The Commodity Price Dilemma

April 1, 2008

Low commodity prices leave little money for the farmers, whereas high commodity prices leave no food on the table for a lot more families. Central and Western Africa, Indian subcontinent and Bolivia face acute wheat/rice shortages. Sharply rising prices have triggered food riots in recent weeks in Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guinea, Mauritania and Yemen. The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has signed deals with Vietnam for rice supplies. Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has reduced the restrictions on rice import (high prices might hurt them in the next elections). The Indian government has banned the export of non-basmati rice. The high prices have been attributed to famines, high oil prices, high meat consumption (causing a surge in consumption of cereals) and biofuels. A recent article in Economist argues that even though the food stockpiles are running at lowest levels in 25 years, there is still plenty of food for everyone. The article argues for changes in food-aid programs.

Economist Article – Food for Thought

The Jamaican Roulette

March 26, 2008

A British Major General was once visiting his troops stationed in Jamaica. He inquired about the physical and mental fitness of the troops. The local commanding officer (a captain) told him that everything is super. The troops run everyday for 5 miles, eat 3 meals a day, swim a few miles and for entertainment play Jamaican Roulette. The major had no clue about the Jamaican Roulette and thus asked the captain to enlighten him on this game. The captain then went on to explain him the game,”Unlike the roulette, we do not have a ball in this game. The soldiers stand on the stationary outer circumference. A beautiful Jamaican lady stands on each of the numbers. When the wheel stops, the lady offers some oral services to the soldier standing in front of her”. The major, confused and excited, asked the captain, as to where’s the gambling in this roulette. The captain, smilingly, told the major that few of the ladies on the wheel are cannibals 🙂

p.s. The post is a figment of imagination of a friend of mine. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Coexistence and Integration

March 15, 2008

Coexistence and Integration are often used interchangeably. But, are they really synonymous? Coexistence is a state in which two or more groups are living together. Integration is the blending of two cultures beyond the cuisines and celebration of international weeks. I often look at the number of mixed couples in a city as an index of integration. Even in the liberal west, except a few big cities, miscegenation is a rarity. Brown prefer browns, blacks prefer blacks etc. etc.
Are we so keen on preservation of our respective cultures? Like the blending of free sources codes (i do not hate windows 🙂 ) have helped computers, the blending of different cultures, I feel,  would be beneficial to societies. Just as the Indo-Chinese cuisine (Indian bastardization of Chinese cuisine 🙂 ) is amongst the most popular cuisines in India and few cities in the US, an Indo-Chinese kid would perhaps be the best bargain-hunter Best Buy has ever seen.
On the bargain-hunting skills of Indians

Kashmir – 1948 to 1966

March 15, 2008

Kashmir – Beginning of the conflict
Sheikh Abdullah became the Prime Minister of Kashmir on March 5, 1948. The government of Pakistan did not recognize his leadership. Kashmir was given a temporary status under the article 370 of the Indian constitution. Article 370 specified that the provisions of this article and article 1 (name and territory of the union) shall apply to the state. The Central government needed the State government’s approval except for Defense, Foreign Affairs and Communications. Kashmir was to have its with its own flag, emblem, constitution and Sadr-i-Riyasat (Prime Minister). The Article in brief gave partial autonomy to the state. Later in 1964, Article 356 (imposition of President’s rule), the control of Supreme Court and the Election Commission were extended to the state. Article 370 has been hotly debated in India. Some Indian commentators claim that this article gave a permanency to the temporary status to Kashmir and have called for the abrogation of the article.

Sheikh Abdullah, a populist ran his party (National Conference) with authoritarian ways. No opposition was allowed in the state. The Indian government did not care as long as Sheikh did not question the accession. In August 1953, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah was dismissed and arrested, and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed became Prime Minister of the State and also President of the National Conference by majority vote of the State Cabinet. Bakshi Ghulam Mohammed proved to be a great administrator and is remembered as the “Architect of Modern Kashmir” because of his work in the State. But he is also known for suppressing any political dissent and engaging in electoral malpractices. But Sheikh Abdullah was still popular. In 1950, Sheikh Abdullah passed two legislations (The abolition of big estates and the Distressed Debtors Relief act) aimed at improving the plight of poor people, especially farmers. Under these legislations, all estates greater than twenty-three acres were confiscated and either distributed to landless peasants or converted into state property.


1962 Sino-India War

The cause of the conflict between India and China were disputed territories of Aksai Chin (about 20 percent of the whole of Kashmir) in the northeastern section of Ladakh District in Jammu and Kashmir, and North-eastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Also, perceived Indian efforts to undermine Chinese control of Tibet is said to be the cause of the 1962 war. In the fight over these areas, the well-trained and well-armed troops of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army overpowered the ill-equipped Indian troops, who had not been properly acclimatized to fighting at high altitudes. Meantime, India had requested the United States for armed help, marking a departure from Nehru’s policy of non-alignment. The Soviets were preoccupied by the Cuban Missile Crisis and hence did not support India. The Chinese did not advance farther and on November 21 declared a unilateral cease-fire. They had accomplished all of their territorial objectives, and any attempt to press farther into the plains of Assam would have stretched their logistical capabilities and their lines of communication to a breaking point. The PRC withdrew from virtually all of Arunachal Pradesh to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), which approximates the McMahon Line that is found in a 1914 agreement initialed by British, Tibetan, and Chinese representatives. But, Aksai Chin still remains under the control of Chinese.
China and Pakistan took steps to peacefully negotiate their shared boundaries and in March 1963, Pakistan conceded its northern claim line in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir to China in favor of a more southerly boundary along the Karakoram Range. The Indian Army’s defeat was seen as a national humiliation. Nehru came under harsh criticism, but he refused to abandon the Non Alignment position. However, military expenditures were increased and a plan was drafted for modernization of the Indian army and air-force.

Second Kashmir War 1965

In summer of 1965, Pakistan and Indian army exchanged skirmishes in Rann of Kutch. The skirmishes ended with Pakistan gaining 350 square miles (900 km²) of the Rann of Kutch. Pakistan army wanted to attack India/Kashmir before the modernization was complete for Indian army. The Pakistani army was keen on a new war. It was under the perception that locals would support the revolt in wake of the Hazratbal episode. In August 1965, Pakistani Army launched Operation Gibraltar. Pakistani soldiers entered Jammu and Kashmir and attempted to start a rebellion. But the locals did not respond and the operation was a debacle.
On August 15, 1965, Indian forces crossed the ceasefire line and launched an attack on Pakistan administered Kashmir. Indian forces scored a major victory captured three important mountain positions in the northern sector. Other Indian forces captured a number of strategic mountain positions and eventually took the key Haji Pir Pass, eight kilometers inside Pakistani territory. Pakistani launched a counterattack on September 1 in the southern sector, in Punjab, where Indian forces were caught unprepared and suffered heavy losses. UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution on September 20 that called for a cease-fire. New Delhi accepted the cease-fire resolution on September 21 and Islamabad on September 22, and the war ended on September 23. A peace agreement, brokered by the Soviets, was signed by the Indians and Pakistanis in Tashkent in January 1966. The agreement stipulated that both sides withdraw positions held prior to 1965.

Trouble in Lhasa

March 15, 2008

March 10th, 2008, marked the 49th week of an unsuccessful rebellion against Chinese rule by the people of Tibet (under Chinese control since 1951) in 1959. On Friday, violence erupted in streets of Lhasa. The violence, most serious since 1989, comes amidst reports of torture against the monks by the Chinese authorities. The Economist mentions ethic hatred against the Chinese immigrants and rise of oil and fuel prices as the primary reasons behind the rioting. Meanwhile, earlier this week Indian police arrested 100 monks who were marching to the Chinese border protesting against the hosting of Olympics by Chinese. The Chinese government blamed the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dalai Lama, for orchestrating the protests. Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959, has said that the charges are baseless. Chinese government is in a predicament because of the looming Summer Olympics in August. Over the years, Dalai Lama has climbed down from his demands of independence to greater autonomy for the region. It is sad that regions (Tibet, Kashmir, Bhutan, Nepal) in the Himalayas continue to bleed and burn.
BBC Article Tibet poses dilemma for Beijing

Economist Article – Tibet – Fire on the roof of the world

a day in the life of a us-based indian (desi) engineer

March 12, 2008

9:00 am — arrive at work in a toyota, honda sedan/suv or a lexus for those with extra cash. parallel parking still a nightmare.

9:00 – 9:30 — small quantity of coffee with large amounts of creamer and sugar. time to meet fellow desis at work and brainstorm on the latest bollywood gossips. any conversation is incomplete without a debate on cricket. the more educated, sophisticated, intelligent ones might deliberate on the day’s sudoku or crossword.

9:30 – 10:00 — read world news on rediff.com, check emails and a few femails on matrimonial sites.

10:00 – 12:00 — put on the earphones. listen to old bollywood songs, bryan adams – the god of rock music :-). knock a few times on the boss’ office to convince him that you’re still doing the job you were hired for.

12:00 – 1:00 — go to a desi buffet and complain how the food is not authentic or indian enough.

1:00 – 2:00 — discussion on eb1, eb2, i-140, i-485 or any other immigration related form/lawyer. a debate on what the U.S. would do without the immigrants. another shot of sugar loaded coffee.

2:00 – 4:00 — put more bugs in the code. write comments in a language of your choice except english. this is not for keeping secrets but an attempt to promote diversity in the code.

4:00 – 4:30 — time for an evening coffee. time for bitching about your current work place and how they’re taking advantage of you….discussion could also be on arranged marriages if some white folks interrupt the conversation.

4:30 – 6:00 — check emails and gTalk with friends.

6:00 – 7:00 — time to shape up that rice belly. rush to the gym and run for a few minutes on treadmill. do a few sets of bicep curls with 10 pound dumbbells. repeat the process, if an indian girl is in sight. buy a skin-hugging t-shirt if the size of biceps increases from 12 to 12.01 inches.

7:00 – 9:00 – dinner time. reach 15-30 minutes late and tell fellow desis how busy you are at work and how the company is trying to screw you because you do not have your green card.

9:00 – 11:00 – chat/call up the girl selected by parents/matrimonial sites. bombard her with your neo-liberal views and how you hate racism/stereotyping, and of course, a tirade on bollywood song and dance sequences.

11:00 – 11:11 – a very private quality time with images/glimpses of scarlett johansson, salma hayek, halle berry or karisma kapoor…..now that’s what i call an equal opportunity employer. btw, why 11 minutes – recommended time by paulo coelho is his book ‘eleven minutes’.

11:30 – till next morning – no more stereotyping

beatles|a day in life — indian version
I read the visa forums today oh, boy
About a lucky man who got the green card
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh


				

Modeling Immigration

March 10, 2008

Could a partial differential equation like the diffusion equation be considered as a model equation for predicting immigration/emigration rates?
The diffusion equation, after assumptions and simplifications, can be derived from the Boltzmann transport equation, which describes the time evolution of a distribution function. The time dependent diffusion equation can be written as:

d (phi)/dt = div (D grad(phi)) + S
where, D = diffusion coefficient, phi = property to be modeled (Temperature, Electric Potential) and S = sources/sinks.

The flux (J) can be expressed as D grad(phi) .

Immigration/Emigration mainly depends on the disparities in the per-capita GDP and the health of an economy of the immigrant and emigrant country. So an ideal candidate for ‘phi’ in an immigrant model would be the per-capita income.
The phase-space would be the different regions (states, countries or continents) under consideration.

Determining the diffusion coefficient (let’s call it the immigrant coefficient)
The immigrant coefficient could be a function of

  • immigrant region’s immigration/employment policies (liberal vs strict, caps on immigration)
  • sectorial (agriculture, industry, services) distribution of the GDP. An agriculture and industry based economy would employ more people compared with a services-based economy. On the other hand, a services based economy would have a higher demand for educated immigrants.
  • exchange rates between the immigrant and emigrant countries.
  • age distributions
  • unemployment rates, inflation
  • existing immigrant populations

A Curve fitting/regression analysis could be done to fit the immigration rates of the previous years to estimate contributions from each factor. Events which led to any big migration e.g. second world war probably need to be excluded from the regression analysis. A bigger challenge would be determining the multi-immigrant coefficient (a generic coefficient for a single country wrt all countries).

Sources/sinks (time-dependent)

  • investments (private & public)
  • expenditure on military, health-care, social-security etc.

Needless to say, such a model would be too simplistic, but perhaps a good starting point. But what would be the use of such a model? Financial institutions such as the world bank or the IMF could look at how an investment would affect the immigration/emigration rates.

…time to do a literature survey and brush up my matlab skills.

India’s 60th budget

March 9, 2008

On Feb 29th, Palaniappan Chidambaram, India’s finance minister, delivered his seventh budget becoming the second Finance minister to deliver a fifth straight budget after Manmohan Singh, India’s current prime minister. The 2008-2009 budget marks the 60th anniversary of the Budget of independent India.The 1947 Budget is regarded as an interim Budget.

The highlight of the budget was a loan waiver of Rs 500bn ($12.5bn) to small and marginal farmers and Rs100bn ($2.3bn) debt settlement scheme for other farmers. Note that, agriculture employs about 60% of the labor force and accounts for about 20% of the GDP. Recent years have seen an alarming increase in the number of Indian farmers killing themselves. The crop failures (due to drought and pests) and the developed nations’ high subsidies are the main causes of the current plight of the farmers.

Indian as well as foreign media accused the FM of delivering a populist budget to help the Congress party in the coming elections. The Economist argued that the waiver would not help those who really need it. The big farmers would not qualify for the scheme and the small farmers are mainly in debt to the moneylenders.
Economist Article – India’s budget – Write-offs as high as an elephant’s eye

Vir Sanghvi in his weekly column CounterPoint argues otherwise.
Counterpoint: The Budget & the Farmer

He states that in a complex economy like India, the government has to intervene when the free market principles fail to equitably distribute the wealth and that SEZs also violate the free market economics. He counters claims of loans not helping those in need by mentioning that 58 per cent of rural indebtedness is to banks and institution.

Kashmir – Beginning of the conflict

March 9, 2008

I was browsing through my childhood photographs and came across a photograph of me on a shikara (house-boat) in Dull Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir. The photograph was clicked on a summer vacation spent in Kashmir more than 20 years ago (1987). The valley was very peaceful then and that peace would be elusive for the next 20 years was beyond imagination. Most Indians say that Pakistan was invaded Kashmir and that Indian troops defended the valley after the instrument of accession had been signed. Pakistanis’ reject the legality of the Instrument of Accession. Moreover, since the state was predominantly Muslim, Pakistanis claim that the state should belong to Pakistan.

Who’s to blame..I do not know. The post is merely an attempt to educate myself on the conflict.

Brief History of the Conflict

India Independence Act (1947)
The Indian Independence act of 1947 was passed at the time of independence from Britain. Under the act, 562 Indian princely states were released from their treaty relationships with the British Empire. The states were advised to join either India or Pakistan. But, Lord Mountbatten, fearing that the princely states’ independence could lead to a civil war, made the accession mandatory. The rulers of the princely states were advised to keep the geographical location of their states and the wishes of the people in mind before making a decision. The accession of three states (Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir) became the sources of conflict between Indian and Pakistan.

Junagarh was predominantly a Hindu state under a Muslim ruler (the Nawab of Junagarh) and surrounded by India from all sides. Fearing that his 800 dogs might be poisoned by the Indian government, the Nawab finally acceded to the Dominion of Pakistan in August 1947. The government of India argued that the accession ran counter to Pakistan’s irredentist policy (division of the country along religious lines). The Indian government sent in their troops and conducted a plebiscite. The population voted overwhelmingly to join the dominion of India and Junagarh thus became part of India.

Hyderabad: The Nizam of Hyderabad, whose princely state was the largest in India, wanted to remain independent. The law and order situation started deteriorating and clashes between the Mulsim militia, Razakar army, fighting for continuation of the Nizam’s rule and the communists of Telangana, fighting for joining in the Indian Union became more and more common. After more than a year of negotiations, the Indians invaded Hyderabad in September 1948 and defeated the Nizam’s troops. The massive support for Indian troops made the plebiscite unnecessary and Hyderabad was thus incorporated into India.

Kashmir: Unlike Hyderabad and Junagarh, Kashmir had a Hindu ruler and a largely Muslim population. Also, Kashmir was in unique geographical location, bordering both India and Pakistan. The ruler of Kashmir, Maharaja Hari Singh, like his Hyderabad counterpart, was dreaming of an independent state. The Muslim population resented Hari Singh. Muslims were taxed and were excluded from the civil and armed services. After crushing a mass uprising in 1931, he gave some concessions and allowed a limited democracy. Even after his reforms, he remained widely unpopular. The grievances of the Muslim subjects fomented a rebellion, which was fanned and supported by Pakistan. In October 1947, the state was invaded by tribals from the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and regular Pakistani soldiers. The Maharaja requested help from India and the Indian government pledged him total support on the condition of accession to India. The Instrument of Accession was signed on 26 October 1947 and the government of India sent troops into Kashmir the next day. The legality of accession is still widely disputed. Pakistan disputes that due to poor flying conditions, V P Menon was unable to get to Jammu until the morning of 27 October , by which time Indian troops were already arriving in Srinagar. Pakistanis also argue that Hari Singh had fled the state and was hence not the ruler of the state.

Despite early successes, the Indian army suffered a setback in December due to cold weather and logistical problems. In the spring of 1948, the Indian side mounted another offensive to retake some of the ground that it had lost and more of Pakistani army became active. Around November 1948, Nehru on the advise of Lord Mountbatten decided to ask UN to intervene. A UN cease-fire was arranged for the 31 December 1948. A cease-fire was agreed to by both countries, which came into effect, the terms of which were laid out in the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) resolution. The resolution required Pakistan to withdraw its forces, while allowing India to maintain minimum strength of its forces in the state to preserve law and order. On compliance of these conditions a plebiscite was to be held to determine the future of the territory.

The Plebiscite

Nehru, a Kashmiri Pandit, had reasons to believe that India would win such a plebiscite. Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, a Muslim who opposed the maharajah’s rule but preferred the secular socialism of Nehru’s. He became Kashmir’s prime minister in 1948, and could surely have swung a plebiscite India’s way. But still Nehru and Patel accepted that Kashmir could accede to Pakistan. The plebiscite never happened. India has argued that a plebiscite cannot be conducted till the Pakistan army withdraws its troops from Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas, both under Pakistan’s control. Pakistan, meanwhile argues that Indian accession is illegal and India must withdraw its troops and a plebiscite be conducted under the aegis of an international body.

References/Links:
Ganguly, Sumit. The Crisis in Kashmir: Portents of War, Hopes of Peace.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1762146.stm

Stuff Brown People Like

March 7, 2008

A profound and thought-provoking blog, stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com, which I strongly feel should be awarded the Nobel Prize in blogging, made me think about the stuff that my people (brown-people aka South Asians) like. Now given my personal preference for food, the first two things that came to my mind were chai and chaat.

Chai – Chai is sweet spicy milk made from boiling 100% high-fat milk, water, tea leaves and about a pound of sugar. This is nothing like the crap you buy from Starbucks, which is meant for those who are either diabetic or anorexic. For a South Asian, no excretory processes can begin without a cup of chai in the morning. Gossips are senseless and spiceless unless enjoyed with a warm cup of sweet chai. Viagara, Cialis, Anacin, Avil work for South Asians only when taken with 2 cups of chai. Marriages can not be consummated (see a Bollywood movie, if you donot trust me) without the consumption of this holy drink. In short, without this cup of brown liquid, life would be incomplete for most brown people.

Chaat – Chaat is an appetizer made from rice flakes, onions, coriander, salt, black pepper etc. etc. The uncountable spices and chutneys in the chaat on consumption undergo disintegration/combustion into various gases. These gases then escape the body and produce the most odorful farts. These farts are of much better quality compared to the bollywood song and dance farts. On the downside, from an environmental perspective, these gases contribute to global warming to a scale beyond imagination. Perhaps, it is time (given our population numbers) to start thinking about including farts from chaats in emissions trading.