Friday, December 10, 2010

Fantastic Mr. Kim

Looking at things:

Monday, December 6, 2010

How much of your government's budget goes to aid?

Note: this measure does not include aid given to countries that are considered 'developed' nor aid that is composed of export credits, official sector equity, portfolio investment, or debt reorganisation. 

Monday, November 29, 2010


The topic of Philosophy popped in to a discussion I had with a devout Muslim work mate of mine today:

"Darwin, Freud and Marx represent the triangle of destruction," he said sternly and solemnly.

"Destruction!?" I said, slightly shocked, "With Nietzsche I think you have a fourth."


"Yeah, you know, God is dead? He is one of my favourites." I recapitulated facetiously.

"Ohh, Neitzsche. Yeah, he was lucky I was not alive, I would have hung him." He pronounced.

 I laughed,"Yep, I think we've completed your square."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Cred: James Haskins

Monday, November 22, 2010

A five star Hajj

The following is a guest post by JLD.

How fascinating to see the degree of opulence that this year has become possible during the pilgrimage of The Hajj, a momentous occasion for all Muslims who are fortunate enough to get there: to Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

It is to be the great leveller of occasions in the spiritual life of millions of devotees of Islam, evident in the same white attire that is worn by all pilgrims. And all are to participate in the rituals in similar fashion, while walking, praying, stoning the symbols of evil, and other aspects that have rich spiritual meaning.

What is interesting to the observer is the introduction of the glamorous accommodations provided by the enormous new Fairmont Hotel Makkah Clock Royal Tower, pictured above. Their least expensive room is currently a thousand dollars per night, while the most exclusive of suites is a mere $4,000 --- per night, yes. The pilgrims are, apparently, segregating themselves according to wealth. Some Africans, for example, many of whom can afford only the fare to get there, are often found asleep on the ground, their prayer mats providing perhaps some meagre protection and comfort, whereas those pilgrims of wealthy (Arab?) nations, perhaps, who partake of the luxury and accept the Fairmont's steep tarriffs --- are no doubt the primary consumers.

Hmmm... what does this suggest to the world about the commitment to a commonality among the pilgrims during this---for most---once-in-a-lifetime experience? How about supporting those pilgrims less fortunate by providing basic, comfortable, convenient living arrangements at no cost --- and truly share the wealth?

JGK: [Can anyone else see any symbolism in the Fairmont casting a pointed shadow over the Grand Mosque at certain times of the day? The word penetration comes to mind...]

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A look into the lives of Senegalese Chinese


Aside from the added aura of doom courtesy of the Al Jazeera presenter (who's name seems unnaturally guttural), I think it's quite an honest presentation of the troubles of Chinese entrepreneurs in Senegal.

There are many countries in the world that have an imported entrepreneurial/capitalist class. In Kenya, for example, Indians have made up a very large portion of business owners since the 80's. Invariably, socio-political economic tensions ensue.

Nothing escapes the damn late cptlst mrktplce

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Deals Done

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to push his cabinet to freeze most construction on West Bank settlements for 90 days--in exchange for a $3 billion package from the United States in security incentives and fighter jets--so that peace talks could continue.

- Harpers Weekly

Friday, November 12, 2010

Youtube of the week - RSAnimate

This channel is fantastic. Internationally renowned thinkers, writers and philosophers speak as an amazing white-board artist animates their ideas with a marker. Check it out! I'm addicted.

Here is Ken Robinson's talk on the failures of our current education paradigm:

There are plenty more at!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

About Joel G.K.

My name is Joel, I am currently working on an education reform PPP project as an English language advisor. I've kept my name abbreviated so as to protect myself from trouble arising from some of the more crass remarks I've made about some powerful organizations here that could affect me directly. I hope you don't mind.

While international economics and politics aren't a part of my job as an advisor, my mind invariably wanders off in that direction on a daily basis. This blog is my musing. Ultimately, I want to know why poverty persists, why the whole world isn't 'developed', what actions can be taken to improve the lives of the poor and how I can help to inspire a transformation in a status quo that has failed to address these problems on a systemic level. I'm also easily distracted and curious about many other things, as you may find out. This blog should ultimately labour to tease out some coherence from certain pockets of global affairs. I hope your curiosity is piqued :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

We should not spend any money on fighting climate change

If we live in a world with limited budgets we face tradeoffs in choosing to spend our limited resources on one thing over another.

If you had 100 dollars to spend (representing our pooled OECD disposable income) on either climate change, war, or poverty and each required 40 dollars to have any effect, which would you choose to spend money on?

Well, consider this:

1. Climate change poses an existential threat to the human race ... in 50 years. 

2. War poses an existential threat to several million people today.

3. Poverty poses an existential threat to 1/4 of the human race today. 

Changed your mind yet?

Bonus for choosing to fight poverty or war: you'll probably end up fighting against global warming too. Neither war nor poverty is good for the environment. I don't mean to say that poor people are inherently ignorant of environmentalism, and I recognize the biggest co2 producers are largely OECD, but it is clear which countries are growing economically, and degrading environmentally, the fastest today.

Of course the choices are not strictly discrete, but poverty and war are some of the worst offenders when it comes to climate change. If you are a humanitarian and are focused on fighting climate change, think about the millions of people trying to lift themselves out of poverty who have little regard for the environment. Undoubtedly, it is extremely difficult to lift oneself out of poverty without destroying a bit of the environment (have we ever seen a nation succeed?) so herein lies the challange:

The progress of nations; a selection from . Notice the slopes.

How can we develop without destroying the various resource cycles that allow us to continue to satiate our appetite for 'wealth' (which we cant seem to get over). How can we maintain our resources to ensure the well being of future generations while raising the living standards of the bottom two billion?

The climate change is invariably a problem of war, poverty and development, but war, poverty and development are more pressing and not (necessarily) a problem of climate change.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Got front page google for 'superbear'!

Search 'superbear' in google and I'm in 8th place!

A huge jump from last week... I was on the third page.

If only the person who is hoarding the domain would give it up!

How much aid goes to dictators?

This much:

Consult Freedom House for more on what it means to be free, and Bill Easterly on what it means to give to a dictator.


Monday, November 8, 2010

CDG get points for the CDI

Yep, you guessed it, it's the 2010 Commitment to Development Index. Go ahead. See where your favourite country stacks up. 

The report has a fantastic breakdown of each rich country's strengths and weaknesses in supporting development through aid, trade, investment, migration, security, environment and technology. Point for comprehensive development indices!

Think Sweden might be a shining beacon of development assistance? Well, you would be right, as it scored highest overall. However, not surprisingly, in the technology category it scored solidly below average. Here's why: 

  • Low tax subsidy rate to businesses for R&D (rank: 20)
  • Offers patent-like proprietary rights to developers of data compilations, including those assembled from data in the public domain 
  • Large share of government R&D expenditure on defense (1.0%; rank: 17)  
  • Pushes to incorporate into bilateral free trade agreements "TRIPS-Plus" measures that restrict the flow of innovations to developing countries

While I can't get on board criticizing their subsidy policy regarding R&D (seems to be working!), their adherence to TRIPS-Plus is downright boneheaded. This policy program restricts WTO members to a prohibitive intellectual property rights regime and continues to do real damage to development.

(Also look how poorly Canada scores for environment! Why? Ahem:   1. High greenhouse gas emissions rate per capita (21.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent; rank: 21)  and  2. Poor compliance with mandatory reporting requirements under multilateral environmental agreements relating to biodiversity (rank: 18))

Point for fun-time graphs, and one for pretty country report graphics too!

CDG: 3, Tea Party: 0 (?)

Hyman Minsky

Hyman Minsky.

That is all.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010

Stats Class

The first line from Theory of Moral Sentiments:

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it." - Adam Smith

 That Mr. Smith is so frequently used to prop up an entirely antithetical notion of self regulating markets, i.e. the notion that self-serving actions are the most efficient and most beneficial for society, is more than a little bit disconcerting.

 Proponents of rational choice theory (where actions for the good of others are seen as irrational if they result in no personal benefit), free-marketeers, and anyone who has quoted Mr. Smith while defending the notion of an unfettered marketplace should go back and read the first line of his slightly less famous, but no less groundshaking, book The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

 Is it any coincedence that the third hit on google for 'moral sentiments' is Adam Smith on

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How transparent is your aid?

Do you give to charity? Do you know exactly where your money is going? Is 15% going to overhead, 30% going to implementation, and 25% going to an advertising budget? Well, we may never really know where our private charity cash is going but we can sure demand to know where our governments are being most generous, right? Damn right! has come out with what they are calling the first 'global' assessment of aid transparency. It is compelling and accusatory. Take a look:

They also have a li'l interactive visualization feature.

Next time you see your government, stop them and ask them where your tax/charity money is going.

So you want to go to grad school do you...

Website of the week -

Click to find some of the finest and most fascinating research in America the world.

The newest paper this week argues that the minimum wage has made low-skill jobs harder to get and this prompts teenagers to stay in school for longer with the hope of becoming more employable. (Social scientists may be suspicious of biases form omitted variables, exogenous shocks and the like.)

Be there and be square.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Right to the City

Too many people on this planet do not have the right to have rights.

Once that is fixed we can talk about the right to the 'city'.

...just a thought about the 'right to the city' movement.

Graphs that lend some perspective on the new economic world order


Post crisis:

Monday, October 25, 2010

A particular message to all you nitpickers
from Stephen Fry

e.g. Rory, Nat and Ben

Friday, October 22, 2010

A note on QE2 and the looming "currency war"

According to Brazil's finance minister, and almost every major US news source, a currency war is here or is at least imminent.

The US Fed is about to release QE2 which means that, among the won, twd and yen, more US dollars will soon be floating around the world. What is the cause for concern, and what could turn this into a war?

Firstly to prevent any sillyness (volitility = bad) between the G3 nations, the respective central banks ought to coordinate. Yes, coordination is the name of the game. If they do not coordinate, volatile currencies will disrupt economies further and protective tariffs could be slapped up all over the place. (China already slapped one on US poultry.) This is what they mean by war.

To avoid catastrophe, everyone (BOJ, ECB and Fed) should let it be know exactly what policies they will pursue so currencies can move together and we can all happily export to each other! It is a well documented point that coordinated policies have huge spillover effects and are therefore much more effective.

A cheaper currency means cheaper exports from the G3, it is akin to an export subsidy. This is good for the G3 but bad for everyone else. Should everyone else start launching attacks, i.e. start interfering in the currency market?

Countries that allow their currencies to appreciate with respect to the G3 currencies will endure the exact opposite of a subsidy. Their exports will become more expensive on the world market and their economies will suffer. This could provoke tariff wars.

Countries that follow the G3 down run a serious risk of over-heating (inflation, asset bubbles etc.), an equally disruptive result. With the new appetite for emerging markets since the crisis and more money floating around the globe, many countries are in danger of running a bubbly economy.

So what should they do? Well, it's a tough situation. At the very least, a little industrial policy could help. Nations should to protect their key manufacturing sectors by propping up domestic demand for them, and bow quietly out of the war.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Well, on the topic of maps...

Here's a great one from Chris Blattman, who just posted the 'size does matter' map that I posted yesterday:

I tend to correct people more often when they assume incorrectly that tigers exist in Africa than when they assume I can tell them 'what Africa is like', having lived only in Kenya (one country in fifty two).

Another one with a H/T to Blattman:

Mohammedans, Christians and Heathens, Oh my!
Reminds me of a quote from Hegel...

This one is for an Italian friend of mine who very much believes this ;)
 He adds that Berlusconia sadly covers the whole country, and really, the iron curtain should be much farther north ;)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Treatment as prescribed

"Dr Ahmed al Kubaisi, head of Sharia Studies at Iraq’s Baghdad University, said that under Sharia law beating one’s wife was an option to PREVENT the breakdown of the family. He said it should be used only as a substitute to resorting to the police."

 What do you think? If you disagree I say you're on the verge of breaking our family apart...

(never mind the likely bias of the source ok?

Found in Translation

The U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan named its transition process from foreign to local security forces "Inteqal," which means "transfer" in Dari and Pashto, the country's two main languages. In Urdu, the official language of neighbouring Pakistan, it means "dead." - Harper's Weekly

Monday, October 18, 2010

This just in: Africa is a massive continent


Don't let them mercator projections fool ya!

For all you deficit hawks,
a graph:

From Krugman:

What is to notice here? US government spending (in blue) has continued on its pre-crisis trajectory! For all the fuss about all the extra money being spent on ill-advised government sponsored projects, the blue figures are not the ones that are disconcerting. 

The red line is revenue. Why has it tanked? The US is in a recession of course! 

I am a firm proponent of government sponsored recovery. As the saying goes, "We're all Keynesians now."  It is only clear too than when private investment freezes up, the government must step in to fill the void or the economy will grind to a halt a la 1930. However, as Obama himself admitted in a Times Magazine last Sunday, “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” Inefficient spending is a problem, but in times like these it is not as bad as not spending at all.

That red line would not be creeping upward if not for the solid trajectory of the blue one.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dirty Dirty Evo

Bolivian President Evo Morales apologized for kneeing an opponent in the groin during a friendly football match between members of Morales's Movement Toward Socialism party and the opposition party, Movement Without Fear.

Is it telling that the opposition has such a title? I wonder if this tactic has instilled a little fear in them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Funny Link - Male fish in Mexico sports sexy 'moustache'

No joke! :D

Click on the pic, it is hilarious.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to download any video with Safari

Want to save that youtube video? Want to get a hard copy of that vimeo? Safari can do it without any additional fiddly little programs.

1. Open the page and click play on the video.

2. Press command-option 'a'

3. Scroll down the activity window to the largest thing going on. (Its usually the only thing more than 5MB)

4. Double click on it. Presto! No hassle, no mess!

5. You may have to click on the down loaded file, wait till the name is highlighted and add a .flv extention to the name.

To play .flv (flash) format with quicktime I suggest downloading Perian. It is a painless, free quicktime component that lets you play EVERYTHING right in quicktime.

Bye bye, VLC! (though I do keep VLC around just for its extra loud preamp abilities)

Youtube(like) of the week - The History of the Carbomb

Former CIA agent Robert Baer  reveals how the century of the car turned into the century of the car bomb.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pic of the Week - Cohiba Maduro 5 Magicos

As exquisite as they look

Middle East Drink Tales

Once upon a time, when I was eleven years old, I ran into my house sweaty and thirsty from a day out in the street playing basketball. I ripped open the fridge door in search of a nice cool drink. Nothing was to be found. I searched the cupboards and again, found nothing. Tap water? Nah, not in Saudi; who knows where it's coming from. Then, I spotted it. A glistening bottle of water perched atop the fridge. The symbols in permanent red marker on the side were of no concern to my thirsty-child eyes. After about three glugs of vertical-bottle chugging the triple x's on the side suddenly made sense. It was pure grain alcohol! Baaaaaahhhhhh! I gaged and coughed and my eyes watered profusely. It took all my strength not to puke it all back up.

My parents came rushing to the scene and cared for me, but laughed quietly for a long time afterwards. They had just bought the bottle from the neighbourhood distillery in our neighbours basement.


A friend of mine was just offered a job in Riyadh in educational management. He, a Scot of the finest brand, brought with him some Scotch from his hometown in the highlands. When he arrived at customs in Saudi Arabia the agents immediately took notice of the bottle and confiscated it promptly. He protested and argued with the security agents, particularly the one who held the aged bottle in his authoritative Muslim grip:

"You cannot bring alcohol into Saudi Arabia, sir. It is forbidden."
"It's no alcohol, its Scotch!"
"It is alcohol sir," said the agent, raising his tone to meet that of the angered Scotsman.
"Well, if I can't have it no one can!"

And with that, he grabbed the bottle from the agent and smashed it on the floor sending glass shards and aged whiskey everywhere.

He has been in jail for 3 months now.

I live in Abu Dhabi, a good 250 kilometers from Saudi Arabia. In a de jure Islamic dictatorship, I just bought a bottle of 14 year old Oban Whiskey from a nice little liquor store and it was cheaper than I could buy it in Canada. Mmmmm, Oban.

Don't believe people tell you that you can't tap into a fine bottle in the Middle East. You can. Only in some cases you'll need a nice, resourceful neighbour and in other cases you'll have to break the bottle and have three months of time to spare.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Participatory Budgeting?

What is of value to a city?

Citizens of Porto Alegre have been deciding that form them selves since the early 90s when the city first introduced participatory budgeting. This system involves a series of assemblies in each of the city's sixteen districts where the priorities of the people are discussed and decided upon.

The movement grew from 900 participants in its first year to upwards of 30,000 a few years later. During this time the number of children in municipal schools tripled. Hey, even the World Bank likes it.

Of course there are issues with participatory budgeting. If you hate your neighbours you aren't like to agree with them on how to spend community money. But I can imagine that differences are largely based on inequality. We can tackle the roots of inequality can't we? (hm...)

The people who take part in participatory budgeting have the power and the right to set the value of goods in their society. They have the power, the right and the freedom to determine what should be done to make their lives better. This is a step in the right direction. This, I believe, is a step of development.

(Then again, we have this: a clown winning a seat in Congress in Brazil. But municipal and federal politics are different animals, aren't they?)

Friday, October 1, 2010

My newest all-encompassing silver bullet for Development

Tax reform.

Yup, that's it.

Governments that have efficient, working tax systems will be held more accountable for their actions. They are likely to be more participatory for the fact that people are concerned with where their money is going. They will be more responsible to the citizenry because the people are the major revenue stream.

Let's takes a skeptical view of governments - say we label them large, inefficient public corporations. One could argue that they are inherently self interested organizations. (If we begin from this premise we need not rely on altruism.) If a government effectively views the health, education and well being of citizens as a profitable long term investment for its own benefit - for the benefit of the government - incentives are in order and Development is bound to take place

Governments often tap into other revenue sources outside income tax, sources that, towards development, are benign at best and devastating at worst. Rent from extractive industries, or simply from big businesses like MNC, distortive duties, bribery, and untied aid are all markedly worse than revenue from good ol' income tax. Here's a li'l stat I just found from the OECD.

In Africa as a whole, non-resource related revenue increased by less than 1% of GDP over 25 years.

As of right now I have not done any research into the subject beyond that quote. I am putting forward this theory as fresh from my mind ( It likely has a huge literature already that I have somehow missed). Tax systems as indicators, as determiners, as silver bullets.


I'm not sure if anyone really knows how to impel effectiveness in governments. I say we can start by putting money into tax systems and a participatory framework surrounding them.

(I was expecting a response about how gov'ts can abuse people through taxation...)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monday, September 27, 2010

What the!?

Keep your air fresh

A few years ago Kemal Meattle gave a compelling TED talk entitled "How to grow your own fresh air." To show that we can grow our own air, Mr. Meattle has conducted extensive studies in office buldings in India. His studies have shown that having enough of the right plants around can give ordinary slobs extraordinary powers (such as the power to stave off lung disease!).

For a government commussioned study, an office with 300 occupants was filled with 1200 plants. "... compared to other buildings in Delhi, the incidence of eye irritation reduced by 52%, lower respiratory symptoms by 34%, headaches by 24%, upper respiratory symptoms by 20%, lung impairment by 10-12% and Asthma by 9%. As a result of fewer sick days, employee productivity also increased."

Our experience points to an amazing increase in human productivity resulting from using these plants to be >20%, and energy costs to reduce by an extraordinary >15%.

Mr. Meattle mentions three plants in particular that are best in class:

The Money Plant is a filter like no other. It traps and stores airborne volatile organic compounds, like formaldehyde, while pumping out fresh clean O2. Live in a polluted area? Get yourself a few of these puppies.

The Areca Palm is a fantastic fresh air machine during the day. It is hearty, requires little water and is therefore very easy to take care of. Mr. Meattle suggests 4 per person; I have one.

The Mother-in-law's tongue (sharp!) is the night time expert. It is known to absorb 107 air pollutants including carbon monoxide and nitrogen monoxide. The mother-in-law can also eliminate bad odours, and it never tells you what to do!

The key property of the Mother-in-law's tongue comes from the fact that is that it is a CAM plant. Unlike normal C3 and C4 plants, CAM plants fix CO2 during the night. They store the necessary energy for photosynthesis during while light is available, and carry out the process in the dark. I promise you this; you'll both breath easier if you and your mother-in-law sleep in the same room together (sorry, had to).

Keep your air fresh!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tim Besley is good, it's got some grit

Here is a nice paper by Tim Besley and Torston Persson called State Capacity, Conflict, and Development (ungated here). In their own words, it is a "first step towards disentangling some of the complex interactions between state capacity, conflict and development" from an academic economics perspective.

It is a nice little model that "shows why we might expect the [fiscal and legal components] of state capacity to be complements and hence develop together, and illustrates why a lower risk of external conflict, a higher degree of resource dependence, as well as lower political stability, weaken the incentive for state building."

More on this soon...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Youtube of the week :0

Pic of the week -

 Algeria's Minister of Culture, Khalida Toumi, and Mrs. Ahmedinejad (and her entourage)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Website of the week- /

If you are like me and increasingly use the internet for watching television, movies, clips and any other form of visual entertainment, you probably find yourself trying to keep up with the latest website that streams. Streaming sites seem to always get shut down. I suppose it might be illegal in some way...  In any case you don't want to fill your precious hard drive space with that stuff do you? is just the ticket. It links to streaming content seamlessly (usually) and has a sleek look to it. Websites like rea1ese are often riddled with broken links, pop-ups and links to pay sights; on re1ease nuisances like those are fewer and further between than almost ever before.

A sight to help you keep track of the latest streaming sites is called It is absolutely essential for watching any media online. Usually links you to all you need. But so far, it has missed and for that reason it must share the title of website of the week.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's wrong with this view of international trade?

It's taught in Econ 101 after all...

Here’s the detailed technology by which you grow cars in Iowa:


"First you plant seeds, which are the raw material from which automobiles are constructed. You wait a few months until wheat appears. Then you harvest the wheat, load it onto ships, and sail the ships eastward into the Pacific Ocean. After a few months, the ships reappear with Toyotas on them."

Hints: externalities, transport costs, environmental costs, primary sector dependence, politics/power relations, exchange rates, terms of trade, technological adaptation ...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Piercing Eyes

Go ahead, click on 'em. See what I mean.

That's Nat. She's on a beach in Cuba.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cuban Siesta

The Cuban government is planning to lay off 500,000 employees in what will become the single biggest economic overhaul carried out by the Cuban government since 1959. (In my last post on Castro, in some vague sense, I called it!) The plan is to allow more businesses to be privately owned and for the private sector to then soak up the half a million fired. Hmmn.

Of course, the Cuban government has promised more private enterprize before. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cubans in the early ninties were allowed to open restaurants in their homes. After a first round of licenses were issued, no more were allowed. The private restaurants, often run in the living rooms of homes (think abuelita knitting in the corner), had to pay a fee every month. If one month was missed, the license was withheld and never reinstated. Needless to say, the number of licensed private restaurants has dwindled down to just a handful remaining today. 

Music is everywhere in Havana Vieja

Other promises of private enterprise have been equally halfhearted. I highly doubt that Cuba can adapt to a system of regulation rather than control quick enough to shift half a million people from the public to the private sector. But, this movement is coming from the top.
“We have to erase forever the notion that Cuba is the only country in the world where one can live without working,” 
Raúl said last month. He claims that the state employs as many as one million excess employees. It is true that with fewer, poorer tourists coming to visit, Cubans can't afford to be lazy. But one million people suddenly unemployed, come on Castro, moderation is key!

Not lazy, just old

I travelled to Cuba last month with a friend and I saw first hand what the economy looks like on the streets of Havana. Raúl is right. Havanos don't seem to work too hard. As we walked through the narrow lanes of Havana Vieja, people were always ready to stop and chat. On two occassions men at work, or on their way, stopped to give us a tour of the local bars and attractions. The first tour lasted all day! What of the work they were meant to be doing? I learned quickly that it was worth it to take the day off work for the chance to swindle a tourist. At the end of each tour, one of which culminated in the kitchen of a small family home, we were pushed to buy fake cigars. Luckily I am somewhat of a cigar snob and noted them as fakes almost immediately. We politely turned them down on both occassions. Consequently, and lucky for us, the tours were free! The readiness and ease at which both gentlemen simply stopped work is surely indicative of the rigorousness of their jobs and perhaps the economy as a whole.

A cumbling old wall of patriots

Although the buildings are crumbling, and many of the 50's franken-cars are limping along with their parts held together by jua-kali welders, no one seemed to be in dire straits. A cheery disposition was palpable as were brightly coloured buildings and tightly worn new clothes. According to the article "government has already cut some of the subsidies that many Cubans rely on to supplement their average monthly wage of about $20" This number is at odds with UN statistics which show yearly income per capita to be 5,500 USD in 2008.

 I fear, given this latest plan, everyone's favourite socialist island paradise may see their admirable 1.6% unemployment rate suddenly spike!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Links I Liked

1. Down with pennies!  Who knew those nasty little coins cost so much?

2. "Cynefin draws the world’s systems into four paradigms, arranged in a quadrant as per the attached diagram. They can fit into Simple, Complicated, Complex or Chaotic. Each paradigm has its own characteristics, and systems can shift from one paradigm to another.... In a Chaotic paradigm, there is relatively little difference likely to occur in quality between a response that is based on three weeks’ worth of detailed analysis and one that is based on the gut reaction of a team leader…" From Wanderlust

3. Why WSJ ought not get into the market of glossy magazines. And why you ought to trademark your product! Ezra Klein

4. Ladies, hang your balls out there. Oh, and one good pump will do. (if you want to be a banker at least...)

5. The Economist's Free Exchange Blog shoots down Krugman for his tone, his invisible target and his tactics (ouch) and adds a touch of insight on Chinese currency issues.

6. The death of the RSS reader? PaidContent

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Castro Candidly Confesses...

He was wrong about a lot of things!

Here he admits that the Cuban economic model is not fit for Cuba! However, here he takes it back. Of course he can't just betray his cause of the past 50 years, but just the fact that he can utter something along those lines indicates the Cuban state is open to reform. And indeed it is time for some reform. I just hope the door doesn't swing open wildly. Because a slam shut is what usually follows...

He also takes the blame for the persecution of gay people in Cuba. Apparently he had too much on his mind (including the CIA, and food and medicine) to decriminalize homosexuality until 1979. Before that, homosexual people were sent to re-education camps. Would it really have taken so long? Didn't he effectively rule by decree for a large part of his reign?

For the ripe old age of 84, Castro has been talking a lot lately. Is he shamelessly causing a stir to promote his autobiography?

(Then again, nuclear war is always a concern, France is expelling 700 Roma, and the US employs all kinds of tactics to get what they want, including exploding cigars.)

Back (Pics of the Weeks)

Whew, that was a trip.

As I mentioned, I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot recently (to 5 subcontinents!) and have amassed a least 3,000 photos over the past two months. Some will appear as pictures of the week. I hope you enjoy!

Here is week one: Kenya. 

Natalia, an old friend, and a masai man, a new one. In the middle of the Masai Mara: the old meets the new. Then again, what is old in this picture?

Week two: London. Beautiful summer nights.

Week three: Vancouver. Wreck Beach is one of the greatest places on earth.

Week Four: Montreal, the Best City in Canada, also has nice lakes on which to boat.

Week Five: Cuba. Havana Cathedral has tourist trappers!

Week Six: Holiday almost over! Quebec country (within a nation)

More pics of my trip are likely to pop up later :)