Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Water use: top 10 countries in 2010

From an IMF publication (PDF):
The 'Agricultural Land Area' heading is wrong, it is the total land area of the country.  Noteworthy are that Pakistan is the most water-intensive (water used per unit of GDP) country, and that India's per capita water use is so much higher than China's. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Life as a dhimmi - 16

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A formula for a successful school

This National Public Radio story on Brimley Elementary School in Brimley, Michigan should be listened to; but at least read the transcript.

Salient points below:
Brimley Elementary serves two groups that often struggle academically. Of the 300 students, more than half are Native American. Many come from low-income families.
At this school, American Indian students are outperforming other Natives in the state. The school as a whole performs above the statewide average for all schools, and on some tests, the low-income students are performing at the same level as kids from wealthier families.
First-graders who are having a tough time with reading and writing get one-on-one time with a specialist. There's an intervention teacher for kids in fourth, fifth and sixth grades — they mostly focus on math. There are teachers' aids to help out in all the kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms. And class sizes are small, averaging 22 kids.
There's one more thing. The teachers are constantly assessing their students to make sure they're where they need to be.
And based on the assessments, the bottom one-third of students get a lot of extra help and support.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

India: Japan's Softbank investing in Solar Power

Widely reported in the media,

The Japanese telecoms giant Softbank has announced plans to invest around $20 billion in solar-energy-power projects in India, joining forces with the country’s Bharti Enterprises and Taiwan’s Foxconn as the Indian government targets a massive expansion in the country’s solar output from some 3 gigawatts today to 100 gigawatts by 2022.

Announcing Softbank’s plans, the company’s chief executive Masayoshi Son said, “India can become probably the largest country for solar energy,” Reuters reports.

“India has two times the sunshine of Japan. The cost of construction of the solar park is half of Japan. Twice the sunshine, half the cost, that means four times the efficiency,” Son said. The Softbank venture is aiming at generating least 20 gigawatts of energy — a goal which, if realized, will be a significant boost to Modi’s plans to develop India’s renewable energy infrastructure.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Arun Jaitley at the American Enterprise Institute

Link to the AEI page (no transcript yet).


My commentary:

The questions posed to Arun Jaitley reflect the right-wing ideological bent of the AEI.   They wanted to know whether it is appropriate to compare Modi to Reagan or Thatcher.   They wanted to know whether Jaitley would recommend the Indian-model or Chinese-model to an African finance minister.  And so on.  Basically, I perceive an American right-wing need to use any Indian economic  success as a way of promoting their ideological compulsions with the American electorate, and worldwide, too.

In his responses, Jaitley was very non-ideological.  He said that the problem in India that the government has to address is the 25-30% of people who are in poverty and often in distress, and thus cannot be Reaganesque or Thatcherite.  He must do the 300 small doable things rather than the one big ideological statement that will run into controversy and block everything else.  That every country must assess its own problems and figure out how to address them based on its circumstances. 

A good example is when Jaitley pointed out that he can count on the support of public sector banks for the financing of infrastructure projects and for creating bank accounts for the hundreds of millions of people not covered in the banking sector; the private sector banks are not able to deliver.  So he is in no rush to privatize the public sector banks; he is committed to reducing government equity in those banks. (See this news-item as to why the 125 million new bank accounts are such a big deal.  Among other things, leakage in subsidies to poor people for things like cooking gas or kerosene can be eliminated by government direct-deposit into their bank account.) 

The contrast with the questions Jaitley met with in the Council on Foreign Relations session are marked.  The audience in the CFR wanted to know how Jaitley would address specific problems.  The AEI audience seemed to want to know how Jaitley would advance a free market ideology.  At least in this session, it seemed to me that Jaitley is more interested in solving the problems faced by India's people than adhering to ideological purity. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

China-India comparison

In terms of size of economy in nominal dollar terms, India today is where China was in 2005. (I'm not sure I have it in constant dollars).   In terms of growth rate, China was clocking 10-11% growth rates around 2005, India is today at 7.5-7.8%.  In terms of trade, China's exports of goods and services in 2005 were 37% of GDP (World Bank http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.EXP.GNFS.ZS/countries?page=1 ).  India's today (2013) is 25.2% of GDP.  Incidentally, China's today (2013) is 26.4% of GDP.   China's foreign exchange reserves reached a trillion dollars in October 2006.  India's today are around $350 billion.  China was running huge trade surpluses, India is running at a deficit.

China's growth around 2005 was very much export-led.  I'm not sure how to characterize India's growth.

In 2005, China's domestic credit to the private sector was 113% of GDP.  Today (2013) India's is 52% of GDP. ( http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/FS.AST.PRVT.GD.ZS )

India Power Sector

Via BRF, some tidbits:

1. With 40,000 MW of stalled projects coming online soon, states are scrambling to upgrade their transmission infrastructure.

2. First time in India's history annual power generation crossed 1 trillion units.

3. CEA's data for April 2015 installed capacity (PDF).  The comment added is:
Total nationwide installed capacity: 272.687GW . Between January and April, the number went up from 258GW to 272GW, a significant gain of 14GW in just one quarter. That's equal to the entire operational electricity capacity of a certain unfriendly neighbouring western country, added in a single quarter.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

More on air pollution and energy in India

Wiki says:
Some 800 million Indians use traditional fuels – fuelwood, agricultural waste and biomass cakes – for cooking and general heating needs. These traditional fuels are burnt in cook stoves, known as chulah or chulha in some parts of India. Traditional fuel is inefficient source of energy, its burning releases high levels of smoke, PM10 particulate matter, NOX, SOX, PAHs, polyaromatics, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and other air pollutants. Some reports, including one by the World Health Organisation, claim 300,000 to 400,000 people in India die of indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide poisoning every year because of biomass burning and use of chullahs. Traditional fuel burning in conventional cook stoves releases unnecessarily large amounts of pollutants, between 5 to 15 times higher than industrial combustion of coal, thereby affecting outdoor air quality, haze and smog, chronic health problems, damage to forests, ecosystems and global climate. Burning of biomass and firewood will not stop, these reports claim, unless electricity or clean burning fuel and combustion technologies become reliably available and widely adopted in rural and urban India. The growth of electricity sector in India may help find a sustainable alternative to traditional fuel burning.
This should help, I hope, place Delhi's pollution problems in the right context.

India: Nuclear Power

As far as the atmosphere and CO2 is concerned, nuclear power is clean.  Nuclear power is only a small part of India's electricity generation.  Recent news is that India is on track to double its nuclear energy generation capacity over the next five years.  Also with the lifting of various international sanctions, uranium fuel is available for existing plants and "capacity utilisation of nuclear power plants has improved from 50% in 2008-09 to more than 80% now".

Further, today we are told

India's nuclear programme is set to get a huge boost thanks to three big changes. First, Japan has asked India for a dedicated nuclear reactor site, signaling that not only is it willing to shed all inhibitions of doing nuclear commerce with India but is also keen to be counted with the US, France and Russia as a power building nuclear parks here.

Second, India is giving big contracts for six reactors each to US blue-chip companies GE and Westinghouse. This is a big shift from India's long-standing policy of signing deals for two reactors at one go. The six-reactor deal with the two American companies will mean cheaper pricing for India.

Third, a critical component of the nuclear industry, the insurance structure, will be activated next month when Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) buys a nuclear insurance policy at Rs 100-crore premium from a consortium that includes General Insurance Corporation (GIC) and a group called Nuclear Risk Insurers from Britain.

The goal, per this news-item is to increase nuclear power generation 14-fold over the next two decades.


The seven horses: the prime minister said: “Like the chariot of Surya Bhagwan (Sun God) has seven horses, we need seven horses for energy in today’s age. While thermal, gas, hydro and nuclear are just four, the other three include solar, wind and biomass.” Per this news-item the goals are 100GW of solar power; 60GW of wind power; 10GW of hydro and 20GW MW of biofuel energy by 2022.

But coal will remain the major source of energy with its implications on pollution and CO2. Modi wants to replace old plants with cleaner new ones. The question to me is - where will the huge financing for all of this come from?

Arun Jaitley at CFR

Arun Jaitley at the Council on Foreign Relations : follow the link for video and a transcript.  Or watch it below:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Air Pollution and Clean Power

Regarding air pollution: Was Pittsburgh in the 1940s-50s worse than modern New Delhi or BeijingWas Los Angeles as bad? This set of pictures of then and now may help.

Rich capitalists in the West want Indians to go without electric power rather than cut back themselves on carbon dioxide emissions.  They do not have the temerity to demand this of China.  They mask all this as a pious concern about air pollution in India.

The Western meat-lover's diet - diet alone - is 3.3 tons of CO2  per year.  If he drives a car or flies to Europe for a vacation, he rapidly adds up. E.g., a round trip from New York to Paris, one that a Paul Krugman, for instance, might often take, adds another 0.93 tonsA chap driving 12,000 miles in a 2013 Ford Pickup adds 4.9 metric tons of C02 to the atmosphere.

This World Bank number is a few years out of date, but Indian per capita CO2 emission is 1.7 tons per year (2010-2014).

There is no denying that clean, carbon-neutral energy is important for India and for the planet.  In that regard, the target for solar power in India is ambitious.  Is is unrealistic?
According to the latest announcement, achieving the 100 GW target will require around 600,000 crore, or approximately $100 billion.
According to Bridge to India, there are a number of challenges and setbacks in the government’s way to achieving these targets, including land acquisition, grid infrastructure, and financing. The group found that it would take around $40 billion worth of debt for the country to reach the 60 GWs of utility-scale solar it aims to install by 2022. 
The American Republican Party is in denial about climate change, just listen to its Presidential aspirtants. The GOP hardly enables infrastructure investment within America.  It is therefore likely that however this plays out, America will not play a significant role in helping finance clean power for India.  It might behoove Americans (except Sun Edison and First Solar and such), then, to keep silent rather than poking at India.

Forbes, India, has an article about all the obstacles to achieving a 100 GW solar power target.

The government, despite pushing for the development of renewable energy, did not specify a roadmap to achieve its proposed targets in the Union Budget of 2015: The announcements of reduced taxes and increased buy-back rates made in the budget would have negligible effect on the cost of production. But Vineet Mittal, vice-chairman of Welspun Renewables, is confident of policy changes in the future: “Prime Minister Modi is passionate about clean energy. He understands the energy sector better than other politicians because he turned it around for Gujarat… The MNRE and Piyush Goyal [minister of state with independent charge for power, coal and new & renewable energy] were very scientific about this. They’ve been consulting us since July.” The Welspun Group has been one of the early movers in the solar sector and has pledged to develop 8.6 GW of solar power. The government has decided to revive the long-pending Renewable Energy Bill which will cover several aspects related to the generation and distribution of clean energy. Mittal believes the Bill, if ratified by Parliament into an Act, should increase RPOs to 15 percent and provide routes for financing, such as infrastructure funds and green energy bonds.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Amitav Ghosh on the Opium Wars

From this review/interview:

Amitav Ghosh, the acclaimed 58-year-old Indian novelist, is describing his extraordinary Ibis trilogy which has just concluded with the publication of the equally stupendous Flood of Fire. A decade in the writing, this exciting, passionate and scathing account of the First Opium War deserves to stand as one of the outstanding achievements of 21st-century literature.

In Ghosh’s telling, English merchants’ expansionist policy of selling opium, grown in India by near-slave labour, and sold in China where there was a vast illegal market, did not simply mark the foundations of the British Empire. It signalled a new form of global trade and politics, laying the foundations of outsourcing, migrant populations and truly international foreign relations – all driven by advances in military technology and realpolitik.
“It’s strange that the world pays such little attention to the Opium Wars, but opium was perhaps the largest single trade of the 19th century. All the profits went to England. All the work was done by Indians. All the silver came from China which was consuming it. It was one of the most iniquitous things that has ever happened in the history of mankind.”

India's Ambitious Power Plans

Via BRF, this outline of India's planned power sector growth:

The government has not announced how much power is required to ensure 24 x 7 supply to all Indian households by 2019. But in its reports it talks of an addition of more than 200,000 Mw of power capacity in eight years by 2022. This is more than three-fourths of the power capacity added by the country over six decades.

To put this 200,000-Mw target in perspective: In the 11th Five-Year Plan, India added only about one-fourth of it. The addition in 2007-12 was 54,964 Mw, against a target of 78,700 Mw.

The 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17), prepared under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, had planned to add 118,536 Mw. Of this, 51,795 Mw was added in the first two years of the Plan, while the remaining 66,740 Mw was to be added by 2017 . But the current government hopes to double this and add 115,603 Mw by 2017. From 2017 to 2022, the government aims to add 101,745 Mw.

This means the power added in three years from 2014-17 will be more than what will be added in the five years after.

Even this unprecedented target may not be sufficient to meet the requirements for a 24x7 target, as the government report acknowledges, noting, "these assessments have been for the purpose of transmission planning, and not for assessing generation capacity required for meeting the demands."
 Most of the added power generation will be coal.

India's dependence on coal could have been reduced if there was clarity on how gas production would ramp up. But the state Plans reflect uncertainty on this front. The Andhra Pradesh Plan notes that 2.5 mscmd of gas is being supplied against a requirement of 13 mscmd, just enough for 500 Mw, leaving 2,270 Mw of capacity stranded. It does not clarify how much gas supply it will get in the future. The power ministry calculated that 14,305 Mw of gas-based plants were left stranded in the April 2014-January 2015 period . The government has formulated a new scheme for import of gas to ease the mess in the sector.

The other potential source of energy, large hydropower, locked up in issues of litigation, displacement and environment, has grown at a much lower rate than expected . Only 5,544 Mw of hydro power was installed during the 11th Five-Year Plan, against a target of 15,627 Mw. The government is pushing states in the Northeast to cancel memoranda of association with private players and hand over hydropower projects to the public sector.

Even as the NDA government disentangles the hydropower sector out of the mess, it has given a thrust to the emerging renewable energy sectors, setting a 100-Gw target for solar power and a 60-Gw one for wind power. The rate of growth it desires is unprecedented. But the government is not inclined to formally announce these numbers as official targets under the UN climate change agreement, to be signed in December 2015 - an indication that these may be more aspirational than real.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Mr. & Mrs. Robin decided to build a nest in a crab-apple shrub right next to an outdoor faucet that I use to water my backyard.  Mrs. Robin went ahead and laid eggs, and I was concerned because there was no way I could avoid going by that shrub quite often, and the Robin family might then abandon the nest.  This picture above I took on May 11 with an iPhone.

But the Robins persisted.  There would be a fluttering in the bush, and a robin would fly out sometimes when I passed by, and that is how I knew that they hadn't given up.

The eggs had hatched by May 26, there were at least 2 babies in the nest that I could make out from a distance, by their upturned beaks. The web says the eggs take 12 to 14 days to hatch, so they likely hatched during around the Memorial Day weekend.

The web says that the baby birds stay in the nest 9-16 days.  After which they leave the nest, not yet ready to fly.  They live on the ground hiding in the bushes, still taken care of by their parents for another couple of weeks.  So one evening when it appeared no one was around, I checked, and the nest was empty.  I thought that I would learn nothing further about this family.

Until this morning, when I was changing out the hummingbird feeder, and right there was this little fellow. It stood still as a rock, petrified I thought, but fifteen minutes later when I checked again, it had gone.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

On Delhi's pollution

Friday, June 12, 2015

Sanskrit Immortal


After explaining some chitrakaavya, the author Suhas Mahesh writes:

The Rāmāyaṇa is atleast 2500 years old. The hanumannāṭaka came more than 1500 years after it. And more than a millennium later came Rāma Śāstrī. And half a century later came Bacchu Subbarāyagupta. This literary chain may not seem unusual at first glance, yet it is an extraordinary thing to happen in a language. Languages come with lifetimes of less than a millennium. Old English is as intelligible to me as Hebrew. Reading Geoffrey Chaucer is like wading through quicksand. Time will ensure libraries move Shakespeare from the literature section to history section. But frozen in time by the spell of Pāṇini, only Classical Sanskrit will remain untouched. A few hundred years from now, a young boy (or girl), having taught himself Sanskrit, may decide to write a work to top Rāma Śāstrī. The poet to top Kālidasa may well be born a thousand years from now. My own descendants may spend a sunday afternoon, sipping soylent, and laughing at their ancestor’s metrical misadventures. How absurd it is to label such a language dead! Immortal is more like it.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How was Niall Ferguson ever taken seriously?

Jonathan Chiat explains.

Committing the odd factual error is an occupational hazard in journalism. For Niall Ferguson, the commission of error is more than a hazard. It’s a cherished way of life. Ferguson’s distinct contribution to the contemporary political debate is the fascinating juxtaposition of his prestige — author, Harvard professor, resident faculty member of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, omnipresent talking head, and all-around handsome authority figure — with an inability to get his facts straight. There is, of course, a link between the two aspects of Ferguson’s profile: Only a figure of his standing would have the ability to publish wildly erroneous claims in major mainstream publications.

Ferguson has finally put his practice into theory. Apparently aware that his habits require a broader defense than “whoops,” his latest Spectator column assails his many fact-checkers for their literalness, and gestures toward a novel theory of truth.
.....  {Some examples}
Since David Cameron is irrefutably good, and Obama irrefutably bad, Ferguson should be free to make any factual statement on behalf of the former and against the latter without being hounded by “fact-checkers.”

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Two phase Indo-European movement

NYT:  In an article on the ancestry of Europeans based on new DNA findings:

Paul Heggarty, a linguist at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, said that the new studies were important, but were still too limited to settle the debate over the origins of Indo-European. “I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.

Dr. Heggarty noted that the studies showed the arrival of Yamnaya in Central Europe about 4,500 years ago. But Greek is an Indo-European language, and the oldest evidence of writing in Europe shows that Greek had developed about 3,500 years ago. By then, it was distinct from other Indo-European languages in Southern Europe, like Latin.

If the Yamnaya were the source of Indo-European languages, they would have had to get to southern Europe soon after they made it to Central Europe.

Dr. Heggarty speculated instead that early European farmers, the second wave of immigrants, may have brought Indo-European to Europe from the Near East. Then, thousands of years later, the Yamnaya brought the language again to Central Europe.
This last has been my speculation, too, that the Harappan civilization was Indo-European, and then there was a second wave of Indo-European migration.   That would account for the Indian geography of the Rg Veda with less than 400 words with non-Indo-European roots in its 10,000+ word vocabulary; and the lack of non-Indo-European place names, the horse, etc.,etc.,etc.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Chinese rip-off of Pakistan?

Much is being made of the promised Chinese investment of $46 billion in Pakistan.
The plans envisage adding 10,400 megawatts of electricity at a cost of $15.5 billion by 2018. 
The China power deals with Pakistan are at $1.5 billion or so per 1000 MW of installed power.

In contrast, in Bangladesh,
"Reliance Power and BPDB today signed a MoU to develop four units of power plants to produce 3,000 MW of electricity with a cost of $3 billion," the company said in a statement. .....Adani Power will set up two coal-fired plants with a total capacity of 1,600 MW that will cost more than $1.5 billion.
The Indian companies are doing it in Bangladesh at $1 billion per 1000 MW.

This is consistent with Tata Power in Vietnam:
Long Phu 3 plant is also expected to cost roughly $2 billion, with a capacity of 2,000 MW.

Back to Pakistan:
The 1,320 megawatts coal-fired power plant, known as Port Qasim Power Project, near Karachi will be jointly carried out by Chinese Power Construction Corp with 51% and Qatar’s Al Mirqab Capital with 49% stakes in the project with a total cost of $2.1 billion.
The above is about $1.6 billion per 1000 MW, and this is without overhead one might think is contributing to the costs in other projects (e.g., setting up coal mining in Thar, or setting up railway capacity to transport coal from the port city Karachi to the interior of Punjab).

Same article, here's the Thar project, where mines will be set up to use coal relatively recently discovered in Thar:
The mining will cost $950 million while $1.1 billion will be required for power generation for the 660 megawatts coal-fired power project, he said.
$1.1B for 660MW works out to about $1.6B per 1000 MW.

It would seem to me that friendship with China is costing Pakistan 50% above the market rate for power plants. The friendship has to be indeed taller than mountains and deeper than seas for it to survive market forces.

I hesitate to call it the Chinese rip-off of Pakistan only because the Pakistanis have successfully extracted billions out of the US of A without giving anything substantial in return; and it may be in their nature to try to do the same with the Chinese.

PS: the cost in the US for a new coal power plant ranges from $3B to $6.6B per 1000 MW but I would expect costs in Pakistan to be more in line with Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Physics - A New Theory to Explain the Higgs Mass

Via a comment by David Metzler on Peter Woit's blog - this article explains a new proposal that explains the mass of the Higgs particle.

Here is the arxiv.org pre-print: http://arxiv.org/abs/1504.07551.
Cosmological Relaxation of the Electroweak Scale
A new class of solutions to the electroweak hierarchy problem is presented that does not require either weak scale dynamics or anthropics. Dynamical evolution during the early universe drives the Higgs mass to a value much smaller than the cutoff. The simplest model has the particle content of the standard model plus a QCD axion and an inflation sector. The highest cutoff achieved in any technically natural model is 10^8 GeV. 
In all the years since I crashed out of theoretical particle physics, I have not come across any work that I wish I had done. Of course, that may be due to my ignorance.  This, to me, is a strong candidate for such a work.  That too, may be due to my ignorance.   Ignorance is bliss, isn't it?

So I should explain why I think this paper is important.  I think the article at the first link explains to a non-physicist the problem that this paper solves about as well as is possible (until someone like Sabine Hossenfelder decides to write about it, something which we should all devoutly hope for.)

Let's just say that the Standard Model of particle physics has a problem, and the orthodoxy for the past many decades has been to try to solve it by tacking on additional particles and even things such as additional dimensions of space.   This paper solves the problem - provides an ansatz may be more accurate - without adding any such things. Its particular models may ultimately not be viable;  but it has broken the logjam; it is a demonstration that the huge zoo of postulated additional particles and such constructs of the theorists is not necessary to solve the problem, and thus is a good corrective to the last 30-40 years of mainstream particle physics theory.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing in this paper's content that could not have been figured out twenty years ago.  Perhaps it is the salutary shock of finding absolutely no trace at the cutting edge of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the theorists' burgeoning menagerie that enabled the mental break with the orthodoxy.  And thus it should be, physics is an experimental science; it is most certainly not mathematics.