Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Movement Is a Blessing

The EI is moving to Wordpress, mostly so I can foist even more of my writing on unsuspecting friends.

This site will still be available for archives, and in the beginning, I'll probably link back frequently to posts here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

In Memoriam

No cartoon today, but still wanted to post an image. I don't have an scanned pictures of my grandfather, who died Tuesday, or even an obituary yet (it's been hard to pull stuff together this week), so I'll have to settle for some pictures of the Air Force Memorial. My grandfather joined back when it was still called the Army Air Corps, and flew in WWII and the Korean War, then took on a more diplomatic role.

He served for 30-odd years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel before retiring to Philadelphia and becoming the man I knew as my grandfather: A man who was incredibly smart, informed, and well-read, who could be distant and awe-inspiring, but still took the time to walk his oldest granddaughter around the streets of Philadelphia to explore quite possibly every major historical building there was (and there are a lot). He's who I first remember taking me to the Philadelphia Art Museum, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's House and the Philadelphia Bourse.

He rescued turtles, got stalked by pigeons (funny family story), made the best split pea soup I've ever had (but sadly, never taught me the recipe), dressed impeccably in Brooks Brothers (although he favored Bermuda shorts and tall socks in the summer, which always amused me) and drove a Volvo which is about as old as I am (and I was honored to drive until just recently when I bought my own car).

And I loved him. Rest in Peace Grandpa.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

US Governors to Plot Climate Fight at Yale

Is it just me or does that headline sound like the governors are getting ready for a food fight at one of Yale's dining halls?

According to Reuters, via Planet Ark, at least five governors including Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger from California and Democrats Rod Blagojevich from Illinois and Jon Corzine from New Jersey will meet at Yale University on Friday to discuss 'uniting the developing markets for trading of credits representing carbon emission reductions.'

Most of the facts aren't particularly new or exciting, since the governors have been at this since the winter and many states already have their own commission on climate change, but two paragraphs gave me pause:

The reality is that the states are designing the true US climate policy," Terry Tamminen, an environment and energy adviser to Schwarzenegger, said about the meeting.
Tamminen said even if the federal government moved quickly to regulate greenhouse gases the states would remain the de facto makers of US policy on greenhouse emissions because a federal plan would take years to develop. "We don't have time to wait," he said. By many counts, the United States is the world's top greenhouse gas emitter.

I could be mistaken here, since I attended public schools in the US, but, isn't that how federalism works? This reminds me of the snafu at the EPA over California's emissions controls back in December.

Monday, April 14, 2008

No Words

Torture as motivation?

From the New Republic's blog, the Plank:

Workplace Motivational Techniques to Avoid

The Washington Post has a story you don't see every day:
No one really disputes that Chad Hudgens was waterboarded outside a Provo office park last May 29, right before lunch, by his boss.

There is also general agreement that Hudgens volunteered for the "team-building exercise," that he lay on his back with his head downhill, and that co-workers knelt on either side of him, pinning the young sales rep down while their supervisor poured water from a gallon jug over his nose and mouth.

And it's widely acknowledged that the supervisor, Joshua Christopherson, then told the assembled sales team, whose numbers had been lagging: "You saw how hard Chad fought for air right there. I want you to go back inside and fight that hard to make sales."
You really have to read the whole thing, which discusses the lawsuit that Hudgens has filed against his employer. Christopherson sounds sort of like a cross between John Yoo, Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, and Kevin Kline's character in A Fish Called Wanda:
Hudgens alleged that if the 10-person sales team went a day without a sale, members had to work the next day standing up; Christopherson took away their chairs. The team leader also threatened to draw a mustache in permanent marker on the face of sales people for "negativity," Hudgens said. Christopherson kept on his desk a piece of wood, "the 2-by-4 of motivation," he said.
Christopherson did not know the term [waterboarding], either, Brunt said: "He thought it had something to do with water skiing."He said Christopherson told the executives that he was inspired by reading about the Greek philosopher Socrates, who is said to have once held a student's head under water, then told him he must want to learn as badly as he wanted air.
Strangely enough, under Utah law, Christopherson's idiocy may work to his benefit, since Hudgens can only collect the damages he's seeking if he can demonstrate the employer's "conscious and deliberate intent" to inflict injury.

--Josh Patashnik

The New Republic Knows Me Far Too Well

Sigh. So true. I am stubbornly resisting the TNR bookshelf, since I just had to prune my reading list for the fifth time in four months. April's reading:

Apollo's Fire - Michael Sims
Walking on Water - Madeleine L'Engle
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin (primarily because she has my sister's first name)
A Year without Made in China - Sara Bongiorni
Chasing the Flame - Sam Powers

plus whatever IR/econ pdfs I've accumulated over the past few months.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Quick Links

A bunch of links from the past two weeks that I just haven't gotten to writing about:

The Monkey Cage asks: Is the American Public Realist?

Making Sense of Darfur's three-part series: Wither the Darfur Mediation?
Part I
Part II
Part III

The Economist on the politics of malaria and disease.

Ann Jones' and the International Rescue Committee's "16 Days in Cote d'Ivoire", an exploration of gender-based violence.

The Irrationality of Homo Ekonomicus. Hat tip: Aquanomics

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Congressional Report Cards

Citizens for Global Solutions has released their 2008 Congressional Report Card. On the website, the Report Card is searchable by state. A Voting Guide is available as well.

I don't always agree with CGS' recommendations (for instance, I'm not sure what exactly the point of H.R. 6 Energy Policy/Passage was, and I know I'm definitely suspicious of a 'mandate the use of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022') but it is a nice round up for those for whom these matters count (either to vote for or against).

Sadly, my lovely home state of Virginia didn't do all that well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Reading List Additions

I need more time in the day.

Hat tip: Chris Blattman

Ghana, Next Victim of the Resource Curse?

The Washington Post today has a lengthy article in the A section about Ghana's new-found oil wealth:

Ghanaians are struggling for a way to grow one of Africa's most stable democracies into one of its most prosperous, while blunting the corrupting power that has made oil a curse for so many of its neighbors.

Oddly enough, I was just talking about the similar situation in Nigeria at dinner last night.

Many countries in Africa have abundant natural resources in the form of oil, gold and other precious metals, timber and diamonds and other gems. However, most of them also fall victim to the 'Resource Curse', the paradox by which countries with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth than countries without these natural resources. Primary causes include:

  • Conflict
  • Rentier State
  • Corruption
  • Distribution of Benefits (between state/investors, between state/citizens, between regions)
  • Distortion of Labor Markets/No Investment in Human Capital
  • Lack of Economic Diversification

While the last two are important, in Africa, the first four tend to dominate.

Sierra Leone is a classic example. Sierra Leone has a multi-ethnic, bi-polar demography. Out of twenty different ethnic groups, two, the Temne in the north and west and the Mende in the east and south dominate their respective regions and the other ethnic groups therein. In a majoritarian presidential system such as Sierra Leone’s, the ethno-political blocs are strengthened, becoming the final determinant of political access. Sierra Leone is also home to vast alluvial plains of diamonds. 'Mines' here are not the big, deep holes of South Africa and Botswana, but rather fields and rivers where diamond concentration is high.

From a paper I wrote at SAIS last year:

Despite the difficulty of controlling the mining and export of diamonds in an alluvial plain, the vast wealth [available] drastically increases the potential costs of losing. The unwillingness of either hinterland region to submit to another, or for either to submit to the Krios [descendants of freed British slaves] in the capital, diminishes in light of potential costs of relinquishing control of the diamond mines. Thus, while Sierra Leone is nominally a multi-party state and has held elections, the losers always fail to respect the outcome and constantly agitate to overthrow the government.

The Sierra Leonean state did not act reassert its control of the diamonds trade. Under [Siaka Stevens, President during the 1970s] Lebanese merchants gained control of some of the official diamond trade, and most of the unofficial trade. As cultural outsiders, they offered little threat to his political power, and also maintained vast international networks for trade. By virtue of his office, Stevens was able to grant mining and exporting concessions, for which the Lebanese supported Stevens financially.

Stevens’ course of action had two negative results. The first is that the Lebanese merchants eventually formed their own security forces to provide protection, and lessen their dependence on Stevens. However, because Stevens had weakened the military in order to prevent against military-led coups, he could not challenge the new paramilitary groups, often made up of gangs of poor miners. The second result was the chronic shortage of state revenue. By 1988, official exports of diamonds amounted to only $22 000. In contrast, Lebanese exports had an estimated value of $250 million. The result of the under-funding was that the state was unable to provide public services or investment, and lacked the resources to take action on problems of credit, debt management, or diamond, gold and commodities smuggling. The elites were unaffected by the precipitous decline of the Sierra Leonean economy during the 1980s, but the citizen population became restive. In 1985, Stevens handed off power to Joseph Saidu Momoh, who was welcomed as a source of change.

In 1989, Momoh tried to gain better control of the diamond industry. The government approved a proposal by the Dallas, Texas company Sunshine Broulle to take over the failing state diamond firm. Sunshine Broulle fielded security forces in an extensive and exclusive mining zone, which helped marginalize rival politicians running illicit mining operations. However, Momoh used Sunshine Broulle’s operations to spare the expense of building capable but politically risky institutions to enfold and undercut political rivals and collect state revenues. By relying on foreign firms who were dependent on concessions, the central government failed to develop its own capacity and so instead weakened its ability to withstand political challenges when those firms left, as Sunshine Broulle did in 1992. Additionally, local dissatisfaction increased each time outsiders were brought in to manage economic resources, thereby perpetuating the exclusion of the Sierra Leoneans from economic gain.

Ghana itself is no stranger to natural resource wealth, due to the concentration of gold veins in the Ashanti region, but again, most of those profits benefit foreign investors.

However, there is hope. Botswana provides a good model of a state and its citizens benefiting from natural wealth. From the same paper:

Diamonds were not discovered in Botswana until after independence. The government approached the negotiations with de Beers with the goal of negotiating fiscal arrangements which would yield maximum revenue in order to fund economic growth. Initially, negotiations favored de Beers, but as de Beers made more investments, it became less able to abandon its projects. Also, neither the government nor de Beers correctly estimated Botswana’s available resources, leading de Beers to commit to longer time frames than it originally envisioned.

The Botswana government is a competent bargaining agent and so while it began with one third of the shares of the operation, it used the discovery of new mines to renegotiate the original contract in the later 1970s, eventually controlling up to 60 percent of its mining operations. The revenues from the diamond mines provide substantial revenue with which to fund development projects. These include funding health facilities, schools; provide clean, pipe-borne water to every community, and otherwise raise the physical standard of living.

In addition to its bargaining powers, the government is also a competent macroeconomic manager. Despite the downturn in diamond profits during the 1980s, the government was able to initiate new development programs, including the Financial Assistance Program which aimed to shift manufacturing jobs from urban areas to the countryside in order to boost the rural economy. While the benefits of Botswana’s economic growth are still uneven, and the government receives widespread criticism in particular for its treatment of the San people of the Kalahari, Botswana now boasts a per capita income of over $3000, making it a middle income country, and one of the richest in Africa.

Botswana isn't nearly perfect, or even very liberal; through various cultural traditions and institutional choices, it has deliberately limited the effectiveness of civil society. The kgotlas system [a process by which the community nominally decides policy, but really serves as public relations events to consolidate support for the elites’ decisions] already diminishes the expectation of citizen participation by presenting tribal, and now government policy, as fait accompli. The provision of public services further reduces any need citizens might have to lobby the government. However, it is stable and developing, and is increasingly coming under criticism from indigenous groups, and progress continues to build a strong civil society.

Ghana is not a country I know much about, but it is stable, and seems to do well in international rankings. Of course, these aren't the only factors in play: there is no local hegemon to stabilize the region (and its neighbors don't have the most promising history), it is not as demographically homogenous as Botswana, and I really can't speak on the state-civil relations at all. But, with good management and democratic participation, much is possible. I'm cautiously optimistic.

My Aim Is True

Things that make me happy this morning:

Spring weather.
Elvis Costello on tour with the Police.
Marine Corps bumper stickers.
Cold Pad Thai.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Thursday Cartoon

Apologies for the sparse posting. The same work overload from last week is continuing this week. Hopefully it will end this weekend (at least some of it has to).

Today's cartoon is for Sean, who's having a bad day.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Beware the Lawyers

From 'Day in Pictures' from the BBC

Caption reads:
A car blazes in the southern port of Karachi, Pakistan, amid clashes between rival groups of lawyers.

[Update 504 pm]: I had meant that as relatively tongue-in-cheek - violence is bad, of course, but rival lawyers?, really?

However, it seems that so far seven people have died due to the resulting violence.

'And Watch Out for the Women'?

One part of the article I don't understand is this remark:

Police say that five people were killed when rioters set fire to lawyers' chambers in a building adjacent to the city court in downtown Karachi.
They say that those burned to death included a woman.

I'm sorry she, and all of the others, are dead, but is her sex really noteworthy? I thought women could be lawyers in Pakistan, since they can be Prime Ministers. Is this some lingering chivalry on the part of the BBC that women shouldn't be harmed by violence (only those nasty, belligerent men)? Did they perhaps mean to imply that she was not a lawyer?

Friday, April 04, 2008


Picture from the article.

Hat Tip: The Plank.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

I Will Be Here Tonight

Introducing Cartoon Thursdays

I like cartoons - they're a great way to express an idea quickly, and they often insert much needed humor into a situation. Also, I have quite a few of them saved to my computer.

I've been meaning to start posting them for a while now, but always forgot. Plus, there was the question of making them a regular feature; would I post them whenever, on a certain day of the week, etc.? For the second option, logic would suggest Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, but I either forget, or I don't need the smile. Hence, Thursday; the weekend is almost here, but not close enough (I'm going to completely ignore all those who work for the government and have alternative leave schedules).
So here's the first edition of Cartoon Thursdays, featuring a two-for. My life currently feels like a combination of the two. Yay fun.

Thursday Cartoon

Anthropology in Everything, Violence Edition

Hmm. A new meme?

First Chris Blattman asks if peace can be instilled. He reports from a rural training center in Liberia:

The second day of our stay we woke up to a small riot. Supplies of food and soap had been delayed from the capitol, and the excoms had taken to the yard, yelling angrily with the staff and refusing to attend classes. Johnson stood in the thick of them, surrounded by two dozen angry youth, hashing it out.

Within an hour, the youth had settled back to their quarters, their elected leaders were holding a consultation, and were preparing to present a list of grievances to the school administration. Nothing was broken, few egos were bruised, and the excoms' anger and frustration was being channeled into a peaceful and institutional process. Such an outcome, Johnson tells me, would have been unthinkable just two moths ago. But they have succeeded in creating new norms of behavior and dispute.

Then, Dani Rodrik posts about a paper exploring the intersection of soccer, culture, and violence. He notes:

I must say the cultural explanation leaves me cold, even though I do not have a good alternative explanation in its place. If you have ever spent time in cabs in Manhattan, you know that it is pretty hard to distinguish the Russian drivers from the Pakistani ones, or the Israeli ones from the Koreans. They all drive like NYC cabbies, even though the "driving culture" in these countries are pretty different.

In response, I'd ask, could it just be another example of acculturation? I imagine that being a successfull NYC cabby requires certain traits for success (traversing the city in some sort of meaningful time frame and also getting a spot at high-frequency fare sites). Don't these guys depend on the number of fares + tips to make a living? What I mean to imply is, the geography, politics (or at least laws) and culture of NYC create an environment that requires certain characteristics in order to succeed. Success (money) is an incentive. Thus, there is an incentive for cabbies to adapt (turn into NYC cabbies). Environment -> Incentives (economics) -> Acculturation (anthropology).

Societal, cultural, norms, including those of interaction, can be very powerful, but like all normative teachings, can be overcome and retaught. What I really want to know is what would happen if the soccer players were faced off against the 'ex-coms'?

Breaking News!

A US study published in the Journal of Neuroinflammation proves that 'daily caffeine "protects" brain' against diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Not that I really need another excuse to drink tea, but it's nice to have options.

Overheard at Dinner

At Afterwords Cafe:

'It's capitalism, man! You can have coffee without caffeine, Coke without sugar, and quit cigarettes without pain!'

On a completely incidental and personal note, if I ever decide to give up development studies, I will retire to a small town in New England and open a bookstore/cafe. My main inspirations will be Kramer's & Afterwords and Charlie's from Robin McKinley's Sunshine, but I'll probably aspire to the elegance of Busboys and Poets without the elitism.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Assasinations at the Sundries Shack

Well, my mother will be pleased to read this, but Jimmie might not be so happy with who she defines as a tyrant.

My mother's next career aside (and I only post it because this is a long-standing family joke, my mother yells a lot but she's really non-violent), the problem of defining 'the bad guys' is one reason not to start assasinating people.

Sure, we can all agree that Saddam was a worthy candidate, as is Mugabe (although he seems to have seen the light on democracy), but who else? Putin? We might not like him, but the Russians do.

Reversing that, what about 'our tyrants'? The CIA did its best to keep Mobutu Sese Seko in power, including ordering the assasination of his rival, Patrice Lumumba. Lumumba wasn't a good guy either, but it would be hard to argue that the Congo was better off with Mobutu in power.

Kidnap and Murder of Daughter of Burmese Refugees

Sad news for the Burmese refugee community. Refugees in this area are also pretty anxious as well. From the friend who forwarded the news: 'Imagine finally making it out of Burma just to have this happen.'

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Well It's about Time

Finally! I no longer have to worry about silly things like time management, and the international community gets the patience it's long needed.

I am worried that this headline may be nothing more than a cruel joke, even if it wasn't intended as such.

Monday, March 31, 2008

How to Disagree

A good post on 'How to Disagree' from Paul Graham. Given the recent meme about response etiquette, it seems to have come at an opportune time. I'm also pleased to note that he reinforces my argument about expertise in his section on Ad Hominems:

Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn't, it's not a problem.
Shameless plugging aside, the piece is worth the read. It has advice that I'll try to keep in mind as I argue with Sean on the List, in my tags, and in response posts I make here. His heirarchy of disagreement also highlights the reason why I don't tend to comment on posts, no matter how much I might disagree with them: it's hard.
The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It's also the rarest, because it's the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that the higher you go the fewer instances you find.
To refute someone you probably have to quote them. You have to find a "smoking gun," a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it's mistaken. If you can't find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.
I like actually responding to the merits of a piece, usually at some length, which take quite a bit of preparation. As a result, more often than not, I break a cardinal rule of blogging: just post already! Of course, that's why I'm also excited about this piece.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And It's Official

I've now made my way into the blogsphere. In the course of a Facebook debate about older men, gender roles and Karl Rove with the charming, funny, and always interesting Robert Stacy McCain, I linked my post about intellectuals. Stacy did me the kindness of taking me seriously, and replied via his blog. Of course, this linking back and forth is starting to resemble a fun-house mirror room, but if that's what it takes....

Saturday, March 29, 2008

International Economics Round Up

Dani Rodrik's been on a roll recently, writing several good posts about economics and trade, which I've compiled here. In total, they offer a critical look at trade economics; not the theory so much as the presentation.

First up, a paper by Dean Baker on 'Trade and Inequality: the Role of Economists'.

Second, Rodrik reviews Robert Driskill's Deconstructing the Argument for Free Trade.

Finally, Dani Rodrik offers his own answer to the question: Why Did Financial Globalization Disappoint?

Both Rodrik and Driskill's papers are decently long - 20-30 pages compared to Baker's 10, and they're written in more advanced economic language, but all three are worth the read. Actually, if you only have time for one, read Baker's. It's shorter, but I think he raises some important questions about the role economists play in selling models, rather than challenging and improving them.

Experts in any field are important (since we can't all do everything really well), but their value lies less in their specific expertise than in their ability to ask the right questions. When economists spend more time 'proselytizing free trade rather than communicated what economics really teaches on trade', the gap between the expert and the layperson grows, and everyone is worse off.

Rodrik also provides further proof for the American Scene's and my argument that expertise in one field doesn't necessarily imply expertise in another in his post from Wednesday discussing economists and governance.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Idiots and Insects

I didn't read this post on Intellectualism, Expertise and the Risk of Idiocy by James Poulos on the American Scene until today, but I'm glad I saved it. It's short, sweet, and right (hmm, I wish I wrote like that...)

I've always been a fan of intellectuals, probably in part because I've always aspired to be one. A point of distinction: there is a difference between someone who is (over)educated says they know best because of their expertise in another field, and someone who thinks critically about a broad range of subjects. On the former, I like commenter J Mann best:

One of the gripes about intellectuals is like that about celebrity activists, that they are arguing from an authority that they do not even really possess. The mere fact that you are a John Bates Clark-winning economist or came up with some novel theories about linguistic development does not necessarily mean you will be an interesting writer about politics, for instance. If I get the feeling that you aren’t performing in area 2, it will irritate me to hear people saying that I should listen to you because you are so accomplished in area 1.

This isn’t to say that you have to stay within your field — it’s just to say that your ideas outside your field need to stand just as firmly as they would be required to if you were some nobody with a blog. Crighton’s ideas on scientific consensus and global warming are well put and interesting, but nobody should believe them just because he’s a Harvard med student or a best-selling thriller writer.

To me, you can only claim to know best if you have direct expertise or experience in the matter. Otherwise, you're just a guy with an opinion, no matter how well educated, famous, wealthy, or good-looking you might be. Intellectuals aren't necessarily anything particularly special - there's no one school or subject matter that singles them out. They're just guys (and girls) with enough facts and logic and confidence to speak up and say, 'well, I'm no expert, but has anyone thought about this?'. Sometimes the answers will be hard, sometimes they'll be obvious, but someone has to ask them.

We've been so long stuck with the type of the effete intellectual, perpetuated in part by the paternalistic elite that have emerged. I don't need a public figure to tell me 'This is bad for you so I'm going to stop you from doing it because I know what's best for you.'

My ideal intellectual would be someone like this:

Paternalistic government/non-profit/celebrity/lawyer type (PGNPCLT): Any statement involving the word 'should', especially when based on the argument 'because we said so'.
Intellectual: Well that's a stupid idea.
PGNPCLT: Well too bad. You're going to have to do it our way anyway.
Intellectual: Screw you.

Really, I'd hope any intellectual could offer reasonable criticism and solutions, and do it all in the form of a debate, rather than a fisticuffs - they are intellectuals, after all, not boxers (although imagine another Hemingway or Hunter S. Thompson) - but the basic sentiment stands.

This isn't quite what what Poulos meant when he hoped for someone who '[dares] to presume an entitlement to address the world whole', but the point is to produce 'meaningful conversations' and 'great thinkers'. I think that being an intellectual requires the embrace of the whole meaning of humanity and human society, not just small select snippet of it. It requires being a thinking person. That, of course, requires first being a person. Isolation within fields is not just the only problem, it is isolation from other people - ivory-tower elitism (a curse of both liberals and conservatives) - that weakens our national discourse as well.

I'm reminded of a Robert A. Heinlein quote

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects (emphasis mine).

Fortunately, I do think the trend is shifting with my generation. We're less likely to take any expert's advice at face value, we love scholars who talk back and stand their ground, and we're passionately interested in everything, even if we are easily distracted (because we are?). I'm sure my generation will have our George W. Bushs, our Tom Wolfes, and our Richard Posners. But we'll also have our Hannah Arendts and Susan Sontags, except they'll be Sam Powers (honorary) and Anya Kamenetz, to name a few.

The Gods Must Be Smiling

Or the muses at least.

Two articles, one on generational concepts of leadership, one buying locally, were published in the WaPo just as I'm starting to think about writing articles on those subjects. I'm not sure exactly how 'Many Potential Leaders of Tomorrow Reject the Role' will be used - might get wrapped into another post I'm writing, or might end up inspiring another, but 'In Trial Run, Chipotle Heads to the Farm' will become a point in a piece about our cultural food amnesia (or something like that).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Regrets Necessary


Global Development Series

How do we know what works?
The Promise and Progress of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3IE)

Ruth Levine
Vice President, Center for Global Development

Thursday, March 27 6:30-8:00 pm
1776 Massachusetts Ave NW, Suite 301
Washington, DC

RSVP Required

I'm unable to attend this YPFP event tonight, since I'll be at the UNA-NCA Global Public Health Career Panel Event from 7-830 (see IR Events for details), but luckily the Center for Global Development has both the final report and the policy brief available online. I know you're excited.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

iConflict Is Now Live

From the About Us page:

iConflict seeks to empower people who have been struggling to find a place and a space to tell their story. No other citizen journalism site enables users to connect, discuss and share news on conflicts and crises. If you care about resolving conflicts, then join our global grass-roots effort.

Now, citizen journalists, activists, relief workers, volunteers, and citizens living amidst conflicts, can share their experiences by uploading images and videos to iConflict, from their computers, cameras or cell phones. Users can upload news articles, comment on posted stories, and use their voice to engage in an active dialogue with our online community.

Your participation in iConflict will help to increase awareness on the important events happening all over the world.

iConflict is the only citizen journalism site to focus on international conflicts and crises. If you want news and information on the truly important news events taking place today, there's only one place to go –

At iConflict, your news, is news.

To contact iConflict click here.

Anthropology in Everything: Ethnography as Hustling

I actually saw this post by Chris Blattman a few days ago, but forgot to post it. In addition to excerpting Gang Leader for a Day, he reflects on his own research:

Like many a researcher I felt the extractiveness of these interviews -- acutely. You tell yourself that the study is for the greater good -- that it will change policies and perceptions for the benefit of all. And indeed I think it has, at least more than I imagined.

Even so, I see now that these interviews were also a hustle. Me, scouring displacement camps for rebel leaders and victims, hungrily asking questions. Them, answering questions in the hopes that I could give them something, would give them something, in return for information. And if nothing else, I was simply a way to relieve the boredom of life in a displacement camp.

He continues,

There is something very morally challenging in field work among the very poor. You fear that you exploit them. With your cleverness, wealth and influence, you think you must also protect them. But Sudhir realizes that he has overestimated his cleverness and underestimated theirs. He is using them for a selfish as well as a greater good, and they him.

In my case I think the power is less evenly distributed. However much I am hustled back, I have much more to give and gain than they do.

Although I haven't done nearly the field work that he or Sudhir Venkatesh have, but I can attest to the worry that comes with it. Any anthropologist, certainly, who doesn't feel this tension in some way is just being intellectually dishonest; anthropology has been used too many times as a facade for colonialism for the potential for abuse to be denied lightly (I realize Blattman is an economist, but the point stands).

World TB Day

Yesterday was World TB Day. Global Health Policy has a run-down of the good and bad news about TB, as well as a link to the World TB Day website.

To celebrate, there's some good news from South Africa.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Two Book Reviews

Not by me, although hopefully I'll get back to my reading soon.

First, Dani Rodrik's book One Economics, Many Recipes, reviewed by Prospect Magazine's John Kay. The review requires a subscription to view, but Rodrik kindly provides excerpts.

The second is Tyler Cowen's take on Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, by every singer's favorite economist, Jeff Sachs. I, personally, can't stand to read Sachs, and feel that William Easterly rightly took him to task in his book, White Man's Burden, but it sounds as if Tyler cautiously recommends it.

Looking Back in Iraq

Slate's been running some excellent essays from pundits and bloggers to answer the question: 'why did we get it wrong?'

In a parallel universe, this essay by Jim Henley ran in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate and The New Yorker.

Anthropology in Everything: Space Economics

This article by ABC News: 'What You Don't Know About Living in Space' is pretty fascinating in-and-of-itself, but what makes it stand out, at least for Marginal Revolution, where I found it (and I'm surprised this wasn't tagged as 'Markets in Everything'), is the trading in space section(second page):

Money has no value in space. When seven astronauts are living together in a cramped atmosphere the psychology of small isolated groups kicks in. Whoever has squirreled away the most M&Ms, tortillas or coffee has the most bargaining power. Those are items that are most prized at the end of a mission if someone runs short in their own stash. Astronauts' meals are color coded on shuttle missions -- and reliable sources tell ABC News some astronauts aren't above switching the colored dots on their dehydrated meals if they have run out of say, lasagna, on day six and have way too much creamed spinach left.

The question that makes this anthropologically interesting is: why create a barter system; why not share everything equally? Is it simply due to acculturation (these seem to be American astronauts, so they've grown up in a capitalist market economy), or does this provide some deeper insight in to the human mind?

Tyler and his readers ask some good questions as well, although I can only hope that Peter was kidding about the creamed spinach.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

It's Snowing (?) !

That is all.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Headlines from Africa

Most of the headlines on today are pretty disheartening, but there does seem to be some promising news:

Uganda: Country, Rwanda Sign Oil

From the Bureau of No Sh*t, Sherlock

Sudan: Darfur Attackers Violated International Law - UN.

Really? I hadn't figured.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The AIDS Political Crisis

In my continuing quest to completely eliminate any free time, I stumbled across AIDS and Power: Why There is No Political Crisis - Yet by Alex de Waal on the Social Science Research Council's website.

I haven't bought the book yet, but the Table of Contents and the first chapter, A Manageable Catastrophe, are available online.De Waal's premise is interesting: while we're doing a decent (but not good) job of managing AIDS - getting antiretrovirals to where they are needed, at affordable prices, we haven't focused on eliminating AIDS - changing behavioral patterns to limit incidences of HIV infections. This has two important ramifications:
  1. Teenagers in developing countries have a shockingly high likelihood of developing AIDS
  2. 'Today's generation faces a greater inequity in global life chances than its predecessors, and this is increasingly due to adult mortality and not child deaths.'
demographic modelling suggests that even at very high prevalence levels - up to 40% or so - can be sustained indefinitely without a fall in the absolute numbers of a population. At that prevalence, the great majority of adults will end their lives early to AIDS. Today's crash in life expectancy will not be quickly reversed... (de Waal 6)
It is this final point - that current population levels will be maintained, but the demographic makeup will shift downward, to a population primarily of children, teenagers, and young adults, that leads de Waal to consider this a 'perpetuated calamity'. As this New York Times article discusses, very young populations contribute to strife and instability:
In poor countries with rapidly growing populations, intense competition for education, jobs and land among the young contributes to discontent and makes it easier for rebel groups to recruit, said Elizabeth Leahy, the primary author of a new report for Population Action, a nonprofit group in Washington.
Hence, the concern, at least from the West.

But it is not a simple matter of government officials ignoring the news. African rulers are canny, with a 'sound appreciation of how power functions.' They know that 'they won't be removed from office or even face political threats on account of AIDS.' (de Waal 2) If the opposite were true, believe that Mbeki and others would not have bothered with the AIDS denial that has so shocked and outraged Westerners. They might privately admit it, but they wouldn't base policy on it.

Sadly, AIDS does not head the population's list of priorities. Concerns such as unemployment, poverty, crime, education and general health improvements regularly outrank AIDS. (7) De Waal ends the chapter:
We should not mistake managing the political and social threats emanating from the AIDS epidemic for an effective response to the immense human tragedy of HIV/AIDS itself... [W]e still lack the kind of evidence we need if we are to be able to design effective policies and programmes to overcome HIV/AIDS. We are not seriously demanding that our leaders prevent HIV infections, and we should not be surprised that they are failing to do so. (10)
I'm intrigued.

GlaxoSmithKline Tears Down the Barriers

Somehow I missed the importance of this post over at Global Health Policy, the Center for Global Development's Health blog.

Yesterday, the Financial Times reported GlaxoSmithKline's exciting new strategy to expand markets and increase access to medicines in low- and middle-income countries. Through an internal policy known as "tearing down the barriers," the company has established differential pricing schemes within and between India, South Africa and other developing countries, in hopes of shifting to a new low price, high volume business model. While similar initiatives have existed for AIDS antiretrovirals (in part through the work of the Clinton Foundation), the GSK strategy notably moves beyond the "Big Three" infectious diseases to tackle the growing challenge of diabetes and other noncommunicable diseases with a dual market among the rich and poor.

This is big news. Development groups and charities (and many others, myself included) tend to focus on AIDS, malaria, TB, and other 'big name' diseases, but forget to think about non-communicable diseases and conditions that can make a productive and healthy life very difficult. This might be a symptom of the general health (or at least easy access to medications) enjoyed by most people who support international projects, who are usually not the same ones who are most often debilitated by these diseases. It's nice to see a multinational pharmaceutical company stepping in to fill the gap.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

View from the South

Saddening events in South Africa.

When I was there in 2004 there was some disappointment at the limited achievements of the ANC - both from blacks and whites - but also hope at consensus building with, and in, other parties. For that reason, I never really fell for the ANC - I respect its history, and Mandela of course, but a good legacy doesn't make a difference if you can't govern in the present. And for a variety of reasons - Mbeki in general, but specifically his AIDS denial and acquiesence to Mugabe, and now Zuma's leadership, I'm beginning to wonder if the ANC still has what it takes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Picking on the Economist

What is going on?

First Dani Rodrik confesses he doesn't read it, then Chris Blattman follows suit. Now Henry at Crooked Timber wonders if 'the Economist may be too sophisticated for its own good.' YouNotSneaky offers advice on how to read the Economist.

Yglesias suggests just thinking of it as your 'well-traveled, reasonably witty cousin who voyage[s] around the world with a good eye for detail and a personality marred by a strange obsession with labor market deregulation and pension privatization'.

The Dismal Science Strikes Again

From Globalisation and the Environment today:

What is the impact of foreign direct investment in developing countries? Inquiring minds - at least mine - really want to know, but this abstract is such a tease. Still, at the moment, I'd rather spend my $32 some other way, so I'll have to check for it in JStor.

As a side note though, does he not have a subscription either? I understand not reprinting the article in its entirety, but how about some analysis for those of us who can't read it?

Changing topics, but still from G&E, it appears we will all starve to death in the next couple of years, since as it is no one can afford corn, and now wheat is being wiped out. Now, since I know that this second article will undoubtedly lead to an outlash at GMO foods, I'd like to point out two things:

  1. this fungus is attacking many varieties (plural) of wheat,
  2. it, or at least wheat fungus in general, is not a new problem.
Would 'heritage breeds' be more resistant? My thought is no. Don't get me wrong, I love eating heritage breeds - much tastier generally - but they are NOT the end-all to our food problems.

Development Reading

Chris Blattman and his readers on what to read in development. He kindly links to Dani Rodrik's 'Economic Development: Theory, Policy and Evidence' syllabus. It seems the syllabus contains live links, and most of the works are journal articles, not books, which means I might actually have a chance of fitting them into my schedule.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Development Post

And now that we've had trade, here's some development.

From the Bayesian Heresy, some development videos.

And from the World Bank, agriculture for development.

Under African Skies

My freshman year of college, I read In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo by Michela Wrong and Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden for my Introduction to International Relations class. Those two books served as my first in-depth exposure to African political and economic problems. It was inexplicable to me that an entire continent, especially with such a wealth of natural resources as Africa, could be so mired in conflict and poverty. The problem of development captured me and while I did not begin taking courses specifically concerning Africa until my junior year, I found myself continually circling back. All the other lessons I learned about economics, international politics, US foreign policy, even ethics, all were applied to expand my comprehension of African development.

My junior year of college, I applied, and was accepted, to American University’s Washington Semester Program on International Environmental Development. In addition to giving me a chance to leave the classroom and meet policymakers on their own turf, the spring semester curriculum included a trip to South Africa for three weeks. I finally had a chance to see the problems I had been studying for myself, instead of relying on the reports of others. However, I misjudged the effects of leaving behind the academic world, and experiencing it for myself. In South Africa, I found both a place that I love and a purpose in life.

Even four years later, every so often, especially in the spring, when the moon is bright, and the fresh breeze blows over the budding earth, I lay in bed and dream that when I wake, I will see Table Mountain outside my window and I will be able to press my face to the glass and revel in the sights of Cape Town.

When I open my eyes to suburban Maryland instead, it is not simply that I am upset or saddened; I feel crushed, almost as if a piece of my soul has been taken from me. Somehow, someway, I had my heart stolen in the Cape Town International Airport, and far from wanting it back, I only want to go back.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Minerva Deadline EXTENDED!

Breaking news:

Thesil has extended the deadline for Minerva entries to April 15th, which means that I might actually be able to finish my piece in time. We'll see.

And MANY THANKS! to Val Schrock for making the button for us! (visible on all of the WFI's pages)

Because It's Just Been That Kind of Week

Garfield minus Garfield

Anthropology in Everything, Pathogen Edition

Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution (such a clever name! the blog's, not his) has an occasional series entitled Markets in Everything. It's a feature I love because it's so true, and it really makes me stop to think about incentives, disincentives, and rationality of behaviors, and all that other stuff from microeconomics that still makes me cringe.

The same can be said for anthropology. Anthropology is the study of human beings, and more specifically, our cultures. So not surprisingly, anthropology has insights into everything, or at least everything we care about. However, just like economics, most people don't bother to think about it. So I'm starting my own series: Anthropology in Everything (no, I will not bother being more original).

Starting off this glorious initiative: The germs made us do it! (form societies, that is).

A new study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B finds that:

Pathogenic diseases impose selection pressures on the social behaviour of host populations. In humans (Homo sapiens), many psychological phenomena appear to serve an antipathogen defence function. One broad implication is the existence of cross-cultural differences in human cognition and behaviour contingent upon the relative presence of pathogens in the local ecology. We focus specifically on one fundamental cultural variable: differences in individualistic versus collectivist values. We suggest that specific behavioural manifestations of collectivism (e.g. ethnocentrism, conformity) can inhibit the transmission of pathogens; and so we hypothesize that collectivism (compared with individualism) will more often characterize cultures in regions that have historically had higher prevalence of pathogens. Drawing on epidemiological data and the findings of worldwide cross national surveys of individualism/collectivism, our results support this hypothesis: the regional prevalence of pathogens has a strong positive correlation with cultural indicators of collectivism and a strong negative correlation with individualism. The correlations remain significant even when controlling for potential confounding variables. These results help to explain the origin of a paradigmatic cross-cultural difference, and reveal previously undocumented consequences of pathogenic diseases on the variable nature of human societies.
Basically, the more prevalent pathogens are, the more likely a society is to practice collectivism, in order to 'provide defence against the dangers posed by pathogens.'

Ronald Bailey at Reason has more of the story.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Technical Difficulties

One of the problems I often face with blogging (well, more often with blogging, but this is a general writing issue) is that I will read something and be incredibly inspired and so think that I am ready to write, only to realize that the idea hasn't yet gelled and the words won't come.

This is different from writer's block (when I know exactly what I want to say and the words still won't come) but it is similar enough that if I'm tired or stressed, I'll confuse the two and go into a panic (I have writer's block, I'm worthless!).

In reality, I just have to start writing down everything I think is important and then constantly edit it. Sometimes, the process more resembles normal editing; perhaps a vigourous winter pruning before the spring blooms, but nothing major. At other times, it's more like hacking my way through a bramble patch: lots of hard work, no guarantee of satisfaction, and everything ends up a bloody, sticky mess.

I feel like I'm doing the latter with a couple of ideas I have for the EI. I wrote a first draft introduction to this blog in February, and now 3 weeks later, I'm still nowhere close to shaping it properly. The same is true for several other planned entries.

Luckily, I've at least finally realized that it's not writer's block, and so have stopped fighting and turned to other projects instead. As a result, I've now written several entries for the EI, We Are Publius, Blogworthy, and The List.

So I'm working on it. Blogging, as much as I enjoy it, is not always the best way for me to approach an idea, although it is so convenient for the presentation afterwards. This is a tension I'll probably always feel.

But, live, and learn, and write.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Spring Cleaning

I often email interesting articles to myself in the hope that one day I'll eventually write about them. This plan has worked gloriously well, as I now have over 6o emails labeled 'writing ideas' and I've produced... well, a handful of posts. I finally started a feed, so that will hopefully help with future ideas, but I'm posting older links here. Enjoy.

The Environment
National Security and the Threat of Climate Change
The Endless Pursuit of Unnecessary Things
Decrying the Pursuit of Unnecessary Things
The International Climate Change Conference

International Affairs
The Peace Studies Racket
Export Security, Not Democracy

Political Philosophy
A Timeline of Libertarian Thought
Real Libertarianism

Poverty and Development
Guests in the Machine
Dollar's Fall Is Felt around the World
Ending Global Apartheid
Economic Opportunities for Our Grandchildren
Future of the IMF
IMF Fact of the Day
Should We Abolish the IMF
Graft Paper

US Politics
Financing the Common Good
The Endless Campaign
Making Politics Less Important to Elections
NAFTA and the Dems

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Drowning in Time

Words of wisdom for daylight savings time:

We are not stressed because we have no time, but
rather, we have no time because we are stressed.
I'll confess to this problem. I often find myself in the absurd position of staying up till at least midnight in an attempt to catch up on what are supposed to be fun, if challenging pursuits, but which have now been reduced to mere chores (reading, blogging, watching episodes of House).

Paradoxically, I've found that the best way for me to de-stress my life is to schedule it more, but only if I actually keep to the schedule. Otherwise, I 'fall behind' and fail to meet my (probably too high) standards of achievement. Personally, I love the sight of a list with items steadily being checked off.

On a completely practical noted, is DST bad for the environment?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Pursuing the Global Common Good

I wrote this review for We Are Publius, but feel it's better suited for the EI (and I want to eventually create a series of book reviews, and want it to show up in the search).

Minerva Deadline

As a heads-up for aspiring authors of global governance policy, the deadline for Minerva vol. 32 is March 15.

To submit, please contact the editor:

thesil [at]

PO Box 397
Waldoboro, ME 04572

Thesil is a fantastic person and she puts out a really top quality publication. If you can't submit, but still want to read the journal, either contact Thesil at the above address or read it online in PDF form.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

'Motherf*cking Campaign Finance Reform'

I'll admit to being partial to campaign finance reform. I agree that money can qualify as speech - put your money where your mouth is and all that - but I don't like the idea of lobbyists buying politicians. I'm enough of an idealist that I don't think that some people's speech should be 'more equal' than others just because they have several million dollars sitting behind it. But Obama's campaign has just changed all the rules. (Although personally, I like Mark Kleiman's phrasing better)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Today's Horoscope

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22)

Sometimes you resist fantastic ideas simply because you know that if you 'go there' you may not return to the land of logic. So what? Don't return. Believe and make it so.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sorry, I Only Speak DC

Finally, some recognition for my native dialect.