Saturday, April 30, 2011

Kids Playing in Delhi

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Economists Get Rhythm, Part 2

From the people that brought you the epic first round battle between John Maynard Keynes and F. A. Hayek, comes part two of a legendary standoff between these two giants of economic theory:

While it's not really clear how Say ought to be a coach of Hayek, I guess they could be lumped on the libertarian side of things. And I'm pretty sure Mises and Hayek had a few disagreements somewhere along the line, but then again, to prove that I would have to dig a little more than I have done in a while... for now I'd rather just enjoy this hilarious, pertinent and entertaining video. It's so good!

World Bank Advocates Primary Education

Fifteen years ago if you had told me that the World Bank was in Uganda, advising the government there to spend more money on roads, and more importantly, education, I would have laughed at your cruel joke. In the 90s the Structural MalAdjustment Programs (if you haven't heard about them click on it!) were in full swing, and government spending was tantamount to turning off the taps of international aid.

Now we have this: the President of the World Bank advising the President of Uganda to spend more on primary education. Education! One of the least clearly measurable investments, in terms of economic outcomes, a government can make! Imagine that!

We should be hard on the Bank for their terrible mistakes. We should be skeptical of them because of their structure. Dominated by US interests and barely influenced by the 'recipients' of their policies, the World bank has arguably done more harm than good in the past. However, ever since they realized that capital controls and fiscal stimulus are an integral part of the developing nation toolbox, they have been getting more and more things correct. The IMF even have a set of guidelines to help poor countries manage capital controls, check it out. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Shopping Can't Save the World

Over the previous 50 or so years we have seen the development of charities driven by classical capitalists. The Bill Gates' of the world, if you will. These magnates destroy take from the little guy with one hand give back to society with the other.

In a two action motion, they complete a viscous cycle. In the fist action they perpetuate the inequalities and injustices of the global capitalist system, they reinforce, and profit from the agreements and accords that keep poor people poor and ignorant. They profit big time. 

Then, in the second, they attempt to absolve themselves of the guilt that their business practice has brought upon them. They set up charities. And people forget. That they were ever bad in the first place is a secondary consideration. (I mean, they run charities, so how could they have done wrong in the past?)

Don'f forget! Microsoft is one of the most ruthless, dastardly and morally corrupt corporations in the world. They have abused so many people, from Namibian schools, to Danish programmers, it is remarkable. They are still malicious, even with a cherry on top. Of course, the same goes with many top companies in the States in particular, including Apple, Nike, Starbucks, Gap, etc...

These days, however, a new kind of business model has become the norm. One in which the two actions of destroying and deluding repairing society happen all at once. Its called brand aid and it's that same delusion we were used to, now it just happens all at once!

Should you feel better about buying a shirt you don't need from GAP because a portion goes to fighting aids? NO. Should the fact that Apple gives some tiny amount to fighting aids or feeding the poor forgive their abusive business practices NO!

These kinds of charity are merely promotional material. How could Old Navy or Microsoft get rich without poor people to abuse? Not as easily, that is for sure. It is in Starbucks best interest to keep the poor disenfranchised, but give them just a little help, so the public image of GAP changes so slightly, allowing the Nike to sell an extra million t-shirts/programs/anything.

Here's a little presentation from Lisa Ann Richey, the author of the upcoming book entitled Brand Aid: Shopping Well to Save the World. Please, please watch this Bono clip at 3:47. Ugh.

This is not to condemn projects that promote small business in impoverished nations, as Zizeck does in this great little video. There are thousands of products out there that are wonderful and worthy of your dollar. It is just to say that the odds are stacked against the poor. Big businesses enjoy it, and won't change anything. A little cash the flows straight to entrepreneurs in poor countries is a good thing. Indeed it is the least we can do, but it just won't solve anything.

It reminds me of the moral question my family sometimes asked itself when we lived in Kenya. Should we hire some more people? Should we help out more poor Kenyans, who most likely are over qualified for any position we can offer? Sure. But it won't solve anything.

That 1% goes to fight poverty in someway does not forgive overspending on silly things people don't need. That a handbag is made by a poor Ghanain woman does not make it good to buy fifty. It won't fix anything on the systemic level, therefore the moral penance it seems to afford is illusory, and by no means does it justify living beyond our means (as environmentalists). The best thing we can do for the poor is understand that the rules of capitalism are made by the WTO, the World bank and the OECD (and often local governments) and they are implicitly working against the poor by having the best interests of the rich at heart. And, even more important, we should strive to solve that. And how.

Hat tip to: Slavoj Zizek and Brand Aid

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A lil Faux HDR photography


Monday, April 18, 2011

Sunrise to Al Ain

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Write no evil

Quite often my posts are level headed, or just plain reporting of facts (as I find them;). But sometimes I feel the need to write something a little more inflammatory. A after a few-wide eyed posts about hope and innovation, I just feel the need to lash out a bit. Maybe I do it to try to get some attention... In any case, I have taken some advice from my friends and due to present circumstances in the UAE I have decided to grade my language.

Three bloggers have been jailed recently for writing inflammatory posts.

From now on I will refrain from being crass about anything in the UAE. I am also going back and making sure I haven't written anything offensive in old posts.

Am I a coward? Nah, I see it like this: I enjoy living here and do not wish to be kicked out, at least not yet, and I am not passionate enough to be a martyr. Although... give it a few months and the crass might be back. :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Masdar - A carbon neutral hoodwink

Masdar is a 15 billion dollar project begun by the city of Abu Dhabi. It is inteded to be a carbon neutral city of the future. They will be considering every effect on the environment a city has, and making sure all systems are as efficient as can be: recycling wherever possible, using sustainable materials, harvesting wind and solar power, and you can imagine the list goes on.

Sounds like a fine idea doesn't it?

Well, it's not.

It is misguided. Abu Dhabi is one of the least environmentally friendly cities in the world. There are no recycling systems, no grey water facilities, no standards for efficient cooling or lighting in buildings, it basically ignores every aspect considered at Masdar. There are giant dump trucks that form a steady stream of waste (much of it very recyclable) that is buried in the desert 100km out of town. Abu Dhabi has the highest co2 per capita in the world. It also uses the most water per capita IN THE WORLD.


So where does that leave Masdar? Is it a revolution in thinking? Nope, its a show off contest. The thing to show off these days just happens to be environmental.

The trouble with this is that the real issues are ignored. What use is building a new green 'city' (more like token neighbourhood) when the rest of the city continues to be the worst environmental offender in the world?

It reminds me of the argument that we ought to try to colonize new planets because ours is spoiled. It's just not feasible. (Don't get me wrong I'd like to colonize other planets, we just don't have the resources, not at this rate of depletion in any case, but I digress...)

In short; fix the problems that already exist. Waving a big, 15 billion dollar eco-friendly flag around is not going to solve anything. Just imagine what 15 billion could do to any of the failing systems here (ie. education, environment, traffic, etc.).

(Note: The original post has been edited to fit this climate)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Harper is a very big problem

A couple of snippets about Harper:
  • "Since 2006, Harper has cut funding for women’s advocacy by 43 per cent, shut 12 out of 16 Status of Women offices in Canada and eliminated funding of legal voices for women and minority groups, including the National Association of Women and the Law and the Courts Challenges Program. "
  • "Harper decorated the government lobby in parliament with photos of just himself, instead of the traditional portraits of former Prime Ministers."
  • Harper has tried (and failed) four times to create a law that would allow the government to obtain private information from internet providers without a warrant.
  • "In 2007, Harper cut $1.2 Billion in spending for the establishment of quality national childcare. However, he never kept his promise to cut the $1.4 billion in tax breaks he gives to oil companies." 
  • During the G20 summit in Toronto more than a thousand people were arrested. Less than a hundred were actually charged with a crime. The others.... well... they were just being pesky I guess.
  • Herpy is tough on crime! He'll double the 5 billion dollars we spend on the prison system, despite the fact that crime in Canada is falling for a decade.
  • Harpster reinterpreted the meaning of child soldier (he thinks they belong to their 'national military') so that Canada can no longer recognize the vast majority of child soldiers as being child soldiers.
  • Harp has cut Canadian aid to Africa in half. Choosing instead to use aid as a tool for improving relations with middle income countries which now receive an 80% portion. But wait, he gets better, he actually froze all aid in 2010.
  • There are close to 100 First Nations communities in Canada that have unsafe drinking water. Herpie doesn't think that clean water is a right, and did not allocate any new funding to solve the problem in the 2011 budget
  • Harper is actually the love child of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. They mixed their sperm together so they wouldn't know who the real father is and Gm'd their sperms to produce babies with no trace of the vestigial organ known as the human heart. (not intended to be a factual statement)
  • Every spring Hearp prorogues parliament so he can retreat back to the prairies where he lays 2 million egg sacs beneath the soil. (not intended to be a factual statement)

Sources for (most of) these can be found at

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good ol' Kenyan Politics

Ruto is a thug. He  has been embezzling, smuggling, illegally selling, lying, cheating and stealing his entire career as a Kenyan Politician. Then again, he is nothing out of the ordinary.

He was suspended as a Higher Eudcation minister on charges of corruption in October. He was acquitted just a few days ago and cleared of all charges. The half million US that disappeared out of the coffers of the Kenya Pipeline Company apparently didn't go directly into his pocket.

He is also one of the six men accused of inciting the post election violence in 2007/8. He has been trying his best to get the case deferred, even flying to the Hague this week to haggle, but has failed at every attempt

And, of course, he will be running for president.

In your country, would this man, if only accused of these crimes, run for office?

The horror of the 2007/8 election violence in Kenya

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Read

Two exciting new books are coming out in the next two weeks or so. These two books, as heralded as they are, represent the credit that randomized experiments have garnered in the field of development economics.

If we have limited resources (we do) and can choose only one thing to buy, should we buy bednets, textbooks or deworming medicine for poor children in Tanzania? Randomized control trials in economics help us to understand the real effects of interjections such as these. By employing this method of looking at differences in differences we can allocate aid funds most effectively ie. with the greatest positive impact and the least negative one. (If our ends were to get more education happening, it turns out deworming is the most effective, who knew? This feeds from a recent post on indirect aid sometimes being the most effective. )

The question of extrapolation is a pertinent one. Deworming worked well in Kenya, but will it work as well as say, bed nets in other more malaria-ridden circumstances? Luckily some very bright people are working in this field, and I figure extrapolation is well considered and rarely taken as given throughout the field.

These two books mark the forefront of the effort to make aid more effective and less defective....and it seems, in a very digestible way! (Who doesn't like digestible forefronts!?). I hope they can deliver to the UAE.

Click on a book to find out more:


Check em out:


Friday, April 8, 2011

New Look, dunes

I'm trying out a new look, what do you think?

The photo in the background is one I took on a trip into the Rub Al Khali, to a little oasis of date palms they call Liwa. If your screen is big enough, you can see me standing on the dune.

To the north of Liwa, the desert is somewhat uneventful. It is relatively flat, with sparse shrubs and no significant geographical features. To the south, the desert explodes into a million dunes, you can see what I mean in this picture.

It is as if you are looking out on the ocean. The dunes, sometimes reaching up to 200m high, go on forever. It first appears so empty.  But, if you look closer, all forms of life somehow survive in the empty quarters of the world.

The biggest dune in 'Liwa' is called the Tal moreb, a reported 120m giant with a 50 degree face. Perfect for dune boarding, bashing or moto. It is absolutely nuts.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This is very funny

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Monday, April 4, 2011

Harpster has trouble with democracy and with names

It is a troubling time for Canadians. A federal election is upon us. It is the 4th election in seven years. Over the past five, Harper has lead a minority Conservative government who have been efficiently dismantling Canada's democracy, it's regard for the environment, and its reputation in the world for being a progressive and egalitarian nation. I am no expert on Canadian Politics, but I am aware that the situation is dire.

Over the past years Conservative scandals have been so numerous, it is hard to pick any in particular that stand out. Nonetheless, here are a few:

Harper has seen to it: that war resistors are offered no shelter in canada, that the choice of abortion be left off the G8 maternal health policy (even for rape victims), that parliament was prorogued not once, but twice.... and that is just the beginning of the list. He's been shutting down women's groups, limiting funding for grassroots organizations, blatantly appealing to particular special interest lobbies without regard for consequence (video) and limiting the media's ability to showcase his deception and deceit (video and video). He thinks that the Canadian people don't care that he broke the law by deliberately misleading parliament about the cost of fighter jets he proposed Canada purchase:

Allow me to go into a little more detail about the two prorogations. They were both for the explicit purpose of avoiding a motion of no confidence. The likelyhood of losing that vote came about in 2009 because Herpie tried to limit civil servants rights to strike, eliminate the dollar 95 that political parties garner for each vote they receive in an election, and tried to limit the recourse that women have for pay equity issues; things he's still trying to do.

The second prorogation was as blatantly undemocratic as the first. Even the Economist had a dig: "Mr Harper’s move looks like naked self-interest" His efforts to shut down parliament amidst the controversy of the Afghan detainees affair succeeded.

Now, all of this is broad strokes, so more research/attention is needed to do any justice to how terrible this government really is. If you have anything to add or correct, please do!

Even now there are great little scandals to pay attention to. For example:

Why does Harpy have trouble with his own party member's name?

 Because he is conniving bastard.

 What a tool.

(Apologies for the overly dense linking!)