Mr McCain ... has bravely taken unpopular positions—for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with both Democrats and America’s allies. That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as “agents of intolerance” now embraces theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies (who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday ... The choice of Sarah Palin epitomised the sloppiness. It is not just that she is an unconvincing stand-in, nor even that she seems to have been chosen partly for her views on divisive social issues, notably abortion. Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met her just twice.
Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham ... There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and out-fought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right ... On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.
... this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.
- He talks about how his mother woke him up at 4.30 in the morning every day from the time he was eight and made him study. When he grumbled, she'd say "It's no picnic for me either, buster." The camera cuts away to his nomination speech in Invesco field. Extremely powerful, for what's unsaid: that this is the promise of America: work hard and you can be anything you want to be.
- I expected a rousing speech. I wasn't prepared for a documentary. A documentary with excellent photography, scripting and narration (by Obama himself) ... Wouldn't be surprised to see this one do an Al Gore with an Emmy/Oscar nomination.
- Is Wednesday a little early for this? With the election on Tuesday, any post-informercial bump will die down a bit. But then the weekend has poor viewership, and Monday is too late.
- Some good ideas (energy efficiency, alternative energy, conservation) but still nodding to lousy ones (clean coal?). At least, no mention of ethanol.
- His health care plan is not universal. All the information technology in the world is not going to save $2500/yr per family. Hope Congress comes up with a better alternative.
- Such careful diversity for a supposedly post-racial candidate. Equal numbers of men and women. One black person for every five whites.
- No attack on McCain/Palin. Not even a subtle aside.
- He had Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who mentioned Warren Buffett. But no Warren Buffett!
Pediatricians are among the medical specialties that make the least amount of money and perform the fewest high-cost procedures. If even pediatricians wouldn't go for what Blue Cross's HMO plan is offering to pay, I have no expectations onf the quality of surgeons and the like who will go for the plan. Of course, it's a deathly spiral. The university can't afford to pay for health insurance, so they try to get premiums reduced. In turn, the insurers turn the screws on doctors. Medical practices are so inefficient that they balk.
Why is health insurance tied to employment, again?
- South-east Asia i.e. Singapore will not be affected by a global recession because it is only 6 hours away from China, India and the Middle East. [And Moscow is 6 hours from Europe, the Middle East and China.]
- Because commodity prices have gone down, Chinese growth will pick up. [Commodity prices have gone down because markets for Chinese goods are hurting. In fact, China just reported that its growth rate fell, to 9%. Chinese numbers are problematic, but trends are probably real.]
- India will actually benefit from the financial crisis. A $700 billion dollar bailout requires many thousands of loans to be evaluated and much of that work will be outsourced. This could be the Y2K crisis of the financial industry i.e. the crisis that proves the quality of work that Indian outsourcing firms can do. [The US government is not going to be outsourcing its loan analysis to India. And terms of aid to banks will probably grand-stand against outsourcing jobs.]
- South-east Asian banks are safe. They learned their lessons from the Asian financial crisis a decade ago. Besides, savings rates are high. [Aren't savings rates high in Japan too? And haven't banks around the world bought bad paper?]
- Delhi: bureaucratic, monument-filled, governmental. Much more like Washington, D.C. than like New York.
- Mumbai (Bombay): a cross between the neuroticness of high-finance New York and the glamorous moviedom of Los Angeles
- Chennai (Madras): Cautious and conservative. Maybe Tallahassee
- Bengaloru (Bangalore): High-tech, pleasant and open to outsiders. San Francisco.
- Kolkata (Calcutta): A squalid center of culture. New Orleans.
Many of the engineers Mr. Obama met at Google were from Asia or Eastern Europe. "As far as I could tell, not one was black or Latino," he wrote. His guide told him that finding American-born engineers of any race was getting so hard that American companies were setting up shop abroad, in part for access to talent.
America, Mr. Obama wrote, cannot compete with countries like China and India simply by cutting costs and shrinking government. "If we want an innovation economy," he added, "one that generates more Googles each year, then we have to invest in our future innovators — by doubling federal funding of basic research over the next five years, training 100,000 more engineers and scientists over the next four years, or providing new research grants to the most outstanding early-career researchers in the country."
"I am uniquely qualified to lead our nation during this technological revolution," he said in the survey response, pointing to his Navy experience with advanced technologies as well as his leadership on the Senate commerce committee. "Under my guiding hand," he added, Congress developed a wireless spectrum policy that prompted the rapid rise of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology.
The two candidates' differing approaches (and priority) to science issues:
According to the journal Science, ... Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser and head of the Congressional Budget Office under Mr. Bush, serves as Mr. McCain's "point man" on science, having been in touch with experts on climate, space and "science in general."
On the other hand, Mr. Obama established a science advisory committee led by Dr. Harold Varmus, a Nobel laureate who is president of the Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Varmus said the group's leaders communicated almost daily with the campaign's policy leaders.
Indeed, McCain approaches science as just another economic issue:
Mr. McCain says easing regulatory and tax burdens will encourage private spending on research. (Experts say industry now tends to focus on near-term applications, while government finances more basic research that has greater breakthrough potential.)
The McCain campaign has said he will encourage corporate research by reducing the capital gains and corporate taxes and promoting "conditions favorable to investment." In response to a survey by Science Debate 2008, a private group that tried to arrange a debate on science issues, he cited "burdensome regulations" as inhibiting innovation in the United States and said he would work to remove them.
The choice on science issues is clear. McCain mouths platitudes but remains hampered by the anti-intellectualism and anti-government view of his base. Obama has clear goals and wants to address underlying problems with the state of science in this country.
Reuters explained what happened:
US Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reacts to almost heading the wrong way off the stage after shaking hands with Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) at the conclusion of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, October 15, 2008.Someone even found an amazingly apt quote by Negro League baseball player Satchel Paige:
Don't look back: Some crazy old coot might be chasing after you, panting, with his tongue hanging out and his clammy meat hooks reaching for your skinny ass.
"It's going to be a calm year next year," I opined. Research funding looks reasonable in the out years -- both presidential candidates have promised science and technology investments and weather research is non-controversial. But the corporate training business is another story altogether. Our courses target two major customers: government and financial firms. Government will probably keep its spending up during the recession to avoid a Herbert Hoover-style depression. But financial companies are cutting expenses and people:
Vikram Pandit, Citigroup's chief executive, said: "While our third quarter results reflect both a difficult environment as well as continued writedowns on our legacy assets, we are making excellent progress on the parts of our business we control, including expense reduction, headcount, and balance sheet and capital management."
They're definitely not going to be doing any new training for a while.
Baylor University in Waco, Tex., which has a goal of rising to the first tier of national college rankings, last June offered its admitted freshmen a $300 campus bookstore credit to retake the SAT, and $1,000 a year in merit scholarship aid for those who raised their scores by at least 50 points.
These students are already admitted, so why should they retake an admission test?
When other colleges try to game rankings, they try to admit better students earlier, or award merit-based scholarships or classify temporary instructors as faculty. But trust the Baptists to zero in on the core rottenness in the system.
Ralph Ellison wrote The Invisible Man right after the Second World War. It's a book that suggests the metaphor of invisibility as a way of understanding the African American experience of that time where the central character feels he is invisible just because the white people around him don't see him as a human being.
When I came back to India after a long stint in the United States, I was struck by how many invisible men are around us in India. When you are in a car in New Delhi, there is invariably a chauffeur. The person who owns the car is almost never driving it. And he conducts a conversation with you in the backseat in which he can discuss all kinds of things about his private life and there is another man in the car, the servant who can understand what is being said, but he's almost not there. He's part of the machinery and there are so many invisible men in India today.
There are three writers - Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin, who dealt with race and class along with racial issues, and they form a template that can be moved onto India today. Our poor are almost invisible in a way that African Americans were invisible then. And also a lot of rich Indians think of the poor as a distinct race in a sense. The poor in India tend to be darker, leaner, physically different. The difference between the haves and have nots is almost a physical, corporeal, racial difference in India.
Kate has $0.38 and John had $0.39. They each gave Madison $0.15. How much money did all three children have together?
There are adults I know who wouldn't know how to solve that problem.
You hear a lot of bad news about American schools and American education, but most parents are happy with their schools. Inner-city and rural schools are failing, but most Americans live in the suburbs. What they see is a functional school system with pretty good standards.
Whether the quality of schools should be dependent on the poshness of the neighborhood is something else entirely, of course.
For example, a $3000 tax credit to new jobs within the United States created by small businesses. Why? Jobs created by big companies are not good enough? Besides, most companies view jobs are long-term investments. A short-term $3000 discount is poorly targeted. So, this is essentially a short-term cash infusion into small businesses (which, in a recession, is a good thing). Why not just give the tax credit without making them jump through bureaucratic hoops documenting hiring and retention? And why limit it to small businesses? Simply give a tax credit that is a proportion of the number of employees on payroll ... this way, there is not an incentive for big businesses to fire employees and hire contractors (usually the same people!) from small businesses.
Or no income taxes for seniors making less than $50,000. Why only seniors? Because a young family with two young kids making $50,000 is less deserving than retired seniors making the same amount? Or because Florida is full of seniors whose votes can be bought? Does this mean that income tax is now dependent on age? What next, making it dependent on weight? Height? How far you can throw a dead cow?
Or being able to withdraw $10,000 from an IRA with no penalty. This just complicates the tax code and makes IRAs even more complex. Why have a tax penalty on withdrawls in the first place? People pay tax on withdrawal amounts anyway. Isn't that enough?
Or a mortgage tax credit ... This is a great opportunity to rethink the special treatment for mortgage interest. Why should it be tax-deductible? That and home-steading only encourages people to buy larger houses than they need or can afford. Besides, home-ownership has the significant disadvantage of reducing labor mobility. And if long-term US competitiveness is a concern, removing the home mortgage deduction would be a good way to start.
A pragmatic centrist would be taking this opportunity to push for simplification of the tax code. Not making it more complex and special purpose than it already is.
He saw the duplicity of the Bush administration's economic policies earlier than most, and has been beating the drums for a better health care system for years now. He also warned against Greenspan's enabling of a housing bubble back when Greenspan was suggesting that people go get adjustable rate mortgages. He suggested ways of improving the bailout -- the British government and the European Union essentially took his recommendations. It appears that our government is swallowing its pride and following suit. Krugman is a one-man poster child for why you need experts and not jack-of-all-trades hacks and journalists setting and criticizing policy.
Krugman's reaction to the Nobel announcement, on his blog, is quite droll:
A funny thing happened to me this morning …During the Democratic primary, he was for Clinton and against Obama because her health care plan was more progressive than his and because he believes that America is too racist for Obama to actually win the election.
Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November. Is it really wise to send conservatives into opposition in a mood of disdain and fury for a man who may well be the next president of the United States, incidentally the first African-American president? Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting.UPDATE 2: Obama's response, in an interview to ABC.
What you need is for the government to get warrants in the companies going bust and allow bankruptcy judges to reset mortgage rates.
I would order the secretary of the treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the new value of those homes -- at the diminished value of those homes and let people be able to make those -- be able to make those payments and stay in their homes.
An interesting part of the interview is where Anand (that's his first name: it's not Mr. Anand) talks about the role of computers in chess:
SPIEGEL: Mr Anand, in two weeks you will be defending your title as World Champion against the Russian Grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik in Bonn [Germany]. Two weeks ago you finished last in the Masters Tournament in Bilbao. Is that a psychological handicap?
Anand: Thank you very much for bringing that up. It reminds me of John Cleese from Monty Python. In Fawlty Towers a group of Germans visits his hotel, and he admonishes his staff not to mention the war to them – while he himself can talk about nothing else. So please: don't mention Bilbao.
SPIEGEL: Computers are becoming more and more important. Has chess become a preparation game – whoever is better prepared wins?
Anand: That was always the case. Today we analyse our games with the computer, in the 16th century people did it with a board. That is only a gradual difference. Preparation for a world championship was always an arms race, in previous times with books, then with seconds, today with computers. The computer is an excellent training partner. It helps me to improve my game.
Of course, this is not limited to chess. Computers have increased human ability in a lot of fields by doing away with a lot of drudgery. But it is the rare practitioner who can see that and not be threatened.
The interview finally veered back to Monty Python:
SPIEGEL: In recent times the Norwegian Magnus Carlsen has been in the headlines. He is seventeen and at the beginning of the month he was, for five days, the number one in the unofficial world rankings. How good is he?
Anand: He will sooner or later become World Champion. I like him, he is a Monty Python fan, just like me.
SPIEGEL: There are rumours that he is your second for the World Championship against Kramnik.
Anand: That's a rumour I have heard as well. Perhaps there is some truth in it. Perhaps not. Let Kramnik figure it out, let him occupy his mind with this question. That is part of the psychological game before this kind of match. When you know who is part of your opponent's team you can imagine what he is planning. So I will not reveal anything.
- Marinate the shrimp in lemon juice and turmeric about 20 minutes. Prepare the vegetables while the shrimp is marinating.
- Sautee beansprouts with green chili (3-4 minutes)
- Add fenugreek leaves and cilantro and continue sauteeing on low heat (2 minutes)
- Add red chili powder, salt to taste, shrimp and marinating mixture. Cook until shrimp is cooked and all water has evaporated (5 minutes)
- Stuff a hot dog bun with 3 tbsp of the mixture
The kids had fun finding butterflies, especially because they were so well camouflaged. This photograph has a butterfly (left) and a leaf (right):
The recent icestorm had damaged quite a few trees
Washington Irving famously described the cross timbers as a forest of cast iron. Imagine him on horseback, encountering this stretch and not knowing how far deep it was.
I saw Indian grass (Oklahoma's state grass) and switch grass for the first time (Switch grass is the promising biofuel). Or rather, I learned to recognize them.
Mediocre? Who you calling mediocre?
McCain has been calling gadget plays (reverse/end around, Statue of Liberty, single wing, direct snap to running back).
Right. McCain isn't 1984 Boston College. He's 2006 Boise State. The problem is, he's playing against a really good team, and not mediocre crap like 2006 Oklahoma. He's playing 2006 Florida, and he's getting his ass kicked.
"Schadenfreude", for example. Who hasn't exulted in other people's misfortunes? But it took the Germans to come up with a word for it.
I ran into another such word recently: "okoge". It's Japanese for a single woman who spends a lot of time with gay men. Most cultures don't even recognize the presence of gay men, let alone the phenomenon of a certain type of woman who prefers to stay in their non-threatening company.
But that seems to be changing. Paulson's original bailout plan was horrendous because it made no financial sense for the taxpayer. With modifications for equity stakes and oversight, it has become much more reasonable. The failure of the bill in the house seems to have waken up folks who are peripheral to this mess. Retail investment companies where most Americans hold their 401(k)'s and other savings have started to explain the bailout to their customers -- this is the email Fidelity sent out. Today's Norman Transcript carried an article about Tom Cole (the local congressman who did vote for the bailout) calling it a tough but necessary vote. McCain has turned on a dime again and stopped demagoguing the bailout -- he's even taken to calling it a rescue.
None is explaining, though, why the bailout is supposed to work. Sure, I get that every credit crisis in the past has been addressed by infusion of liquidity. But the scale of this crisis -- $45 trillion in credit swaps -- is dwarfed by the size of the "rescue" ($700 billion). The only way it will work is if the underlying mortgages are rolled out, right? So why aren't bankruptcy judges being given a shot at rewriting the terms of mortgages?