Posts

Showing posts from February, 2013

Personal Pique

I'm sure that Yale and similar institutions are mostly filled with bright students, and that they can get a good education there, but they also seem to be damn good at inculcating asshole-ness. Here is the normally bright and frequently perceptive Matt Yglesias: A summer intern who's just finished up her third year at Yale doesn't have any kind of particular credentials, but we know that she probably has very good SAT scores and sounds like an exceedingly normal person. A young woman who got a 1600 on her SATs and has been spending the past three years working at 7-11 and watching Open Yale Courses videos sounds like a huge weirdo.This screams pretentious asshole on so many levels it overflows my outrage buffers. I'm not sure how good Yale's weirdo filters are, but their wealth and privilege filters are very effective - and that's what Yglesias is really talking about. I doubt that many people learn much from Open Yale, which appears to be just a certain am…

The Human Animal/Machine

To a man with a hammer, it is said, everything looks like a nail. For a man (I have one particular man in mind here) with a little knowledge of control theory, a number of things start looking like hybrid autonomous systems. Like people, for example. Such systems have some key weaknesses, which can be traced back to their switching hybrid character. In particular, while a whole bunch of individual behaviors may be well regulated, when the switching character of the hybrid system is accounted for, instabilities can develop. I trace a number of our characteristic human failings to the fact that the some of our control systems are being driven outside their design parameters. More on this later perhaps. I had addiction in mind. Interestingly enough, some of these problems can be ameliorated with a procedure based on computing Lie Derivatives of the appropriate function at some critical control points. So do you suppose that our brains have built in Lie derivators somewhere?

Next Blog

From time to time I push the Next blog button. This is usually a mistake.

Stupid About Energy and CO2

People, and Governments, do a lot of dumb things to fool themselves into thinking they are doing something other than what they are actually doing. I've probably mentioned before how idiotic I think it is to protest against the Keystone pipeline. Preventing the pipeline from being built will not prevent the Athabasca tar sands from being exploited or reduce global carbon emissions. It will, in all likelihood, increase them by the amount of energy required to transport the oil across the ocean. Via Marginal Revolution, Valery Karplus writes in the New York Times about the similar stupidity of CAFE standards on fuel economy. Her studies, and those of her MIT colleagues, indicate that reducing emissions through CAFE standards costs the economy at least six times as much (likely more) than a similar reduction achieved through higher energy taxes. The way to reduce carbon emissions is to tax carbon emission (or extraction). Every other way is just a gimmick to avoid revealing the …

Pole Dancing: QC Style

Image
Via Alex Tabbarok at Marginal Revolution, this nice video of two quadcopters playing catch with an inverted pendulum. The inverted pendulum is a classic problem in elementary control theory (a fact I recently learned in my Coursera "Control of Mobile Robots" class).  Juggling an inverted pendulum with flying robots is a classic case of hybrid control - in effect, various separate control algorithms cooperatively managing the overall control problem of catch and balance while managing not to collide with each other or anything sol id.  This sort of hybrid automaton is exemplified by robots (or people, or animals)with complex behaviors.




Bones

One uncomfortable image I can't get out of my head is that of the Indian villages and cities made bone-yards by England's industrial revolution and export of cheap textiles to India. I think we can see the outline of the next bone-yard (hopefully virtual) here in the US. The disintegration of the American college and university system is likely to proceed much faster than anyone is now guessing. I expect 30 or 40 per cent of American colleges to vanish in the next twenty years. The enrollment of the Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC), which was zero less than two years ago, is already in the millions - 15-20% of total US post secondary education. The first courses have been accepted for college credit. I have now taken courses from several MOOCs and the overall experience, to me, is superior to conventional classroom learning - despite or perhaps because of the 40,000 students in one of my classes. This is going to be an area of truly turbulent change.

Terror in India

Another terror attack in India, and it's at least plausible that it has it's roots in Pakistan. So what is India to do? It could perhaps foment terrorism in Pakistan, but chances are it wouldn't even be noticed in the vast mass of Pakistani on Pakistani terrorism. It does seem clear, though, that Indian counter terror efforts have two left feet. Governmental incompetence is a continuing theme.

Makers and Takers

A favorite conservative meme is the notion that society is divided into makers and takers, in which they always manage to identify the rich as the good guys. In reality, that's nearly upside down. The way to get rich, or to be rich, has always been to live by the fruits of somebody else's labors. This isn't quite true, since for some of the wealthy, the most crucial part of the labor was their own - authors and inventors, for example. Even for them, though, what they consume was made by somebody else.

Our Robotic Future

Robots are learning to do things that only people used to be able to do. There is a reasonable chance that robots are going to be better than humans at most current jobs in a couple of decades, and moreover, that there will be very few people who are capable of doing jobs robots can't. Once most economic production is in the hands of robots, who gets the fruits of their labors? The way things are structured now, the owners of capital. Actually, we are probably seeing that great redistribution already.

MOOC News

The big boys in the Massive Online Open Course business have each announced big expansions. edX, the MIT-Harvard originated MOOC has added six new universities in France, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, and the US for twelve total. Coursera has expanded even more dramatically, adding twenty-nine widely scattered new schools. New courses will be available in a variety of languages. The biggies still not in the game - Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale come to mind - must be wondering if they are going to be left out. Of course it's still not clear if anybody knows how to monetize this game, and especially whether the Universities are supplying the new educational model with the rope to hang them.

Art and Anti-Art

The collision of art and the modern world has not been such a happy one. As progress in science exploded, artists became infected with progress envy, and that turned out to be a problem. Nobody could write better symphonies than Mozart and Beethoven, nobody could sculpt better than Michelangelo, and nobody could paint better than those old Dutch guys. This prompted a bunch of experiments challenging the old forms, some of which managed to be interesting, but most of which turned out to be trash. For my money, music and literature got the worst deals, with guys pounding a keyboard with dead fish and calling it music in the one case and postmodern literature in the other. Jay MacInery, reviewing Infinite Jest in the NYT, noted that at about page 480 one might get the urge to shoot the author, or oneself. OK, I'm at 527, and homicide is a little beside the point, since the author took care of that business himself, but this book really does seem to be sort of a nasty joke on the …

Empire: Book Review

Niall Ferguson's Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power is much better on the rise than the demise. Also, the so-called Lessons for Global Power are little more than a few paragraphs of moralizing on behalf of an activist or perhaps neocon American foreign policy. Overall, the book betrays its origins in a television series in a rather superficial treatment of many points, especially the loss of the empire. One cardinal point that deserved more consideration was the inherent contradiction between imperial exploitation and the notions of free trade and self government at the heart of the British ethos. Ferguson blames the post World War II imperial collapse on the financial effects of the conflicts with other empires and especially on U.S. opposition, but I think that's way too simple. The case of India is probably most instructive. India was the cash cow of Empire and the source of many of the soldiers for its other imperia…

Imperial Benefits

Suppose a burglar comes into your house, steals the TV and your laptop, but then, unaccountably also does the dishes and vacuums the carpet. You probably won't be grateful, even though that isn't quite as bad as breaking the dishes and torching the carpet. "Benign" colonialism, of the type the British eventually pretended to practice and sometimes actually did, is like the burglar moving into your house, regularly stealing your cash and eating your food but incidentally doing the dishes and vacuuming the carpet, sometimes also keeping out other burglars in the process.

Smarty Pants and Genius Genes

Via Tyler Cowen, it seems that China is taking a serious look at the genetics of IQ. At a former paper-printing factory in Hong Kong, a 20-year-old wunderkind named Zhao Bowen has embarked on a challenging and potentially controversial quest: uncovering the genetics of intelligence.DNA samples from the super smart are being scarfed up and fed to 100 powerful gene sequencing machines. Evidently, the effort is patterned on a previous analysis that elucidated some of the genetics of height. Apparently it took DNA from about 10000 people to isolate 1000 genes that make you tall. "People have chosen to ignore the genetics of intelligence for a long time," said Mr. Zhao, who hopes to publish his team's initial findings this summer. "People believe it's a controversial topic, especially in the West. That's not the case in China," where IQ studies are regarded more as a scientific challenge and therefore are easier to fund. The roots of intelligence are a my…

Romesh Chunder Dutt

Arun has been beating me up for quoting Romesh Chunder Dutt. If I interpret him correctly, he implied that anything good Dutt said about the Brits was prompted by fear of prosecution for sedition - though he had a lot to say that was far from complimentary. Wikipedia has some interesting biographical details:He entered the University of Calcutta, Presidency College in 1864, then passed the First Arts examination in 1866, second in order of merit, and won a scholarship. While still a student in the B.A. class, without his family's permission, he and two friends, Beharilal Gupta and Surendranath Banerjee, left for England in 1868.[2] Only one other Indian, Satyendra Nath Tagore, had ever before qualified for the Indian Civil Service. Romesh aimed to emulate Satyendranath Tagore's feat. For a long time, before and after 1853, the year the ICS examination was introduced in England, only British officers were appointed to covenanted posts.[3] The 1860s saw the first attempts, lar…

More IJ

Since I've been feeling bitter and dissing on David Foster Wallace lately, I ought to share a paragraph I really like, where one of our protagonists (Don Gately) visits another Boston AA group. The Tough Shit But You Still Can’t Drink Group seems to be over 50% bikers and biker-chicks, meaning your standard leather vests and 10-cm. boot heels, belt-buckles with little spade-shaped knives that come out of a slot in the side, tattoos that are more like murals, serious tits in cotton halters, big beards, Harleywear, wooden matches in mouth-corners and so forth. After the Our Father, as Gately and the other White Flag speakers are clustered smoking outside the door to the church basement, the sound of high-cc. hawgs being kick-started is enough to rattle your fillings. Gately can’t even start to guess what it would be like to be a sober and drug-free biker. It’s like what would be the point. He imagines these people polishing the hell out of their leather and like playing a lot of rea…

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

Our lagomorphic friend has a post on new estimates of climate sensitivity from paleoclimate studies. The Earth, for those of us not old enough to remember the actual events (say 600 Myrs) or too old to remember our geology (somewhat less), has had an up and down climate history, temperature-wise. Right now is down, but appears to be going up fast, mainly because there is now more CO2 in the air than there has been for millions of years, and that CO2 is rapidly rising since we keep on burning gigatons of carbon. A very crucial question is how much temperature increase do we get from increasing CO2. Since the temperature effect of CO2 is nearly logarithmic, it makes sense to define this so-called climate sensitivity as the temperature increase due to a doubling of CO2. The estimates determined from the paleoclimate data, says Herr Rabett, are 2.2 C - 4.8 C. These numbers are pretty big compared to some previous estimates, and would produce dramatic shifts in our climate patterns.

It's Fun...

...to see how bad bad writing can be...........Joe, in Sunset Boulevard.Or torture to read it. Infinite Jest has plenty of it. Man could this dude have used an editor.

The Economic History of India

Englishmen can look back on their work in India, if not with unalloyed satisfaction, at least with some legitimate pride. They have conferred on the people of India what is the greatest human blessing — Peace. They have introduced Western Education, bringing an ancient and civilised nation in touch with modern thought, modern sciences, modern institutions and life. They have built up an Administration which, though it requires reform with the progress of the times, is yet strong and efficacious. They have framed wise laws, and have established Courts of Justice, the purity of which is as absolute as in any country on the face of the earth. These are results which no honest critic of British work in India regards without high admiration...Romesh Chunder DuttOn the other hand, he adds, they robbed the place blind, with terrible consequences. He published this 105 years ago, in his The Economic History of India, still a valuable resource for the years from 1757 to 1857. A companion vol…

Bad Astronomy

Slate magazine had the bad luck to post an interview their Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait did entitled How We Know An Asteroid Won't Slam Into Earth Today on 15 February, the day, ahem, in which a ten-thousand tonne asteroid happened to slam into Earth. Of course they weren't talking about that asteroid, which nobody saw coming, but it's 35 times bigger cousin, which did miss us, if a bit narrowly (17,000 miles). An asteroid of the ten kilo-tonne scale tend to deposit most of its energy in upper atmosphere as it blasts through it at hypersonic speeds. Going faster than the speed of sound means that air molecules in front of you don't have time to get out of your way, so they pile up in an increasingly massive lump in front of you, like wet snow in front of a snow shovel, until enough momentum is transferred to slow the whole train down. How much energy does one of these guys have? Consider a generic 10^7 kg asteroid moving at 2 x 10^4 m/s. Then kinetic energy K =…

Family Tree

It appears that researchers have identified a bunch of genes that seem to help parse the human family tree. One of the first to get a good look is one called EDAR. The distinctive variant seems to have evolved about 35,000 years ago, and is found mainly in East Asian populations and American Indians. The methods used to elucidate it's consequences were high tech - inserting the gene into a mouse genome. Gaining a deep insight into human evolution, researchers have identified a mutation in a critical human gene as the source of several distinctive traits that make East Asians different from other races. The traits — thicker hair shafts, more sweat glands, characteristically identified teeth and smaller breasts — are the result of a gene mutation that occurred about 35,000 years ago, the researchers have concluded. The discovery explains a crucial juncture in the evolution of East Asians. But the method can also be applied to some 400 other sites on the human genome. The DNA c…

Why 3D Printing?

So you can print books without ever having to open them? Though it's apparently useful for printing artificial organs, built from cloned cells - and even artificial burgers.

Investment Opportunities

A spat between Paul Krugman and Tyler Cowen over why corporations and wealthy individuals are sitting on mountains of cash. Krugman says insufficient final demand. Cowen says "Great Stagnation" produced lack of investment opportunities. I'm not sure that there is any difference worth mentioning between these two points of view. If there is not enough final demand because those with money aren't hungry and those who are hungry don't have money, redistribute, or at least create incentives for those with the cash to spend it. Wealth taxes are one way to do that, but a bit of inflation might be better. If your money is decreasing in value, maybe you should buy something now instead of later. That's especially true for government expenditures. This notion was understood, even if imperfectly, in ancient Mesopotamia, though of course those with money still find it difficult to comprehend. Their method was debt "jubilees" which wiped out consumer deb…

Harbingers of Imperial Doom

Live blogging Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson. After World War I, the British Empire had one last spasm of expansion, scarfing up big chunks of the formerly Ottoman Middle East, German's African colonies, and more of the Pacific. The Imperial impulse was largely exhausted though, and the Empire was starting to cost more money than it made. The lesson of the American rebellion had been absorbed much earlier and resulted in the white and protestant colonies winning a large measure of self-rule and independence - privileges not extended to the earlier colonies of Ireland and India. India had played a major role in the British war effort - one million Indian volunteers had fought for Britain, and many of the English educated Indian intellectuals, including Gandhi, had supported it. After the war, first Ireland and then India had asked for the same deal that Australia, Canada, etc had got. The new Arab coloni…

Why Read An Annoying Book?

I ask myself, why do I read, and continue to read, books that I don't really much care for? Books like Gravity's Rainbow, Atlas Shrugged, and Infinite Jest, for example. It's partly curiosity, I expect, rather like climbing up a difficult and brush obstructed trail to get to a mountain top or at least some sort of overlook. Maybe there will be something worthwhile at the end. Such questions are tied up with the question of why we read at all. Saying, "for entertainment" is too simple. We humans, or a lot of us anyway, want to understand our environment and especially other people. The more alien a point of view is, the more challenging the effort to understand it. Something like twenty million copies of Atlas Shrugged have been sold, and a fair proportion of the readers have fallen under its spell. I had read a little of AR before I tackled AS, and enough about her to know I was extremely unlikely to be a fan. I did want to know what made the devotees ti…

Book Review Made Simple

Lumo has a review of James Weatherall's new book called The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable. It seems that Weatherall was a former student of his, who impressed him with arrogance, laziness and insufficient devotion to the ST religion. Despite these character flaws, he does seem to have achieved a couple of PhDs and gotten a large number of favorable reviews of his new book. The Lumonator's is not one of these. Dr. Motl's review does have a disparaging reference to Ed Frenkel's positive review and extensive quotations from a highly negative review by somebody named Aaron Brown. I haven't read the book - yet anyway - so I won't comment on it's merits myself. So far as I can tell, Lubos hasn't read it either.

Keys to Glory

I don't see the Keystone pipeline fight as an important one in the global warming battle. Whether it is built or not is highly unlikely to affect the development of Canadian tar sands. This is a largely symbolic fight, highly unlikely to do much to slow carbon emission and certain to energize opponents. If you want to slow carbon emissions, carbon taxes are the way to go. They won't be popular, but people aren't buying the gimmicks either.

Milepost 314

Actually page 314 of Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Many good novels might be over by page 314 - maybe even most of them. Plus some dozens of pages of end-notes. Wallace is quite capable of writing engagingly, and frequently will, but he's also very good at being annoying. Most of his characters seem to be freaks, suicidal, severely drug damaged or combinations thereof. The dialog he constructs is usually ridiculous, or at any rate very unlike anything I have ever encountered from actual human beings. He does suck one in though, but not in a "what an interesting world, I'd sure like to be there" way. More like an "exactly how did this gruesome car accident occur?" way. At any rate, I seem to be stuck here, so I suppose I need to see what, if anything, happens. My Kindle dictionary can't find most of the obscure words he is so passionately fond of.

Hierarchy Problem: Compactification

There is an old joke which rates various branches of knowledge from more fundamental to less. The basic schema is something like math -> physics -> chemistry -> biology -> psychology -> philosophy where the punchline is that you compactify the whole schema by boundary identification, i.e. adding philosophy -> mathematics. Lubos has a new version of the primitive schema with string theory -> QFT physics at the top and religion and mass delusions at the bottom. He forebears taking the inevitable step of boundary identification of religion and mass delusions subsuming string theory, but how can we resist?

Math & Physics

Fans of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest like to attribute mind boggling erudition to the author. He certainly has a large and pretentious vocabulary. He has a lot to say about drugs, tennis, rehab, and suicide. I will assume he actually knows about those things, because I can't critique him on those accounts. The claim that he understands higher math and science seems pretty dubious, though. At one point he claims that the odds of a 54-54 tie in 108 tennis matches are 1 in 2^27. If the players are roughly equally matched, they are actually a bit less than 8%. VERY MINOR SPOILER: A central character supposedly commits suicide by cutting a hole in the door of a microwave oven and exploding his head - in less than ten seconds. A typical microwave oven produces about 700 W of microwave power = .16 kcal/sec. At that rate, it's going to take a hell of a long time to heat several kilograms of water to the steam point, and the subject is going to get really uncomforta…

Hot and Cold

Image
The planet used to be a lot hotter than it is now. There used to be a lot more CO2 in the air than there is now. It was hotter in the Eemian interglacial than it is now, and the polar bears survived. All arguments used by our deniolator friends.

And all true.

Of course, the further we go back, the harder it is to read the record, especially of CO2, but we have reasonable data about both planetary temperatures and CO2 for 450 kiloyears or so. The temperature record we can tell a lot about for a long time, and the fact is that it's now colder than for the vast majority of the last 500 Megayears. The last five million years have been a pretty cold period, thanks to the series of glaciations probably kicked off by the formation of the Isthmus of Panama.

However, it is worth noting that we, our crops, our domestic animals, and our geographic distribution all did evolve during this really cold period. If we look at the last 450,000 years, we are now very near the peak temperature t…

Twelve Steps

Wolfgang has once again taken the pledge to disconnect from the intertubes, and as much as we will miss him, it would be unkind not to provide a bit of moral support. As it happens, I have been reading a great deal about detox and rehab programs (Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace), so I thought I would supply him with a suitably adapted twelve steps program: (1)We admitted we were powerless over the intertubes - that our lives had become unmanageable. (2)Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (3)Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of Krugman as we understood Him. (4)Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (5)Admitted to Krugman, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. (6)Were entirely ready to have Krugman remove all these defects of character. (7)Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. (8)Made a list of all blogs we had harmed, and became willing to m…

GS Skynet

Econobots we know and love. Part of a great New Republic book review/analysis by Michael Lewis: The giant Wall Street firms have taken on lives of their own, beyond human control. The people flow into and out of them but have only incidental effect on their direction and behavior. The firms may not be intent on evil; they aren't intent on anything except short-term profits: they're insensible. If anyone attempted to seize control of one of these strange machines and impose upon them a clear moral direction, the machine would hit its own button and he would be ejected. Stop and think once more about what has just happened on Wall Street: its most admired firm conspired to flood the financial system with worthless securities, then set itself up to profit from betting against those very same securities, and in the bargain helped to precipitate a world historic financial crisis that cost millions of people their jobs and convulsed our political system. In other places, or at oth…

Econobots

Despite the unenthusiastic reception of my last venture into economic engineering, let me persist a bit. Econobots are already very busy, so I gather, doing microsecond trading and carrying out similar missions. Why not put them to work on macro policy? Instead of putting out some crap about aiming for, say, 2% inflation, and then screwing around with some monetary policies which might or might not approach that goal, why not turn it over to the Macrobot? Turn the task over to a PID controller and let her go. My theory is that the real reason is probably the fearsome whine emitted by the bankster crowd. If Mario Drahi or Ben Bernanke promises firm action the rentiers know that if they screech loud enough, Ben, or Mario, or Abe will pull his punches. PID controllers are less accomodating.

Gunner

Republicans, or maybe just the same dopes who thought Beyonce was not singing the national anthem, think Obama might be faking his credentials as a skeet shooter. Personally, I sort of hope they are right. There is a real threat that skeet may go the way of the passenger pigeon that once flocked in hordes. Ask yourself, when did you last see one in the wild? How many bird watchers even have this rara avis on their lifetime lists?

Book Review: Zameer Masani's Macaulay

I've already written a plethora of posts on the subject Zameer Masani's book on Macaulay(Macaulay: Pioneer of India's Modernization [Kindle Edition]), but I have now finished and should sum up. I found the portrait of Macaulay and his times fascinating. Clever Tom, as he was known to his family and many others, was a prodigy. Much of his life was devoted to politics, and in an ages of speeches, he was a dominant force. Most of what he accomplished in life was by virtue of his speech or writing. He was an imperialist and a cultural chauvinist, but he saw himself as an agent of virtue. Born in modest circumstances, he died a wealthy baron. Some of his wealth was acquired as a result of very well paid service in India, but the bulk came from his writings, which were wildly popular in England, America, and Europe. Masani clearly approves of many Macaulay's actions in India, the most important of which were the establishment of open schools taught in English, the writ…

PID Control

I think it was Banerjee who asked me to write something about engineering, so that the engineers could beat me up. Here is my first try. It stems from the class in Control of Mobile Robots that I am taking from Coursera and Georgia Tech.
One of the most common control strategies for simple systems is so-called PID control, where the P stands for proportional, the I for integrating, and the D for derivative. The essence of the strategy is that you measure an error in your system behavior, and generate a correction control signal that is proportional to the error, its integral over time, and its derivative.
My quasi-philosophical question is this: does the value of this strategy have anything to do with the fact that so many laws of physics take the form of second order differential equations?
UPDATE: Second question. Suppose we replaced the Fed's Open Market Committee with a PID control robot which attempted to maintain a 2% inflation rate. What do think would happen?


Macaulay vs the Hindus

Perhaps no aspect of Macaulay's character is more surprising to the modern mind or more obnoxious to his enemies in India than his overt hostility to Indian religion and culture. It's also hard to imagine why this frank admirer of pagan Rome and Greece found superficially similar practices in India so offensive. Masani provides a clue: Though far from puritanical by Victorian standards, Macaulay was particularly outraged by what he considered the sexual immorality of Hindu iconography. His revulsion may well have been exaggerated by his own long suppressed sexuality. ‘Emblems of vice,’ he railed, ‘are objects of public worship. Acts of vice are acts of public worship. The courtesans are as much a part of the establishment of the temple, as much ministers of the god, as the priests.’ His greatest rage was reserved for the worship of Shiva, whose temple at Somnath Ellenborough was proposing to honour. Referring to the phallic cult of shivalingams, Macaulay declared: ‘I am ash…

Size of the Earth

It is a testimony to the far vaster scale of our planet in Macaulay's time that his voyage home from India took nearly six months. He chose his passage for comfort rather than speed, but in those days at the dawn of steam power, such long journeys still depended on the wind. When he traveled about in India, roads did not yet exist that could accommodate a carriage in the countryside.

Macaulay the Critic

Macaulay was a hypercritical person by temperament, a trait that combined with his talent for invective to be really useful in producing enemies, but it also carried many an argument for him. His chauvinistic attitudes were another obnoxious trait. He hated Versailles and considered it a vast waste of money. Italy didn't live up to his expectations, and the exteriors of its great cathedrals couldn't match Saint Paul's in London. When he got back to London he found the interior of Saint Paul's wanting by comparison with the Italians. It's very easy to see why the man would be resented in India. His bad tempered rhetoric was often turned on its literature, social organization, music, the character of the Bengalis - though the architecture did make an impression. Of course he was even more critical of most of his fellow Britons abroad. Even more obnoxious was the fact that he didn't bother to try to understand the literature and art that he dismissed so cava…

Macaulay and the Law

Macaulay's legal efforts were perhaps as significant as his educational. When he arrived, he found that Indian law was a jumble of older Islamic laws and fragments of British law. Different laws applied in different cities and different laws applied to different persons. Indians were effectively prevented from pursuing legal action against Europeans by a legal system that afforded the Europeans special privileges. The death penalty applied to many crimes including breaking a tea cup in another persons house, apparently even accidentally. A couple of his more controversial laws removed press censorship and established legal equality in civil law. The latter especially outraged his compatriots. He also designed an extremely progressive set of laws for the nation which were long considered a model of concision and simplicity. They were not enacted in his lifetime - mostly due to opposition from his countrymen - but according to Masani, still form the core of Indian law. Despi…

Conquest

Other things being equal, it would seem highly desirable not to be conquered, and if conquered and ruled by foreigners, to be rid of them. The ratio of Englishmen/Indians in India was rarely much above 1/1000. Unlike the native Americans encountered by Cortez and Pizarro, the natives of India were if anything less vulnerable to disease than vice-versa. Moreover, the technological advantage of the English was slight or non-existent until well into the nineteenth century. So why did India suffer itself to be and remain conquered?

Quantitative Easing, My Ass(ets)

A slightly more complete answer to Wolfgang and the others if any following such matters. I ragged on WB for predicting something untoward at the gas pump (inflation?), allegedly due to Bernanke's policy of quantitative easing (QE). I thought I ought to remind myself of what QE is: The Fed buying financial assets like government bonds and mortgage securities. What should we expect from that and why? Well the supply of nice financial assets is decreased, and so their price goes up, which means (and I always have to think this part through) that interest rates go down. The why part is even easier. If the problem is insufficient demand (and it is), then too many are saving, and too few are spending. Of course interest rates are already near zero, but now it's even harder to find places to stash money. That makes assets more attractive by comparison, and drives up their prices. Ben wants to drive up asset prices, but he really wants make people spend that money. You might a…