Saturday, June 30, 2007

IT Help Wanted

My website tracker seems to have disappeared somehow- any help/advice in the matter appreciated in advance.

Harvard's MPAID Bloggers

Molly in Liberia

From ATCG to bioeconomy 2

Thanks to Rodrik

Other related blogs;
Emily in Liberia
Francisco and Myra in Bihar
Jessica in Sudan
Roshan in Columbia

For your feedback- how does MPAID compare with other such programs like Columbia's PEPM.?

Teen Role Models?

"Chris Benoit strangled his wife and 7-year-old son, placing Bibles next to their bodies, before hanging himself on the cable of a weight-machine in his home, authorities said. No motive was offered for the killings."

-Via ABC News

Wikipedia notes death of Benoit's wife before body found

Podcast of the Day- Permian-Triassic boundary

"250 million years ago, in the Permian period of geological time, the most ferocious predators on earth were the Gorgonopsians. Up to ten feet in length, they had dog-like heads and huge sabre-like teeth. Mammals in appearance, their eyes were set in the side of their heads like reptiles. In fact, they looked like a cross between a lion and giant monitor lizard and were so ugly that they are named after the gorgons from Greek mythology – creatures that turned everything that saw them to stone.

Fortunately, you’ll never meet a gorgonopsian or any of their descendants because they went extinct at the end of the Permian period. And they weren’t alone. Up to 95% of all life died with them. It’s the greatest mass extinction the world has ever known and it marks what is called the Permian-Triassic boundary.

But what caused this catastrophic juncture in life, what evidence do we have for what happened and what do events like this tell us about the pattern and process of evolution itself?"

Listen to the latest from BBC's In Our Time.

One Billion Dollars Golf Resort

"A South African property company is planning to build a 1.3-billion-dollar golf complex in the Seychelles. Building of the resort will require the reclamation of 60 hectares of land to enlarge the island. Upon completion the island will house 144 luxury villas, 90 condominiums, a casino, a five-star hotel and a waterfront marina. Construction is set to begin in 2008 and will last approximately 4 years."

via Private Island Blog

Tourism seems truly the best short cut to development in small island states.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Macroeconomic Challenges to the US economy

According to the IMF;

-Facilitating a soft landing for the economy;

-Maintaining a sound and innovative financial sector;

-Raising domestic savings and lowering the current account deficit, while resisting protectionism; and

-Tackling the key longer-term fiscal challenge of rising entitlement spending

BIS warns on trade imbalances;
Interest rates in the world’s leading economies should rise while conditions are good to avert the twin risks of rising inflation and trade imbalances that could destroy the remarkable strength of the world economy, the Bank for International Settlements has warned.

The central banker’s bank, based in Basel, Switzerland, also says that financial innovation may be dangerous, especially the wider distribution of credit risk using asset-backed securities. “More scepticism might be expressed about some of the purported benefits of having new players, new instruments and new business models,” it says in its annual report.

Does Aid Really Work?

Tim Harford reviews Barnerjee's book;

In Making Aid Work, a slim new book that deserves an audience, Banerjee cites a recent World Bank report as recommending a cornucopia of initiatives, including but not limited to ”computer kiosks for villages; cell phones for rural areas; scholarships for girls attending secondary schools; school-voucher programs for poor children; joint forest-management programs; water-users’ groups... ” The problem is that while this stuff sounds sensible, we don’t really know how much of it works. Whether and when aid works at all remains a hotly debated subject, which tells you something about the quality of the research devoted to working out whether it does...

Banerjee argues that there is a solution: aid agencies should copy medical researchers and run randomised trials. In one famous trial in western Kenya, economists used the alphabet to decide randomly which of 178 Kenyan schools would receive flip charts. Because the allocation was random rather than based on need, enthusiasm or political connections, improvements in test scores or attendance were almost certain to be due to the aid programme. Previous evidence suggested that children learnt more with flip charts, but the randomised trial proved otherwise.

I would count the flip chart trial a big success. Even though the children learnt nothing, the aid community learnt a lot.

There are, of course, limits to randomised trials; good luck using one to evaluate the relative merits of fixed and floating exchange rates. But Banerjee’s back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that we have now sufficient randomised evaluations of specific projects to spend more than $10bn of aid a year on programmes with a proven record of success. That is about 15 per cent of official development aid, and more results are coming in each month. Successful projects included giving deworming tablets to children, which increased school attendance.

Making Aid Work
Microloans May Work, but There Is Dispute in India Over Who Will Make Them ;
The Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, run by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, economics professors at M.I.T., and Sendhil Mullainathan, an economics professor at Harvard, has begun a study of microfinance in Hyderabad. The lab is monitoring thousands of borrowers from Spandana, one of the largest microlenders in India. At the end of a two-year trial period, the study will compare microfinance recipients to peers without comparable opportunities. The lab looks for the real-world equivalent of controlled experiments to study which programs actually alleviate poverty; this work is one of the hottest trends in the economics profession today.

My visit suggested that microfinance is working, but it is often more corporate, more commercial and under more attack than I had expected.

The high tech ways to revise

TutorVista Prep for the GRE® Test

Prepare for the SAT Test, or Play With Your iPod?;
Three interactive programs from Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions are for sale at iTunes for downloading to iPods with video screens. The programs were released last week, giving vacationing students plenty of time for practice quizzes before the next test date in October.

The three programs, in critical reading, mathematics and writing, correspond to the three graded sections of the exam. The programs cost $4.99 each and are available in the iPod games section of the iTunes store alongside slightly more entertaining, if less educational, options like Tetris, Pac-Man and Lost: The Game

The Shushi Land

I didn't know Japanese ate this much tuna;

Since the start of last year, the average price of imported frozen northern and Pacific bluefin has risen more than a third, to $13 a pound, according to Japan’s Fisheries Agency.

Wholesalers say that competition from foreign fishing fleets and buyers has made the top-quality tuna increasingly hard to come by here. Tadashi Oono, who sells big red slabs of tuna from a stall in the sprawling Tsukiji fish market of Tokyo, said that three years ago, he routinely sold two or three top-grade bluefin every day. This year, he said, he sometimes finds only two or three tuna of that quality to sell in a month.

Some culinary enthusiasts say the anguish over tuna shortages may also reflect deeper anxieties in Japan about its recent economic decline, especially when compared with neighboring China.

After World War II, tuna became a symbol of the economic might that allowed Japan to dominate the buying of tuna on world markets from Boston to Cape Town. Japan now consumes about 60,000 tons a year of the three bluefin species, or more than three-quarters of the world’s annual catch, according to the Fisheries Agency.

Photo of the Day

Chinese masseuses freed from an Islamabad madrasa on Saturday- captured by vigilante jihadists on a raid to a massage parlour.

Is Pakistan on the verge of becoming a failed state?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Migrant Nation

An interesting story about Cape Verde;

Without migration, Cape Verde would not exist. The 10-island chain, 385 miles off the coast of Senegal, was uninhabited until the 15th century, when Portugal settled it with two migrant streams — Europeans and African slaves. Cape Verde became a creolized mix of both continents and a supply depot for the slave trade.

Mass emigration began in the late 1800s on whaling ships that brought Cape Verdeans to New England. It continued after World War II with European guest-worker plans, which sought temporary labor but brought permanent settlement.

Those same plans brought Turks to Germany, South Asians to Britain and North Africans to France, and a generation later, many Europeans remain concerned about continuing cultural conflicts. “We asked for workers, but we got people,” is a famous European lament.

Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975, about the time the guest-worker plans ended. Still, Cape Verdean migration continued — legally (through family reunification laws) and illegally (through visitors who stay after visas expire). Many people here travel on tourist visas, then seek a European or American citizen to marry, often of Cape Verdean ancestry.

Migration is so central to their identity, Cape Verdeans often boast that emigrants outnumber the people who remain. That is true, Dr. Carling said, only when counting emigrants and their descendants. By that standard, he estimates there are 460,000 Cape Verdeans on the islands and 500,000 overseas, including 265,000 in the United States. “Sodade,” the hit by Cesaria Evora, a Mindelo resident and a Grammy award winner, conveys “longing, longing, longing for my island.”

Some scholars argue that migrants form a record share of the world’s population, though weak data make historical comparisons difficult. Despite current alarm, migration is likely to grow. Rich economies with aging work forces need labor. Workers in poor countries need jobs. Border crossings are hard to prevent, and the rewards of moving have never been greater. The average pay raise awaiting today’s unskilled migrants, in inflation-adjusted terms, is about twice as high as that which greeted migrants a century ago, during the last great period of global migration.

Economists generally argue that migration has helped rich economies expand by supplying needed labor, though some low-skilled domestic workers may suffer wage reductions because of increased competition.

From the start, Cape Verde has embraced its emigrants — as kinsmen, investors, lobbyists for foreign aid, safety valves for population growth and eventually as voters. With migrant help, Cape Verde has doubled its per capita income since 1990, to about $2,100, a high figure by African standards. Remittances, the sums that migrants send home, make up 12 percent of the gross domestic product and once were twice as high. Migrants elect their own representatives to the National Assembly.

Determinants of Emigrant Deposits in Cape Verde
Cape Verde - The challenge of increasing fiscal space to meet future pressures

Introducing VoxEU

A new source of economics commentary is born; is a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research ( in conjunction with a consortium of national sites, including the Italian site LaVoce (which provided inspiration for the idea and help from the start,, the French site Telos (, and the Spanish site Sociedad Abierta.

Vox aims to promote research-based policy analysis and commentary by leading scholars. The intended audience is economists in governments, international organisations, academia and the private sector as well as journalists specializing in economics, finance and business.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rating the Unrated

Interesting working paper by World Bank-Shadow sovereign ratings for unrated developing countries;

Summary: The authors attempt to predict sovereign ratings for developing countries that do not have risk ratings from agencies such as Fitch, Moody's, and Standard and Poor's. Ratings affect capital flows to developing countries through international bond, loan, and equity markets. Sovereign rating also acts as a ceiling for the foreign currency rating of sub-sovereign borrowers. As of the end of 2006, however, only 86 developing countries have been rated by the rating agencies. Of these, 15 countries have not been rated since 2004. Nearly 70 developing countries have never been rated. The results indicate that the unrated countries are not always at the bottom of the rating spectrum. Several unrated poor countries appear to have a "B" or higher rating, in a similar range as the emerging market economies with capital market access. Drawing on the literature, the analysis presents a stylized relationship between borrowing costs and the credit rating of sovereign bonds. The launch spread rises as the credit rating deteriorates, registering a sharp rise at the investment grade threshold. Based on these findings, a case can be made in favor of helping poor countries obtain credit ratings not only for sovereign borrowing, but for sub-sovereign entities' access to international debt and equity capital. The rating model, along with the stylized relationship between spreads and ratings can be useful for securitization and other financial structures, and for leveraging official aid for improving borrowing terms in poor countries

Photo of the Day

-Temple ruins at Palmyra, Syria

Confused over Overheating?

Is the Indian economy overheating? Surjit Balla says no;

First, what does overheating mean? For most honest brokers, it means an unsustainably high rate of acceleration in economic growth. How does one know that the acceleration is unsustainable? By noting that the rate of inflation has also increased to a high and undesirable (even if sustainable) level. There is a third parameter—trade deficit—whose pattern can also reveal overheating. However, the trade deficit may indicate other factors at work, most importantly the exchange rate. Ordinarily, a rising trade deficit can indicate overheating, but this is often misleading. For example, if one went by the rising trade deficit view, one would be forced to conclude that the US economy was overheating, even as it accelerated to a growth rate below 2 per cent per annum. And, equivalently, one would be forced to conclude that the Chinese economy was spiralling towards a recession as its trade surplus reached beyond 10 per cent of GDP.

Analogously, the rate of growth of credit expansion can also be misleading—it can either mean an overheating economy or an economy moving towards a higher growth path, or an economy becoming more monetised (more transactions in the formal sector). Perhaps the least useful indicator of anything, let alone overheating, is the rate of growth of money supply. In a closed economy, it had meaning, but even the wisest of the overheating aficionados acknowledge that India is not the closed economy it was five years ago, let alone the super-closed economy it was in the late 1980s.

There are three major determinants of growth—investment (capital), labour, and productivity. While the growth rate of employment has accelerated to a long-run average of now close to 2.5 per cent per annum, the unemployment rate has not budged, as labour force growth has also increased to this average (powered by increases in the labour force participation rate of urban women). So no signs of overheating here. Just five years ago, India was saving and investing about 23 per cent of GDP. Since then, the savings rate has increased by at least 10 percentage points and in 2005-06 was more than 32 per cent of GDP and in 2006-07 is likely above 34 per cent (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, please note: If conspicuousness has increased, it is in the arena of negative consumption, i.e. savings).

But savings do not determine growth, investment does. And the rate of investment is close to 36 per cent plus of GDP, up some 13 percentage points over just a few years ago. This translates into a rate of growth of capital of 10 per cent per annum, compared to a 5 per cent growth rate before. Not too many of the sceptical growth experts have argued, either, that this increase in investment is a spike and therefore unsustainable, nor have they argued that increased investment financed mostly by increased savings is a sign of overheating (not yet, anyway, but who knows what they will say in order to “save” their ideological beliefs).

Simple and conservative calculations suggest that these extra inputs into production will yield an extra growth rate of 2.8 per cent per annum. Take almost any time-period post 1980 and India’s GDP growth rate has been close to 5.6 per cent. Thus, one reaches the conservative conclusion that the expected, sustainable, non-inflationary GDP growth rate in India is 5.6 + 2.8 = 8.4 per cent per annum. These calculations do not factor in the increased productivity growth that comes in from a step jump in investment spending. This is easily at least 1 per cent per annum. So look out for GDP growth above 9.4 per cent to even begin thinking about an overheating India. And forget 7 or even 8 per cent per annum as the non-inflationary trend rate of growth.

Middle East Peace Process Visually

-Piece Process, NYT

The Educational Computer Virus

A new virus is spreading the net, FP alerts us;

"The worm doesn't infect a computer with maladjusted software or erase important system files. Instead, it spreads educational information about HIV/AIDS. Security experts have been quick to point out that the worm, called "liarVB-a," does no explicit harm to the user's computer, but it's still a potential security threat"

Friday, June 22, 2007

Assorted Podcasts

William Harvey - on the tercentenary of his death;
Medical historian Dr Jim Leavesley from Margaret River in Western Australia celebrates the life of William Harvey who died 350 years ago and whose work in circulation opened up the understanding of the internal workings of the body and heralded the beginning of modern science.

Humour as medicine
Emeritus Professor Roger Rees from Disability and Research at Flinders University discusses the importance of humour for people with disabilities and illnesses.

Plucking the goose: a history of taxation in Australia

Teaching your brain to be happy
Happiness is paradoxical. What we think will give it to us - invariably doesn't. When we think we've got it - we invariably haven't. We're not even good at predicting what will make us happy people. From languishing to flourishing - can even the most troubled mind be primed for happiness? A panel of international trailblazers in the study of emotion, positive psychology and Buddhism get earnest about pleasure.

The story of the Palestinians in Lebanon

Spiritual Classics - Love and War
Two manuals are hugely popular today as guides for the spiritual life, The Cloud of Unknowing, an anonymous medieval English work and the Chinese classic, The Art of War, written 2,500 years ago by Sun Tzu.

The Buddhist Scrolls
Out of the turmoil of Afghanistan, several sensational collections of early Buddhist manuscripts have come to the West in the last ten years. They are the oldest original manuscripts of Buddhism still existing.

Atul Gawande
He is a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, and has several other prestigious roles in the US health policy and public health system. As well, he's a practising doctor and surgeon, editor, author, and New York Magazine writer. Atul Gawande discusses what makes a good doctor, how hospitals can be improved, and what he has learnt about the imperfect science of medicine.

Richard Rorty (1931 - 2007)

Caplan of George Mason Says U.S. Voters Lack Skepticism

Striffler, Professor, Says Poultry Industry Regulation Needed

Author Shlaes Says President Roosevelt Had `Vindictive' Streak

Stephen Roach Says Asia Needs `Pro-Consumption' Economies

Blaug, Professor, Says Economists Are Suspicious of Methodology

Margaret Schabas, Professor, Sees `No New Phenomena' in Economy
Margaret Schabas, head professor of the philosophy department at the University of British Columbia, talks about her new book, "The Natural Origins of Economics," the evolution of economic theory, the contributions of William Stanley Jevons and the value of history in teaching modern economics

Common Sense Philosophy

The Treasury War - with North Korea and Iran
Mark Gregory investigates how the US government has been economically squeezing its enemies in the "war on terror".

Muslim Army
Arab-American marines share their experiences of serving in Iraq

Winning the Peace - in Bosnia

Does Globalization Erode State Power?, featuring Daniel W. Drezner

Louka Katseli on Migration and Development

Journey into Islam -Akbar Ahmed

The Black Swan - Thinking the Impossible?

A Conversation with Secretary Henry M. Paulson

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression

Democracy, Poverty, Growth and Social Exclusion
Alejandro Toledo, former President of Peru

The Great Globalization Debate
Alan Krueger, Stephen S. Roach, Matthew J. Slaughter

New and Old Blogs

Google Public Policy Blog

Nordic Model

WSJ Economics

Kids Prefer Cheese

China Economics Blog

Are the British your teachers?

Pakistan hardliners honour bin Laden in Rushdie row;

A group of hardline Pakistani Muslim clerics said on Thursday they had bestowed a religious title on Osama bin Laden in response to a British knighthood for author Salman Rushdie.

The Pakistan Ulema Council gave bin Laden the title "Saifullah", or sword of Allah, in response to the knighthood awarded to Rushdie last week for services to literature.

I'm a bit confused- for these 'Ulema' the British seems to be their teachers.

The Eldest is Smarter

Chart of the Day;

"Relation between birth order and IQ score. Mean IQ scores for male conscripts, first-, second-, and thirdborn in Norway to mothers with single births only and first birth from 1967 through 1976, according to birth order and number of elder siblings who died in infancy (age < 1 year). Scores are adjusted for parental education level, maternal age at birth, sibship size, birth weight, and year of conscription. Error bars show 95% confidence intervals (CIs)"

More here; Research Finds Firstborns Gain the Higher I.Q.;

In the study, Norwegian epidemiologists analyzed data on birth order, health status and I.Q. scores of 241,310 18- and 19-year-old men born from 1967 to 1976, using military records. After correcting for factors that may affect scores, including parents’ education level, maternal age at birth and family size, the researchers found that eldest children scored an average of 103.2, about 3 percent higher than second children (100.3) and 4 percent higher than thirdborns (99.0).

The difference was an average, meaning that it varied by family and showed up in most families but not all.

The scientists then looked at I.Q. scores in 63,951 pairs of brothers, and found the same results. Differences in household environments did not explain elder siblings’ higher scores.

Because sex has little effect on I.Q. scores, the results almost certainly apply to females as well, said Dr. Petter Kristensen, an epidemiologist at the University of Oslo and the lead author of the Science study. His co-author was Dr. Tor Bjerkedal, an epidemiologist at the Norwegian Armed Forces Medical Services.

To test whether the difference could be due to biological factors, the researchers examined the scores of young men who became the eldest in the household after an older sibling had died. Their scores came out the same, on average, as those of biological firstborns.

“This is quite firm evidence that the biological explanation is not true,” Dr. Kristensen said in a telephone interview.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

On Vacation

I'm travelling for the next two weeks.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Search words of the Day

Something seems wrong in Saudi Arabia- the following are the two search words that was tracked by the site meter from Riydh and Jeddah;

nude car wash under
private sex with chinese girls

Friday, June 1, 2007

American Islam

I think the following article from NYT highlights a lot of issues relevant in all Islamic countries;

Around Valentine’s Day this year, he talked about how the Koran endorses romantic love within certain ethical parameters. (As opposed to say, clerics in Saudi Arabia, who denounce the banned saint’s day as a Satanic ritual.)

On World AIDS Day, he criticized Muslims for making moral judgments about the disease rather than helping the afflicted, and on International Women’s Day he focused on domestic abuse...

The downside for Islam in America, some critics argue, is that those interpreting Islamic law often lack a command of the full scope of the traditions carried in the Koran and the hadith, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad considered sacred.

“I call it ‘hadith slinging,’ ” said Prof. Khaled Abou el Fadl, a specialist in Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I throw a couple of hadiths at you, and you throw a couple of hadiths at me, and that is the way we do Islamic law,” he added. “It’s like any moron can do that.”...

Gihan Zahran, 43, an Egyptian immigrant, remembers a previous Arab imam who even told a much perplexed teenager that wearing Nike shoes was “haram,” or forbidden in Arabic, without explaining why. Some Muslims consider this aloofness particularly ineffective in America, given that they are a minority faced by majority practices like drinking alcohol that clash with their faith and that teenagers confront daily.

Scholars cited; Hatem Bazian / Khaled Abou el Fadl / Sherman Jackson

Sheik Yassir Fazaga Discusses His Approach to Religious Teaching

Quote of the Day- Coca-Cola and Darfur

"I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country," the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola.

A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to "stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world."

"I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this," Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. "But I don't want to go that way."

As diplomatic threats go, that one gets high points for creativity: Try to stop the killings in Darfur, and we'll take away your Coca-Cola.

-Sudanese ambassador to Washington responding to the new sanctions on the country

Photo of the Day-Nasir al-Din Shah's Harem

"He was Nasir al-Din Shah, who ruled Iran from 1848 to 1896, and was first exposed to a camera in 1844, at 13. He became so fascinated by photography that in 1858 he invited a French photographer, Francis Carlhian, to set up the first official studio at his palace.

“We were lucky that the king fell in love with photography,” Mr. Jalali said, “because it was the king who started taking pictures. The Islamic clerics could not oppose him.”

Photos were taken of the royal family, including some of the king’s 90 wives and children. The king also initiated documentary photography, requiring that his trips be photographed and sending photographers to take pictures of war and historical sites around the country. He obliged his provincial governors to send him photographs along with their reports.

“Iran is the only Muslim country in the Middle East where photography developed in a natural environment,” said Mohammad Reza Tahmasebpour, a photographer and researcher on the topic. “Because it was supported by the state, different branches of photography flourished.”

The pictures, carefully pasted in satin albums, are now kept in an earthquake-resistant and bulletproof room at Golestan Palace.

The pictures of women challenge the standard idea of harem life, and the wives of the king present a powerful and modern image of themselves. They look confidently into the lens, and unlike women of that time in other pictures taken by foreign photographers, they don’t look flirtatious or shy. Some of the pictures even suggest a friendly relationship among the wives: several show half a dozen of them picnicking.

The photographs also reveal the king’s taste in women: his wives were plump and often had black, bushy eyebrows and dark, thick mustaches. In some photos they showed off their naked abdomens with layers of fat, a pose that suggested that they were rich enough to eat plenty of food."
-Iran’s Giant Shoe Box of Faded Photographs, Full of the Unexpected