Saturday, 28 September 2013

Climate Change and upcoming nightmares, part 1 (brief)

The case for Anthropogenic Climate Change is nearly airtight now and the often-maligned IPCC is far more sure of it than it was in 2007. These are truly ominous developments, and they confirm a reality that nobody is willing to confront. More on this to come soon, but things are already sliding towards hell and the poor are going to suffer so oil companies can get a few dollars more.

Future generations are never going to forgive us for screwing up their world.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Corrupt Politicians in India and Brazil

Goody, goody! Gangsters, murderers and sex offenders among Indian politicians are now protected from the law by a Parliamentary bill, no less. To call this revolting is to seriously understate the case. An Indian politician could take part in a repeat of the infamous rape-and-murder in New Delhi in December and get away with it because he's an elected member of parliament! This is absolutely sickening - and what can the Indian public do about it?

Get angry. Really, really angry.

There is a limit to the sort of garbage that these politicans throw at us, and we've let them go for far too long. If 25 percent of Indian politicians have criminal records and they have judicial immunity, this country is going to go downhill.

Now, there might be some good news from Brazil. Brazilians are sick of corruption and showing their anger and at least they're putting enough pressure to make Dilma Rousseff listen. Brazilian politicians are immune to prosecution and the crimes they're accused of are utterly horrifying - murder, the use of slave labor, killing enemies with acid and chainsaws (what the hell???) and so on. It makes me wonder what Indian politicians might have achieved had they been given immunity. Unbelievable. This kind of madness just can't be let to continue, not in India, not in Brazil, not anywhere in the world. Those who abuse power must be thrown behind bars for good.

On the Financialization of Cities - Extorting Citizens to pay the Corrupt

A couple of days ago, I had the honor of listening to Prof. Michael Goldman of the University of Minnesota speak on the Financialization of Cities worldwide - raising the issues of financialization in North America, Europe, and the rest of the world, including India where I live. I happen to live in Bangalore, one of Thomas Friedman's favorite locations and a city that got plenty of focus in "The World is Flat", a book that encapsulated the conventional wisdom on globalization and banged the same point over again a zillion times.

Disagreements with Friedman aside, the potential for the financialization of Bangalore is high, and the recent move to raise parking rates in the center of the city has me worrying. Is Bangalore the corporation plans to charge parking at rates higher than commerical rents. And we don't even know for certain what conditions this decision has been taken - except that it has been taken entirely out of the hands of the people of Bangalore. Everyone living in this city will pay a lot and get nothing in return for it. Traffic will get worse due to the designated parking spaces, people will have to park their cars elsewhere, and nothing good will be done to anyone - except for the city municipality, which simply has no accountability. Millions of rupees go into some corrupt politician's pocket, or into the hands of a corporation. Forget ordinary citizens, who have nothing to rely upon except an inadequate public transportation service. The Indian Congress Party is not Jawaharlal Nehru's party or Mahatma Gandhi's party - it seems to serve corporations and politicians above all. Well, whoever I'm voting for next time, it won't be for them. 

This kind of crookedness is barely Indian. In Chicago, parking meters are in the hands of a private consortium. This consortium, as the linked article explains, has made a fortune ripping off the citizens of Chicago, all in the name of "fair prices" and "efficiency". All of these lies and this corruption is taking place in the United States, the country that calls itself the world's only 'hyperpower' in the absence of its Cold War-era rival, the USSR. If one of the largest and most famous cities in the most powerful nation in the world has its citizens routinely ripped off by corporations, what does it say about the country, or the state of the world.

Ah, and now the Dutch King declares the end of the welfare state. Everywhere in the world it seems like a war of the rich against the poor, and it is disgusting.

If Karl Marx were to come to this world and take a look at the present state of affairs, all he would say is "I told you so."

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Four Freedoms

Via Paul Krugman (and condolences for Albert) : Free to be Hungry

He has hit the nail on the head: Conservatives in the US (and indeed, all over the world) ramble on about "Freedom" - and in fact, they turn it into freedom to starve or to die. The statistics on food stamps - the rise from 26 million six years ago to 48 million now - is appalling, coming as it is from the world's sole hyperpower. Whenever great starvation goes hand-in-hand with great prosperity, nothing good bodes for the world.

Whatever one might say about FDR, he was a very clever and very understanding person - not to say he didn't make mistakes, it's just that he did his work in a way that others didn't. I admit complete ignorance of his Four Freedoms before Krugman linked to it. So here goes - The Four Freedoms

Freedom of speech? Constantly being undermined by a panoptical system that equates dissent with disloyalty.
Freedom of worship? Take a look at the context of the war on terror and what it's doing to American minds! Sikhs are being assaulted in the US for wearing turbans, and ordinary muslims are still treated as 'terrorists' or second-rate citizens. It's inexcusable.
Freedom from want? Gee, conservatives the world over want people to be free to keep wanting things they can never have -even if those things are as fundamental as food.
Freedom from fear? No, now the present attitude is to make people afraid of everything - whether it's the government, the police, the military, or various 'enemies' - such as fanatics, terrorists, wannabe communists, or whatever else.

FDR, your Four Freedoms may have inspired your country seventy years ago, but if you were alive now, you would find not the slightest pretence of beleiving in these, either in your nation or in the rest of the world.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Cheating at Statistics

Taking an example from the Second World War here, from the gigantic field of slaughter that was the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1945. Who was it who said that there are three types of lies - lies, damned lies and statistics? Anyway, here's an instance of how statistical terminology used differently by two different sides can cause a serious discrepancy in figures. Courtesy of Tank Archives, links to two parts of a five-part series on Statistics, as used by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union -

Cheating at Statistics, Part 1
Cheating at Statistics, Part 3

Parts 2, 4 and 5 deal with plain old cheating at Statistics - hopelessly inaccurate and miscalculated figures, deliberately fudged or misstated figures, and figures that were flat-out dreamed up. But Parts 1 and 3 highlight a far greater issue than simple cheating at figures - they deal with legitimate statistics that can lead to grave error. This sort of thing goes way beyond counting knocked-out tanks or downed aircraft - it has implications everywhere in statistics. Like Inigo Montoya tells Vizzini in The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

In Part 1, the Luftwaffe listed aircraft that were shot down or wrecked on the ground as partial losses : 40%, or 50%, depending on how much of the aircraft was recoverable. This is a sensible metric when thinking of an airplane or a tank or a truck as a collection of resources and parts. "40% of the resources by value that went into the aircraft or 40% of the thousands of parts that went into the aircraft were lost." It does hide, however, that the aircraft or tank as a fighting unit was out of action. While it may be a cliche to say that the whole is more than the sum total of its parts, that applies literally in case of complex machinery like tanks and aircraft. The consequence of the German method of counting losses, as noted in this article, is that no vehicle is ever a total loss unless it is lost in land captured by the enemy.

The Russian approach is described in Part 3 is to count every single unit that's out of action as a loss. Vehicles stuck in mud and needing repairs, knocked-out tanks that could simply have the holes patched up and sent back into battle, vehicles in long-term repairs or refurbishment and so on - in effect everything that was even temporarily taken out of fighting - became a loss. The end result is that Russian loss statistics are enormously inflated while German loss statistics are far below what you would expect.

I don't know how the Americans or the British counted their lost tanks, but this sort of information could counter a whole lot of confusion. Now that bashing Russian equipment has become a favorite pastime amongst the various fans of US military equipment, they point at the T-34's colossal loss statistics to suggest that the tank was vastly inferior and that its superiority was largely a propaganda myth (Completely ignoring the praise heaped on it by the T-34's German evaluators, including Erwin Rommel and Heinz Guderian). That the T-34 sent to Aberdeen in the United States was an old vehicle that had been built in a hurry and repaired after repeated battle damage didn't help too much. Having the statistics for T-34 and Panzer losses cleared up helps put the counter-claim about the T-34's ineffectiveness to rest : The T-34 truly was the "Queen of Tanks" and a design to make the world take notice.

INS Sindhurakshak - what is going on with the investigation?

Something peculiar is going on here. From Business Standard newspaper -Russian experts denied access to the sunken INS Sindhurakshak

Why the Russians should be denied access doesn't make much sense. The Russians have as much of an interest in finding the cause of the disaster as the Indian Navy, since they're the one building and operating the submarines in question. The Kursk accident taught the Russians to put aside pride accept help when offered - why repeat the mistake the Russians made thirteen years ago?

Also valid is the point about Russian and Indian operating procedures being different. What in the operating procedures might have caused the accident?

And to ask an old question - was it a 53-65 torpedo?

Anyway, this entire "international tender" business is going to take its own time. The families of those killed will just have to wait.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Problem of Power - By John Kenneth Galbraith

I came across this excerpt from "American Capitalism". John Kenneth Galbraith shows why he was one of the best political-economic theorists of the 20th century. No one can ever beat a man of that intelligence to the punch.

True indeed that men with unbelievable power at their fingertips choose to glance at their shackles rather than the things within their reach.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

INS Sindhurakshak- assessing damage, again

Via livefist defence

Quoting the Navy officer involved -
  • The submarine still has weapons on board, possibly both torpedoes and missiles. These will need to be attended to on priority to make sure they don't pose a threat during salvage.
  • The pressure bulkhead areas in the forward and mid sections are completely warped/destroyed.
  • A hull rupture in the forward section means pumping out the viscously oily sea water inside the boat is impossible.

Regarding the first point - it almost sounds as though they're unclear what weapons were loaded on board the submarine, which is ridiculous. Perhaps the modifier "unexploded" should have been placed to make the situation clearer. Are missiles and torpedoes stored interchangeably on the same racks? Where exactly did the initial explosions begin? All of this is crucial - and it's hard to say whether or not the Navy actually took the trouble of checking out the front of the submarine. As dangerous as it would be to check the front of the submarine, it would make sense to look into the wreck of the torpedo room and try to count the warheads.

The second point indicates a truly colossal explosion. From the wording, I would guess that compartments one through four were breached and vented to the sea. No word on compartments 5 and 6, and whether anyone managed to lock themselves up when the front of the submarine blew to kingdom come. Damage from bulkhead cable penetrations and the shaft seals would have flooded the entire submarine in a couple of days even if the stern was sealed. Was any air leaking from the rear of the submarine? None of the images visible show air leaking, and there is no mention of air leaking from the stern. The stern was most likely flooded long ago - it seems very unlikely that compartment 6 is still watertight and filled with air (and, grisly as it is to say this, corpses of the submariners)

Point three seems rather pointless - given the magnitude of the blast, of course pumping seawater out is impossible. The structural damage assessment is still on, although it seems somewhat tardy given that the submarine is sitting right there at the dock. This really shouldn't be.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

India finally set to get its new aircraft carrier on November 15...

...or so the Russians claim.

Judging from the way things have gone, it would be no surprise at all if some sort of foul-up happens along the way and the carrier is sent back to Russia for repairs. If the Indian Navy has learnt anything, it should examine that carrier thoroughly before another disgraceful incident adds to this sorry saga.