in Wanni?)  but he seems to be heavily clued nevertheless. I will be a faithful reader.

I also stumbled upon defencewire, supposedly run by a bunch of independent military analysts, which is also kind of good. This is probably as closest Sri Lanka will get to Mil-blogging, unless someone could convince David Blacker to take up a job in Wanni. 

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mod Goviyas

Picture of the day, comes from The Colombo Post:

Sri Lankan Government ministers, trying their hand at farming. Subsequently, one of them got bombed, but survived. Lots of antics, for the rural vote. 

Silly statements

Two silly statements I read today,
Let's forget that 2. for the moment. Why does His Excellency think that the govt. should not sell any state owned land?
President Mahinda Rajapaksa adding that the future generations should be able to enjoy the benefits of these assets as we enjoy them today as a result of a great sacrific of the patriotic leaders of this nation. [link]
I see. Mr.President would not sell, for example, Water's Edge, because he'd like to preserve it for the future generations. Because Water's Edge you see, is "a result of the great sacrifice of the patriotic leaders".

Actually, I don't see. In fact, that strikes me as a whole lot of nonsense. The state owns 85% of the lands in this country. That's a lot of dead capital. A good proportion of this can be used for productive development. Instead it's locked away,  apparently preserved for future generations.  
Ironically, most people will find those two statements appealing. I think it's derived from a fundamental misconception about the nature government, this romantic, yet nonsensical idea that "government is us". So state enterprises, state-land is seen as somehow being collectively owned by "us". Hence the phrases like "selling" to describe the process of privatization. 

A lot of bad public policy can be averted if many of 'us' come to realize one simple thing : Government is not 'us', it's just government

Friday, October 10, 2008

Where your taxes go (where they actually think it will go edition)

This is how the government intends on spending your taxes. At least partly how it will be spent. We can't afford the whole thing so the rest will be financed by debt and aid (yes, yes, eventually paid by you). 

The largest expenditure is for defence, the largest ever allocation of Rs. 177 billion, about 18% of the total expenditure. The budget 2009  from daily mirror.

More on where your taxes are here and here.  For a related post see, the biggest big government

(HT: on Where Your Taxes Go concept, Amit Varma)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The atlas of the real world

is very interesting. It resizes the world map according to different criteria. Sri Lanka is really big in a few things:

First, number of book published (per million).

This was a genuine surprise. And the annual rate of forest depletion :

And not so surprisingly, we do "well" in the number of deaths due to war:

Much more info and maps at Creative Review. Sri Lanka is also quite large in the rate of abject poverty (measured at $2 per day, but as I recall it's quite low at 1$ per day). Here's another interesting set of maps.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Stupid Atheist

Dinidu de Alwis thinks those who practice religion are stupid.  He mentions my name repetitively in his post, so I’m compelled to write something. My biggest beef with this ‘argument’ is not so much its conclusion – the assertion that religious people are stupid, which after all is a matter of personal opinion, but by simplistic way in which Dinidu de Alwis arrives at this conclusion.  In other words, my biggest beef is not with the assertion of the stupidity, but the stupidity in which he makes this assertion.

Dinidu is a devout and a self-proclaimed atheist. Now I have no problems with atheism, I think it’s a sound, rational and reasonable position on the existence god and deity. My contention is that it is not necessarily the only sound, rational and reasonable position on the belief of the existence of god and deity.

I appreciate the atheist logic. Like I said, I think it's sound. But what I don’t quite understand is this militant, evangelical form of atheism. After all if you don’t believe in something why be militant about it? 

I don’t believe in the fairy god mother or unicorns, but I don’t go around writing blog posts, books or making movies about how silly it is. If you dont belive, just go on not beliving. Evangelical atheists thrust no bible in your face; they’d just like to forcefully thrust it away. 

I think the answer is, this kind of atheists believes that, like Dinidu de Alwis so clearly proclaimed, “Theists are stupid”. So this kind of atheist feels it’s their duty to guide the other irrational, stupid believers in the atheistic rational path. And hence, they must launch the crusade on theism to spread the joy of the atheist discovery. 

Now there are many ways of making this, “all-people-who-believe-in-religion-are-stupid” argument. None of which are particularly smart, but Dinidu chooses an especially dumb and comical route. To sum, he basically quotes Bill Maher. (Ideally I should stop right here and rest my case. But what’s the fun in that?). Maher’s argument against religion is based on biblical literalism, and laughing at how dumb it sounds. 

Something that Mr.Maher and Dinidu doesn’t seem to understand is, fundamental premises of religion, are not about whether or not Mary was a virgin, whether eating pork is sin, or whether Sidhartha walked on the day he was born; it’s about the claims that religions make about the nature of our being. 

And in this, a lot is unknown and perhaps more unknowable. How did life arise on the earth? Why did it arise at all? How do we have free-will or consciousness? Why are there any physical laws at all? Why do planets go in some pre-determined, mathematical orbit? How or who created the Universe? How did this process start?

These are questions we have no right or wrong answers for. Science certainly doesn’t have concrete answers, it gives some possible scenarios, but none that can be claimed absolutely right. And given this, among the sphere of possibility lies the probability that the universe was created by “God”.  This probability may be small as you like and among the many possibilities out there, but unless you can rule out this possibility, believing this might be the case is not crazy. It’s certainly not stupid. 

For example, when you step into a building you don’t expect it to blow up. You believe it won’t. But it could. Now not entering buildings because it might blow up, depending on the situation, is irrational and probably stupid. But suggesting or believing it “could” is not, nor is your belief it won’t. 

What we are stuck with then, is a probability question. The only 'rational' way to settle this is to consider the costs and benefits of this action. If you are getting into a building with a politico and you have absolutely no reason or benefit from being there, you are probably making an error (Dinidu might even call this stupid). But if you stand to gain a lot from this presence and your relative costs of being there are smaller, then this is probably the right move, even with the risk that on the odd day, things could blow up.

That's kind of how religion works. People consider it a positive net benefit. The possibility of heaven, community and support is worth some of the costs.  That's sort of what Blaise Pascal argued.

Sure, sometimes religion is a tool of indoctrination, but as Communists and the LTTE have demonstrated, theistic belief is not a necessity for that kind of thing. 

So I agree there are and can be stupid forms of religion, but Atheists, like Dinidu de Alwis are not exempt from such classification. I wouldn't accuse Dinidu of necessarily being stupid, just very very ignorant.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Help Map Sri Lanka

Today, I find this extremely useful Google Map Maker. The application basically allows you to map things you know (businesses, cafes, towns and yes, islands) on Google Maps. So go ahead help, map your town, your neighborhood and help put Sri Lanka on the Google Map. Here is a short tutorial to get you started.

Mises vs. Marx (Hax0r edition)

I saw this in the Mises Institute Blog today:

Background : In the 1920s, way before the collapse of Socialism and central planning, Ludwig von Mises (and later his student F.A. Hayek) argued that socialism was unworkable, because the socialist system couldn't 'calculate' . There was no way the planners could know what to produce, when to produce in what quantities without having a proper signaling system.

In the free-market, the rise and fall of prices convey this information which is otherwise difficult or very expensive to obtain. The rise and fall of prices act as signals for entrepreneurs (producers) to make decisions about production, investment -- basically everything. This debate between the Socialists and Mises is famously known as the calculation debate, no prizes for guessing who ultimately turned out to be the winner.

We need the Rs.200 note

The Rs.200 note. Whatever happened to it? (Pic by PVGM)

Seen any 50 cents recently? (coins, not the rapper) I haven't either. They probably don't mint it anymore. If they did, that would be a subsidy for the guys who mint coins because the metal required to mint the coin would cost more than 50 cents. Like it's cousins 25 cents, 10 cents and 1 cent, 50 cents is dead.

That's what inflation will do eventually to all coins and notes under the fiat currency system we have. That's no big deal so long as inflation is moderate, but when you have inflation at about 30%, like we have, one small but irritating cost of inflation will be carrying costs.

Now that Rs.100 is worth piss, we have to carry more money to make up for it. So we have end up carrying more higher denominated notes (500s, 1000s) and less lower denominated ones (100s, 50s). This means when I try to pay my Tuk-Tuk fellow, or my AC-Bus guy, often times I end up having just 500 or 1000 notes and not enough 100s, and those chaps never have enough change. This becomes just plain inconvenient and on occasion a source of great annoyance. We need a note in between 100 and 500.

I think the government should re-introduce that Rs.200 note that we had in circulation for some time in a much more durable form than the plasticky-version we had earlier. That should help with the situation.

More on inflation at Deaned.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Who Would the World elect?

When whowouldtheworldelect.com ran the polls, Ron Paul came on top. Now, it's the economist's turn. So far McCain has a clear lead in Macedonia.

Sri Lanka has 30 electoral-college votes and Obama's thrashing McCain 69%-31% right now. Bob Barr is not included.

Obama is also taking the entire U.S. 79% to 21% so far, in voting. So can we finally conclude that all media (except Fox) has both a liberal bias and elitist? thank you.

Friday, October 03, 2008

WTF statement of the day

Comes from the JHU. According to a Daily News report,
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has called for the appointment of an independent commission to probe the activities of INGOs involved in relief work in uncleared areas in the North.

Such a commission should comprise a team of patriotic retired servicemen who are pro-government, the JHU has said. [link]
I see.  I want an independent-commision to look into the retards in parliament. But that would probably consist of pro-government servicemen as well.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Obama Camp

Move over Jesus, the world has a new messiah:

Cute or Creepy? Till about 1.30 it is kinda cute, but then it gets creepy. Very very creepy. I can imagine a conversation between a typical American Mom and her child, in the summer of 2009 after Obama becomes president,
"Mom! I wanna go to Obama Camp"
"Obama Camp? you mean like Jesus camp honey?"
"Mom, who's Jesus?"
Heh.The good people at Reason has made the Pyongyang version. I'm waiting for the Nazi one.