Thursday, June 27, 2013

Two US bloggers banned from entering the UK

Two US blogger, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have been banned from entering the UK.  The  Sri Lankan aspect is that Pam Geller and her Atlas Shrugs website were at the forefront in preventing Rifqua Bary, a Sri Lankan girl in the US being re-united with her parents.  Pamela Geller paid and fueled the controversy to headlines by insisting Rifqua would be killed if she returned to her parents, i.e. honor killing.  Pamela Geller went on on to denounce honor killing was common practice in Sri Lanka.  Background on Pam Geller here.

Excerpts from BBC article
Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer co-founded anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of America.

They were due to speak at an English Defence League march in Woolwich, where Drummer Lee Rigby was killed

The letters, (Page 1 and Page 2)  both dated Tuesday, claim that both activists have fallen within the scope of a list of unacceptable behaviours by making statements which may "foster hatred" and lead to "inter-community violence" in the UK.

Both letters gave examples of anti-Muslim views stated by both and went on to say that should they be allowed to enter the UK the home secretary believes they would "continue to espouse such views".

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Leopards in Mumbai, yes Mumbai

Saw this article today about video of a dog being attacked by a leopard in Mumbai.  I was just curious as to how Mumbai of all places have leopards in their backyard while Sri Lankans have to spend hours running around in National Parks to get a glimpse of a leopard. 

So did a little googling and found this gem of an article from 2007 explaining the why and wherefores. The main reason being that they are a spillover from the Borivali National Park, which also has an approx 80 acres fenced area for Lions and Tigers.  

50 People Killed Since 200023 Leopards Caught Roaming The City World's Highest Leopard Density
The leopards stray from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), commonly known as Borivali National Park, 103 square kilo meters of jungle (for comparison Kumana National Park is 181 square kilo meters) that lies surrounded by the city's overcrowded areas and desirable northern suburbs. The only large protected area to be located inside a major metropolis, SGNP holds more than 1,000 species of plant, 251 species of bird - more than in the entire UK - and 40 species of mammal. It also boasts the world's highest density of leopards.

The Park's two major lakes, Vihar and Tulsi, provide eight per cent of Mumbai's drinking water, while its forests act as a vital sink, absorbing the city's choking pollution. Some call SNGP the "lungs of Mumbai", and without it, scientists believe the city would drown in its own poison.

The population of the leopard's natural prey-wild pig and chital deer-began to dwindle. Faced with a food shortage, the world's most versatile felid took to hunting on the fringes of the slum villages, preying largely on the stray dogs that roam in packs among the uncollected rubbish.

Hunting so close to human habitation have meant that some leopards have lost their natural fear of people, leading to incidents where children have been snatched from their homes while their parents slept.

Given that the human disturbance in the park had been reduced, why then have the attacks on humans increased so sharply over the past five years?

Most experts agree that one of the root causes for the trend was the closure by the building boom of important corridors that had previously allowed leopards to migrate and disperse to other suitable habitats. Hemmed in by development, young leopards seeking to establish their own territories had little choice but to move into industrial grounds and even gardens on the park's periphery.


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Friday, June 21, 2013

Amartya Sen: Why India Trails China: Lessons for Sri Lanka

This was a NY Times op-ed by  "Nobel Memorial Economics" prize winner Amartya Sen.  Amartya Sen  covers most of the known issues such as
  • a) India has done worse than China in educating its citizens and improving their health?
  • b) Death by Famine in China (I will address this issue at end)
  • c) Education at all levels of society.
One aspect Amartya Sen does not cover is the role of religion.  China may have followed Confucianism and Buddhism in the past, but under Mao it was made secular.  India remains religious, and even tolerant of the base (pun intended) ideas of the "Varna Dharma".  The Asian Tigers: Japan, Taiwan, Korea too are now to a great extent secular regardless of their original/present religious affiliations.

What are the take home messages for Sri Lanka,  which is in transition. 

Excerpts of NYT article

In China, decision making takes place at the top. The country’s leaders are skeptical, if not hostile, with regard to the value of multiparty democracy, but they have been strongly committed to eliminating hunger, illiteracy and medical neglect, and that is enormously to their credit.
Unlike India, China did not miss the huge lesson of Asian economic development, about the economic returns that come from bettering human lives, especially at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid.
India’s growth and its earnings from exports have tended to depend narrowly on a few sectors, like information technology, pharmaceuticals and specialized auto parts, many of which rely on the role of highly trained personnel from the well-educated classes
For India to match China in its range of manufacturing capacity — its ability to produce gadgets of almost every kind, with increasing use of technology and better quality control — it needs a better-educated and healthier labor force at all levels of society.

India has not had a famine since independence, while China had the largest famine in recorded history, from 1958 to 1961, when Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward killed some 30 million people.
India may not have had a famine since independence.  In reality what happens is attrition by  malnutrition and starvation. In India 27 million children are born each year , but nearly 2 million of them are dead by the age of five.  Also as the Wall Street Journal reports (read comments too) the most tragic and outrageous consequence of India’s failure to feed its people adequately: starvation deaths.

NYT Op-Ed:

George W. Bush’s G-G-G-G-Grandfather Was a Slave Trader

First a few excerpts on George Bush's grandfather and then on the slave trade and a comparison to agency fees of Sri Lankan maids sent to the Mid-East.

Slavery was a very lucrative business. And from England, it was called the Triangle Trade, Ships would leave Liverpool to Africa with various manufactured goods, like cloth, copper ring and other produce like Cowrie shells from the Maldives.  In Africa the goods were traded for slaves. From there the ship set off for t he Carribean and what is now is the USA.  There the slaves were sold and the ship was loaded with cotton and sugar.  On arrival in England, the cotton and sugar was sold.

As with everything there is good and bad. Some of the innovative finance aspects  like shares (as in stock exchanges) and insurance started getting greater use with the slave trade.

Thomas Walker George W. Bush’s G-G-G-G-Grandfather
Thomas Walker was a notorious slave trader active in the late 18th century along the coast of West Africa. Walker, George H.W. Bush's great-great-great grandfather, was the captain of, master of, or investor in at least 11 slaving voyages to West Africa between 1784 and 1792.
Scores of European merchants and American plantation owners grew rich on the trade that transported more than 10 million Africans to North America, the Caribbean, and Brazil between 1550 and 1850. Bush's family, like many others, has previously been identified as slave owners in the United States. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at least five Walker family households, George W. Bush’s ancestors by his father’s mother, owned slaves in Maryland’s Cecil County.
Macaulay’s journal entry for Oct. 24, 1797, is as follows: “You have heard of the noted Beau Walker, an English slave trader of these parts. He arrived at the Isles Du Los [off present-day Guinea] lately in an American Brig being bound to Cape Mount [in present-day northwest Liberia] for slaves. He had scarce arrived at the last place, when exercising his usual barbarities on his officers and crew, they were provoked to conspire against him.
The Slave Trade

Initially slaving was strictly controlled and a monopoly company, the Royal African Company, was created by Charles II, with his brother, the Duke of York and future King James II, heavily involved. But the company's monopoly was unpopular, particularly with merchants in Bristol who successfully lobbied for its removal in 1698.

The Good:
The worst incident we know of was aboard the Zong, when Captain Luke Collingwood had many sick Africans and thought they would die. He told the crew they were running out of water and over a three day period he ordered 132 slaves to be thrown overboard. His logic was that if they died from starvation his owners could not claim insurance but they could if the enslaved died from 'perils of the sea'. The insurers disputed the claim and it led to a court case - but the insurers lost

Shares (also think Venture Capitalists)
This arrangement of sharing the investment in a voyage was one long practiced by merchants trading abroad in any trade. The risk of losing a ship was a severe blow but if shared could usually be coped with. It was better to invest in say six voyages with five other people than each invest everything in a single voyage. Although the profit was shared, so also was the risk. Each voyage was made up of 64 shares and investors would often have between 6 and 8 shares but it could be smaller. Often the captain of the voyage was a small shareholder - giving him a personal interest in the outcome! Peter Potter, Captain of the Essex, for instance was the third largest shareholder in the ship in 1783

The Bad:
'When the women and girls are taken on board a ship, naked, trembling, terrified... They are often exposed to the wanton rudeness of white savages... Resistance or refusal would be utterly in vain.'
They were fed twice a day, usually on a stew made of beans and or yams and they were also allowed bread and water.  Luke Mann was instructed by his owners: 'You must not give your slaves too much provisions; they are accustomed to low diet in their own country.

The Economics
Thomas Leyland and Thomas Molyneux were equally successful with the voyage of the Enterprize in 1794.
                        1794 Cost     Current Value (USD)
               Costs*:   £12,000             1,016,400
 Sale of 356 Africans:   £22,000             1,863,400
              Profits:   £10,000               847,000
                                    ROI of  £12,000 (USD 1,000,000) :   83% Thats about USD
Thats USD 5,000 per slave in todays value.  Isnt that what is paid to agents to send a Sri Lankan maid to the  Middle East.  Looks like the prices have not changed much.
*Costs =agents' commission £3000, the cost of the cargo £4500, outfitting and other costs £2500, wages £1300, costs on the voyage £950

Links to the original articles

Monday, June 10, 2013

Water Wars: Dam Blue Nile in Ethiopia

The Blue Nile which comes from the Ethiopian highlands supplies 50% of the water to the Nile in Egypt.  Construction of the Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia started in 2011, filling of the dam is expected to start in 2015 and completed by 2017.

Now Younis Makhyoun the head of Islamist Al-Nour party in Egypt, suggests the dam should be sabotaged.
“Egypt can coordinate with rebels in Ethiopia and use them as a bargaining chip with the Ethiopian government” Makhyoun said. “If this fails, then there is no choice but to use intelligence to destroy the dam.”
In 2011 the Economist commented
How will Ethiopia pay? Chinese banks are apparently underwriting the cost of turbines and other electrical equipment.

Neither the World Bank nor private investors are willing to put up the cash, since Ethiopia has failed to create partnerships with power companies in neighbouring countries to which it could sell electricity. The Nile's geology may be favourable for dam building, but the flow of money is not.
Background on Ethiopia
Ethiopian History starts around 700 BC and became Christian around 300 A.D.  It has been the only country (Abyssinia at that time) in  Africa that was not colonized by Europeans.  In 1936 Mussolini occupied part of Ethiopia.  The Italians formed the colony of Eritrea and approx 40K Italian colonists were settled in the colony.  Italys occupation ended after World War II.  The Eritrean war of Independence lasted 30 years (1961 – 1991). One of the British proposals was that Eritrea be divided along religious lines with the Christians to Ethiopia and the Muslims to Sudan. 

The Ethiopian Highlands called the Roof of Africa forms the largest continuous area where  little of its surface falls below 1500 m (4,921 ft), while the summits reach heights of up to 4550 m (14,928 ft). Because of the height these mountains catch the precipitation of the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean, resulting in a rainy season that lasts from June until mid-September. These heavy rains cause the Nile to flood in the summer, a phenomenon that puzzled the ancient Greeks, as the summer is the driest season in the Mediterranean climate that they knew.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

NY Times: Sri Lankans in Staten Island

And so, while many New Yorkers may be surprised to hear that Staten Island has one of the highest concentrations of Sri Lankans outside Sri Lanka, connoisseurs of ethnic food began mapping that population, or at least its food, years ago. They wrote lyrically of the lampries and string hopper kothus, the fried lentil cakes and pithus, and the godamba rotis and dhosas, as if sending reports from a distant land. Sri Lankans, many fleeing the civil war in their country, began settling in Staten Island several decades ago; by some estimates, more than 5,000 people of Sri Lankan descent live in the borough. They are scattered throughout the island, though the commercial focus of the population is a short stretch of Victory Boulevard where it intersects with Cebra Street.
Lakruwana Restaurant

There are three Sri Lankan restaurants at that intersection alongside two grocery stores selling Sri Lankan staples and specialty products like dry fish and jaggery, lotus root and banana blossoms. A third grocery store is further down Victory Boulevard, and two other restaurants are on Bay Street including San Rasa (226 Bay Street; 718-420-0027) and Lakruwana (668 Bay Street; 347- 857-6619), which was reviewed in The New York Times by the restaurant critic Pete Wells this year. On weekends, Sri Lankan men play cricket on the grounds of the South Beach Psychiatric Center and elsewhere.

On a recent Sunday, hundreds of Sri Lankans gathered at a campground in Staten Island for their New Year celebrations, which included a traditional oil-lighting ceremony, live baila music and competitive events, including coconut-scraping and bun-eating contests. The biggest-belly competition was canceled because of the lateness of the hour.

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gold: Buy or Sell and Price Calculator (Updated)

Update June 26, 2013:  Gold is now below marginal cost of production estimated at $1300 including capex.

Update June 20, 2013: The Futures based spot price has dropped to USD 1,300/oz.  US Mint prices are still USD 1,650/oz and above.  I guess we are seeing the demise of paper gold, i.e. the irrelevancy of cash settled Gold futures.

There is a lot of interest in Gold specially after the spectacular drop in price on Friday April 12th this year (2013).  There are many opinions on whether gold price will drop further (e.g. Nouriel Roubini) or gold will go higher (e.g. Jim Rogers and Marc Faber).  This post is not investment advice, but educational in what you should be considering if you plan to either buy or sell gold.  There is also an calculator on this page to convert gold spot price which quoted in USD/oz to get price of sovereign ("pauma") in LKR.

Gold Spot Price
Before any discussion on factors that influence gold prices it is important to know what Gold Spot Price means.   The gold spot price is a calculated price based on the most active futures being traded typically at COMEX.   Currently most Gold (and other commodities) futures contracts are settled in cash as against physically, i.e. real gold no longer changes hands thru the exchanges.  (See an introduction to Futures and trading on Margin).

Gold Price Collapse on April 12th 2013
The drop was because of 100 tonnes (about 15% of annual gold mine production) of gold futures was sold/dumped on Friday 12th.   If someone was really wanting to get the best price then futures would have been sold in small quantities spread over time.  However, in this case the reason was to push gold prices.  As the trading was on margin, to enter the trade worth USD 20 billion, all that was needed was USD 1 billion.  Note that, to do the trade the sellers did not even need to have even one ounce of the 400 tonnes of Gold futures they were selling[note]. Before the end of the day the Futures sellers probably have already made their money when the prices dropped below their selling price.  You just buy Futures contracts at price below what you sold, cover the contract and out of the market.   All on margin,  i.e. a large profitable gamble.

There is a strong possibility that there is going to be a disconnect between gold spot prices based on futures and actual prices paid for bullion.  i.e. The price paid to buy gold coins and bullion are going to be at a premium compared to the exchange spot prices.  For instance the US mint price for 1 oz gold Buffalo (0.999 purity) coins were $1,649 to $1,799.  The US mint prices for Gold eagles (0.9167 purity) were $1,599 - $1,799.  Spot prices are (week of June10 to15, 2013) were around USD 1,380.  Thats a minimum of $200 (15%) markup from spot prices.

The Pros for Increase in Price of Gold Bullion (see Marc Faber)

a) Increasing Purchases of gold by Central Banks (see here and here)
b) Increased purchases of Gold by consumers in China and India
c) Devaluation of USD and EUR because of US Federal Reserve (Fed) and European Central Bank(ECB) pumping money (QE) into system

The Cons for Increase in Price of Gold Bullion (see Roubini)

a) Political (War) Crises are ending.
b) Economies are recovering and Interest rates are rising.
c) Countries with debt (e.g. Cyprus, Greece) are selling
gold reserves.

Like I said I am not giving investment advice. You check the pro and cons of buying gold and make a decision and it should be long term of at least three or more year horizon.
Gold Price at WSJ
Gold Price at Kitco
USDLKR Exchange rate

Calculator to convert price in USD/oz
USD per oz USD LKR Tax Rate Enter USD/oz, exchange rate
Tax and calculate
USD per gm LKR per gm* LKR per soverign* LKR per oz*

You can check Sea Street Prices at Alawdeen Jewellers  

Implied USD price less Tax based on Sea Street Price
LKR per Sov USD LKR Tax Rate Enter LKR/sovereign, exchange rate
Tax and calculate
Implied USD per gm^ Implied USD per oz^ LKR per gm LKR per oz
Expect the Sea street prices to be higher than spot rate and exchange rate conversion. Thats because of duty etc.  India just raised duty on gold because of increased demand

[note]Remember, this is not Physical gold you are selling, its paper/cash settled so you dont need to have 400 tonnes of Gold, just the margins in Cash.

Commodity Futures: Background for Gold Prices

This post is a background on on commodity futures, which include oil, wheat , gold etc to understand the difference between Physical Gold and Gold Futures prices.   It is a primer to understand the post on Gold: Buy or Sell and Price Calculator.

A future is basically locking in a price now to buy something in the future. There are two important aspects to the Futures Market.
  • In the past futures market was physically settled.  
  • Futures contracts are on Margin
Physically vs Cash Settled
  •  If you bought a futures contract on oil and forgot to sell it off before settle day you could have a tanker load of oil on your hands.  Happened to one of my Trader bosses when he was a rookie trader.  
  • If you sell the future, and dont getting around selling your contract before settlement day you would need to find an tanker full of oil to settle the contract
Now futures can be (and often are) cash settled. In the case of Gold very few want to be the sellers of a physically settled gold contract.  Thats because its harder to locate or want to sell  physical gold.
The basic idea is that you can enter into a futures contract with a percentage upfront.  So if you buy a contract that is worth $1,000 on the day you would need to put up $100 (10% margin).  There are other issues called maintenance Margins, which we wont get into.  As a buyer of the futures contract, if the price goes up to say $1,200 it does not matter or you can sell your contact and make a profit  of $200. 
Now the tricky part. Say half way before settle date the futures price drops to $750. You have a couple of options.
  • a)You can either sell the contract and loose $250 which includes the $100 margin which you initially put up
If you want keep the contract you need to put up another $25 margin. You can look at the $25 margin in two ways,
  • You are going to loose/pay $250 more and need to put up $25 i.e 10% of $250
  • You owe the exchange 1,250, i.e a margin of $125 less the initial $100 is $25.  The $1,250 is  based on the 1,000 price you have contract to buy and the $250 you loose when you sell the contract at $750. 
So now that you understand Futures, you can understand how on May 12th 2013 the selling of gold futures would have have made the sellers of the futures, profits in one day.

The drop was because of 100 tonnes (about 15% of annual gold mine production) of gold futures was sold/dumped on Friday 12th*.    Futures sellers probably have already made their money when the prices dropped below their selling price.  You just buy Futures contracts at price below what you sold, cover the contract and out of the market.   All on margin,  i.e. a large profitable gamble

*Remember, this is not Physical gold you are selling, its paper/cash settled so you dont need to have 100 tonnes of Gold, just the margins in Cash.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Michael Douglas says Oral Sex caused Throat Cancer

Michael Douglas, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010, says oral sex was the cause.  He went on to add that if you have it, oral sex is also the best cure.

So are Michael Douglas's comments medically correct.

So excerpts:
There are more than 100 variants of HPV, otherwise known as the human papilloma virus, and they appear in different parts of the body and manifest in different ways – some, for example, can cause warts (including genital warts), while in most cases most appear symptomless

 HPV is really, really common – to the point that if you're a sexually active adult, you've probably had it. By the age of 25, 90% of sexually active people will have been exposed to some form of genital HPV (whether high or low risk), almost none of whom will ever have had any visible warts or other symptoms.

US study found the prevalence of HPV in the mouths of men was 10%, versus 3.6% for women. Overall, HPV-related oral cancers are most common in heterosexual men in their 40s and 50s, leading the NHS guide to conclude that:

This indicates that performing cunnilingus (oral sex on a woman) is more risky that performing fellatio (oral sex on a man). This seems counterintuitive, but the concentration of HPV in the thinner moist skin of the vulva is mugh higher than the amounts of virus shed from the thicker dry skin of the penis, and this affects how easy it is to pass the virus on.
 Douglas used HPV to exonerate smoking for his particular cancer. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests he wasn't quite right to do so. Most people rid themselves of HPV within a few years of catching it – but smoking disrupts this process, meaning the virus remains for far longer in smokers than non-smokers, increasing their risk of HPV-related cancers of all varieties.


578 Influenza Patients in SL: Or is it the MERS-CoV (Update)

The Nation reports that  4 people have died and 578 have been diagnosed with Influenza. The symptoms are fever, dry cough, muscle and joint pain, tiredness and extreme exhaustion, prolonged headache or sore throat.

Meanwhile there is a MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)  initially named Novel Corona Virus (nCoV) that has been affecting Gulf Countries and has also spread to UK and France.

Update:  June 03-2013
Has spread to Italy, 3 cases detected

The Center For Disease Control (CDC) reports
From April 2012 to May 2013, a total of 33 people from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and France were confirmed to have an infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • Saudi Arabia: 24 people; 13 of them died
  • Qatar: 2 people; both survived
  • Jordan: 2 people; both died
  • UK: 3 people; 2 died, 1 recovered
  • UAE: 1 person; died
  • France: 1 person, receiving treatment 
Symptoms of novel coronavirus infection?
Most people who got infected with the novel coronavirus developed severe acute respiratory illness with symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Only two people experienced a mild respiratory illness
Update June 1st
Of the 50 people who contacted the disease 30 died.
The authors of the study estimated the incubation period at 9-12 days, a long time in which infected people could spread the disease without realizing that they are ill. It still isn’t certain at what stage people carrying the virus are most contagious, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Another concern is that the virus is difficult to identify. Yet doctors could not confirm the presence of the MERS virus in the youngest of the patients, and were not able to confirm it in the two who died until after they passed away.

For more information, see the World Health Organization (WHO)External Web Site Icon.


Vinegar a Test for Cervical Cancer

In Sri Lanka about 1,250 cases of cervical cancer are detected each year.  Nearly 50 percent of the patients die each year and is the second most dangerous cancer amongst women after breast cancer (LBO). Testing for cervical cancer in its initial stages is done by a Pap smear which requires laboratory work.

Now there is a simple visual test for cervical cancer using vinegar.

A simple vinegar test slashed cervical cancer death rates by one-third in a remarkable study of 150,000 women in the slums of India, where the disease is the top cancer killer of women.

This study tried a test that costs very little and can be done by local people with just two weeks of training and no fancy lab equipment. They swab the cervix with diluted vinegar, which can make abnormal cells briefly change color.

"It's just not possible to provide Pap smear screening in developing countries. We don't have that kind of money" or the staff or equipment, so a simpler method had to be found, Shastri said.

More progress against cervical cancer may come from last month's announcement that two companies will drastically lower prices on HPV vaccines for poor countries. Pilot projects will begin in Asia and Africa; the campaign aims to vaccinate more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries by 2020.