Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Signs in Asia of Tsunamis That Struck Centuries Ago

From The New York Times--
"A mega-tsunami rivaling the deadly one in 2004 struck southeast Asia
more than 600 years ago, two teams of geologists said after finding
sedimentary evidence in coastal marshes.

Researchers in Thailand and Indonesia wrote in two articles in the
journal Nature that the tsunami hit around 1300 or 1400, long before
records of earthquakes in the region began to be kept.

"Tsunamis are something we never experienced before, and after 2004
people thought it was something we would never experience again,"
Kruawun Jankaew of Chulalongkorn University in Thailand said in a
telephone interview.

"But from this, we are able to identify that the place has been hit by
a mega-tsunami in the past," she said. "So even though it is
infrequent for this part of the world, it still happens and there is a
need to promote tsunami education for coastal peoples."

The tsunami in 2004 left 230,000 people either dead or missing across
Asia, from Sri Lanka and India to Thailand, the Maldives and
Indonesia. More than 170,000 victims were in Aceh Province in

Ms. Jankaew's team studied a grassy plain on Phra Thong, an island
north of Phuket in Thailand, where the 2004 tsunami reached wave
heights of 65 feet above sea level.

A separate team led by Katrin Monecke from the University of
Pittsburgh looked at sedimentary records on coastal marshes in Aceh,
where the waves reached 115 feet.

They explored low areas between beach ridges called swales, which are
known to trap tsunami sand between layers of peat and other organic
matter, and discovered a layer of sand beneath the most recent layer,
from 2004, that was from an event that occurred 600 to 700 years ago.

Scientists are trying to determine the scale of the tsunami that
happened long ago. "We will look at the thickness and grain size of
the sediment and we can calculate how fast the tsunami was, how far
inland it went and the floor depth," Ms. Jankaew said."

This article is at--

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fly Me to the Deity

An interesting opinion essay by Tunku Varadarajan in the New York
Times about Chandrayaan below--

"An unmanned spacecraft from India — that most worldly and yet
otherworldly of nations — is on its way to the moon. For the first
time since man and his rockets began trespassing on outer space, a
vessel has gone up from a country whose people actually regard the
moon as a god.

The Chandrayaan (or "moon craft") is the closest India has got to the
moon since the epic Hindu sage, Narada, tried to reach it on a ladder
of considerable (but insufficient) length — as my grandmother's
bedtime version of events would have it. So think of this as a modern
Indian pilgrimage to the moon.

As it happens, a week before the launching, millions of Hindu women
embarked on a customary daylong fast, broken at night on the first
sighting of the moon's reflection in a bowl of oil. (This fast is done
to ensure a husband's welfare.) But reverence for the moon is not
confined to traditional Indian housewives: The Web site of the Indian
Space Research Organization — the body that launched the Chandrayaan —
includes a verse from the Rig Veda, a sacred Hindu text that dates
back some 4,000 years: "O Moon! We should be able to know you through
our intellect,/ You enlighten us through the right path."

One is tempted, in all this, to dwell on the seeming contradiction
between religion and science, between reason and superstition. And
yet, anyone who has been to India will have noted also its "modernity
of tradition." The phrase, borrowed from the political scientists
Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph, might explain the ability of devout Hindus
— many of them, no doubt, rocket scientists — to see no disharmony
between ancient Vedic beliefs and contemporary scientific practice.

The Hindu astrological system is predicated on lunar movements: so the
moon is a big deal in astrology-obsessed India. That said, the genius
of modern Hinduism lies in its comfort with, and imperviousness to,
science. A friend tells me of an episode from his childhood in
Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city. Days after Apollo 11 landed on the
moon, a model of the lunar module was placed in a courtyard of the
most venerable temple in the city. The Hindu faithful were hailing
man-on-the-moon; there was no suggestion that the Americans had
committed sacrilege. (Here, I might add — with a caveat against
exaggeration — that science sometimes struggles to co-exist with faith
in the United States in ways that would disconcert many Indians.)

Of course, the Chandrayaan is also a grand political gesture — space
exploration in the service of national pride. This kind of excursion
may provoke yawns at NASA, but judging from round-the-clock local
coverage it has received, the mission has clearly inflamed the
imagination and ambition of Indians. Yes, even moon-worshipping ones."

Read this essay at the NY Times Website at--

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Students abroad, it turns out, are not outperforming Americans

While the documentary "Two Million Minutes" is gettitng a lot of media
attention, the following essay titled "Grade Change" which appeared in
the Boston Globe paints a different picture.

An excerpt --

"OH, LOOK. THERE'S a new film that portrays American teenagers as
distracted slackers who don't stand a chance against the zealous young
strivers in China and India. It must be an election year, when
American politicians, egged on by corporate leaders, suddenly become
indignant about the state of America's public schools. If we don't do
something, they thunder, our children will wind up working as bellhops
in resorts owned by those Asian go-getters.

The one-hour documentary "Two Million Minutes" was conceived and
financed by Robert A. Compton, a high-tech entrepreneur, and can be
ordered on DVD from his website, It follows two
teenagers in Carmel, Ind., as they sporadically apply themselves to
their studies between after-school jobs and sports. The film cuts to
similar pairs of high schoolers in India and China who do little but
attend classes, labor over homework, and work with their tutors. "Two
Million Minutes" has become a key part of the ED in '08 campaign, an
effort by Bill Gates and other wealthy worriers to persuade the
presidential candidates to get serious about fixing our schools.

The documentary's argument is quite common, verging on a truism. You
hear it in Rotary speeches and see it on cable news: Beware, the
rising Third World powers are going to eat our lunch. This assumption
shapes the American educational debate and feeds popular views (and
fears) about our country's place in the world. Its many prominent
promoters include former IBM chief Louis V. Gerstner Jr., New York
Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, and former Colorado governor and
Los Angeles school superintendent Roy Romer.

I share what I imagine is Bill Gates's distress at seeing Carmel
High's Brittany Brechbuhl watching "Grey's Anatomy" on television with
her friends while they make halfhearted stabs at their math homework.
But the larger truth is that American education is vastly superior to
the stunted, impoverished school systems of China and India, which,
despite impressive surges of economic growth, are still relatively
poor, developing countries. Our best public schools are first-rate,
producing more intense, involved, and creative A-plus students than
our most prestigious colleges have room for. That is why less-known
institutions such as Claremont McKenna, Rhodes, and Hampshire are
drawing many freshmen just as smart as the ones at Princeton. The top
70 percent of US public high schools are pretty good, certainly better
than they have ever been.

The widespread feeling that our schools are losing out to the rest of
the world, that we are not producing enough scientists and engineers,
is a misunderstanding fueled by misleading statistics. Reports
regularly conclude that the United States is falling behind other
countries - in the number of engineers it produces, in the performance
of its students in reading or in mathematics. But closer examinations
of these reports are showing that they do not always compare
comparable students, skewing the results.

For those who look carefully at the performance of our schools, the
real problem is not that the United States is falling behind, or that
the entire system is failing. It is the sorry shape of the bottom 30
percent of US schools, those in urban and rural communities full of
low-income children. We have seen enough successful schools in such
areas to know that these children are just as capable of being great
scientists, doctors, and executives as suburban children. But most
low-income schools in the United States are simply bad.

Not only are we denying the children who attend them the equal
education that is their right, but we are squandering almost a third
of our intellectual capital. We are beating the world economically,
but with one hand tied behind our back."

Read the full article at--

Monday, October 06, 2008

Meet Neel Kashkari: The Man With the $700 Billion Wallet

Excerpt From the Wall Street Journal --

A Goldman Sachs Group alumnus in charge of the nation’s economic rescue? How unusual.

Except, of course, it isn’t. As The Wall Street Journal’s Deborah Solomon reported today, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson is promoting Neel Kashkari, the Treasury’s assistant secretary for international affairs, to be the point man overseeing the $700 billion financial bailout as the interim head of Paulson’s Office of Financial Stability. The full appointment would need Senate confirmation, which is unlikely to come given the short remaining tenure in this Administration.

The move essentially puts a new title on what Kashkari he has been doing since he joined Treasury in 2006–examining the consequences of an economic housing fallout. Kashkari was one of three Treasury staffers–including general counsel Robert Hoyt and head of legislative affairs Kevin Fromer–who stayed up until 4 a.m. last Sunday putting together the $700 billion bailout bill that was shot down by House Republicans the next day.

Kashkari is an Indian-American who has a few things in common with Paulson (above right). Both are former Goldman Sachs bankers, though Kashkari, at 35 years old, is much younger and was just a vice president-level banker in Goldman’s San Francisco technology banking effort when Paulson tapped him to join Treasury. Both also are Midwesterners. Kashkari grew up in Stow, Ohio, and earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Paulson was raised in Barrington Hills, Ill. And both sport similar hairstyles– or lack thereof.

Kashkari didn’t take a conventional route into banking. He started out as an aerospace engineer at TRW, developing technology for NASA projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, the replacement to Hubble, which is scheduled to launch in 2013.

He earned an M.B.A. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. While there, one of his professors was Michael Useem, who liked to put students through grueling, Outward Bound-type strengths of endurance and strategy. Kashkari participated in one Army simulation in 2002 at Fort Dix, where he was quoted in this 2002 Philadelphia Inquirer article in a comment just as applicable to today’s financial crisis as the project he was working on: “We were all taught to play nice,” Kashkari said. “So who’s going to fight in the sandbox?”

After Wharton, Kashkari joined Goldman and worked in San Francisco, where he advised companies that create computer security programs like antivirus software. He and his wife, Minal, still keep a house in California.

Read the full article at --