Day By Day

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Los Indignados

Placing the Occupy movement in  global context, Guy Sorman notes strong similarities among the youth risings in several countries. They are all beneficiaries of new communications technologies and as such are reminiscent of earlier movements that disrupted established orders.
New media are often the drivers of such change, opening new worlds and giving birth to new worldviews, for good or for ill. Who would have guessed, as the fifteenth century waned, that the Gutenberg printing press would revolutionize Western civilization by giving millions of Christian believers direct access to the Bible? Or, centuries later, that radio would allow fascism to flourish?
Unlike most earlier movements, though, the American occupiers and their analogues in other countries are remarkable in the extent to which they are animated by emotion rather than ideology. They assault the dominant institutions of their societies but conspicuously lack any clear alternative vision.

[F]or many of the protesters, the alternative to the hated system is the rebellion itself. Spontaneity, sharing, being together—these characteristics of the various occupations, the rebels believe, reflect how society should work. One might describe this communitarianism as new, but it does recall Romantic figures like John Ruskin, who reacted against industrialization, capitalism, and modern individualism and imagined an idealized premodern past. The nostalgia for some idealized communal past may even partly explain the political success of radical Muslim organizations in Egypt and Tunisia: in the time of Mohammed and his immediate successors, these groups claim, Muslims were a warm, unified community. Why can’t we bring that back today?

As with all political nostalgias, contradictions abound, just as they did when the antimodern Gandhi, who drew inspiration from Ruskin, happily used British-built railways to cross India. Today’s Chilean protesters want to ban electrical power plants but couldn’t imagine life without the Internet, any more than the occupiers of Zuccotti Park could survive without their cell phones and social-media apps—the latest innovations of the capitalist system that they despise.
It is far too soon to guess at the impact these various confused but widespread youth revolts will have. In authoritarian countries they might promote greater individual freedom; in free societies they might promote repression and deadly conflict. Or, they might be no more than the tools and fools they often seem to be and will leave no lasting traces. Given the potential for catastrophic destruction in today's highly unstable international system, let us hope it is the latter that is the case.

Read it here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Adventures in India, Part 24 -- The Kama Sutra Temples


The temples of Khajuraho are famous for their representations of all aspects of life, including sexual activities. For this reason they are popularly referred to as the "Kama Sutra Temples" although they have no direct relationship to that philosophical work. They were constructed in the tenth through the twelfth centuries AD, at the height of the Chandela dynasty when Khajuraho was its capital.

Originally there were eighty temples in the complex. Only twenty-five remain today. For centuries they were neglected until in the nineteenth century British explorers rediscovered them. They have since been restored and surrounded by parkland. Today they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and are considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of India.

Each of the temples is covered with elaborate bas relief sculptures.

that consist of representations of all aspects of daily life. About ten percent of these carvings are erotic in nature, and it is these that account for the temples' global fame. Here are pictures of a few of them -- peruse them at your heart's content.

You can see why Victorian Brits were so scandalized by what they found here.

The carvings, erotic and otherwise are found only on the outside of the temples. They are absent from the inside where worship still takes place.

Then it was back to the hotel for lunch and thus fortified we set off for a village tour.

Adventures in India, Part 23 -- Dancers

Continuing our exploration of the Heart of India. We arrived at Khajuraho and checked into the hotel Taj Chandela, ate dinner, and then attended a performance by a local dance troup.

The dances were certainly energetic and the kids were attractive -- it was a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for tour of the "Kama Sutra Temples" scheduled for the next morning.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Adventures in India, Part 16a -- The City Palace

This set of pictures is out of order. I inadvertently skipped them back when I was doing Jaipur. They document our visit to the City Palace which incorporates the Chandra Mahal and the Mubarak Mahal, both constructed during the Eighteenth Century. Today part of the Chandra Mahal still functions as a royal residence, but most of the complex is open to visitors.

Then it was off to see the Birla Temple, constructed in the 1980's. It is an example of modern, as opposed to traditional Hindu temple architecture and even includes stained glass windows. Once again we were asked to take off our shoes, so many of our party, including me, remained outside which is why we have only an exterior view of the structure.

And on the hill overlooking the temple is the Moti Dungri Fort. It is closed to the public and still is used as a royal residence so this distant view will have to do.

That evening we again went out to dinner at a local restaurant where we were entertained by musicians and dancing girls.

And then back through darkened streets to our hotel for a good night's rest.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Climate Debate [continued]

A group of climate scientists who have challenged the ruling orthodoxy on global warming published a piece in the Wall Street Journal outlining their objections [here]. Not surprisingly this prompted a strong response from the American Physical Society, which has been a bastion of warmist sentiment. Now they publish a response to the APS here. It makes for interesting reading and an implied criticism of how big science is done these days.

And the beat goes on...., the beat goes on....

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Is America in decline internationally, or is that merely an illusion? Dan Drezner moderates a debate between Gideon Rachman and Robert Kagan in Foreign Policy. Lots of interesting perspectives and commentary in this one. Surprisingly, they find more to agree on than disagree. Read it here.

American Whaling

There is a nice piece in The Atlantic by Derek Thompson on the American whaling industry in the nineteenth century. The US once dominated the enterprise but after the Civil War it declined rapidly and by the twentieth century was practically nonexistent. The standard explanation -- declining numbers of whales and competition from petroleum -- is inadequate to explain the rapid extinction of the American whaling industry. Why did it collapse and what does that imply for our present economic circumstances? Read the article and find out here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Adventures in India, Part 22 -- Into the Heart of India

After lunch we climbed again onto the bus and struck out for Madhya Pradesh, which proclaims itself to be the "Heart of India". The specific destination was Khajuraho [more on that later]. Our journey took us through some desperately poor rural regions. The World Bank estimates that there are 400 million people in India living in poverty -- more than in SubSaharan Africa.

As is common throughout the developing world there were a lot of men sitting around watching the world go by. In this nation of more than a billion people under- and unemployment is a big problem.

A village market.

Madhya Pradesh is the great watershed of India, from which several great rivers flow. Here we are crossing one of them.

A middle-class home.

A village well.

Working in the fields. Note that most of the agricultural workers are women.

Believe it or not this was the road we followed as we penetrated into the Heart.

Heading home from the fields.

Here we are approaching the Ban Sagar reservoir, which provides irrigation water to much of central India.

Adventures in India, Part 21 -- Jhansi to Orchha

We detrained in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and took a bus out to Orchha, a small town in the neighboring district of Madhya Pradesh, where we had lunch.

A monument to Mohandas Ghandi, the reformer who gained international fame for his pacifism, but whose economic prescriptions doomed India to remain a largely stagnant subsistence economy through the second half of the Twentieth Century.

In rural India humans live in close contact with livestock, even in the towns.

And in Jhansi, just as in the great cities, the streets are crowded.

Lower class housing, but with a satellite dish.

At Orchha on the banks of the Betwa river we lunched in the midst of impressive Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century temples -- a remembrance of the region's days of glory under the Maharajas.

The family business....

The Betwa River. This area is advertised as a "resort" where people can escape the tumult of the city. That is certainly true -- but there is no escape from the pervasive poverty.

Another reminder of the glorious past -- the Orchha Palace, once the domicile of the local Raja.