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Comparing Income across Countries in USD is Detached from Reality: 2

February 28, 2017 12 comments

In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that comparing total or per-capita GDP or GNP of countries in USD (or any other west-european currency) is now an exercise in stupidity and self-delusion. Using healthcare as an example, I showed readers that countries with per-capita healthcare as little as 1/10th of the USA (after adjustment for purchasing power) have higher average life-expectancy and better health outcomes than the USA. In fact, it looks even worse for USA if you don’t adjust for purchasing power.

One of the most fundamental and direct measures for quality of life in the world is now, therefore, irreversibly divorced from spending in USD another west-European currencies. Towards the end of that post, I also made commented that many other basic and direct measures of life quality such as quality of education, housing and general standard of living around the world are increasingly, and now very visibly, not linked to their price in USD.

In other words, the most important proxy measure of power that western countries (especially the USA) use to gauge their relative power and dominance in the world is now worse than useless. But how did we reach the tipping point and when.. at least approximately? Let me explain that through one example in this post.. will talk about more in subsequent post of this series.

For a long time, even small triumphs and success of Indians living in the west (especially the USA) were widely celebrated in Indian media and society. This occurred in spite of many of the later denying or obfuscating their ancestry. Similarly, Indians who lived in the west (especially the USA) were treated with a certain degree of respect when they visited India- which they did largely to feel better about their second-class status in the west. In my opinion, the peak of real-life adulation for Indians living in the west occurred during the late 1990s-very early 2000s. But then something changed.. irreversibly.

Sometime around the mid-2000s, I noticed a change in the way people in India started seeing those living in the west and perhaps more importantly- themselves. This change first manifested itself as a far more critical look at Indians living in the west and was more pronounced in the younger generations. Basically, people in India gradually stopped celebrating the achievements of Indians in the west and started being more critical about the attitudes exhibited by those people towards themselves. But it did not stop there..

Increasingly, educated and affluent Indians stopped seeing residency in the west (especially the USA) as a goal to be reached under any circumstances. It was, more and more, a conditional thing- based on them having a decent job and working conditions. Also, moving back and forth between two (or more countries) based on the best deal available to them became the default mode of operation. To put it another way, having a good career and making money had replaced moving to the west as the main goal of many upper-middle class Indians.

But why did that happen? and what changed?

The short answer is that the quality of life possible in India changed a lot between the late-1990s and today. The slightly longer answer is that a large part of the respect and adoration of people in India for their relatives living in the west was linked to their superior material possessions. As some of you might know, a number of stupid and paternalistic government policies prevalent in India between 1947 and late-1980s had stunted the quality of life possible in that country. That changed dramatically after 1989.. and the result (so far) has been beneficial to most people in that country, but especially to its upper-middle class and increasingly its middle-class.

Therefore, the kind of people who might otherwise want to immigrate to the west can now enjoy all the material goods and services enjoyed by their counterparts in the west- and then some more. This prosperity and equal (or superior) access to material goods and services is also why they no longer look up to or celebrate Indians in the west. I mean.. ask yourself, would you tolerate a self-hating asshole if you had nothing to gain from doing so? But what does this have to do with comparing income across countries in USD? As it turns out.. a lot!

See.. the income of Indians with an upper-middle class lifestyle might seem more comparable to the working class in USA if you measure it in USD. However, it is very clear that their lifestyle and access to material goods and services is identical or better than those defined as upper-middle class in USA. But why is that so? and why was that not the case in the past?

Well.. it comes to who makes things and provides services. Comparing quality of life and power in the world in USD (or other west-European currencies) was feasible only as long as they were the sole providers of such material goods and services. As you know, that is simply not the case today. Most of what you consider high-tech and necessary for a high quality of life (from computers and smart phones to chemicals for making drugs and other useful stuff) is no longer made exclusively in the west- IF they were made there in the first place.

Consequently, the cost of many material goods (and services) that define a high quality of life are often far less expensive in the rest of the world. Moreover, the price of other essentials such as quality healthcare, quality medications, quality food, quality shelter is much lower in non-wetsern countries. The net result of these changes is that the upper-middle class, and increasingly middle-class, in non-western countries enjoys a quality of life that is equivalent to those the west. Did I mention that their disposable income and net worth (even when measured in USD) now often surpasses those of their supposed equivalents in the west?

To summarize this post- most of the existing delusions.. I mean beliefs prevalent in USA (and the west) about its relative power and dominance vis-a-vis the rest of the world are based on a metric that is now worse than useless.

What do you think? Comments?

Kim Jong-Nam was Assassinated with a Binary Version of VX

February 23, 2017 11 comments

As many of you must have heard by now, Kim Jong-Nam (the elder brother of the current North Korean leader Kim Jong-Um) was assassinated about 10 days (on 13 February 2017) by two women spraying something toxic on his face. Since that day, there has been much speculation about the identity of the toxic substance in the sprays which killed him. This was especially so because the two women who were paid to spray him were themselves unskilled locals who were unaffected by whatever they used on him. However that very fact that two sprays were used seemed to suggest that the toxic compound was a binary chemical agent- most likely a never gas.

It seems that this particular theory has now been confirmed. Earlier today, the Malaysian police announced that preliminary tests show that Kim Jong-Nam was killed by a potent nerve gas known as VX. So why does the use of VX suggest that it was generated in situ by a binary chemical reaction– apart from two women spraying him with stuff that did not kill them? Well.. because VX is highly toxic and has certain physical properties (high viscosity and low volatility) which make its use as a gas or spray really problematic- especially if an actual human being is doing the spraying. However it is far easier to use as binary chemical weapon because both components of the binary mix (QL and Sulfur) are fairly safe by themselves.

The structure of VX and QL as well as the general schematics of the chemical reaction which generates VX from QL and Sulfur are shown below. The short version of the story is that QL reacts with Sulfur to generate an intermediate compound which then undergoes a slight chemical rearrangement to form VX.

vx-binary-form-1

As you can see, the reaction is fairly simple and the two components which generate VX in situ are themselves fairly non-toxic. While there have a few isolated incidents in the past 2-3 decades (link 1, link 2, link 3) of people using weaponized organophosphate compounds aka ‘nerve gases’ to kill a few people- this incident is perhaps the first the first one to use a binary chemical agent for assassinating a public figure of any significance.

Update: It is possible that the North Koreans might have used the binary version of another structurally similar compound or a different organophosphate ‘nerve gas’ such as Sarin.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Sub-Channel: The Empire Files with Abby Martin

February 19, 2017 1 comment

Here is another interesting YouTube channel, or sub-channel, I came across a few months ago. It is basically a series of interviews and short documentaries hosted by Abby Martin on teleSUR English. She largely covers issues which the MSM either does not report or lies about such as interference by USA in the affairs of other countries, serious systemic problems in USA, abuses perpetrated by USA-based multinational companies etc.

Link for sub-channel: The Empire Files with Abby Martin

Here is one recent and relevant clip containing an interview with Mark Ames about the massive and destructive interference by USA in Russia from 1991 to the election of Putin in late 1999. It is a useful summary of all the reasons why Russians grew to hate the USA (especially its establishment) and support Putin.

Enjoy! Comments?

Spoof on Silicon Valley and Internet of Things from 2014 : Smart Pipe

February 18, 2017 8 comments

While writing an upcoming post about why the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is a terrible idea on multiple levels, it occurred to me that I had not yet posted one of the best and smartest YouTube spoofs about that subject. FYI, I first came across this spoof in late-2014 and thought it was hilarious enough to post on many places other than this blog. In case you are wondering, the imaginary IoT product mentioned in that spoof is scarily close to some products that have actually received venture capital funding in Silly Valley.

Enjoy! Comments?

A Brief Overview of Historical Facts Behind the Russian Claim to Crimea

February 16, 2017 14 comments

I originally considered writing this post in early 2014, but thought that the subject matter was so straightforward that even the average geography and history averse person in USA could figure it out by simply googling around for a few minutes. Well.. it is early 2017 now, and based on recent comments made by the newly elected president of USA and many “credentialed” experts and policymakers in the same country– it is obvious that many people in USA (especially those in power) are either naive, or more likely, deliberately ignorant about the historical nature of the Russian claim to Crimea. So let me give you a brief refresher in why Russia has a very solid and strong historical claim to Crimea.

Here is a little relevant history. Crimea, also known as the Crimean Peninsula, is a land mass on the northern coast of the Black Sea which is almost completely surrounded by the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast. Over the millennia, it has been part of many different empires- from the Greek city states, Persian Achaemenid Empire, Roman Empire, various groups of Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Byzantine Empire, Khazars, the Kipchaks, the Golden Horde and Crimean Khanate. However since 1783, it has been a part of the Russia- first as part of the Russian Empire, then the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and now the Russian Federation.

Now, it is true that in 1954 a then newly elected Nikita Khrushchev (who was Ukrainian by birth), did transfer administration of Crimea from the Russian part of USSR to its Ukrainian part. While we can not be completely certain about his precise motivations, it is likely that convenience of administration in combination (mainly geography) with a belief in the durability of USSR were the principal factors. In any case, this transfer was largely symbolic since Crimea retained a Russian-speaking majority. Let us now fast forward to 1991 and the dissolution of USSR. At that time, Russia did not take Crimea back by force- largely because it could get everything it wanted through treaties with Ukraine.

That arrangement worked pretty well for a decade or so.. and then the USA started to interfere in Ukrainian politics through various ‘color’ revolutions. USA-friendly political parties and governments in Ukraine then started to talk about abrogating their previous arrangements with Russia regarding many things- including agreements regarding Crimea. All of this talk about taking a tougher line with Russia coincided with the resurgence of Russian military and economy power in that decade. As some of you might know, Crimea apart from being a favorite destination for sun-seeking Russian tourists over the years has long been an important military (and commercial) port for Russia- since the time it was originally annexed in 1783.

Asking Russia to give up Crimea has no basis in anything approaching reality. Firstly, Crimea has been part of Russia since 1783. Secondly, Crimea has had an ethnic Russian majority for many decades now. Thirdly, Russia has successfully fought multiple and bloody wars to retain possession of Crimea since it first annexed it in 1783. Fourthly, Russia still has many thousands of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles making it essentially suicidal to challenge its claim to Crimea via use of military power. Fifthly, economic sanctions are not going to make Russia give up Crimea- because it is seen by the majority of Russians as an integral part of their country.

And this brings me to an interesting comparison of the time-frame that Crimea has been part of Russia to American history. As many of you know, USA was formed when thirteen British colonies in North America declared independence from England in 1776. In other words, USA has been a nation for only 7 years longer than Crimea has been a part of Russia. But it gets even better. Have a look at the map of the original 13 colonies below- click on map to enlarge it. Notice something?

usa_1775-1776

Ya.. most territory which is now considered to be part of USA was not part of it in 1776. To be more precise, precursors to 37 out of the 50 current states which constitute USA today did not even exist in 1776. In fact, the first major expansion of USA, the so-called Louisiana Purchase, would not occur until 1803- about 20 years after Crimea first became part of Russia. Here is a list of the dates when each state officially joined USA. Many states in USA (especially in the South-West and Hawaii) therefore have a far stronger claim to secession from USA than Crimea has from Russia.

But perhaps the oddest, and peculiar, part of the current official policy of USA towards the historically justified Russian claim to Crimea is the massive amount of magical thinking necessary for any non-retarded person to even consider the possibility that Russia will negotiate on (let alone give up) Crimea. It is as if all the “experts” and policy makers in USA mentally inhabit a world where the USA is the sole superpower, rather than the rapidly crumbling mess that it has become. Or maybe the government elite in the USA see such exercises in stupid futility as a useful distraction for the masses so that they keep on robbing the system for a little while longer..

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel: The Jimmy Dore Show

February 13, 2017 Leave a comment

While one of my older posts does contain a clip from his channel about Barack Obama’s less than stellar legacy, I thought it would be a good idea to post a link to Jimmy Dore’s YouTube channel and explain a bit more about him. So.. Jimmy Dore is a stand-up comedian and political commentator, who is currently best known for his scathing commentary on establishment democrats and republicans on TYT.

What sets him apart from other comedians who comment on politics is his willingness to skewer establishment democrats and corporate liberals with the same viciousness and frequency as republicans and self-righteous religious nutcases. As many of you know, most comedian-turned-political-commentators are not interested in delivering any significant critique on establishment democrat and “moderate” republican public figures.

Here is a link to his YouTube channel: The Jimmy Dore Show

Interesting Clip 1

Interesting Clip 2

Enjoy! Comments?

Interesting Blog: McMansion Hell

February 11, 2017 3 comments

A few months ago, I came across a blog called McMansion Hell. As you might have guessed, it is about the overall poor quality of design and construction of large and expensive houses in suburbs and exurbs. While the blog is mostly about McMansions in USA, it does has some posts about similar monstrosities in other countries- especially Canada.

On another note, I wish that he had not hosted it as a Tumblr Blog as finding older posts can be real pain. Here is the link to the index – McMansion Hell Archives.

It is important to understand the critique (and mockery) in that blog is largely directed towards poorly designed and built houses which happen to be large, as opposed to living in or buying a large house. The person who writes that blog is trying to point out that people who buy such ugly and dysfunctional monstrosities have more money than taste or common sense.

Here are a few of her most interesting posts:

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 1) – The real thing Vs its pale imitation- Part 1

Mansion vs McMansion (Part 2) – The real thing vs its pale imitation- Part 2.

Aesthetics Aside, Why McMansions Are Bad Architecture – Many ways McMansions suck.

The McMansion Scale, Explained! – Quantifying the shiftiness of any given McMansion.

Where and Why Do We Build McMansions – Factors enabling these abominations.

and here are a few examples of her brutal and much deserved take down of these shitty stucco-boxes. Browse her tumblr blog archives for more..

Montville Township, NJ – This lovely home, built in 2004 can be yours for the low price of $2,250,000.

Fort Worth, TX – This week’s house, a Mansard built in 1993 (but is totes 1987) is pushing 5,000 square feet, and is currently on the market for $1.3 million USD.

Scottsdale, Arizona – This house, built in 1996 and boasting around 4,000 square feet can be all yours for just under a million dollars!

What do you think? Comments?

Netflix or HBO should Adapt Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” into a MiniSeries

February 8, 2017 4 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I published a post containing links to arial drone views of the two castles most associated with Vlad the Impaler aka the historical model for Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name. While that particular post might have looked like clickbait, it was actually a prelude to the current post- which is about a topic quite different from the ones I usually write about.

So here is the background story of what motivated me to write this post.

I have, over the years, watched many film and television adaptations of ‘Dracula’ and other vampire-genre movies and television series. This particular genre of horror has, however, never been by favorite- largely because the vast majority of films and series in it are.. for the lack of a better word.. underwhelming. In other words, the majority of vampire genre films and serials today are either too campy and formulaic or poorly disguised action movies with nonexistent story-lines.

For a long time, this made me wonder why the vampire genre became popular in the first place. As some of you might know, the vampire horror genre (as we know it today) started with the publication of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel ‘Dracula’ in 1897. While his novel was certainly not the first instance of english language literature about that topic, it was by far the most polished and well written. Consequently it also became the seminal book of that genre.

Oddly enough, I had never read the original novel in its entirety until about a year or so ago. This oversight was, in my opinion, largely due to my generally less-than-favorable impression about that particular genre. However a series of events which began with another YouTube clip led me to finally acquire that novel and read it in its entirety. After reading it, I realized that my previous negative impressions about that genre were largely due to the multitude of mediocre adaptions of that novel.

The novel itself is very well written and I can totally see why there have been so many attempts to adapt it for film and TV. So why does almost every film and tv adaption of that novel look so mediocre when compared to the source? In my opinion, it comes down to their inability to overcome three types of problems inherent in adaptation of that particular novel.

1] The inability (or unwillingness) of screen adaptations to capture the overall atmospherics of the original novel account for a significant part of why they suck so badly when compared to the original book. To some extent, this problem arises from the time scale over which the novel occurs- a few months rather than a few weeks. Also, a lot of the detail which makes the novel so engrossing are either lost or cut out of movies because of time and “commercial” constraints. Let me put it this way.. it is just too hard to properly adapt ‘Dracula’ into anything with a running time of less than 7-8 hours.

2] Screen adaptations of that novel almost always try to make the central character in that story (Count Dracula) to be far more scary, aristocratic, bloodthirsty or violent than he is depicted in the novel. Similarly, screen adaptations almost always underplay his intelligence, cunning and resourcefulness. They seem to forget, or ignore, that the central character in that novel is memorable because he is very smart, cunning and ruthless- and not because he is violent or bloodthirsty. Similarly the other characters in the novel are not naive and bumbling idiots who exist to make the story possible.

3] The novel has very strong sexual undercurrents which are intrinsic to the story. In other words- any adaption of that novel which ignores or minimizes those undercurrents (for commercial reasons) cannot do full justice to source material. I should point out that those sexual undercurrents are important not just to understand what happens between Dracula and the female characters, but also between the other male and female characters in that book. If you do not understand what I am talking about reread the parts about Lucy’s interactions with her various suitors (and other men around her) or the parts about the lack of sexual chemistry between Jonathan and Mina.

To summarize, I think that a proper movie-type adaption of ‘Dracula’ requires about 8-16 hours of screen time. It also requires an outlet that will largely ignore commercial concerns about moderate levels of adult content. Only HBO and, to some extent, Netflix have demonstrated an ability to repeatedly produce high-production value shows and mini-series with moderate adult-themed content.

What do you think? Comments?

Categories: Critical Thinking, Musings

Even Establishment Democrats Don’t Miss Hillary Clinton: Feb 6, 2017

February 6, 2017 6 comments

I thought it would be a good idea to write a very short post to bring in some comments, while I am finishing up a much larger one. So here it is..

Have you noticed that democrats (even the establishment types) have stopped talking about Hillary Clinton? You might remember that there was a time, especially in the 1st month after she lost to Trump, when democrats and their paid shills in media could not stop talking about how much better things would have been if HRC had won the election. In that month or so- there was no end to posts, tweets, articles and interviews which extolled her “competence” and “brilliance” in comparison to Trump. You literally could not turn on the TV or visit MSM “news” sites without at least a few allegedly “smart” pundits bemoaning her loss to Trump.

Fast forward to today, a couple of weeks after Trump has formally assumed the presidency. As most of you know, some of his recent executive orders and general policy directions have been controversial- to put it mildly. I mean.. there have been more and bigger demonstrations against Trump in the first 2 weeks of his presidency than there were against Obama in his 8 years- though the later broke almost every singe campaign promise he made in 2008 and 2012. But have you noticed that there is something missing in all those public demonstrations against Trump.

Yes, I am talking about the relative absence of any specific reference to Hillary Clinton- especially anything which suggests that she would have been a better president than Trump. I find it interesting that almost all protests against Trump focus on his policies or decisions, rather than how HRC would have been a much better president. Even establishment democrats now seem to have largely given up comparing him to her. You can still hear many say that ‘Bernie Would Have Won’ but almost nobody is saying ‘Hillary Would Have Been Better’- because the former statement is true while the later is an obvious lie- like HRC.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Initial Thoughts on the Likely Trajectory of a Trump Presidency: 4

February 3, 2017 16 comments

In the previous part of this series, I focused on problems which will almost certainly arise from one of Trump’s recent executive orders- namely the one about “temporarily” banning entry into USA of people from certain predominantly Muslim countries. In that post and a subsequent standalone post, I made the point that his Muslim ban was problematic for reasons that have little to do with it targeting Muslims. Firstly, it simply reinforces the widespread perception (in USA and rest of the world) that Trump makes decisions without regard to considerations of legality, feasibility, prior official positions or the risks inherent in such abrupt changes in direction.

Secondly, and perhaps far more importantly, the rest of the world (including friendly countries) see this ban as yet another confirmation of their view that trusting Trump or the USA to follow through on any agreement made in the past or even in the future is a bad idea. The second type of problems are more important that the first, since it is relatively easy to gloss over localized problems arising from personality quirks of a head of state than it is to overlook an increase in systemic risk due to a pattern of unpredictable behavior. In other words, the rest of the world would not care much if Trump’s break from the past was localized to one or two areas.

As I briefly mentioned in the previous post of this series, Trump is trying to implement large shifts from past positions on issues in a large number of areas- from immigration and international trade to reproductive right issues and dramatically ramping up the police state in USA. Moreover, his attempts to shift positions have been characterized by an unwillingness to understand the factors which made them the default in the first place. For example- increases in immigration (legal and otherwise) are largely due to the insatiable thirst of corporations for ever-increasing margins of profit. The same is true for constant increases in international trade including “free” trade.

And that brings us to the inevitable and massive international repercussions inherent in Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in major policies on a number of issues..

The relationships between nation states, unlike those between entities within a nation-state, are almost totally dependent on their mutual perceptions. These perceptions in turn are largely based on experiences of prior interactions. Furthermore, a lot of these perceptions are contingent to the parties not making any sudden deviations from their prior positions. For example- it is widely understood that China is unlikely to invade Taiwan in the near future (say.. the next 5 years) in spite of its long-term official position on that issue. Similarly, it is understood that India is going to keep on building more nuclear weapons, ICBMs and nuclear submarines in spite of what its leaders say or any residual international pressure.

Relationships between any two nation states can survive a lot of friction as long as both parties do not make any unexpected and sudden moves. The USA was, for many decades, widely seen as a nation-state with predictable behavior and policies- even if they were unsavory. Foreign and trade policies of USA, as bad as they might have been, remained reasonably consistent and stable irrespective of who was the president or which party was in power. Furthermore, changes in these policies were gradual and constant (predictable) rather than large and abrupt (unpredictable). It is this relative stability and consistency which allowed the USA to successfully create and sustain international organisations and treaties.

Trump’s desire to effect large shifts in multiple areas of national and international policy upsets the relative stability and consistency which have characterized the previous few decades. They also negate many established perceptions about the USA which are essential to relatively smooth and predictable interactions between that country and the rest of the world. For example- the continued functionality of many international organisations such as NATO, IMF etc are intimately tied to USA not deviating too much from past positions. The same is true about all those existing international trade agreements which the USA is a party to.

Think about it this way- would you enter into a business partnership where you could lose money or more with somebody whose behavior was highly unpredictable? Also, would you maintain or expand a business relationship with somebody who exhibited sudden and large changes in their behavior? Well.. the same holds true for relationships between nation states. The point is that Trump’s desire for large shifts to many policies makes it very hard for the USA to sustain, let alone improve, its existing relationships with various other nations. Now, this would not have been that big a deal if we were still living in the 1850s, 1910s or even 1950s- when you could get by without much of a two-way interaction with the rest of the world.

But we no longer live in those eras. Today, manufacturing and supply chains of everything from your toothbrush and clothes to CPUs and airliners span the entire globe. While it is certainly possible to argue about the desirability of this particular setup, we cannot deny that it exists. Nor can we pretend that waving a magic wand will somehow change the system the next month, year or decade. Also, it is not realistically possible to reproduce a previous era since each era is largely the product of conditions and circumstances unique to that era.

In other words, Trump’s desire to effect major policy shifts in multiple areas will almost certainly damage a whole slew of international relationships without most people in USA benefiting from them. It is sorta like wrecking the house you live in without having a feasible plan to quickly move into a new house. In my opinion, it is unlikely to end well- to put it mildly.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel about Organic Chemical Synthesis

February 1, 2017 Leave a comment

I recently came across an interesting YouTube channel about organic (and inorganic) chemical synthesis. While this might not be of interest to many of my regular readers, it is nonetheless fun to watch.

YouTube Channel – NileRed

Clip 1: How to make Fluorescein.

Clip 2: Making Dibenzalacetone.

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: YouTube