Ghaith Abdul-Ahad · Diary: In Somalia · LRB

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad · Diary: In Somalia · LRB 3 November 2011.

“After three years of drought thousands of colourful tents made with sticks and branches wrapped in plastic sheets and bits of cloth have sprung up among Mogadishu’s destroyed buildings. Over the summer and early autumn tens of thousands of starving Somalis entered the city. Now the refugees fill the shells of long-defunct ministries, gather in the shade of the roofless cathedral and stand under the parliament building like worshippers seeking a miracle. They appear in the streets in tattered clothing, holding bundles on their oversized heads, carrying yellow jerrycans and babies on their backs.”

A gripping account of the ongoing tragedy in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

U.S. files criminal charges against Rajat K. Gupta in insider trading investigation, NYT & Guardian

U.S. Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Rajat K. Gupta, 62,in an aggressive insider trading investigation. The former longtime head of McKinsey & Company, former Director of Goldman Sachs and of Procter & Gamble, former chairman of the Indian Business School and also of the Public Health Foundation of India, surrendered to F.B.I. agents on Wednesday, October 26, 2011, was taken into custody, and was bailed for $ 10 million. If convicted, he could face 20 years in prison. Gupta’s, and Raj Rajaratnam’s nemesis is Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The FBI’s wiretap of the July 29, 2008 call between Rajat Gupta and Raj Rajaratnam, audio & transcript. Source: United States Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York:

Railway Stories: The High-Speed Beijing to Shanghai Line

For enthusiasts of the railways and railway writing: Simon Winchester travelled on the Shanghai-Beijing High Speed railway on June 30, the first day of its commercial operation.

“I think I had probably never seen in my lifetime so clean and shining a wall of titanium white — an arrow-straight tube of brilliantly just-polished carriages, with a long swoosh of tinted glass, and a jet streak of vivid blue beneath, extended both ways along the platform as far as the eye could see. Outside each open pneumatic door stood a young uniformed woman, hands clasped before her, smiling broadly, confidently. This is railway majesty, the women seemed to say in unison. This is where China is going — welcome aboard!

In a recent interview (see the link on Interesting Reads, October 24), Noam Chomsky, speaking about railways in the United States, says: “I came back from New York yesterday and I took the fastest train in the country, the Acela. My wife and I took the New York-Boston train sixty years ago – it wasn’t called the Acela then – and I think it’s improved by about fifteen minutes since then. Any other country in the world would be about half the time. In fact when it’s riding along the Connecticut turnpike it’s barely keeping up with traffic, which is just scandalous.”

By contrast, Simon Winchester writes the following about his journey: “We were farther away from Beijing than New York is from Chicago, and yet while the normal Amtrak run from the Hudson to Lake Michigan takes 19 hours (though once, returning from a Bob Dylan concert, it took me three days, two of them stuck in a snowbank in northern Indiana), here in China this even longer journey could be measured in more appropriate units: it would take just 288 minutes.

The “sums of money assigned, the astonishing speed of manufacturing, the sudden arrival of these behemoths, the trains now so firmly annealed into the canon of popular Chinese culture…what is happening in China simply beggars belief.”

The Biographer’s Dilemma – Joe Nocera in

Walter Isaacson’s life of Steve Jobs bulges with new information and is a serious accomplishment. But since there is no critical distance between biographer and subject, this bestseller cannot be rated as a great biography.

Wide-ranging Chomsky interview

Politics, linguistics, languages, new means of electronic communication (“extremely rapid, very shallow communication. Text messaging, Twitter, that sort of thing”), growing up, sports, WikiLeaks, and other matters.

A bit dated (March 2011) but sharp, fun — and cool.

ManU v ManC: The Weekend in Football

Much interesting football journalism to read after Manchester City’s extraordinary 6-1 victory over Manchester United. The best are those who recognise the momentous, but whose perspective is not swept away by the individual event.

Kevin McCarra’s match report, which opens thus: “Manchester United must endure a result that will figure in the lore of this fixture for generations.”

Alex Ferguson on the “the worst result in my history, ever”:

The New York Times lists the big questions that the breathless ask: “Is this a changing of the guard in Manchester and the Premier League, or is there a long, long way to go for City to claim dominion in England’s northwest? Do you think Mancini is taking a page from Barcelona’s playbook relying on two diminutive and skillful players in David Silva (who did a fine imitation of Andrés Iniesta) and Agüero? Can Balotelli traverse an entire season without imploding, again? For United, was their first league defeat a long time in coming after a string of lacklustre performances in the league and the Champions League?”

The Guardian lists five lessons from the match:

And the Times on some other surprises of the weekend:

‘WikiLeaks fights back in the face of financial blockade and arm-twisting’ by A. Srivathsan, The Hindu

Learn about and support the ‘WikiLeaks Needs You’ campaign:

Mathematics in the Courtroom – From The Guardian

A formula for justice | Law | The Guardian.

“Bayes’ theorem is a mathematical equation used in court cases to analyse statistical evidence. But a judge has ruled it can no longer be used. Will it result in more miscarriages of justice?”

‘Media and issues of responsibility’ by Justice Markandey Katju, Press Council of India chairman

The Indian news media play an important role but their vices and defects are being increasingly discussed by the public. These should ideally be addressed and corrected in a democratic manner — but if the media prove incorrigible, harsh measures may be called for. This is the contention of the new chairman of the Press Council of India, retired Supreme Court judge Madkandey Katju, who intends to make the PCI ‘an instrument of mediation’ in addition to its adjudication function. Here, in excerpted form and in full text, is Justice Katju’s speech at a recent informal get-together with senior journalists in New Delhi:

The deification of Steve Jobs is Apple’s greatest marketing triumph to date, Tanya Gold in Guardian

‘It is not enough to love your products anymore; when the people who created them die, you are now required to enter a kind of spiritual decline yourself’:

Climate Skeptics Take Another Hit – Mother Jones

Climate Skeptics Take Another Hit | Mother Jones.

“Physicists are notorious for believing that other scientists are mathematically incompetent. And University of California-Berkeley physicist Richard Muller is notorious for believing that conventional wisdom is often wrong…”

And yet, after analysing the data himself,

“In the press release announcing the results, Muller said, “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK.” In other words, climate scientists know what they’re doing after all.”

Occupy Wall Street: An International Photo-Feature

Another fine portfolio from The Big Picture.

“Student loan debts crush an entire generation”

In the United States, loans for university education, “hyped like subprime mortgages,…now run to hundreds of billions with no relief in sight.”

Excellent polemical piece in

Ten (Washington DC-based) Most Over-Rated Thinkers, the New Republic

Here’s the 2011 honours list, 20% of which is Indian-origin talent:

David Cameron, (Tony Blair), & the Myths of Empire, Richard Gott in the Guardian

Britain’s Tory Prime Minister stands a story of brutal oppression and naked greed on its head:

Richard Gott’s new book, Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt,, is published by Verso (£25).