Monday, August 16, 2010

Mosque on Park Place

From Olberman to Hannity everyone is talking about the proposed mosque on Park Place. Big debate on free speech and freedom of religion and hurt feelings and what not. I thought it would be amusing to throw a wrench into the works.

How would the different parties react if say the NYT (they'd never have the balls, so how about the NY Post, Zuckerman might be up for it) decided to print the Danish cartoons of Mohammad as a suicide bomber on their front page? Would the group behind the mosque be supporting NYT's freedom of speech or try to emulate the depicted suicide bomber? Or would they be squealing the same garbage about hurt feelings and what not that Gingrich and Palin and now vomiting? Where would Zakaria or Bloomberg stand? Sure would have been interesting.

Hypocrisy all around.
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

AZ Senate Bill 1070

The AZ Senate Bill 1070, also known as the Arizona Immigration Law has come under much scrutiny. A more readable version of the text can be found here. The main requirement of the law seems to be the following:
  1. Violations of federal immigration laws are now state crimes in Arizona and the laws are now enforceable by state police.
  2. Foreigners are required to carry immigration documentation at all times (this is actually a federal statute).
  3. The law effectively requires citizens to carry some sort of identification, in absence of which they are presumed to be aliens and hence subject to detention.
Several professors at the University of Arizona have posted a preliminary analysis of the law at SSRN. However, the main precedence might have been set by the Supreme Court decision in Hines v. Davidowitz U.S. 52 from 1941 in which the court found that Pennsylvania could not require foreigners to carry their registration cards and could not make it a state crime. More discussion after the fold.

Several aspects of this law deserve discussion:

(a) A person is presumed to not be an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States if the person provides to the law enforcement officer or agency any of the following:
  1. A valid Arizona driver license.
  2. A valid Arizona nonoperating identification license.
  3. A valid tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification.
  4. If the entity requires proof of legal presence in the United States before issuance, any valid United States federal, state or local government issued identification.
This seems to put the burden of proof on the accused (citizen or foreigner) and not the accuser (the law enforcement officer), this idea of presuming guilty unless proven innocent is absurd. While it is one thing to require foreigners to carry documentation, it is quite another to require the same of citizens. There are no requirements to have driver's license, state ID or passport; a person might not be carrying his wallet at the time and many such situations can be easily foreseen. What kind of harassment if any is reasonable for citizens to bear?

(b) For foreigners however the above are not sufficient. The federal law states:
    Every alien, eighteen years of age and over, shall at all times carry with him and have in his personal possession any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card issued to him pursuant to subsection (d) of this section. Any alien who fails to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall upon conviction for each offense be fined not to exceed $100 or be imprisoned not more than thirty days, or both.
For elucidation, jaywalking is also a misdemeanor. The above law can be complied with by carrying the I-94 or the green card. While many argue that this is unreasonable, that is the current federal law, so I don't think that foreigners can reasonably complain about the Arizona law except for possible harassment and in some cases racial profiling.

(c) Irrespective of all of the above the racial profiling aspect has caught the attention of most people. Proponents argue that racial profiling is explicitly prohibited by the law. For example,

"A law enforcement official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may not solely consider race, color or national origin in implementing the requirements of this subsection except to the extent permitted by the United States or Arizona Constitution."

But the original text did not have this clause, this was added only after considerable criticism. Hence those who are usually worried about original intent issues should conclude that the original intent of this law was indifferent to concerns of racial profiling which in itself is rather remarkable and of great concern.

(d) Other aspects of the law also seem troublesome. For instance, there are no exceptions for children which is also ridiculous.

(e) The federal government is arguing that AZ SB 1070 encroaches on federal jurisdiction. In that regard of possible interest is another case Chamber of Commerce v Candelaria in which Arizona (under Janet Napolitano) enacted a law requiring state employers to use E-verify and imposing penalties for employing illegal immigrants. This however was upheld in both district and appellate courts and now working its way to the Supreme Court, putting the Obama administration in an embarrassing situation.

(f) A new an related debate is starting on modifying or reinterpreting the 14th amendment. That's a whole can of worms which I will touch upon soon.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Was the Civil War Constitutional?

In the following the constitution refers to the constitution of the United States or the Union and not that of the Confederacy. I will argue that

(1) From Lincoln's perspective he was not violating the constitution, to the contrary he was defending it, and
(2) From the perspective of the Confederacy Lincoln was not violating the constitution

Since these are the two primary perspectives I conclude that the Civil War was not a violation of the constitution.

Article 1 Section 10
Powers Prohibited of States
No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance or Confederation; ... link

The states came together to form the Union, hence their existence is independent of the Union and the powers prohibited, at least from the Union's perspective were not conditional. This is exactly what the Supreme Court found in 1877 in Williams vs Bruffy.

The Confederate perspective was to invent an additional qualification, Powers Prohibited to States (as long as they don't secede). Of course no such qualification exists. But from the Confederate perspective, the states seceded and were no longer obligated to uphold the constitution and hence the Confederacy was legal since the law/constitution was not applicable since it was the law of a foreign land. From this perspective the Civil War was not a civil war at all but a war between two nations. There's nothing in the constitution prohibiting warfare with foreign nations, conquest and and even plunder as happened several times during history, with Mexico with regards to Texas, or with native tribes etc.

Hence irrespective of the right to secede or not the war was not a violation of the constitution.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Israel and the Turkish Flotilla

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, the legitimacy or effectiveness of which is not a subject of this post. Some activists, diplomats and agitators had put together a few ships to break the blockade and take emergency supplies to Gaza. Israel intercepted these ships in international waters (closer to Egypt than Israel) and took possession of these ships, during which between nine and seventeen activists were killed.

The first point has been raised by many. Israel does not have jurisdiction in international waters, invading these ships was an act of piracy; the activists had every right to defend themselves against illegal boarders just as any ship would defend itself against the Somali pirates. Don't want to be treated like a pirate? Don't behave like one.

The second point has been missed by many and worth mentioning. There are repeated references that the Israeli commandos weren't prepared for any resistance, some of them were even armed with paint-ball guns. This gives me pause. The flotilla were seen by Israel as an existential threat, still the propaganda minister of Israel is going on about how the activists consisted of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iranian Revolutionary guards, they might have been smuggling rockets and missiles which would then be used against Israel. For all these reasons Israel had to intercept these ships. But wait, trying to intercept a lethal ship and the commandos not prepared for any resistance? Armed with paint guns? Where's the disconnect here?

On the other hand if these ships were stopped within Israeli waters none of these arguments would arise. Israel would have had every authority to intercept the ships, and refuse entry to any activist without a valid Israeli visa. Any resistance to Israeli forces would be a crime and hence none of these criticisms would apply. So what happened?

David Igantius (the unofficial spokesman for the CIA at the Washington Post) puts it thus:
The answer is that over many years, Israel has become accustomed to unchallenged freedom of military action in the Middle East. Operating boldly and often far from home, it has attacked and intimidated its adversaries. This confrontational approach worked brilliantly when Israel's foes were backward guerrillas and incompetent Arab armies, but it has been less successful in the era of the Internet and missile proliferation.

Hubris and blatant disregard of any international norm had become a modus operandi of Israel even when it is completely unnecessary as in this case. Israel is slowly "checking out" of whatever is referred to as the "international community". This should be very worrisome to all those who wish Israel well, the ignorance and arrogance of it's leadership make Israel more and more isolated, an isolation that Israel (no matter what the jingoists say) can ill afford.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The State of the Euro Zone

In the early decades of the twentieth century Germany experienced two great shocks, the hyperinflation of the twenties eventually followed by the second world war. These two events shaped German policy in the post WWII era, the twin imperatives of anti-inflationary monetary policy and European integration. Today however the two policies are coming to a head with the collapse of the Greek economy. What kind of policy should Germany pursue, tolerate a large deficit or expel Greece from the Euro zone. Martin Wolf at the Financial Times discusses the above conundrum in his opinion column.

The situation in Greece has enormous implications for the Euro zone, both economically and politically. Unlike the United States Greece can't print its way out of the crisis, since the printing press of the Euro (the European Central Bank) is in Germany. At some point Greece will find it more convenient to leave the Euro; however the political ramifications will be enormous. On the other hand Martin Feldstein argues that this is inevitable.

Hence the pandering has begun, and here's probably one of the worst articles from the Economist, both praising German restraint and demanding a more Anglo/Saxon (the British/American) model of overconsumption to stimulate the rest of Europe. The comments on the article are actually more insightful although the article lays down the context. Read more!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

China and Currency Manipulation

A couple of interesting posts on the currency situation with China, from Krugman and the Telegraph. Both articles argue that the Treasury should officially declare that China is manipulating its currency which would immediately trigger punitive measures starting with the imposition of tariffs on Chinese products.

Unfortunately I think both articles are wrong as most of the comments on Krugman's article point out. Take tariffs for example, Walmart will spend a fortune to water down any bill so that is unlikely. Even if it were possible, the manufacturing isn't going to come back to the U.S., it will move to Vietnam or some other low cost nation. Once the manufacturing base is destroyed it's difficult to rebuild it overnight, especially since investors are not sure how long the tariffs will last.

I agree that this is a mutually assured destruction, while it will hurt America some, it will wreck havoc in China, massive unemployment leading to unforeseeable consequences. In America this will lead to some inflation but more could be in the offing. The current low interest rate levels are sustainable specifically because China is still buying bonds to keep the yuan pegged to the dollar. As the rates increase, it would trigger a new round of defaults etc. Moreover, the US is about to lose the triple A rating, so the consequences for the US could be substantial as well.
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Public Transportation

I was talking to a Houstonian about the public transportation system in New York, and her comment was that people in Texas are very independent, and she would not be able to give up the freedom of having a car, New York would be a nightmare for her. A few days later I experienced the first traffic jam and started thinking about independence and public transportation.

Cars don't get you much freedom at all, of course in Houston cars are essential. But consider this, a car makes you dependent on a) the car running properly, b) fuel in the tank, gas station, gas prices etc. c) the traffic running smoothly, and other road conditions, d) your own concentration while driving e) other drivers around you driving safely.

On the other hand the time spent driving is a complete waste, you can't read or do any kind of work. In New York you'd wait for a train, if the train is delayed just get up to the street and hail a cab, and if everything is blocked you can just walk. For all their independence Houstonians can't depend on their own two legs to get them anywhere. I think the meaning of independence, freedom and liberty really needs to be thought over.

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Executive Pay on Wall St.

The best option I have heard so far is that of the escrow account. A trader puts on a twenty year trade and books a mark-to-model profit and gets a percentage as a bonus. The bonus instead of being held by the bank is put in an escrow account, with the same vesting period. Thus if the trade tanks, the bank can claw back some of the money, on the other hand the trader does not lose the bonus if he decides to leave the bank. Read more!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Dinner

I have to admit that the food was really first class. The Tex-Mex place is called El Tiempo Cantina and here's the dish (enough for at least two large meals)

Red snapper with tomato and olive sauce with lump crabmeat and jumbo shrimp. Had so much to eat that I had to pack and bring the rest home, so am not feeling like checking out the local pub, maybe tomorrow.

Tomorrow will have to walk to work, the prediction is that it'll rain, in which case I will have to call a taxi. I will definitely rent a car during lunch and start looking at new places.

On the other hand the meetup already has five members, so I will probably set up the first meet and greet very soon. Read more!

Arrival in Houston, TX

The flight from Laguardia was uneventful. Saw the first prius on the highway, didn't look all that small next to the SUVs, so I am still optimistic. The apartment complex where they have put me up is ridiculous to get in, there's no "on-foot" entrance, only cars can go in. Once the driver dropped me off, I realized there was no elevator to go to the second floor. I didn't want to haul my 70 pound suitcase up the stairs, so had to get back into the taxi and drive to the second floor of the parking lot, from where accessing the residential part was relatively easy. Welcome to Houston.

Got out to check out the route to the office, no sidewalks. No sidewalks, but still there are London style telephone booths, I bet they are phoney decorations. Walked a bit and saw a bus stop, a woman was waiting. On my way back, she was still waiting.

The fields are manicured, and not a sole (excuse the pun) has ever walked on them. The area feels lifeless although I did see a few people playing baseball in the park across the street, a few girls with dogs and an ambling couple.

However I located the best Tex-Mex restaurant in these parts, and also a local pub, so will go over shortly. Read more!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Personness of Corporations

Proposition: Rights of persons are exogenous to any constitution and hence some rights can be inalienable; rights of corporations are derived from the legal system within which they are incorporated and hence corporations can not have inalienable rights.

The idea of corporations as persons has risen to the fore due to Citizens United vs. Federal Eelction Commision. The central point in the case is whether the government can restrict free speech of corporations (in this particular case unlimited spending in an election). The supreme court decided in favor of Citizens United, that (a) as corporations are a manifestation of persons constituting them, hence their freedom of speech can not be restricted, and (b) "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

My view of rights echo the declaration of independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are ... endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ...". Hence, in this hierarchy at the top is the creator, next are person or persons who then come together to make a grand compromise in the form of a constitution.

In this view the constitution does not grant people any rights but only take away rights for the sake of a functioning society. Hence freedom of speech is not granted by the constitution, but the constituion concents to the fact that people would not have to give up their freedom of speech (which is inherently their's) in order to live in the territories in which the constituion is effective.

In this hierarchy, corporations come below the constitution or the legal framework. An entity like the NRA which is an adovocacy group could exist without a constitution, however not so for Citi Group. Hence Citit Group can not have inelienable rights, the individuals forming Citi Group will still have their individual freedoms (individually or as organizations which are not incroporated). However, if they are dependent on the legal system ofr the existence of their organization then they are at the mercy of the legal system.

Of course in practice if the system is too restrictive (say like North Korea or Burma) then industries would not find that too appealing a business environment. So there's some trade-off with regards to what rights a corporation can have. But for me the main point is that the government can restrict rights of corporations.

The second point is more nebulous. Of course the courts recognize the need to restrict speech, for example shouting fire in a crowded place. As someone said, the constitution is not a death wish. But who decides? It may be obvious to many that allowing corporations a free hand in an election is a death wish for democracy. The exact text of the first amendment is obviously flawed or incomplete and hence this rigorous application is simply foolish.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

Immigration in Europe

[draft:] Let's focus on two issues: a) What are reasonable demands that a host country can make on its prospective immigrants? b) What's the goal of an immigration policy?

  • What is the difference between subversion and dissent? It appears to me that dissent is against a particular policy rather than the government itself. Dissent implicitly assumes faith in the constitution and the moral foundation of the existing society.
  • If diversity itself if a goal of society, then why should immigrant integrate?

Should minorities have the right to have their own legal system (sharia law)? The end.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009


Chrysler has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The government had tried to sit down with the bondholders to work out a deal. Basically Chrysler owes creditors a lot of money which it can not pay back. If they went into bankruptcy, the thinking went, the creditors would lose much more than if they forgave some of the debt. J.P.Morgan Chase and other banks have complied with the governments negotiations. However some hedge-funds refused to take the markdowns and that led to the Chapter 11 filing.

So why did the hedge-funds resist? When they lent money to Chrysler, they basically went out and bought a lot of insurance, the now infamous CDS. So if Chrysler goes bankrupt the hedge-funds will get paid from the CDSs which they most probably bought from ... take a guess ... AIG. So Obama indeed has cause to be pissed. This is an unfortunate misalignment of interests and the taxpayers are in the hook for it.

I think that the primary person responsible for this situation is Paulson for not forcing a haircut on AIG. Basically, in distressed times lender and borrower (for example troubled homeowner and mortgage lender) work out a deal, debt forgiveness and such. The Obama administration had similar plans for Chrysler. But in the last administration, Paulson made sure that all of AIGs clients got paid in full. The biggest beneficiary? ... Goldman Sachs, Paulson's old bank. So once AIG started paying out in full, they'll now have to payup these hedge-funds as well and the whole process has become a moral hazard. Read more!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blue Hill @ Stone Barns

April 19, 2009: The best restaurant I have been so far. Anyway I woke up a little late and took the taxi to the midtown rental place but Gene was a little late. We started off and were soon driving up the West Side Highway, didn't realize that the drive by the river was so beautiful. In those parts even The Bronx looked charming. We reached Tarrytown within 40 mins, drove into the farm but we were really early for our tours so we went for a spin around the town. It is quaint but we exhausted all that there was to see in ten minutes, took a detour and found Sleepy Hollow but there's nothing there really. We came back to the farm and the animal husbandry tour began. More after the fold. Basically the farm is a non-profit and a part of the Rockefeller legacy, and Blue Hill is a for profit restaurant which is a tenant of the farm and consumes about 75% of their products.

We saw sheep, chickens, ducks, geese and pigs as well as the newly born ones. The don't keep any cows which are kept by the next farm. After the first tour which lasted from 12 to 1pm, we had lunch at the cafe. My impression was that the cafe was separate from Blue Hill the restaurant, but I could be wrong, the food there was very refreshing, I had lamb with broccoli raab, a salad with carrot and parsnips, cauliflower soup and a macaroon.

After that we went on the vegetable tour to see the different kinds of vegetables they grow both in permanent and portable greenhouses.

By 4:30 the others had arrived and we retired to the lounge, their cocktails looked interesting, but I didn't try any. Almost on the dot at 6 pm they sat us at dinner. Flash photography is prohibited so photographs came out rather dark. So here's a picture of the ceiling of the barn.

I couldn't take too many pictures of the food since I was really enjoying the meal. So here's a link which shows a very similar dinner. The dinner was excellent, the best I have had. The choreography of the servers was also beautiful. We were at a circular table, three would get behind three seats and on cue simultaneously plate the dishes. Was fun to watch. Also they were extremely helpful with advice and information.

There is no menu at Blue Hill, basically you can choose a 5 course for $95 or an 8 course for $125. Of course the 8 course won the vote and we are really lucky to have made the absolutely right decision. After Del Posto, I was suspicious of pork chops, so I asked them to leave it out of my main course. Here's what we were served. (courtesy Jeff's memory)
  • Potato chips - served upright 2 ways between a needle holder, faro chip was thin and rectangular, gold potato chip was lightly sea salted
  • Baby carrots on stem, cauliflower - cauliflower was vinegared
  • Beet burgers - 1" buns
  • Sea trout tempura lollipops - served on bamboo skewer
  • Parsnip soup shot
  • Charcuterie (copa, speck, beef salami, fennel sausage) - beef salami was the standout
  • Potato onion bread (w/ butter, ricotta, beet salt, arugula salt) - salts were genius, BEST BUTTER I've ever had, they get their dairy straight from Dan's grandmother's farm Blue Hill @ the Berkshires!
  • Bone marrow (w/ caviar)
After this the server mentioned that the first course would arrive soon!! These were only the amusements! In fact Renee asked for bread at the beginning and was advised that to wait for it, it was indeed excellent advice as you can see.
  1. Spanish Mackrel sashimi (w/ lettuce and dandelion vinaig.) - not briny at all, 3 chunks
  2. Beets (w/ mache, yogurt, pine nut butter, maple gelee) - yogurt was genius
  3. Rhode Island farm fresh daily egg (in speck, ramp marmalade w/ pine nuts) - they say the smaller eggs are from the 1st lay and taste better, pine nut flavor was bursting in this!
  4. Goose egg pasta (w/ black trumpet shrooms, shaved embryonic egg) - yolky, they physically go into and take the embryonic egg from a recently retired (slaughtered) chicken and cure it, it's pricked onto a needle holder then shaved upside down over your pasta
  5. Berkshire pork belly (w/ chickpeas, rappini) - small sliver but damn tasty. After Del Posto I was suspicious of pork chops, so I had asked for something else, mistake!! Blue Hill is not Del Posto, anything here is good. I got sticky chicken wings, tasty but probably the pork belly was better. Next time!
  6. Lamb neck (w/ swiss chard, parsnip puree, scallion stick) - the star of the show
  7. Passionfruit gelee on meyer lemon rind, yogurt sorbet and foam, choco bits) [palate cleanser] - takes 48hrs for the lemon rind to be edible
  8. Beet w/ chocolate cake, espresso sorbet - half of the table had this
    [Pineapple cake w/ formage blanc ice cream and heirloom greens - half of the table had this, i tried this]
  9. Gin (sorbet) and tonic (gelee) w/ buddha's hand - buddha's hand tastes like orange zest
  10. Espresso stick, bourbon chocolate, marshmallow [petit fours] - aka a deconstructed s'more
After this awesome dinner we were given a tour of the facilities and the kitchen and the herb garden and the barn and the banquet rooms. This was a fantastic day and can't wait to go there back again.

Might have to try the bar area if I can't get a reservation which is like 2 months in advance. Also they do Sunday brunch, same problem, two months even during recession.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Del Posto

April 8, 2009: Went to Del Posto, the decor was very classy albeit a bit dark. No flash allowed so had to really go slow on the shutter speed, so I am impressed with the hand held lobby shot. Previously there was some talk about the 20 course menu, but simply there was no consensus so we settled for the Il Menu Del Posto for $95. Basically one appetizer, choice of two pastas chosen by the whole table, a main course and a dessert. Somehow my picks for the pastas got the most votes so here's the menu we had. More below the fold. For appetizer I had the lobster salad, a bit too spicy and the taste of lobster was slightly obscured by it, but after all it's lobster.

Then we had potato gnocchi with Pork Shoulder, Spiced Prunes & Pine Croccante, shown below, this was extremely good.

The other pasta dish was the Caramelle di Robiola with Black Truffle Butter, looked like Werther's originals, but was also excellent.

Next came the main dish, I didn't really like anything on the menu so I chose the arctic char thought that would be the most inoffensive, turned out reasonably O.K. had lots of squid ink and black truffle, so overall can't complain.

Jeff and his buddy (can't recall the name) both ordered pork chops, was so bad that they both returned it and got the char which was much better. You simply don't expect that from a restaurant of this level. I think he gave it a two star review. Dessert was also unremarkable, and not bothering using up my free internet bytes.

Overall, pasta was good but the other stuff doesn't stack up. Will have to try Babbo sometime.
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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Current Economic Situation

The history of this economic crisis can be found in several places, but This American Life has the best introductory material, a fascinating narration on the housing bubble, the worsening economy and now bank solvency. Here's my earlier write-up on the bailout (mainly TARP). Finally, from my favorite blog, financial crisis for beginners.

So what's going on now? Before diving into the micro-details let's think of the macro picture. Early last year Krugman warned about the coming currency crisis. Has it finally arrived? Basically Chang the Chinese plumber is having second thoughts about financing Joe the plumber's quarter million dollar American dream. So basically the United States is hostage to all prospective investors who are needed to fill the current account deficit which will keep increasing in the near future. In this light, GM and other industries are dispensable, but the finance industry which ties together all these global investors is not.

This is the backdrop of the AIG story. Not only are they involved in these toxic CDSs, but also regular institutions are deeply exposed to AIG through non-toxic regular insurance. Thus collapse of AIG basically brings down the financial system, and with it confidence in U.S. leadership and destination of global capital.

Here is an extremely detailed look at bank solvency and a contradictory view of Krugman. Bottom line is all these experts are speculating, and it's still hazy who might be right and if the latest Geithner "plan" and the accompanying rally (Dow up 500pts) is any indication for actual recovery.

Nationalization seems to be the option of choice from liberals like Krugman to libertarians like Greenspan, while an anathema to the Obama administration. Here's a discussion on the just announced Geithner "plan", but following the hoopla over AIG bonuses and performance of Congress many are having second thoughts about nationalization. The speculation is that this is what was politically possible, if this fails then the administration will have sufficient momentum for nationalization (looking at Congress whether that's a good idea or not is a different question).

Will have a separate post on executive compensation.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Plastic Logic

My first view of the Plastic Logic reader:

The touch sensitive net on the screen is visible, as well as spurious lines of dead cells. These were promised to be removed in production. The discussion of e-book readers is here. Read more!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Team of Rivals

(ruminations on Doris K. Goodwin's book)

A wonderfully written piece of history about an extremely important and interesting time. The story is about the political ambitions of four men, Lincoln, Seward, Bates and Chase who came to adulthood just after the Revolutionary War and saw before them the boundless possibilities of their young country. This was not just the material possibilities in terms of westward expansion and free commerce, but also of political ideology, the firm belief that people could govern themselves.

Lincoln's generation did not have to fight the Revolutionary War, write the Constitution or build a government; they were handed a brand new country by their previous generation. The men who struggled to preserve the Union were very cognisant of this inheritance, the secession directly challenged them to preserve the gift that had been handed down. Furthermore, they had deep conviction in their inheritance, the manifest destiny of their nation. The rest under the fold. The most interesting points I think are the following:

1. [defending the Union] Historically, the Confederacy started the civil war by attacking Fort Sumter and Lincoln who had decided against "firing the first shot" had to respond. But in his mind the need to preserve the Union was something like preserving the inheritance bestowed by the founding generation. The South seceded from the Union as soon as Lincoln was elected, long before the inauguration. Lincoln realized that in a democracy there are elections, and if the loosing party can withdraw from the Union at will, democracy itself can not survive. Thus in my view Lincoln was not only preserving the Union for America, but democracy for all future generations. I will discuss the right to secede further below.

2. [machinery of war] The second point is the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln argued that southerners could go and fight the legitimate government (the Union) because the slaves were taking care of the domestic production. Thus slaves (being property) were a part of the southern machinery of war and could be confiscated (and then proclaimed to be emancipated) by the government, just like the police can confiscate the gun of a rogue gunman. Of course not a single slave was freed the day of the proclamation, but it laid down the principles which the Union would follow once it had the ability to do so.

But could slaves be legitimately considered a part of the machinery of war? In recent times Israel deliberately targets civilian infrastructure which is often of dual use, like bridges, power plants etc. since Hamas also uses them. Are they legitimate machinery of war? Hamas and Co. on the other hand considers Jewish settlers to be enablers of the occupation and therefore a part of the Israeli war machinery. Are they justified?

One possible answer to resolve the above is to postulate that only "property" can be considered a part of machinery, and slaves were "property". This is in line with Lincoln's argument, but nevertheless deeply unsatisfactory.

Right of Secession: The quarrel began with the induction of the new states (California, Nebraska etc.) into the Union. Lincoln demanded that abolition of slavery was a precondition, much like polygamy in Utah (many decades later). The southern states wanted a referendum in those states. This was because if all the new states were free, then the slave states would become an insignificant minority in the senate and hence loose all influence, and feared a majority support for an amendment (eventually the 13th) eventually abolishing slavery altogether. But did the south have a right to secede?

The comparison of secession with a divorce is incorrect. During a marriage the divorce laws are known in advance, the Constitution is silent on secession. States came together form the Union, so one can argue that they can choose to secede. But the Constitution introduces "we the people", not we the states, so it is the people who came together to form the states. This is further supported by the independence of Vermont, part of New York and New Hampshire seceded, so states are not fundamental units. So can a farmer secede from the state? Such a framework simply can not work. How about communist countries refusing passport to it's citizens, is that not like preventing secession? I would argue that the jurisdiction exists only over territories, and not people, for example a nation is defined by its borders and not any of its individual citizens.

Several other interesting points stand out, a few among them being:

1. A recurring theme in the book is the great story-telling genius of Abraham Lincoln. We know of the fireside chats of Roosevelt. What's the correlation between story-telling and leadership? Intuitively, people gather round the story-teller, and he assumes a leadership position, so this might make sense anthropologically, but historically bards have not been great leaders. On the other hand this might have assumed much greater significance since nations became democratic. How are Obama's story-telling abilities? The infomercial was rather tacky.

2. Lincoln's original platform consisted of national bank, higher import tariff and internal improvement, very similar to Obama's platform. Contrast this with Obama considering temporary nationalization of banks, his stance on NAFTA during the campaign and now infrastructure spending.

3. In his only term in the Senate, Lincoln opposed the Mexican War since the War was started on false pretences, and the president refused to submit any evidence behind the claim that the Mexican military had shot at Americans on American soil. Since the United States won, the war was very popular. Later Lincoln realized that no one in office can oppose a war and still get elected. Obama's opposition to the war in Iraq is similar, while Hillary took a lesson from this. The differentiating factor was not the legitimacy of the war but that the war in Iraq dragged on.

4. The Republican party was formed by disaffected Whigs (sons of the Enlightenment), and the Know Nothing Party (anti-immigration). Today Sarah Palin is still carrying the banner of the Know Nothings and the "real" Americans, but the Whig faction of the party has completely disappeared.

5. Lincoln's evolving positions on slavery, was this an evolution or simply recalibration to attain his ultimate goal of abolition. Is this similar to Obama's position on gay marriage?

6. Deportation of freed slaves, was this a bad idea for the Black community to reject this? One can think of Liberia to estimate the outcome, but I don't think that's a fair comparison since most of the black intellectuals decided against leaving the United States, thus probably Liberia was colonized only by a self selected group.

7. Lincoln was able to win over Seward. But not Chase. Will Hillary head for SCOTUS? Who'll challenge or be the most difficult to manage?

Read more!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

End of An Error

Was at the Eldridge St Synagogue for a community viewing of the inauguration. The synagogue was quite decorative with faux marble and intricately restored roof. There were some technical difficulties due to the extreme heavy internet load, but it all went over fine. Rick Warren was downright unimpressive, almost as inconsequential as Bush 43. I was arguing with Mark that the oath of office includes defending the Constitution "against all enemies", turns out it's a part of the Vice Presidential oath but not that of the President. Then Roberts starts reading the oath, and Obama seems to fumble!!! I am thinking, this is your day, what the heck are you doing???, Anyway, turns out that Roberts was reading without notes and he messed up, and Obama was going with the memorized lines. Mark wondered if conservatives would now claim this was not a legitimate swearing in. Oh Roberts! Obama after all voted against his nomination.

The speech started off OK, nothing mind blowing.

"This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year."

How about them sub-prime mortgages?

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear,"

Hmm, so McCain = fear?

They have been replaying on TV some of his past speeches especially the one from Grant Park: "It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled." and I have been mentally challenging him to embrace both believers and non-believers, but never thought he had the courage. And then this:

"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers."

It felt as if he added it as an afterthought, it sort of hangs here at the end of the sentence. I was shocked, and impressed, and delighted. Although there are perhaps more Buddhists in the US (he might have clumped them with non-believers) than Hindus (not sure). The rest is equally eloquent:

"We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace. "
And here is the rest of it. From that point on I guess the speech just took wings and lifted off.

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Also interesting was the quote from Washington(?) "that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive."

and the finale:
"America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
Read more!

Monday, January 19, 2009

G30 Advocates Nationalization

The group of 30 is a group of most respected economists from all around the world. Members include Krugman, Volcker, Summers and Geithner. According to it's latest report Volcker urges
  1. limiting the size of banks to prevent the "too big to fail" quality.
  2. monitoring executive pay
  3. regulating hedge funds.
With the situation with BofA one can see where this is going. Read more!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Peter Lugar

Have been eating out a lot lately, went to Daniel which was fantastic, but didn't have a camera. Six course meal, you could tell the short ribs were not soaked in coke. Anyway, was at Peter Lugar tonight, this is New York's most famous steak house. Most people either love it or hate it. I had heard that the service was rude. I found the service good enough, and the waiters friendly and helpful. We had bacon, creamed spinach and grits for sides. The steak sauce was good with everything, except for the steak.

Now for the steak, porterhouse medium rare. That's the only thing they serve. So they don't even have a menu. It was good, but honestly, is this the best steak I have ever had? Not really. So, it's one of those things you have to do once, so check. Won't be back in a hurry, not that I regret going there. Read more!

Dems Already Blowing it

So all this stimulus plan, $30b for highways, and $10b for public transit. Way to go Obama, and what about Amtrak Biden? Carbon emission? Maybe Obama wants to promote tire gauges. Take a look at Spain to see how it's actually done. Read more!

Plane Crash in Hudson

Not stolen from a website, but taken by yours truly.

They blocked street access, so we can only see the wing.

and here's the flight path.
Read more!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Krugman: Conscience of a Liberal

Krugman's book for the most part was an exciting as any of his columns, somewhere in the middle the section on the rise of the movement conservatism was somewhat boring since this has been rehashed several times in the press and elsewhere ad nauseam for the last several years. A few points were eye opening for me.
  • The central claim of Krugman is : The middle class in the United States did not evolve automatically as the economy matured, but was created through government policy and intervention, by Roosevelt and the New Deal.
  • The second claim is : The inequality of wages in the United States is not a result of technological advancements but of government policy.
Let's discuss the points below the fold.
  • in progress ...

  • Similar levels of technology in other western nations from Canada to France did not result in similar degrees of disparity, only Britain with similar policies during Thatcher saw spikes in inequality.

Read more!

Bush sees Iraqi sole (size 10)

I can only think of Milton, "the ignominy and shame beneath this downfall"

  • This is clearly a far far more effective form of protest than if the guy blew himself up. This actually draws focus on his grievances, I hope other Iraqis take notice.

  • This is also a form of democratic protest, not unlike the caricatures of world leaders at WTO conferences or nude marches on earth-day. So in some way this is the beginning of democratic protests in Iraq, ..., in a twisted way something that Bush claims to have tried to do.

  • In other news, some rich Saudi has offered to buy the shoes for 10 million dollars. The journalist faces anywhere from two to fifteen years in prison. Although I think the government might have to relent on public pressure.

And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Terrorist Attacks in Bombay

Somehow I always have a mental block every time I type Mumbai, so Bombay from here on (even my automatic spell checker gives an error for Mumbai). Anyway, when I first saw the T.V. report, I thought just another attack. But as the story unfolded, it seemed clear that this was very different.
  • The speculation was about the identity of the terrorists. There is no dearth of people with grievances against Delhi, but when I heard about the attack on the Jewish centre, I was convinced that this had to be an outside group. While there is much friction between Hindus and Muslims in India, anti-Semitism is unheard of.
  • I don't see any advantage of the Pakistani government in this either. This only brings India, the U.S. and Israel closer which does Pakistan no good. But the reality is that Pakistan, like Palestine is almost an ungoverned land, LeT might have operated with or without the knowledge of ISI.
  • What maddens me most is the failure of the Indian intelligence services to preempt this. I mean such attacks will happen from time to time, but this is like the fourth or fifth time this year. Someone high up has resigned, for a change, but does that improve things?
  • If it wasn't Bombay, the emergency services would probably have been much much worse.
  • What's the impact on the economy? Already investments were drying up, now business travel will inevitably take a hit.
Read more!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Monkfish Paella

Went to the "soft" opening of David Burk's new place. The wait staff was good, I ordered the octopus salad, it was good but I had Barbounia's grilled octopus in mind, which was mind blowing. So in comparison this was ok. For the main course I had monk-fish paella. It wasn't a paella at all, but with couscous. But the monk-fish was just fantastic. The shrimp and fries sounded great, but was so-so. The 20% off for the "soft" opening was also very welcome. More pictures below fold.

Octopus Salad

Swordfish with foie gras

Read more!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ugly Little Boy

You might have heard of the mapping of DNA of the woolly mammoth. Now there's talk of cloning an actual Neanderthal, maybe in a not too distant future. Reminds me of the Ugly Little Boy. (nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Friday, November 21, 2008


So Geithner for Treasury, it's an interesting choice, but also looks like Summers will be replacing Bernanke in 2010. The Dow suddenly got a 500 point bounce, who are these idiots? One would have to believe that it's only the interregnum and uncertainty which are killing the market. (other observations on the market below the fold)

Meanwhile, Merrill-BofA deal spread is widening, i.e. the "market" or what is left of it is betting against the merger going through under current terms. Which reminds me, I have to remember to vote. This is probably a consequence of TARP. Since Paulson abandoned the original plan of providing relief to the troubled assets, the valuation has changed. However, it's extremely difficult to believe in the wisdom of the market right now; the deal spread could simply be impacted by fund redemption. Also most of the arbitrage players on whom the market depends to close the gap, are out of business, so efficient market theory doesn't apply. Consequences of this deal not going through could be significant, not only for Merrill & Co. but essentially most of the TARP investments would also blow up in smoke as Merrill's debt brings down the remaining players. The market is simply broken right now. [For anyone who cares, all this is from public sources, I have no insider knowledge :(]

In other news, Hillary accepts state. What's annoying to me are the huge number of leaks and rumors which are spreading since the election starting with Emanuel. No-drama Obama is being dragged into the Clinton culture. But then Geithner's appointment was of course orchestrated to have the bounce. One thing that's going around is that you don't hire someone you can't fire. But I think Obama can always lure Hillary to the Supreme Court. All people complaining about too many Clintonites in the administration needs to think that anyone in the Democratic party with any talent had to be associated with the Clintons somehow, they have simply dominated the party for the last sixteen years.

Team of Rivals is shaping up (I wonder how much money Goodwin is making off this, not that I mind; the press simply creates an idea and milks it for all its worth). But when will the liberals get any appointment?

Read more!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Batali in Union Square

So no Paltrow and no DVD, but Batali was entertaining enough. I think once the DVD comes out, I'll have a TV Spain travel evening with tapas and stuff. We shall see! I asked him which countries he was planning to travel next, and apparently the Moroccan government has offered them facilities, but no permission to enter any of the mosques, so that is ruled out. Other choices were Croatia/Italy or Mexico. (Nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


We met at the Wall St atrium for the discussion on the bailout. At the discussion I learnt one interesting thing. It seems its better for the auto companies to go into chapter 11 bankruptcy, and then get some money for retooling. This will allow them to restructure the management as well as renegotiate with the Unions. Overall my thinking is, even if they get the money, I don't see what the next game plan is. On the other hand if the finance industry gets a bailout, why not the auto industry? (nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

e-book Readers

I have been thinking for a while about e-book readers since the time that Kindle came out. The currently available models accomplish a lot, but even with the ones on the horizon, much still seems to be desired. Here's the best comparison of various models available right now (will keep changing over time of course).

So what features do I want in a future e-book reader? (more below the fold)

Basically a fantastic tablet:
1. The size should be very slightly bigger than a letter paper, probably half and inch thick, almost like a note-pad.
2. Should have wireless internet access, and an interface like the iphone, should be able to bring up something like one-note, a touch sensitive screen.
3. A full sized keyboard should fit nicely on a letter paper in the landscape mode, and the screen should be able to recognize double handed typing.
4. All with colored e-ink, and should be able to play video as well. The refresh rate will have to improve considerably for this to happen. The OLEDs can already do this, so e-ink should not be too far behind.
5. Of course, mp3 player, GPS etc are a given, but probably not too large a hard-drive (solid state).

So let's see how much of this is available in the existing models.

The Iliad I-Rex comes close, as you can see in the following video. Dimensions are slightly smaller, but will do. Refresh rate is a real problem, and the internet browsing needs a clunky hack.

Jinke, the Chinese company making the less flashy Hanlin e-book reader had announced the V9 which would be the perfect size, but since then they have withdrawn it from the website, so probably not happening. I might have read somewhere that the company which makes the e-ink screens canceled, couldn't keep up with the order flow.

Read more!

Turkish Brunch

So met up with the office gang for brunch at the Turkish Kitchen. A reservation seems to be a must, besides the line at the buffet counters were very long but things got moving. The main courses and desserts were really good. (more below the fold)

There were a lot of salads and middle eastern spreads, but then the main courses were lamb kabobs, grilled fish and the desserts were definitely delicious. All for about $28 with tax and tip.

From there we went to see W. (a life misunderestimated). Somehow I really like this word, and no sarcasm intended. The movie could have been much better, more serious. This seemed like an SNL skit. Condi Rice is shown as a complete retard, much of the dialogue although out of place are actually correct quotations. Overall, I'll give it a C grade, probably will never watch it again (unlike 13 days or even JFK was better), but sort of movie to see to end the Bush era. But in the end, these days one almost feels sorry for the guy, just waiting to retire. And the appearance of Palin on the scene somehow makes him look like a cuddly bear in comparison.

While passing by the Barnes and Nobles in Union Square noticed that Batali and Paltrow will be signing their Spain on the Road Again on Wed. I should get the video and the book, and maybe some pics.

Now off to cooking crab curry.

Read more!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lazy Saturday

So the Google Video Chat actually works, although I had to work out the kinks, had the best Dosa (south Indian crepes) in NYC, had plans to go for black paella (with squid ink) but that looks like will fall through. (more below the fold)

Talked to Nick through the new Video Chat feature in Google, he was using an integrated web-cam in his Mac, I had to change the Firefox settings for him to be able to hear me. I have to say I was very impressed, there goes Skype.

Had Dosa at Saravanas in Curry Hill, not sure why anyone would call their restaurant "Disaster House", but the crepe and especially the condiments were very good.

Read more!

Manhattan for Obama

From this very cool Times map, it looks like Manhattan (somehow the borough is being shown as a county, Dom's correction, Manhattan is New York County, King's county is Brooklyn) gave Obama the strongest support at 85% in the entire country. Surprisingly, Staten Island went to McCain by a small margin.(Nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Indian Lunar Mission

For about $80 million, India has launched it's first lunar mission on 22nd Oct. In less than a month the craft has entered lunar orbit, and launched a moon impact probe, basically just something to crash into the moon. A few thoughts:
  • The main craft will orbit the moon for about a couple of years at a height of 100km and map the lunar surface, not sure if the Apollo mission did this, but the imaging will use modern equipment. Of special interest will be the poles which might have ice.
  • The craft is carrying several European and American instruments for free, so this definitely fosters cooperation for future missions.
  • The impactor is just a fancy name for a dead weight carrying the Indian flag. This "experiment" was designed with the thinking that one day India can claim at least some part of the lunar territory. Kalam (the previous President) was thinking ahead, a lot ahead!
  • The mission also displayed precision control, guidance and communication. Think missiles? Probably this technology is more advanced?

(Nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Hillary in State Dept.

The Huffington post confirms that Obama has indeed offered Hillary the State Department. Politico has a deeper analysis. My plan is to cover Doris Goodwin's "Team of Rivals" for our January meet-up, it's the book that Obama claims to have shaped his philosophy of governing and leadership, and in that light he is embracing his former rival. (More below the fold)

But what does this say about the message of "change" if he is filling the white house with "team Clinton", does it worry the Obama fans? After a little thinking I think that Obama is handling it very well, absorbing a host of talented people who were loosely associated with the Clinton administration gives him Washington expertise which will be much needed. Also as the article mentions, this prevents any significant clash with Hillary. What Obama is keeping out though are the Mark Penns and Harold Ickes who are too closely associated the Clintons and were too a large extent responsible for the infighting in her campaign. Does not mesh well with no-drama Obama team.

Should Hillary accept? I would think that her main interest lies in domestic policy, especially health-care. One day she could aspire to be the Senate leader, if she drops out of the senate it may not be too soon that she can return. Furthermore, it'll be difficult for her to run against Obama in 2012 should the opportunity arise. Also, she'll be putting her career at the mercy of Obama. Will she be a great secretary of State? Probably better than Powell or Rice, no worse than Christopher or Albright, but probably not as good as Baker.

Kerry is the other candidate, he brought Obama in national spotlight, so he might be "owed" something, but personally I would really like to see Kerry in Homeland Security, that's his expertise and I think that's where he can be best utilized.
Read more!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Obama's Message of Hope

The whole idea of Obama's message of "Hope" had seemed silly to many. But in retrospect, I think this has some genuine prospects. The biggest capital of a politician is the ability to persuade, and people become more pliable when given hope for the future. Given current conditions, a broad consensus needs to be built across the country, for example behind a proper stimulus package. Hillary Clinton fairly or unfairly would not have been able to generate such broad agreements. No matter how much "Hope" sounds like voodoo, it allows a very high favorability rating from the start, and "hope"fully that will allow him to get things done. (Nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Tablet PC

John Vesey was visiting during the week, and I saw his Dell tablet PC, the onscreen writing abilities reminded me of Hector's tablet PC from way back when, but seemed much sleeker. So I was browsing for tablet PCs (if I still have a job, these days everything has to be predicated with that), and found 3 contenders:

  1. Electrovaya Scribbler SC4000 [about $2,000]
  2. Lenovo ThinkPad X61, [about $1,000 right now] and
  3. Dell Latitude XT [about $2,000]
From some of the reviews it seems to me that Lenovo is the best deal here. Electrovaya is the slimmest, Lenovo has all the advantages of IBM while remaining slim. Pen has an eraser, and right now its the cheapest. (Nothing extra below fold) Read more!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama's Election

Interesting article at the Times about the Levittown, PA which went heavily for Hillary coming around to vote for Obama. It occurred to me that the very process of people confronting themselves to consider Obama's candidacy must be in itself a positive step for race relations in America. It became a choice between discomfort developed from childhood, and the nation facing real problems and people overcame.

On the other hand the failure of (or rather passage of) Proposition 8 in California seems to some as a point of departure for liberals and minorities. Not sure how convincing that argument is. Read more!

Hillary's Campaign

Final thoughts on the Hillary campaign, I think that Hillary did not do a good job in building it. She became the inevitable candidate very early on, and the old hands signed up more in order to promote themselves than to promote her. This led to considerable infighting, positioning and leaks. They fought on doggedly because they simply could not believe they could lose, and that the old hands were making a last stand for their careers.

All said such a team would have served the country very ill. Hillary might have won, with a smaller majority then Obama, but so far the Obama campaign has shown far greater efficiency than one could have reasonably expected from Clinton. Read more!