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Window Handle As Thermostat

OpenDemocracy has a bit on energy efficiency in Russia, and nearly all of it applies to Kazakhstan, especially the parts about citywide centralized heating for residences. Everybody's heat goes on one day in the fall and off one day in the spring, and if it's too hot-- you open the window. Newer buildings have radiators with shutoff valves. In fact, in our apartment, we keep nearly all the valves closed all the time-- heat rising from the floors below keeps the apartment more than warm enough anyway.

Tenge Devalued

Rumors of the devaluation of Kazakhstan's national currency, the tenge, came true today. The official bank rate now stands at 141 KZT to the USD dollar; on the street, exchange rates are dropping the value of the tenge as low as 150 to the dollar.

The websites of KazKom as well as the National Bank of Kazakhstan are inaccesible, presumed down. The Kazakhstan Stock Exchange (KASE) site has a news item that announces an expected KZT-USD exchange rate of 150.

In case that site also becomes unavailable, here's the meat of the announcement and a Google translation:

С 4 февраля 2009 года Национальный Банк уходит от поддержания тенге в прежнем неявном коридоре и считает объективно необходимым новый уровень обменного курса национальной валюты. Предполагается, что коридор обменного курса тенге будет находиться около уровня 150 тенге за доллар с колебанием плюс-минус 3% или 5 тенге.

Since February 4th, 2009 National Bank takes on the maintenance of tenge implicitly in the same corridor and objectively considers necessary new level of exchange rate. It is anticipated that Corridor tenge exchange rate will be around level 150 tenge per dollar of fluctuation of plus or minus 3% or 5 tenge.

The previous chairman of the national bank, Anvar Saidenov, before being replaced by Halyk Bank chairman (and also former National Bank chairman) Grigory Marchenko, had stated that it was hoped the fluctuation of the tenge in 2009 would be kept to 5% or 10%. A drop in the tenge's value of 10% at that time would have been about 12 tenge per dollar, equivalent to a rate of 132. The current drop is nearly twice that much.

UPDATE: Bloomberg is reporting that stocks on KASE are surging as a result of the tenge devaluation, and the Roberts Report speculates on the effect the devaluation will have on Kazakhstan's economy (warning: gratuitous Borat references).

Putin To Dell: We Don't Need Your Help

Okay, so here's what happened in Davos.

Michael Dell asked how his company could help Russia solve its IT infrastructure problems, which was essentially either a question about what kind of joint venture or investment Dell could make in Russia, or just an inquiry about what kind of hardware he might sell in Russia, and Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, told him to go take a long walk of a short pier:

We don't need any help. We are not invalids. We do not have limited capacity.

There are a few ways to interpret this.

First, the funny way: Putin is suggesting Russians aren't dumb enough to buy Dells. Zing!

Second, the simple way: Putin misunderstood the Western business-speak of "how can we help," which really means "how can we do business" or, at its most basic, "what can I sell you" and decided that he and his nation were being patronized, and decided to respond as if his pride had been besmirched.

Thirdly, the paranoid way: Putin completely understood Dell's question and had no interest in doing business, and therefore was not insulted. However, politely declining does not serve his interests because the press would not pay attention to the remark. Saying something biting that props up Russian national pride and would be sure to get press attention abroad (but more importantly at home) was just the ticket: Putin kicks a Western capitalist square in the nuts while praising Russian ingenuity. It's perfect. One almost has to wonder how much Putin paid to Dell to lob him a softball like that.

This episode also I think illustrates a frightening trend. I have a feeling that there is something in common between nations whose international relations are carried out primarily for the purpose of managing the perception of leaders back home. Certainly this happens in almost any nation with significant international presence, but I can't help seeing a common thread between Putin's "we are not invalids" and claims made by leaders like Kim Jong Il, who claim that no nation dare attack North Korea for fear of instant and utter annihiliation by weapons so terrible and secret that we can't tell you what they are. Such statements are seen as laughable abroad but are probably taken quite seriously at home, where exposure to foreign press is, to put it mildly, limited.

However there is a sense in which Putin's repsonse is childish and counterproductive. It certainly was no part of a constructive dialogue about IT problems or about the current financial crisis in Russia in particular or in the world in general. (Putin did speak on that topic of course. News flash: It's the West's fault. Notice how Putin self-identifies Russia as not part of "the West" in this sense. More on that later when I find another pro-Russia article out of an American think tank I've been percolating a response to.)

In short, Putin wasn't talking to Dell. He's not interested in talking to Dell, and probably not interested in listening to him either. His remark was calculated to play at home, not in Davos, and not in the US. He's grandstanding.

More Drivel From CNet: Google Hates People, Loves Deer

Here's another gem from CNet, where two anecdotes are combined to reach the conclusion that drivers for Google Street View value the lives of deer over those of humans. This is presumed to be bad.

Let's get this straight: the driver who hit the baby deer stopped because he hit the deer. Whatever happened to the deer is his fault. If nothing else, who knows, there might be legal consequences for doing that. Maybe it's an endangered deer. Maybe not. Maybe the guy just doesn't want to go home to his family and admit to his kids he killed Bambi's mother.

Earlier, another driver in another country witnessed a human being passed out from inebriation on his own lawn after failing to get all the way inside his house following a night of drunken carousing. The driver did not stop and check on him (but did take photos).

So the conclusions the CNet author would like us to reach: Google View drivers care more about deer than people.

This is utter nonsense. The driver probably did care more about the direct consequences of his own actions rather than the consequences of another's actions (in this case, the man's choice to get rip-roaring drunk and pass out on his lawn). I think it is logical to assume that had one driver hit a human being while the other had observed a drunken, passed-out deer, perhaps both would have stopped. After all, hitting someone with a car can be a serious offense, and a drunken deer is a pretty unusual thing to see. However, while hitting a deer with a car might be a cause for concern, seeing someone passed out from drinking is not nearly as unusual.

Second, there's the submerged assumption that deer are more important than people. People are certainly no less able to take care of themselves than deer. Deer don't appear to place themselves and their welfare at the whim of others by imbibing mind-altering chemicals (although they may do so while attempting to cross the road). The person might be "worth more" from the perspective of a speciesist, but at the same time, isn't he more capable of looking after his own welfare than the deer-- at least in theory?

Kyrgyzstan Under Cyberattack?

Okay, one can imagine why hackers in Russia might attack Estonia and Georgia.

But Kyrgyzstan? Where's the motive? Seems to me this is most likely just fallout of one of the more recent virus outbreaks, being blamed on "enemy action" to make it somebody else's fault.

Clemmensen named "all-time unsung player" of Hockey East

I have to wonder why an award like this even exists. Why not just hand out, every year, some Awards For the Best Player Who Has Not Yet Received This Award and keep doing it until everyone has one? That'll fix it.

Second, how is a guy who got as much ink as Clemmensen, all of it well-deserved, "unsung"? If an award like this is even going to exist, it should be something along the lines of the Bruins 7th player award-- the best of the guys who wasn't expected to be one of the best, or the player that beats your expectations. Nobody who has followed Hockey East since its creation doesn't know who Clemmensen is and what his accomplishments were. It's ridiculous.

He won three HEA championships and appeared in four NCAA championship semifinals.

The list of runners-up is no less silly: Joe Fallon (UVM), Cal Ingraham (ME), Fernando Pisani (PC) and Joe Sacco (BU).

Joe Sacco? Unsung? Cal Ingraham? Really? Okay, maybe you might not SEE Cal standing there without lowering your chair a notch, but you could certainly still read about him.

Next up, the Hockey East Anniversary committee will be running a ballot for the league's most memorable moment. I have two nominations for this award: the awarding of the All Time Unsung Player Award to Scott Clemmensen last week, or that time BU coach Jack Parker said it was "good for the league" the first time Merrimack College beat the Terriers.

Man's Best Friend... Again

I often wander into complex threaded discussions in places like Newsvine but feel completely overwhelmed by the number of comments that scream out for replies, but daunted by the amount of time necessary to reply individually to each one.

This story about a couple that paid $155,000 in an auction to clone their dead dog spawned a conversation that covered a wide range of topics, although a number of recurring themes arose.

"I sure can think of a lot of things I could do with a $155,000, and cloning my pet is not one of them!"

Many of the users claimed that it was bad to spend this amount of money on cloning a dead pet because the money could be better spent on other things, mostly charitable works. Some were very specific and pointed out that if one was interested in giving a home to an animal, there are many animals scheduled for euthanization that could be saved for that amount of money, or even better still, clinics that could perform spaying/neutering operations on animals to prevent the birth of unwanted animals.

Whether this is valid or not depends primarily on the context of the criticism, and in nearly all of the posts, the context was missing. One author supplied it, pointing out that nobody was advocating a law to prevent this couple from having done this, or from legally exploiting their own property (in this case, cash) for a legal purpose (in this case, cloning their pet). Rather the intent was simply to point out that a more positive and socially responsible act might have been to use the money for something else, something beneficial for a wider range of individuals than themselves and their dead pet.

While this is laudable, actually I wonder if that commenter is right: at least some of the comments I think were advocating some kind of restriction, or at best suggesting that there was something morally reprehensible about what they had done.

Not always doing the best, most right thing, does not make the thing which is done wrong or evil. These things are a continuum, not a dichotomy. As others pointed out, had this couple purchased an expensive car or other consumer item, not only would they not have been criticized, but the story would not have existed, as it would not have been notable.

Blame, Reward, and Help: Crisis of Meritocracy

The comments on this Newsvine story about portions of the bailout packages going to distressed homeowners I think illustrate one of the conflicts that is at the center of America's domestic agenda, and one that has been there for quite some time.

With Friends Like These

"It is better to make friends than enemies."

This statement is presented as axiomatic in a blog post at the Agonist, seemingly in reference to the recent US attacks in Pakistan, although it never mentions it by name, except in the category tags.

Despite the seeming obviousness of this rule, the author admits that much human behavior seems to contravene it:

Capital Idea

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