Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Theocracy, here we come

Kansas educators voted to downplay evolution
Kansas state education board approves science standards for public schools that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Why clean air isn't free


Economist explains forest 'costs and benefits'

Kenneth Arrow of Stanford University has been heralded as one of the most prominent economic theorists of the 20th century. Among many other accomplishments, he was a 1972 Nobel Laureate in Economics. When Earth & Sky's Jorge Salazar spoke to him in December of 2004, Arrow told us some of the issues "hot on the agenda" of 21st century economists.

There's a lot of discussion. For example, one of the discussions is how, overall, do you measure the impact of the anthropogenic causes of Earth change? How do you balance the impact?

There are lots of things going on in the world. We're using up fossil fuels. We're putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. On the other hand, we are making technological progress. We're inventing methods of cleaning up things as well as methods of destroying them. These are very disparate activities, so one problem is how do you measure the balance between these activities in some overall way? How do you measure the overall impact of these things? That was the focus of our paper (Are We Consuming Too Much? Journal of Economic Perspectives, Summer 2004).


Of course, the typical situation is using up fossil resources, for example oil and coal. Or the degradation of farmland. Those things are profitable today, but don't take the future into account. Or consider dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which for many years, didn't create any significant problems. Now the dumping, which has been going on since the 1800s, since the Industrial Revolution began, is beginning to show up.

The point being, once stuff goes in, you can't take it out. So, the result is that there is a permanent effect, and -- from the perspective of an economist -- you don't pay for it. You don't pay a tax, a price for putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is what you call a dynamic effect, an effect over time.

Or think about what they call ecosystem services. If you have a forest, not only do you have wood, but the forest also tends to control the flow of water. When you start deforesting, you start to get erosion, you start to get floods, because the forest acts like a big sponge.

These things are very indirect. You think of forests, you think of the wood. And of course there are a lot of subtle things. Of course, the forest is a habitat for many pecies, and so forth.

And those are just a few topics that are rather hot on the agenda of economists.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


…There is substance, laid out in stunning detail by Sidney Blumenthal on Salon on August 29. “In 2004,” Blumenthal wrote, “the Bush administration cut funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for holding back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain by more than 80 percent.” That was one of about eight amazing pieces of information. It will be fascinating to monitor how aggressively the major media follow this story over the coming days.


The Lost City: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9179587/


The Rebellion of the Talking Heads: http://slate.msn.com/id/2125581/

Thought I’d take the liberty, particularly when it has been so hard fought for and rarely exercised in everyday discourse these days, to say bluntly: I am very pissed and ashamed by this fiasco. We have become a hallow country for long enough now, sans serious thinkers and policymakers. In lieu of which we are led by unbridled fear-mongers and hawks that have lowered our collective expectations and sense of optimism, distracting us from what’s important (e.g. stemming nuclear weapons proliferation, disease prevention, addressing poverty, education, and infrastructure, to name a few).

Results altogether have been too meager yet excuses bountiful. While neocons shout of reaping the fruits of [an intended] Iraqi freedom a dozen years later (as was the intention in Vietnam or Korea, each with a different story of such intentions gone awry), it does little to ameliorate deteriorating economic and political conditions today, e.g. if the ME stabilizes a decade later but we are greatly weakened in the process and lose our relative economic thus military hegemony to the India/China/EU trifecta – then following the shadows of a former British Empire we win ourselves a hallow victory at best, especially acute now if we don’t have a leader capable of manning and fighting on these equally important fronts.

Also, I’m sick to death of the constant, circuitous PR campaigns always distracting attention away from the unwise and meaningless policies time-and-again. For example, why do we as the world’s #1 superpower tolerate a 13% poverty rate, and we publicly care more about are how people use their sex organs based on narrow interpretations of the Bible – you’d think listening to the extreme right these days that it’s as if Jesus never mentioned love thy neighbor, do considerable charitable acts to help the poor, forgiveness for none of us are without sin….

We have clearly become a country numbed by fear and swayed by meaningless sound bites coupled with senseless policies, sans fact-based deliberation or thought-out strategy – all long-standing products of this president for which no American should be satisfied.

If I hear another right-wing Republican apologist try to find excuses gleaned off a sound-bite blaring from a right-wing cable channel or radio circuit to try to explain away W’s incompetence now - and to think people use to believe that the buck stopped at the top; those were the days - or start blaming this on the “liberal media” I’d write you off a troll and fanatical ideologue who is radicalizing the country, blind to dollars & common sense, unwilling to find common ground to address the numerous very real bread-and-butter and life-or-death challenges of everyday Americans, ignorant of broken promises made by a politician who happens to be on the same team. Not to mention particularly susceptible to fear-mongering rhetoric, and too lax to thoroughly weigh the costs seeing only a lofty gold-rush vision of benefits that apparently only a war’s blood and treasure could bring along.

Or treating the environment as one big free garbage disposal - as if Mother Nature won’t foot us or our children a bill with interest, as it always does, for absorbing today’s poisons and contaminants. As Newton parlayed, every action has an equal reaction, or what goes around….

We use to expect more from a president (at least I did with Clinton and Bush I). And I expected a lot more from Republicans who have so far been sorely disappointing, not speaking up with their own voice, yet were so quick to drag Clinton to the crap-house of 2 independent counsel investigations for such (minor) perceived wrongs like Whitewater and an oral fixation that were so frivolous in retrospect. Moreover, Friends of W can be so blind, it’s almost like FOW’s are fearful of being publicly wronged, and thus like W, never-ever dare admitting when W is wrong (using a bit of W-speak so to speak), for fear of straying from the party line.

No president is infallible, much less this one. A few prominent Republicans need to get some balls and stand firm with Democrats to try to make sure this kind of crap doesn’t happen again, considering that almost 4 years after 9/11 we are still obviously and inexcusably short and inadequate to the deliberative task of planning ahead in order to save our own people when it’s needed most, never mind a terrorist attack which usually don’t come with a 5-day advance warning.

And tough talk, or holding a lot of press conferences everywhere, or coining memorable phrases like “axis of evil”, “dead-or-alive”, or ‘flip-flop’ or having a record longest vacation in presidential history just don’t cut it anymore (particularly when we’re at war with soldiers in harm’s way and need an active, vigilant leader … and one who can cut their road trips short when a Category 5 storm is bearing down on the homeland). Americans expect and deserve better, especially when innocent people die when they do not have to, if only there was more forethought and less talk.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Latest read

Went to the bookstore recently with my wife and managed to pick up two books that I don't know if I'll have the time to finish but got it anyways. Go figure - Borders had a sale :)

So ended up picking up a biography of Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernov. So far so good, though I still find John Marshall, Definer of a Nation by Jean Edward Smith to be crisper and better written.

Also began reading economist and UN adviser Jeffrey Sachs' book, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Times; as one who has a keen interest in development economics, this book was a must read, though the first couple chapters has been a rehash for me so far. The foreword by Bono was a bit odd but I suppose it does help the book appeal to a broader audience.

I've also been soaking up a number of interesting white papers on .NET Development. For those of you who do web application development, are intersted in the forthcoming ASP.NET v2 and related security best practices, may want to check out Security Guidelines: ASP.NET 2.0 published by folks from Microsoft's Patterns and Practices group. They did a fantastic job.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The world is flat

In his new book, "The World is Flat", Thomas Friedman claims, "When the world is flat, you can innovate without having to emigrate". But, how did the world `become flat'? Friedman suggest the trigger events were the collapse of communism, the dot-com bubble resulting in overinvestment in fiber-optic telecommunications, and the subsequent out-sourcing of engineers enlisted to fix the perceived Y2K problem.

Those events created an environment where products, services, and labor are cheaper. However, the West is now losing its strong-hold on economic dominance. Depending on if viewed from the eyes of a consumer or a producer - that's either good or bad, or a combination of both.

What is more sobering is Friedman's elaboration on Bill Gates' statement, "When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.

. . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind."

Similarly, a while back CNN's Lou Dobbs' released a book skewering HP's Fiorina on Offshoring - Exporting America: Why Corporate Greed Is Shipping American Jobs Overseas.

His book continues a long-time theme of his CNN-TV show, that American workers are being sold out by greedy, shortsighted CEOs who are damaging America.

Dobbs says corporate eagerness to send jobs offshore is undermining the American middle class, costing Americans jobs, forcing Americans to work harder and longer for less pay, devastating some communities, and depriving governments at all levels of the tax revenue for upgrading public education and providing other essential goods and services.

"India can provide our software; China can provide our toys; Sri Lanka can make our clothes; Japan make our cars. But at some point we have to ask, what will we export? At what will Americans work? And for what kind of wages? No one I've asked in government, business or academia has been able to answer those questions," Dobbs writes.

Dobbs singles out Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who said, "No American has a God-given right to a job."

Dobbs' reaction to that statement was the urge to tell Fiorina where she could go.

"That first reaction has held up as a lasting impression. As much as I hate what she said, I at least have to give Fiorina credit for straight talk. She didn't sugarcoat her sentiments for public consumption, because she didn't have to. Forty or 50 years ago, Fiorina's bald statement, and its clear implications, would have fueled a firestorm of labor protest and political controversy. Not now. Working men and women in this country aren't part of the political equation. Business and capital rule. It's that simple," Dobbs writes. Among the others spotlighted by Dobbs for outsourcing jobs to India, the Philippines, Romania, Ireland, Poland and other countries are IBM, SAS Institute, Intel, Microsoft, Perot Systems, Apple, Computer Associates, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems.

I wrote a version of the below August 2004 here but think it's woth restating:

Focusing on purely the economic balance of costs and returns misses a larger, more important piece to the puzzle: Innovation and the leadership required to foster new types of markets, technologies, and jobs. I am a deep believer of free trade. As a professional economist would no doubt state, it's important to understand the benefits we Americans receive through international trade that is based on each country's comparative advantage. That in of itself receives no argument from me.

However, it's also important to note that comparative advantage is not static for a fixed number of areas - it is a constantly changing variable that each country and its political and business leaders must think over the long term, formulating strategies that maintain, if not expand, the scope of things a nation is good or better at vis-a-vis other nations.

We were once leaders in the markets for cars, planes, and consumer microelectronics. Now, we are not (the Big 2 car makers are re-learning the harsh lessons again from the Japanese, as if the 1980s never happened). As a sampler, presently, we are leaders in entertainment, software and PCs, as well as big pharma (albeit in turn is distorting the cost structure of health care system for the worse). In this sample list, the Japanese and Chinese are encroaching entertainment (Japanese anime, Chinese movie imports, as American plots become rehashed and predictable, much like our music), Airbus is giving us a run for our money, while we maintain a lead in the software and PC space (with the ASEAN countries not far behind).

The root concern I have is while that is true, there is a decreasing fraction of our economy and its leadership that are innovating and executing in the long term, while our basic pillars (education, healthcare, and technology infrastructure) deteriorate, which we have and continue to take for granted, watching passively as they deteriorate buttressed by a variety of excuses: fear of big government, or assuming private industry can effectively provide such public goods for society's greater good.

Meanwhile, foreign govt's are incenting and working with their businesses and political bodies to grow and nurture new IP and markets, we stand aside and hope our Fortune 1000 executives lead the charge of cost cutting, repackaging existing goods and services, and driving growth through cost-cutting (vs. innovating). It's easy to blame executives alone. But let's not forget the Internet and how it affords a voice for all who choose to participate and political leverage to grass roots efforts, and how more of us are getting involved and more need to hop on board.

It's time to stop being passive citizens, take some individual responsibility, and start getting involved in a real conversation at the local, state, and federal level about what's going on all around and where Americans want to take this country, and stop being so PC to the point of essentially having no voice, not speaking out, and being numbed ultimately to economic defeat as we let our many (not all) short-sighted politicians and CxOs get away with degrading, myopic policies and business practices.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Announcing the SQL Server/Visual Studio/BizTalk Connected Systems Developer Competition

Show Microsoft what a great developer you are! Show how innovative you can be! And win $50,000 USD!

On April 25th 2005 the SQL Server, Visual Studio and BizTalk teams launched the Connected Systems 2005 Developer Competition.

The Connected Systems 2005 Developer Competition, sponsored by Microsoft Corporation and MSDN Magazine is a skill based competition for professional developers intended to highlight and reward creativity and programming excellence using SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk 2004/2006.

The competition is open to anyone who practices in the field of technology development, either individuals or organizations. Some eligibility restrictions apply; see Official Competition Rules for details.

Entries will be judged on creativity, innovation, design and technical excellence, usefulness, usability and value by a panel of industry experts selected from the Microsoft Regional Director program.

All competition entrants must be registered and have submitted a description of the application they are entering into the competition by August 30, 2005. The official closing date for final competition entries is September 15, 2005.

All finalists will be invited to join the SQL Server, Visual Studio and BizTalk teams at the Joint SQL Server 2005/Visual Studio 2005/BizTalk 2006 launch event where the Winners will be announced at a dinner the evening before the launch.

For more information or to enter the competition please visit the competition website located at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/devcompetition

What Can You Win?
  • First Prize of $50,000 USD Copies of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk 2006 MSDN Universal subscription
  • Paid Trip to the joint SQL Server 2005/Visual Studio 2005/BizTalk 2006 Launch Event and competition finalists dinner
  • Winning entries will be highlighted on various Microsoft and CMP websites and in a special magazine inserts in MSDN Magazine, Software Development magazine and Dr Dobbs magazine.
  • 1 Community Winner will receive a 1 year MSDN Universal subscription plus the chance to talk about their winning entry at Tech ED 2006 in Boston.
  • 5 Microsoft MCP Winners will receive a Certificate of Accomplishment, a 1 Year MSDN Universal Subscription and a ticket to attend Tech ED 2006 in Boston. All 5 winners will be entered into a drawing from which one will be selected to speak at Tech ED 2006 in Boston.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hey Atlanta, come experience Microsoft .NET for yourself!

This Friday (May 20th), come to the Microsoft Alpharetta office for the .NET Experience Expo! This is a free event where you can come hear all about some of the hottest topics for developers and architects. This is a huge opportunity to learn more about what Microsoft is doing for developers (and it’s a great chance to win an Xbox!) All attendees will receive a free copy of beta 2 (yep, Team Suite... the full deal), a copy of "Introducing ASP.NET 2.0", and a swank .NET shirt. We will have a reception at the end of the day for attendees (who can beat free beer?) There will be partners attending as well in the partner pavillion (AmberPoint, Avanade, AVIcode, RDA, Internosis).

But wait... there's more! We will have a Hands-On Lab room where you can play with the bits (BizTalk, SharePoint, VS 2005, and more), Ask the Experts sessions, an Ask the MVPs session with some of the Atlanta MVPs, and lots of time to interact with the Microsoft Developer Evangelist team!

Make sure to sign up and register here!

Come for the Experience… stay for the beer.

DATE: Friday, May 20th, 2005

LOCATION: Microsoft Atlanta Office

1125 Sanctuary Parkway

3rd Floor

Alpharetta, GA 30004

TimeLine of Business DevelopmentPatterns & PracticesBack Office Development
7:00 - 8:00Registration, Partner Pavillion, and Hands On Labs
8:30 - 9:15Opening Keynote - Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio Team System
9:30 - 10:30.NET Fx 2.0 - New Features for Windows FormsService Orientation in Practice.NET Fx 2.0 - New Features for the CLR
10:45 - 11:45Mobile Clients & Compact FrameworkEnterprise Library.NET for Operations
11:45 - 1:00Lunch, Partner Pavillion, Hands On Labs, and Ask the Experts
1:00 - 2:00Microsoft Office - A New Breed of Smart ClientsWorkflow and Business Process using BizTalk Server 2004SharePoint for the Developer
2:15 - 3:15Deploying Smart Clients using ClickOnceWriting Secure CodeIdentity Management Using Active Directory, ADAM, and MIIS
3:30 - 4:30Web Applications - Innovations in ASP.NET 2.0Distributed Architecture on the .NET PlatformSQL Server 2005 & SQL Reporting Services - What's in it for the Developers?
4:45 - 5:30Closing Keynote

Again, to register, simply sign up here.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Does the future belong to China?

Does size matter? If so, China matters. Fareed Zakaria writes another stimulating piece.

Does the Future Belong to China? A new power is emerging in the East. How America should handle unprecedented new challenges, threats—and opportunities. By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek.

...What America needs to do

What you can do is be better prepared. For Americans, this means a renewed focus on the core skills that have propelled the American economy so far: science and technology. The United States has been slipping badly in all global rankings of these fields. Its research facilities are dominated by foreign students and immigrants—but a growing number of them are staying home or going home. Without a massive new focus in these areas, America will find itself unable to produce the core of scientists, engineers and technicians who make up the base of an advanced industrial economy. China and India already produce many more engineers than does the United States. In five years, China will produce more Ph.D.s than the United States. They may not be as good as American Ph.D.s, but numbers do matter.

For the American government, the free ride may be coming to an end. It has run irresponsible fiscal policies, knowing that foreign governments and people would provide it with unlimited credit. But that credit comes at a price. When China holds huge reserves of dollars, it also holds the power to damage the American economy. To do so would certainly hurt China as much or more than it would America, but surely it would be better if U.S. policy were less vulnerable to such possibilities. Fiscal responsibility at home means greater freedom of action abroad.

In foreign policy, Washington will face two possibilities. The first is that China will push its weight around, anger its neighbors and frighten the world. In this case, there will be a natural balancing process by which Russia, Japan, India and the United States will come together to limit China's emerging power. But what if China is able to adhere to its asymmetrical strategy? What if it gradually expands its economic ties, acts calmly and moderately, and slowly enlarges its sphere of influence, hoping to wear out America's patience and endurance?

The United States will then have to respond in kind, also working quietly and carefully, also adopting a calibrated and nuanced policy for the long run. This is hardly beyond its capacity. America has been far more patient than most recognize. It pursued the containment of the Soviet Union for almost 50 years. American troops are still on the banks of the Rhine, along the DMZ in Korea and in Okinawa.

A world war is highly unlikely. Nuclear deterrence, economic interdependence, globalization all mitigate against it. But beneath this calm, there is probably going to be a soft war, a quiet competition for power and influence across the globe. America and China will be friends one day, rivals another, cooperate in one area, compete in another. Welcome to the 21st century.


Reminded by a friend, Chani and I saw Crash last night. From what I’d previously seen in reviews, I fully expected it to be a great movie and it lived up to that billing (it's the directorial debut from the writer of 'Million Dollar Baby'). Though presently #2 at the box office, it’s not your typical slick Hollywood screenplay, but rather a raw yet rich, layered story about real life that makes you think and better appreciate life’s complexities from a wide-angled perspective of many disparate and distinct characters.

It also had a deep nostalgic effect, reminding us of our former home, the City of Angels, and its rich melting pots bound to its many concrete jungles with people of all stripes and economic strata. Persuasively drives home the fundamental premise that, regardless of culture, skin color, and other markers that mainstream society chooses to tag on, at the end people are just people.

MSN's Movie summary says:
A Brentwood housewife and her DA husband… a Persian store owner… two police detectives, who are also lovers… an African-American television director and his wife… a Mexican locksmith… two car-jackers… a rookie cop… a middle-aged Korean couple…they all live in Los Angeles. And, during the next 36 hours, they will all collide… 'Crash' takes a provocative, unflinching look at the complexities racial tolerance in contemporary America. Diving headlong into the melting pot of post-9/11 Los Angeles, this urban drama tracks the volatile intersections of multi-ethnic characters as they struggle to overcome their fears while careening in and out of one another's lives. In the gray area between black and white, victim and aggressor, there are no easy answers.
You can also find an MSBNC movie review, "Ambitious Crash is a Stimulating Drama", here.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Mitchell decries nuclear option threat (CNN)
Saturday, April 2, 2005 Posted: 2:13 PM EST (1913 GMT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell called on senators Saturday to reject a Republican plan to ban filibusters of judicial nominees, calling it "unprecedented, unfair and unwise."

"Neither I nor any other senator, Republican or Democrat, ever dreamed of taking the kind of drastic action now being proposed," said Mitchell, a former federal judge himself who was majority leader from 1988-95 as a senator from Maine.

"We had the power to do so, but we refrained from exercising that power because it was as wrong then as it is now. The end does not justify the means," he said in the Democrats' weekly radio address.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, the majority leader, has threatened to try to push through a rule change to eliminate the ability to filibuster judicial nominees.

Democrats have been using filibuster threats -- to stall the nomination through extended debate -- on 10 of President Bush's judicial nominees, which requires 60 votes to overcome. The Senate has confirmed 204 of the president's 214 trial and appellate judicial nominees.

Observers expect Frist to attempt the rules change before Memorial Day in case of a possible Supreme Court nomination during Bush's second term. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, is fighting thyroid cancer.

Mitchell said the ability to block judges is an important part of Congress's power to check the presidency. "The Senate's power to confirm or reject judicial nominations balances the president's authority to nominate them," he said Frist's plan is called "the nuclear option" because "it will destroy any hope of bipartisanship and permanently change the Senate for the worse," Mitchell said.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada has threatened to shut down the Republican legislative agenda, which would cripple the Senate, if Frist succeeds in stopping the filibusters.

Republicans want to "silence the minority," Mitchell said. "What they are proposing is unprecedented, unfair and unwise. Our democracy works best when the parties work together in the interest of all Americans."

Mitchell served as a U.S. District Court judge from 1979-80 before filling the Senate seat vacated by Edmund Muskie.

A rather bleak indictment of the pope's legacy

A papacy and church transformed
John Paul II ushered in 'new springtime of Christianity'
By Hanna Rosin
The Washington Post
April 3, 2005

The title is misleading given that the conclusion of the piece was diametrically opposite it and rather unfair, akin to criticizing a Fortune 500 CEO for failing to win a popularity contest. Obviously, comparing apples to pork loins; he wasn’t a rock-star CEO, but rather an apostle to Christ, and as such held an altogether different, more pressing set of obligations. John Paul’s moral authority was derived from his broad consistency evangelizing the substantive values he firmly concluded from Christendom’s core doctrines & beliefs as well as an unspoiled laser-focus on the original spirit of Christ’s teachings.

I didn’t see fault in his voice being irrespective of the whims & malleable moral-vane of fickle, huddled masses that are oftentimes swayed to stand behind actions contrary to Christ’s original message. In the midst of it all, he stood a true apostle: From apologizing for earlier this century when Catholics & Christians did little as Jews endured the concentration camps, to castigating today’s moral tolerance for the pro-war, pro-life yet pro-death penalty, idolizing wealth & power while abandoning the weak, slide of Western culture onto a long slippery slope of moral bankruptcy.

And if one was a religious cynic, all an early prelude to Armageddon.

This piece was more thorough:
The Church Loses Its Light
In John Paul II, World Found a Direct, Dynamic Leader
By J.Y. Smith
Special to The Washington Post
April 3, 2005
"...In "Witness to Hope," a noted biography of the pope, author George Weigel said John Paul believed that culture, rather than politics or economics, was the engine that drove history. It was clear from the beginning of his papacy that he had a particular interest in bringing Eastern Europe back to its Christian traditions..."

...Practicality vs. Principle
John Paul was fascinated by science. In contrast to the church's traditional wary approach to the subject, he established a Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body made up of eminent scholars, Catholics and non-Catholics, to advise him on developments in the field. He also commemorated the 100th birthday of Albert Einstein and directed that Galileo, imprisoned by the Inquisition in 1633 for asserting the truth of Copernicus's theory that the Earth circles the sun, be fully rehabilitated...

In October 1996, he declared that physical evolution is "more than just a theory," advancing the church's view, held for a half-century, that the process was worthy of discussion but still open to question.

...At the same time, he deplored the Enlightenment, the 18th-century movement that gave the Western world many of its scientific, economic and humanitarian glories. Its triumphs included the Industrial Revolution and the propositions embodied in the Constitution of the United States. But its central idea was that the human being, not God, is the center of the universe. This struck at the heart of Catholic dogma.

In "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," a book of reflections that became a bestseller in 1994, John Paul traced these developments to Rene Descartes, the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician. His dictum, "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am"), countered the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the landmark theologian who said being was a gift from God that preceded every human activity, including thought.

John Paul spoke repeatedly and movingly against the modern tendency to make profit and efficiency the measures of success. He blamed this trend for the alienation of individuals, the disintegration of the family and the abandonment of objective standards of behavior in modern society. In 1993, he used the occasion of a World Youth Day gathering in Cherry Creek State Park near Denver, one of a series of biennial events he began in 1986, to summarize his thoughts on the "culture of death":

"In a technological culture in which people are used to dominating matter, discovering its laws and mechanisms in order to transform it according to their wishes, the danger arises of also wanting to manipulate conscience and its demands. In a culture which holds that no universally valid truths are possible, nothing is absolute. . . . Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes. Each person can build a private system of values."

At a Mass the next day, he cut short a homily that said, in its widely quoted prepared text: "In our own century, as at no other time in history, the 'culture of death' has assumed a social and institutional form of legality to justify the most horrible crimes against humanity: genocide, 'final solutions,' 'ethnic cleansings' and the massive 'taking of lives of human beings even before they are born or before they reach the natural point of death.'"

Sin City rocks

Haven't seen it, trying to make up your mind, and need that extra push after having read the critics' jibber-jabber reviews? Go. It really hits the spot for an action movie. The rich plot development, the various arcs & storylines, super acting, and slick cinematography made it an all around 5-star flick.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Million Dollar Baby

It's been a while since my last post. Work has been swamping me, and while I have lots of thoughts to share, I just haven't had the chance. Well, except now - a quick blurb on the already lavishly-praised movie of the year.

After all the hoopla and media fanfare, recently, Chani and I finally went to see Million Dollar Baby.

Given all that's been said, I'll just say it was a nice story albeit one I didn't expect to be portrayed and delivered in such an understated way. It was telling a story w/o trying to tell you one - as if you just happened to be along for the ride.

Is that one of the marks of a great movie? For some it is, including me. I know years from now, I'll still remember its many memorable storylines and scenes, long after the media hoopla subsides, which is a lot more then I can say for the majority of flicks Hollywood pumps out these days.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

World can end poverty by 2025

The New York Times fronts and the Washington Post stuffs the U.N. report concluding that rich countries can meet their promise to halve extreme global poverty if they increase their international aid to about half of one percent of GDP, up from the current average of .25 percent. The difference would be about $50 billion annually and could save millions of lives. Currently, 500 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Nations have not met their pledges to world's poor; the U.S. currently clocks in at about .15 percent, last among rich nations.

Report: World can end poverty by 2025
Experts say richest nations would need to double

Monday, January 17, 2005

When fear follows fabric along the assembly line

The Los Angeles Times front page reports on the disturbing news that hundreds of thousands of women in poor countries could lose their jobs because an international system of import quotas is expiring--meaning that wealthy countries will not be compelled to buy manufactured products from any specific poor country.

In many of these nations, the article says, "women's paychecks have been a driving force behind significant gains in living standards, health indicators and educational levels," and, especially in Africa, they've helped slow the spread of HIV-AIDS.

It goes to show concretely how these [now-threatened] low-paying jobs are invaluable to women in developing nations, promoting stronger families as well as economic security and greater personal freedom.

…“Across the globe, women who work, and control their paychecks, are more likely than men to be the drivers of change for their families and communities.

Study after study has found that as the economic status of women improves, so do literacy levels, caloric consumption and other health indicators.

In Ivory Coast, expanding women's share of cash income significantly enlarged the share of the household budget going to food and decreased the amount spent on alcohol and cigarettes, according to a study published in the Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics.

In South Africa, cash received by women through an old-age pension program increased the funds spent on schooling and food for their grandchildren, a World Bank study showed.

Extra income in the hands of women in Brazil resulted in more of the household budget going to education, health and nutrition, according to a study by Duncan Thomas, an economics professor at UCLA.

And when mothers' incomes were increased, their children ended up growing taller and weighing more.

In Cambodia, where the garment industry is responsible for more than one-third of gross national product and 93% of exports, the effect of the 220,000 apparel jobs is visible even far from the factories in the cities.

Money sent home by apparel workers — in Cambodia, as everywhere else, the vast majority of them women — has trickled out into the countryside. There it has been spent on school fees and healthful food, aluminum roofs and cement-lined water wells.The effect is immeasurable.

Hun Srean, a 22-year-old who earns $3 to $4 a day stitching men's shirts in Phnom Penh, supports two brothers and four sisters who live in the tiny southeastern village of Chreykrahim. "It feels good that I can contribute," Hun said.

But she added that the influential role she plays goes far beyond money."When I tell them to study because my work in the factory is hard, they listen to me."…

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Bleed-curing the economy in 2006, old Western style

Bush's Budget Expected to Be Aggressive Program Cuts and Spending Freezes for 2006 Are Intended to Trim Record Deficit
Program Cuts and Spending Freezes for 2006 Are Intended to Trim Record Deficit - The Bush administration is preparing a budget request that would freeze most spending on agriculture, veterans and science, slash or eliminate dozens of federal programs, and force more costs, from Medicaid to housing, onto state and local governments, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.
2006 will be when the United States of America will be all about increased homeland security and defense spending. Hooray. That’s W’s Harvard MBA hard at work. In 2006, everything except homeland security and defense will be held constant or cut.

Almost half-trillion dollar tax cut for the wealthy (80% of all tax cut refunds) to invest in their global portfolios, er, to spend for stimulating the economy has already evaporated, e.g. the lack of consumer spending and economic growth to show for it. The still lackluster economic results 1½ years later means that a significant portion was invested and/or saved than spent. The tax cuts just didn’t work as originally advertised.

I know - the wealthy “deserve” it. Presumably, it was their money to begin with.

However, consider that most of us aren’t wealthy. And that it is the not-so-wealthy consumers among us that spend and drive the economic engine, which taken together grows the wealth of this country. And the average consumer can't continue on spending too much, since they’ve overloaded their credit and home equity lines already.

Right now, circa 2003-2005, we actually have an investment glut in this country – lots of capital with no productive use since there’s insufficient, unsustainable consumer demand – as evidenced by flattening retail sales and a large slack in hiring, which has failed to replace all the jobs lost over the last four years much less to create all-new jobs to sustain the population's growth.

Meanwhile, the wealthy did their duty at tax time, investing most of their tax cut monies, and finding low returns domestically, resorted instead to foreign capital markets of China, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere to get the double digit returns they’ve become so use to 90s-style.

Under such circumstance, Bush’s tax cut for the wealthy during wartime was and is the very wrong choice and simply unprecedented. No other president has ever reduced the tax income the Fed receives while the country has to spend massive sums of money driving war efforts – for sound, obvious arithmetic reasons, until W.

In any event, education, veterans benefits, Medicare, Social Security, R&D, roads and infrastructure, housing programs are all on the block. One wonders how long we we afford such enormous expenditures for tax cuts and Iraq, even after these cuts. In comparsion, these programs are a pittance, yet ones so many Joe “W” Sixpacks rely on and even more so will over time, given:
  1. More non-degreed (75% of population) Americans can’t find low-end [manufacturing and assembly] jobs many of which moved offshore, have given up looking for a job altogether, thus not counted as part of employment or unemployment rates, and thereby not contributing as taxpayers,
  2. We have poorly educated kids who score in the last quartile of standardized exams, versus well-educated foreign students who are better equipped for the jobs of tomorrow, which immigration tightening cannot mitigate, especially given virtual outsourcing trends,
  3. Americans save 2% of income while borrowing the rest at double-digit interest rates payable to foreign creditors as the dollar devalues,
  4. Average weighted salaries are stagnant across the board particularly for Americans with no bachelor or advanced degrees, and as oil, medical and housing costs are rising significantly along with increasing offshore and outsourcing pressures,
  5. Almost 25% of Americans have little or no health care coverage, and with low or nil savings, meaning significantly increasing catastrophic healthcare costs to come
Where does that leave Joe “W” Sixpack a decade from now - gainful employment in the military or homeland security? If Joe only knew or cared…as they charge up & overload their credit cards, how dependent we are on foreign “crack” credit.

Trade Deficit Leaps Again - $60.3 Billion Gap in November Is 7th Monthly Record Set in 2004

The monthly U.S. trade deficit soared to an all-time high of $60.3 billion in November, the Commerce Department reported yesterday, sending the dollar tumbling and raising new worries about whether the U.S. economy has become too dependent on borrowing from foreigners.

And as China’s domestic consumption increases over the next 5-10 years - consider how their surged hunger for commodities had led to a drastic rise in steel, rubber, and oil prices this past year - foreign creditors will eventually shift their funds elsewhere in search of higher returns. Interest rates will rise. And many average Americans will finally feel what’s it’s like to have to live within their means.

From where I stand, the gathering macroeconomic trends for the next 2-5 years look pretty ugly for the average Joe. For W, it’s all cost-cutting now to salvage what he can out of this shoddy economy, lacking proactive planning that reflect any long-term vision except military and security spending, the former of which is being cut back since we can’t afford it already.

Mark these fonts, such simpleton policies will leech us bone dry – and we’re already beginning to see worrying symptoms today - large cuts in the military budget, unbelievable deficits, jitters in the bond and currency markets.

Through lens of Cold War-era history, one could almost find it ironic; al Qaeda did to us what we did to the Soviets, albeit with a whole lot better ROI.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Killer waves were sometimes only inches high

A color-coded map, based on data from four Earth-observing satellites, shows how the wave generated by the Sumatra quake spread out to varying heights three and a half hours after the seismic event.

While a tsunami can rise to great heights when it arrives at the shore, such waves are often barely noticeable in the ocean.

In this case, scientists found that two hours after the undersea quake that launched the tsunami, the wave was about 2 feet (60 centimeters).

An hour and 15 minutes later it was down to about 16 inches (40 centimeters).

After eight hours the main wave was down to about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters), though a portion in the Bay of Bengal was still at about 10 inches (25 centimeters), the N0AA scientists said Monday.

An earthquake deep beneath the ocean off Indonesia caused the tsunami by shifting the sea floor, resulting in displacement of the water overhead and causing a wave to spread out from that location.

Unlike surface waves that affect only a shallow amount of water, a tsunami stretches all the way to the sea floor and, as that rises to the land, so does the wave. Arriving at shore, such waves can grow suddenly by dozens of feet.

The satellite imaging did not provide a depth for the waves that came ashore.

The new measurements were based on data from four Earth-orbiting satellites. Researchers hope the work will help them develop models to improve tsunami forecasts.

The data, which took several days to analyze, came from the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason satellites operated NASA and the French space agency, CNES; the European Space Agency’s Envisat; and the U.S. Navy’s Geosat Follow-On.

Moving off the docks

A nice piece that explains how much the fishery business has changed drastically over the past few decades: The harsh economics with razor-thin margins, fast-growing and oft-changing demand, where the fishes come from today vs. a decade ago, how business has moved off the dock and open marketplace to the e-office and keyboard, as well as the fierce cut-throat global competition.
Moving Off the Docks
Technology Transforms Once-Parochial Seafood Business Into Global Enterprise

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The shrinking dollar

A handy primer on how a foreign exchange imbalance affects you.
Everyday Economics - The 97-cent weakling
Day by day, your dollar buys fewer and fewer euros or yen. If you think you don't care, just wait. You will.

A few things that I worry about (politically-speaking)

Politically Speaking
Right-of-center oratory (as I see it on cable news in particular) is quite effective for inflaming the passions and promugating a sense of self-rightousness but does little to help reach common ground and get working political solutions for everyone, not just the most impassioned and vocal lot.

Putting such passions in perspective, simply put, is that for the past 4 years the numbers just haven't added up under W. While cable news' fiery almost-sermons are worthy that of a Christian Coalition convention yet, in the end, can't negate several trends: We as a nation are weakening economically and militarily, our foreign policy is mostly a one-dimensional military push with no diplomatic or geopolitical prongs or depth, we increasingly can't compete in the global marketplace and we aren't planning or investing for the long-term.

On this blog, I try to focus on numbers, not name-calling, and more often than not, the numbers bleed red and show that we are weaker, not stronger, irregardless of the tough rhetoric W projects in sound bites or his admittedly memorable catch-phrases.

What I Worry About
I worry about competing against the likes of Indians and mainland Chinese that enthusiastically pump out 3-4x more highly-educated scientists and programmers from their schools than we do, to outsourced jobs and their aim at usurping our economic might patiently and methodically.

I worry that American job growth has been stagnant for the past 3 years, new jobs' wages that are almost $2/hr lower then before while we're working harder, longer (then even the Japanese now) for less then before, and with an increasing number of unemployed ill-equipped or insufficiently trained to compete for the technology jobs of the 21st century.

I worry about the budget deficit and our inability to finance the military that is leading to drastic cutbacks and basic education that puts us almost last among the G8 and the world.

I worry about our lack of an energy policy, relying on Saudis and the Middle East (home to the 9/11 terrorists and Wahabiist-Muslim extremism) as our main energy suppliers, doing little to promote alternatives.

I worry about tax cuts as being the primary economic policy of the US government to drive growth that mostly benefit the wealthy, who invest the bulk of their refunds back into their portfolios that are tied to global capital markets for higher returns, not spent domestically where it's needed to drive US economic growth and jobs.

I worry about the jittery bond markets and our undervalued dollar that is slowly losing its credibility as the world's de-facto currency arising from our enormous record budget and trade deficits.

I worry that this in turn may prompt Euro and Asian creditors to forgo our bond and debt instruments in the future, driving up prices for everyday consumer items (the majority of which we import) and our interest rates for credit cards, mortgages, and loans, thereby making already poor Americans (and businesses) poorer and richer Americans (and businesses) invest their money overseas for better rates of return.

I worry that we're not doing anything to alleviate poverty and promoting economic growth at political hotspots that engender terror and global unrest, and particularly, not engaging as leaders with full presidential involvement in a full-court press in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (especially now w/o Arafat).

I worry about ineffective homeland security (that is also cyber- and tech-smart) to protect ourselves and our children from even-smarter, more-patient and stealthier terrorists looking for cheaper, more effective ways to harm us en masse.

I worry about eliminating our complacency with national competitiveness that is inextricably linked to reforming education for the 21st century, in order for us to remain [at least one of] the world's economic superpower[s] creating new markets and new types of jobs.

I worry about paying down our debt and saving a surplus so our children won't have to deal with an unstable national economy and have to pay the burdens we incurred.

I worry about single-/two-issue Americans dominating our political discourse taking our security, as embodied today by Iraq, and moral values to be the end all, be all.

I worry that there is much more at stake for the United States to take the leadership role in but we're stuck with Iraq front-and-center, pumped daily by 24/7 cable news-cycle economics, leaving room for little else on the policy agenda.

Great statesmen in time of war would be the likes of Roosevelt who during WWII rallied the nation and the world (with Churchill) to wholeheartedly sacrifice in order to win the war against the evil that was Naziism. They had also laid out and executed a plan that kept the peace as well as led the largest successful rebuilding of the major nation-states of Western Europe and Japan. Or Lincoln who instituted land-grants to establish the nation's leading universities in midst of a mighty bloody Civil War.

In light of such historical greats, unfortunately, W is but a simpleton - whether in terms of long-term vision, pragmatism, or depth and breadth of leadership. The world is mighty complicated, and it requires more than one man's guts to run the greatest nation on earth, a man who based on his gutsy eye-to-eye meets trusted Musharraf (sp) and Putin, not realizing that both men have cataracts and stand for many things we Americans abhor.

Apparently, a lot of these things don't seem to be of much concern for those worried about our moral compass and setting the right direction for this great nation - and the world's singular role model for democracy. And it often seems like many Americans just don't care anymore.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Coders unite! It's Interoperability Month

Do you write code using C++, C#, Java, Visual Basic, COBOL, or CICS PL/I? And does that code need to interact with a disparate set of systems, from J2EE, Windows, mainframe, and more? Are you curious about Web Services and using it to write interoperable, versus portable, code? If so, then you're in for a treat because Interoperability Month begins January 18, just in time to start off right on the job for the new year.

You're probably wondering: What is it and why tune in? It's when Microsoft launches a month-long webcast series focusing on interoperability – why it matters to the business, common strategies and methods, and guidance on specific implementation scenarios between the major platform players. This series will feature over 40 webcasts, cool giveaways, and brand-new technical guidance from Microsoft.

Click the Interop Month button to register today!

Underwear goes inside your pants

It's January already (and with it a belated happy New Years) and I thought I should start the Commentary up slow with a nice, thoughtful video that creatively frames our American life and times, circa 2004/2005, putting it in some perspective:

Among the gazillion pop, rap, crap videos, you get to watch one or two good ones. Lazyboy’s ‘Underwear goes inside your pants’ would definitely have to be one of the good ones. The video is not visually appealing nor does it have hot women running around (that being said half of you might not watch it) but it’s still worth a watch. Lyrics to the song are worth pondering over.

You can watch the video here: Lazyboy - Underwear goes inside your pants (might require launch.com/yahoo id).