Month: May 2008

Take that, economists!

Brownlee’s mistake was to put into practice something that worked only in theory.

Meet the economists who know why we buy what we buy | Money | The Guardian

Buried in an excellent article introducing the field of behavioural economics to a wider audience is that one line takedown of economics theory! I happen to believe that economists just aren’t scientific enough to understand how modeling works. A well behaved, rational human being who makes every decision independently of other decisions based solely on maximizing her economic utility is like (warning, quantum theory reference) a physicist reading about the particle in a box model and deciding to predict the behavior of all subatomic particles. Yes, it is a neat theory with some neat math, but it’s only the first step!

Scientists try to be a little more humble with their modeling. They seem to know that the chaos and probability driven events in even the simplest of real world settings make models/simulation mostly exercises in trend seeking, not deterministic end points.

To predict the economic behavior of people, you have to include the variables that make them people! Not assume that all people will follow all your assumptions of their behavior strictly, and to not call them names when they don’t act to maximize their short term utility!

Anyway, apropos nothing, I like to rant about economists! The article also notes that Barack Obama is a follower of behavioral economics, good for him. I wonder if McCain even knows what that phrase means.

Indian Recipes on Youtube

YouTube – Manjulaskitchen’s Channel

Good recipes in general, but note that she does not use any onion or garlic, which means she’s probably Jain.

Apart from not eating meat, fish and eggs, strict Jains do not eat onions and garlic because they increase sexual desires. Strict Jains also do not eat any root vegetables like potatoes because smaller insects are killed in their harvest and the vegetable itself will have millions of bacteria

In a sign of surprising maturity, I will desist from any editorializing and note that to incorporate onions and garlic, chop 1 large onion (white or red, I use red)  fine and add right after the green chillis. When the onions are mostly done, add 2-3 cloves worth of finely minced garlic and fry for a minute before going through with the rest of the recipe. This dish is usually eaten with raw onions on the side…

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I love my erstwhile home state (Not!)

In April, Richardson asked the health and social services departments to determine the number of illegal immigrant clients by counting Spanish surnames.

The county commissioners are meeting with a lawyer to help identify public services that can be denied to illegal immigrants. And in cases where it is not legal to exclude people, they say they may eliminate programs entirely — including federally funded prenatal care for poor women — in an attempt to drive illegal immigrants from the county.

In an interview, Richardson twice referred to illegal immigrants as “wetbacks.” He said that they threaten to turn the United States into a bilingual nation and that he fears they will foment political and social dissent. | Beaufort County wants to stem migrant influx

No comment required…

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Canada's Environmental Corpus Callosum malfunction

One of my first impressions on moving to Victoria was the high environmental consciousness of the people here. The obvious markers of environmental consciousness such as recycling, composting, organic food consumption, local food consumption, small car driving, and most importantly, pride at being environmentally conscious are off the charts here  (and I am  most definitely  one of those people as well!).

My second impression was that a country with such a resource driven economy can’t possibly live up to what its citizens think it is doing. And I was right. The country as a whole performs abysmally. Canada vs. the OECD (a report produced by my very hometown University of Victoria) compares Canada’s performance vs. the OECD on a number of environmental parameters. It is shocking. The picture is painted of an inefficient economy whose consumption of major resources and pollution indicators are growing at a time they should be dropping. For example:

Canada is among the three worst countries on nine indicators (per capita greenhouse gas emissions, sulphur dioxide emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, volatile organic compound emissions, water consumption, energy consumption, energy efficiency, volume of timber logged and generation of nuclear waste);

Canada’s economy is inefficient, in that we use much more energy and generate much more pollution to produce a given amount of goods and services relative to our industrial competitors, including 33% more energy than the United States per unit of GDP; and

Canada’s performance on most environmental indicators continues to worsen

So, not only are things bad, they’re getting worse, but the people don’t seem to notice. Massive corpus callosum1 malfuction?

BTW, this is what happens to people when their corpus callosum is removed.


Once this theme crystallized in my head, I went searching for earlier work that would reinforce my conclusion and came upon this book Unnatural Law – Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy. From the First chapter:

Is Canada an environmental leader or an environmental laggard? Is Canada contributing to solving environmental challenges or are we exacerbating these problems?

Great, a book that reinforces my frame in the very first paragraph! I’ll let you know after I finish reading the book (helpfully available from my local library and written by a former ED for the SIerra Legal Defence Fund (now known as Ecojustice) and who lives on Pender Island, a few islands away from where I live! Promises to be an interesting and illuminating read.

1Corpus Callosum = Part of brain that connects the two hemispheres.

Vice President Piyush (Bobby) Jindal?

On Feb. 8, a caller to The Rush Limbaugh Show asked the conservative host if there were any chance of McCain adding Newt Gingrich to the presidential ticket. Sighing audibly, Limbaugh regretfully described it as unlikely before rattling off the usual list of names of potential VPs. One stood out. “Bobby Jindal,” the host declared, pausing for effect. “I did an interview with Bobby Jindal. He is the next Ronald Reagan, if he doesn’t change. Bobby Jindal, the new governor of Louisiana, is the next Ronald Reagan.”

Vice President Bobby Jindal? | The American Prospect

Piyush Jindal was an unnaturally precocious kid who picked up his name bobby at the age of four from watching the Brady Bunch. Did he know then that Bobby Jindal would be Rush Limbaugh’s choice for Vice President, whereas Piyush Jindal would be earning millions in a law firm somewhere? As a South Asian, I guess I am expected to feel good about this guy who won political office multiple times in the state of Louisiana, no less. He’s only 36 years old! When has the presidential candidate been twice as old as his running mate?

Obviously, he’s something special, someone so smart and charismatic that he’s reached achieved great power and fame in politics at an age when most people are just starting out. One note of caution on his achievements, they’ve all been in the state of Louisiana, a state so mismanaged and corrupt that the application of a technocratic approach would yield such immediate and obvious benefits.

During his tenure, Jindal turned a $400 million deficit into a budget surplus by cutting per-beneficiary Medicaid spending  and reducing the work force by 1000 employees,

Low hanging fruit, eh! (maybe not, he’s a smart guy who knows how to get things done!)

His religious and social beliefs?

On social issues, Jindal has a record only James Dobson could love. He strongly and openly opposes abortion (without exception, even in cases of rape and incest), supports teaching intelligent design in public schools, has proposed bans on both stem-cell research and flag burning, and voted for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. McCain, on the other hand, has flip-flopped on all these issues except flag burning.

On McCain’s biggest problem with the conservative base, immigration, Jindal would be an effective counterbalance: He has consistently been an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration, and voted in favor of building a border fence. His economic record is a bit less dogmatic. He tends to vote against free trade agreements like CAFTA but consistently sides with energy interests over environmentalists. For example, he favored a motion to lift the moratorium on offshore gas drilling, one of many votes that led the League of Conservation Voters to give him a rating of just 7 percent.

There you have it, full on religious fanatic anti-environment far-right conservative! Here’s a guy who would force a 12 year old girl to give birth to a child that was the product of her father raping her. Hate to get graphic, but that’s what Mr Jindal supports, plain and simple.

It would be very interesting to get into Mr Jindal’s head. What made this kid in high school convert to Christianity? This article tries to shed some light. However, its only source is a letter written by Bobby himself. Like with most human beings, that whole post-event rationalization is on full tilt!

His combination of skills and ideas is hardly rare in South Asian circles. South Asians of a certain upbringing tend to be well educated, competent, technocratic (can’t get that word out of my head, that’s what he is, Bobby “the technocrat” Jindal), while simultaneously being very socially conservative. I can understand the abortion ideas, or the anti-gay ideas,  and the further anti-evolution and anti-environment pandering. He seems to have made a quick study of every conservative virtue and has decided to make them all his own, no straying for Bobby “the conformist” Jindal! he even has one token non-conformist “anti free-trade” position, Cho Chweet!!

But no, if I had a vote, I would never vote for him, even if we may share an ethnicity. His ideas about government, church-state separation, evolution, war, abortion and the environment are abhorrent to me. But, he will make a fairly formidable candidate. This is probably not his time, I would give him a few more years.

FWIW, McCain’s probably going to pick Huckabee as his VP to reel in the religious right, but Jindal’s not going anywhere yet.


Indian Workers on Hunger Strike in DC

The video summarizes the issue. Long story short, an American company, Signal International colludes with an Indian contracting company to lure 100s of workers from India with false promises of greencards. The workers proceed to go deep into debt with the contracting company to make this happen. Once in the States, it turns out they’re given H2B guest worker visas (yes, I treat all my guests by making them pay 1000s of bucks a month for sharing a trailer with 25 other people) that are specifically not eligible for green cards except under family quotas. This is bonded labor, American style. No arguments can be made that these workers have it better than in India and they should be grateful.

I am incredibly proud of these workers for finding the courage to strike and take their protests to DC. The Washington Post seems to have dedicated one measly article worth of coverage.

There are many reasons for this exploitation. The dehumanization of third world (including Mexican) workers is a contributing factor, so is the broken immigration system that allows excessively restrictive employment contracts. Most importantly, the U.S department of labor exists solely to make the lives of the companies it regulates easier. It has nothing to do with labor any more.

I am glad they’re protesting for their dignity and broken promises. Wonder what’s stopping the company from firing them for striking, they’re not allowed to strike! That way, they can then notify the aptly named ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) to have them deported.

Canada's Enduring Environmental Shame

When 500 ducks died earlier this month after landing on a tar sands tailings pond, Canadians got a glimpse into how unfettered tar sands development is taking its toll.Members of the Mikisew Cree and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations living downstream from the massive industrial projects have been feeling the effects for a lot longer.The backyard of the tiny community of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta contains the second largest reserve of petroleum in the world. The tar sands development is Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, the cause of rapid pollution of the Athabasca river basin, the reason for strip mining of thousands of square kilometres of boreal forest; a huge consumer of natural gas, and the likely cause of alarming rates of cancer in nearby Cree communities.

The Tar Sands, Downstream :: Views ::
More on this later, but for all its feel good actions in other areas, the Tar Sands are, and will remain Canada’s symbol of hypocrisy when it comes to the environment.

Table2Clipboard – Nice Firefox addon

Table2Clipboard :: Firefox Add-ons

While doing a quick comparison between Victoria and Vancouver’s racial characteristics (a topic for a separate blog post), I came upon this very handy firefox addon that lets you copy entire tables from the browser for pasting in excel. The formatting is preserved very well and if you have ever had to copy browser tables into excel, you’ll appreciate the ease with which this application works!

Random Fuel Efficiency Note

Got 45.765 Liters or 12.089 gallons to go 400 miles on my first full tank in Victoria, which works out to 33 mpg, which is about 10% better than anything my car (admittedly not a terribly fuel efficient small car) has ever done. Why? Top speed on my commute’s 90kmph (or 55 mph), and that’s only for 7 km. The first 10-15 minutes is stop and go at 50 kmph which doesn’t do much for gas, but the rest is either 80 or 90 kmph, which is about the most optimum speed for maximizing fuel efficiency.

Take home message if it hasn’t been proven a million times already, lowering speed most definitely improves fuel efficiency!

I guess that makes up for the slowish commute. C’mon city of Victoria, get a fast bus across at 7:30 AM, not 7 so I don’t have to wake up at an ungodly hour to take it!

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N&O: Stop Using the word "illegal"

Colleges await more advice on illegals | Colleges await more advice on illegals

The N&O does a global search on every “undocumented” in official statements about immigrants and replaces with “ilegals”. Presumably, they are intelligent enough to know what they are doing and are doing this deliberately. Please write to the author of this particular piece, Kristin Collins at to let her know that this is disgusting and has to stop. Here’s some typical text…

I read with increasing dismay, the use of the word “illegals” in your articles to describe people who lack the necessary documentation to live in the United States. A small percentage of their actions can be termed illegal, but they are not “illegal” people. This is the same as saying that every one who drives 36 mph in a 35 mph zone is an illegal. A person may be guilty or charged of illegal acts, that does not make them “illegals”. Note that in the course of a day, an undocumented immigrant may perform  many many legal acts and a so called “legal” American may be breaking the law a dozen times. If the definition of illegal is knowingly breaking a law (whether you get caught or not), all of us are “illegal” in one way or the other.

I fear that your temptation to use one charged word to describe whole groups of real law abiding, tax paying people is lazy at best, and fear mongering and sensationalistic at worst. The N&O does good investigative work and need not sully its good name by stooping to such demagoguery. Please stop. If you want to use one word, use “undocumenteds”. It is more specific and conveys to readers exactly what illegal act these people are charged with.