May 31, 2008

Obama Leaves Church

I must admit that this surprised me.  Partly because the church so obviously shot itself in the foot, who doesn't want a congregation that counts a potential president in its membership, and didn't make extremely explicit what could and couldn't be said from the pulpit.  Partly because Obama didn't seem like the type to bail out on a community that has been such a part of shaping who he is and what he cares for.  I'm not sure what he gains by "leaving" now.  He can't take back the years of involvement and how much better is the question, "Why didn't you leave sooner?", than anything he might have been asked by staying in?  I don't see how he gains votes or dodges future questions, but I can see how this might alienate some of those he counted among the faithful.  If nothing else I suppose it shows that Obama is now facing the reality that politics on this scale often forces you to choose between two bad options.

Links

Check your closets.

Obama on food and ag policy.  The chili recipe sounds like it came off the back of a can.


The story behind the greatest wine on the planet.

Papers from the Brookings Global Economy and Development Conference.  (via)

May 30, 2008

The Story Behind the Story

I don't think you need a theology degree to find this interesting (I could be wrong) but The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article up entitled, The Betrayal of Judas, that gives us the behind the scenes story on the production of the much-hyped National Geographic publishing extravaganza surrounding the "rediscovery" and their subsequent purchase and translation of the ancient gnostic text known as "The Gospel of Judas."  I've been waiting for a fuller accounting of things since the NYT ran an op-ed at the end of last year by April DeConick which shot fatal holes in the very heart of the National Geographic teams research at the most fundamental level, i.e. their translation of the ancient texts.  Much of what comes out in the Chronicle piece was hinted at in that op-ed and the original findings by the Geographic team are generally regarded as bad scholarship at this point but the picture it paints of those scholarly choices being driven by the financial investment (and I would assume the expected eventual return on that investment) that National Geographic had made in the media blitz they were planning on unleashing are really fascinating no matter what field of scholarship you are in, fascinating and troubling.  

New Coen Brothers Trailer

I'm supposed to be working, but how can I ignore a trailer (red band trailer - opens in iTunes) for the upcoming Coen brothers flick, Burn After Reading.  Looks promising.

PS - is it just me or had I never seen a red band trailer until about 6 months ago, were they always there but are simply more mainstream now?

PPS - "The MPAA also mandates that trailers not exceed two minutes and thirty seconds in length, and each major studio is given one exception to this rule per year."  Who knew?

Paul Collier @ TED 2008

Paul Collier's TED talk is finally up for viewing:

 

Hackouts?

Hackers from China's People's Liberation Army were responsible for the huge blackouts across the northeast and in Florida in 2003?  Malicious intent or not I hope that is keeping somebody awake at night.

May 29, 2008

Libraries as Catalysts

As a kid growing up in a small rural town, one of the most valuable assets that the local library provided for the community was, in my opinion, their possession of the coldest water fountain in the world.  I kid you not, I don't know what kind of coolant they were running through that thing but it was bone jarringly cold, we're talking space-age cold, and oh so refreshing after a long day of cruising around town on your huffy.  However, the good folks over at Friends of African Village Libraries (one of the few blogs with a name as equally cumbersome as my own) point to a study outlining the role of libraries in fostering the growth of local economies.  Here's their excerpt:
Public libraries build a community’s capacity for economic activity and resiliency, says a new study from the Urban Institute. Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development adds to the body of research pointing to a shift in the role of public libraries -- from a passive, recreational reading and research institution to an active economic development agent, addressing such pressing urban issues as literacy, workforce training, small business vitality and community quality of life. ... As the strong correlation between investments in early literacy and long-term economic success is documented, public libraries are expanding beyond their traditional story time services, engaging in high-impact strategies with community partners. They are leading public awareness campaigns, reaching new mothers with materials and resources that promote reading early and often. Extensive community-wide training on early literacy with home and professional child care givers is increasing levels of school readiness and success. From Providence (RI) to San Luis Obispo (CA), public libraries are reaching young children and families in diverse neighborhoods. These services are the first link in a chain of investments needed to build the educated workforce that ensures local competitiveness in the knowledge economy.
Interesting stuff.  Here's the study. 

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

Apparently not having received the bad news from William Easterly the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 winds up tomorrow.  The Times has a good intro.  You can find video here.

African Agriculture Primer

The tendency to generalize about "Africa" and all things "African" is always far too pervasive for my liking, especially when it comes to something as contextually dependent as agriculture but that is another subject.  However, for a big picture look at how Africa fits into the global agriculture puzzle, obviously with an emphasis on the current food crisis, this long piece in the NYT is a decent place to start

May 28, 2008

LifeLock Picked

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who has seen LifeLock's full page ads in the NYT featuring a smiling CEO Todd Davis and his social security number prominently displayed and shaken my head dubiously at their identity theft guarantees.  Well, you know where this is going.

The End of an Era?

Development experts are out according to William Easterly in the Financial Times:
The report of the World Bank Growth Commission, led by Nobel laureate Michael Spence, was published last week. After two years of work by the commission of 21 world leaders and experts, an 11- member working group, 300 academic experts, 12 workshops, 13 consultations, and a budget of $4m, the experts’ answer to the question of how to attain high growth was roughly: we do not know, but trust experts to figure it out.

This conclusion is fleshed out with statements such as: “It is hard to know how the economy will respond to a policy, and the right answer in the present moment may not apply in the future.” Growth should be directed by markets, except when it should be directed by governments.

My students at New York University would have been happy to supply statements like these to the World Bank for a lot less than $4m.

Why should we care about the debacle of a World Bank report? Because this report represents the final collapse of the “development expert” paradigm that has governed the west’s approach to poor countries since the second world war. All this time, we have hoped a small group of elite thinkers can figure out how to raise the growth rate of a whole economy. If there was something for “development experts” to say about attaining high growth, this talented group would have said it.
And development crowdsourcing is in:
There are some general principles and they do not require experts. Another Nobel laureate gave the crucial insight a long time ago – the answer is freedom for multitudinous individuals to figure out their own answers. Friedrich Hayek said: “Liberty is essential to leave room for the unforeseeable and unpredictable; we want it because we have learned to expect from it the opportunity of realising many of our aims. It is because every individual knows so little and ... because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.”

The evidence for this vision is not found in those baffling fluctuations of growth rates, it is in the levels of development attained in the long run. Confirming Hayek, systems that give more liberty to individuals – featuring both more economic and political freedoms – are associated with much less poverty. The evidence for this comes from both history (for example old, despotic, poor Europe compared with modern, free, rich Europe) and cross-country comparisons (for example South Korea compared with North Korea, former West Germany compared with East, New Zealand compared with Zimbabwe). This alternative paradigm has a much smaller role for experts, because experts cannot direct or impose freedom from the top down (or else it would not be freedom).

The end of the “development expert” paradigm does not mean the end of hope for development. Development is al ready gradually ending poverty (global poverty rates have fallen by more than half in the past three decades) – not be- cause of development experts such as those who wrote the World Bank Growth Commission report – but thanks to more freedom for more of the 6.7bn individual development experts alive today.
I've got some quibbles with Easterly, but talking to individuals who are unfamiliar with development work about its aims I've found that one of the most basic and useful definitions of development is "moving people from a life of many hardships and few choices to one of satisfied needs and many choices."  Moving from point A to point B is often a long and winding road, one down which I think you occasionally do need an "expert" to guide you along the particularly dark spots, but its hard to argue that the power to "figure out their own answers," the power of choice, isn't vastly more important than innumerable $4-million reports.    

Miracle Fruit

Interesting article in the NYT on the miracle fruit and "flavor tripping parties."  

I first tasted miracle fruit a year or so ago while attending an agricultural development conference in Florida.  Strolling through the orchard we popped one in our mouth and then proceeded to munch on sour oranges, lemons and grapefruit like kids in a candy store - it is an odd sensation indeed.  

Markets in Everything: Criminal Rehabilitation

With apologies to MR - Celebrities, agents, and production houses all over America can be heard slapping themselves on the head this morning with the announcement of rapper T.I.'s upcoming reality series on MTV:
Rapper T.I. is turning his legal woes into an MTV docu series.

Cabler will follow the hip-hop star as he performs more than 1,000 [hours] of community service before beginning to serve his one-year prison sentence next spring. Ish Entertainment is behind the untitled series, which has scored an eight-episode order from MTV.

Cameras already chronicled T.I.'s release from house arrest, and shooting will start in earnest this summer, leading up to his return to jail in early 2009. MTV plans to air the show some time soon after that.
Whatever small incentive there was for celebrities to "behave," there is no such thing as bad press after all, has now been even further reduced as T.I. blazes the path for turning brushes with the law into cold hard cash.  

PS - is it just me or did someone forget to proofread that article.

May 26, 2008

Links:

Chris Blattman advocates for what I would call a parish approach to national aid programs.  Its my preferred method of organizing churches for many of the same reasons that Chris advocates it for effective nation-state development practices.  To complete the analogy, the US, China, France, et al can  be understood and appreciated in the same way that mega-churches can be understood and appreciated in the religious landscape - as a resource to provide emergency, niche and conveneing services that are out of the reach of the parish church.    

The Ethicurean on high-fructose corn syrup consumption and pricing.

If you're picking your candidates based on their visual-media campaigns then Obama is your pick (Scott Hansen is the artist):


Food Failures and Futures, a working paper from the folks at the Council on Foreign Relations.

African agriculture:  "In Search of a Better Revolution"


Further testimony that religious faith should not be ignored in development efforts on the African continent (and a reminder that I should follow up on this previous post.) 


Too much time in the car over the last week, and the requisite trips to the pump that it required, has me lusting after this beautiful bike from Canondale anew:



Pomeroy is back from his walk-about.

May 25, 2008

Phoenix Landing Tonight

You can watch the Phoenix Mars Lander touch down live tonight online.  Pretty cool.  The Phoenix also has a blog.

Anecdote:  A few years back I was at a dinner party with an engineer who worked at JPL on the Rover projects.  He said that the atmosphere in the control room during landing is a combination of watching your child being born and watching him play as the starting pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series all rolled into one.  With a lot of smoking. 

May 23, 2008

Occasionally Music: Pardon Edition

New York Governor David Paterson has pardoned Slick Rick in an effort to stave off the threat of his deportation.  From the governor's statement explaining the pardon:
Mr. Walters, who is now 43 years old, has lived in the Bronx without incident since his release from prison in 1997. He is presently employed as a landlord and rap musician. Mr. Walters has a wife and two children, all of whom are American citizens. 
Slick Rick's current great adventures presumably involve plungers and key rings.

The Church vs. The Mall

Interesting pointer from The Economist's Free Exchange blog on a paper appearing in May's Quarterly Journal of Economics entitled "The Church vs. the Mall: What Happens When Religion Faces Increased Secular Competition?"
Opportunity cost applies to religion, as well, it seems. When the mall is open Sunday morning, there's more reason to skip church.  A second finding from the researchers is also interesting:
They considered the negative consequences for individuals or society from loosening secular constraints and they found those consequences in behaviors associated more with Saturday night than Sunday morning.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) on consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, the economists found that repealing the blue laws did lead to an increase in drinking and drug use.

What's more, they found that individuals who had attended church and stopped after the blue laws were repealed showed the greatest increase in substance abuse, Gruber notes.
Gated version here, earlier non-gated working paper here.

Biden Asking the "Hard" Questions

Joe Biden on the food crisis.  I would like to think that these are the types of questions that are actually being asked in the Senate chambers but I'm politically agnostic:
The recent crisis was the result of a perfect storm of events, including record high oil prices and severe weather that cut major crop harvests in producing countries such as Australia by 40 percent.

But many factors have been obvious for years. This crisis is unacceptable morally and it is unsustainable politically and economically.
. . . . . . . . . .

We need a new approach to food policy and the global food crisis. We should start by rededicating resources and attention in four areas:

• Reinvest in agriculture development. Some have called for a ''New Deal for Global Food Policy.'' I support those calls -- what the world needs is a second Green Revolution. That means funding for innovation, research and new techniques. Unfortunately, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is cutting support for international agriculture research centers this year. This is a step in the wrong direction -- these centers are needed for a new generation of agriculture innovation.

• Make sure our institutions are organized effectively to address the food challenge. Various U.S. agencies pursue isolated agriculture strategies that do not share a common vision.

• Ask the hard questions and re-examine our own food policies. Does our current biofuels policy, which I have supported, that diverts corn from food to fuel make sense? Should we provide more flexibility to our food-aid program and allow USAID to locally purchase food abroad instead of requiring them to buy American food and shoulder all the transportation costs associated with that?

• Finally, the international community should consider a global compact on food that will eliminate crippling food tariffs affecting the poorest countries. With those countries, trade is not a matter of competition -- it is a matter of fairness. I understand that the administration is considering allowing Japan to sell its rice reserves in the open market. This is a necessary and important step, and I encourage the president to take the lead and allow this rice onto the market.

PS - As I've said before we do need a second green revolution but it needs to be markedly different than the first in its methodology.

PPS - If that "allowing Japan to sell ITS rice reserves" sentence read odd you can go here to try and understand the scale of this whole mess.

May 22, 2008

Jambalaya

A sampling of rules for the 41st Annual Jambalaya Festival, which begins today in Gonzales, Louisiana:

1.     Cooking ingredients must include:

Preliminary: 30 lbs. chicken; 10 lbs rice

Semi-Finals: 45 lbs. chicken; 15 lbs rice

Finals: 60 lbs. chicken; 20 lbs rice

2.  Cooks must furnish black iron pot with metal lid and paddle.

3. Jambalaya must be cooked on wood furnished by JFA.

4. No former champion can be a helper.

11. NO HAND SAMPLING FROM POTS.

12. All Hen must be in the pot during the cooking of the rice. Tough or underdone Hen will be penalized during judging.

14. Champion cook is required to cook three (3) times during his reigning year for free. Thereafter, he/she will be paid a $75 pot/cooking fee and $20 pot fuel allowance.

(via)

Minding the Gap

This may be old to some but the Gapminder World/Trendalyzer tool now has a blog up and running where you can track updates and development of the software.  As I've said before this is a great tool and well worth spending a bit of time with if you haven't before.  

This TED video of Gapminder director Hans Rosling presenting in 2007, one of my all time favorites, makes extensive use of the software so you can see its usefulness in action, even if you can't swallow swords.

 
Update:  Wikinomics has posted a good list of visualizations on a wide range of data, I'm happy to see that Gapminder is first on the list.

Christian Capitalism, Secret Societies and Hitler!

I haven't watched the whole thing yet but this is shaping up to be an interesting talk between Will Wilkinson and Jeff Sharlet.  I've liked Sharlet since he first started The Revealer back in the day and even when I disagree with him I find him very interesting.  He's got a new book out on the uber-secret-scary-interesting-powerful D.C. organization known as "The Family."  I was a subscriber to Harper's when his first expose of the group ran and I've been waiting for the book to come out ever since.   



PS - Am I the only person who finds the video on blogging heads distracting? Seriously, I can't watch them - I can only listen to the audio. I wish they had an audio podcast option.

Zimflation

Inflation in Zimbabwe is now over 1 million percent:
Weary Zimbabweans are facing a new wave of price increases that will put many basic goods even further out of their reach: A loaf of bread now costs what 12 new cars did a decade ago.

Independent finance houses said in an assessment Tuesday that annual inflation rose this month to 1,063,572 percent based on prices of a basket of basic foodstuffs. Economic analysts say unless the rate of inflation is slowed, annual inflation will likely reach about 5 million percent by October.
Inflation isn't the only thing on the rise either.  Violence against opposition supporters continues to spread and it continues to be deadly.  Tsvangirai is supposed to return to Zim on Saturday to prepare for the runoff election scheduled for June 27th, its going to be a long month.

Update:  Your WTF for the day, via FP Passport, Hillary compares the Florida delegate situation to the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe:
[P]eople go through the motions of an election only to have them discarded and disregarded.”

“We’re seeing that right now in Zimbabwe," Clinton explained. "Tragically, an election was held, the president lost, they refused to abide by the will of the people,” Clinton told the crowd of senior citizens at a retirement community in south Florida.

“So we can never take for granted our precious right to vote."
In.  Ex.  Cusable. 

May 21, 2008

Release the Hounds

The McCain campaign is encouraging his supporters to troll the internet and post comments supporting McCain and his positions on a variety of subjects.  The targeted blogs and news sites are conveniently indexed under the labels: liberal, conservative, moderate and other (I assume the "other" are mostly lolcat forums which truly transcend all labels) - ironically, one of today's "talking points" is partisanship.  You can then report back to the campaign regarding where and what you posted and earn "points" for your loyalty.  Which I can only assume are redeemable at McCain's online store or possibly for future pardons.  Now, all they need is some sort of ranking system that would list the most effective McCain supporters in terms of support earned and vitriol engendered, both equally important components of a successful campaign - perhaps some sort of modified Sagarin.  

(via)

All Is Grist for the Mill?

Ouch.  Grist unloads on the new "environmental" issue of Wired and the "techno-go-go culture":
This techno-futurist, hipster-libertarian, self-consciously contrarian shtick was fresh and interesting ... back in 1996, when Wired was founded. Since then, it has congealed into a set of knee-jerk mannerisms and affectations. It has lost its edge. At this point it just makes me yawn.

It's telling that the best thing in the issue is written by Alex Steffen, proprietor of Worldchanging. It's clear at this point that the cultural energy that once infused Wired, and the techno-go-go culture it represented, has now moved on. You want creativity, entrepreneurial energy, and innovative thinking? Look to the bright green movement, which is, judging by this issue, about 10 steps ahead of Wired on this stuff.

Since the whole issue reads like something discovered in founder Louis Rossetto's recycling bin, it's appropriate that Rossetto has an essay in it, looking back over the last 15 years and pondering what the mag has gotten right and wrong. This says it all:
We recognized a world in transition, but we missed the danger in front of us. We eschewed conventional wisdom, but we couldn't escape it. Takeaway: Be contrarian, and then be contrarian again.
No. Really. Please. Quit positioning yourself relative to what other people are saying. Stop primping yourself in your intellectual mirror. Take a clear-eyed look at the world. Let the world inform you.
Good day to you, sir!

Xenophobia?

Some African voices providing context and insight on the violence in South Africa @:



Pick Any Two

The so called "project triangle" is usually referenced in the realms of project management and design.  Your choices are fast, good or cheap and you can pick any two. 
Your choice obviously impacts the overall project in relation to the third:  i.e., you sacrifice quality, time or money.  With a small amount of distortion you can apply the triangle to our current system of food production and more broadly to the ongoing global food crisis.  Many of us who dine predominantly in America have, for quite some time, approached the triangle with a "pick any three" attitude.  We want our food to be cheap, we want it to be of high quality and we want it fast, or rather we want what we want when we want it and seasonality or markets be damned.  

"Cheap" and "good" are extremely relative terms when it comes to food.  In America, on average we spend around 13% of our income on food expenditures, although that can go as low as 7% and as high as 40% dependent upon which end of the earnings spectrum you fall into (according to the 2005 Consumer Expenditure Report (pdf), the latest to be released).  Regardless of where you fall on said spectrum we all feel we have a right to cheap food and most shop with that goal in mind - just keep an eye out for all the designer handbags the next time you are in Costco or Sam's - we all want to spend less on food.  Eating is necessary for survival and no one should go broke surviving, or so we say/think?  Globally, the term becomes even more relative.   "Good" or "quality" are equally relative when it comes to food.  Are you shopping for maximum calories, nutrient content, organic, local, "name brand" - whatever your criteria most of us go down the aisle or into the market seeking to maximize our good.

These aren't new or revolutionary thoughts, and in fact I've said all that to eventually get around to talking about bread.   I am a baker of sorts, which is to say I'm a want-to-be baker.  I love the process of making bread, love the mystery of getting that perfect loaf to show up once in a while and then the pursuit of trying to chase it down once again.  Serious bakers love to expound upon the necessity of using high quality wheat and by the time they have woven together their tales of all of the mysterious interactions between enzymes, glutens, and yeasts it is hard not to believe that the sorcery of baking does indeed require the purest of ingredients in order to coax the proper loaf into existence.  However, relationships between bakers and wheat growers have not always been chummy and they are apparently becoming even less so now.  Bakers, like all of us, have wanted to choose not just two of the three options -fast, good, cheap- but all three of them.  They want the highest quality wheat, for the lowest possible price, and they want farmers to grow it all the time no matter what else the market says would be more profitable.  

So, here is a look at the dilemma from opposite sides of the debate.  First, here's a voice from the farmers:
Wheat Growers have a message for America's baking industry: We told you so.

For years, farmers warned that the milling and baking industry was pursuing policies that would eventually create wheat shortages. This year, faced with short supply and high prices, the baking industry has asked Washington to ban all wheat exports. It also wants CRP land to be released so that farmers will grow more wheat on it.

It's not that simple. Many farmers stopped growing wheat years ago because the milling and baking industry always demanded top quality at prices that many times were below the cost to produce it. We converted our acreage to other crops because it simply was no longer profitable to produce wheat.
Interpretation:  you've been trying to pick all three and we told you that wouldn't work, so we're picking for you.  Now, here's the baker's perspective on the same issue:
Here at King Arthur, we’re doing all we can to hold the line on prices by making our business as efficient as possible. Despite our best efforts, there’s no way for us to entirely absorb the impact of the current record-breaking wheat market. We’ve reluctantly had to raise our flour prices.

But at the same time, we’re making sure that the price you pay for King Arthur Flour is money well spent.

Last time America faced a wheat challenge, many flour companies around the country uniformly purchased lower-quality, less expensive grain, thus compromising the bakeability of their flour. But to us, that’s artificial savings. Flour milled from reduced-quality wheat means trouble in the kitchen. Bread won’t rise; cookies fall flat; muffins shrink.

Here at King Arthur, we refuse to compromise on flour quality–ever. We’ve already purchased the wheat that will become the flour you bake with this coming fall and winter. And we assure you: when you use King Arthur, you’ll see no drop-off in the success of your baking.
Interpretation: we'd still really like to pick all three but it looks like we can't so somebody else is going to have to pay for it.  I've already outed myself as a baker, of sorts, and I suppose I also fall into the category of a farmer, of sorts, so I'm not going to pick sides in this one.  However, I continue to be of the opinion that somethings got to give pretty soon when it comes to food production.  Pick any two.  I have my biases and I also have the luxury of choice, but I wonder how much longer that will be the case.  Apologies for the rambling post.

Wedding in Sichuan

Trying to get up to speed on where things stand in Sichuan and came across these wedding photos taken as the quake struck. 

The Onion Makes Me Cry

The Nightmare Ticket:
Presidential hopefuls John McCain (R-AZ), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) announced Monday their plans to form what many Beltway observers have already dubbed the "2008 Nightmare Ticket," a calculated move that political analysts say offers voters the worst of both worlds.

After nearly a year of verbal attacks and negative campaign ads, the nominees announced that, for the good of the country, they were willing to push their differences to the forefront and grant the American people the ticket they've been dreading all along.

"No other ticket is capable of rallying this nation around a clearer, more unified message of chaos and hopelessness," the candidates said in unison from three separate podiums, each adorned with its own American flag arrangement and personal message. "Together, we will lead this nation into the future—a future where absolute deadlock over even the most minute decisions and total inefficiency on matters of the war, the economy, and the environment will launch a bold new age of confusion and social decay. For America, the only choice is [indecipherable]!"
Geneticists at the California Institute of Technology announced Monday that they have developed a tomato with a 31 percent larger price tag than a typical specimen of the vine-ripened fruit. "By utilizing an exciting new breakthrough in gene-splicing technology, we've been able to manipulate this new tomato with recombinant DNA in such a manner as to make it nearly as pricey as a similarly sized tangelo," said Dr. Lee Nolan, who headed up the project. "Genetically modified crops such as this will be instrumental in helping average grocers keep pace with unaffordable organic stores such as Whole Foods." In addition to vastly surpassing similar produce in expense, the new tomato will reportedly wipe out four species of ladybugs.

Ebert on Indy

Back home, catching up on how the world has passed me by in the last few days.  

Ebert's review of the new Indiana Jones movie (3 1/2 stars) calms my fears and speaks wonderfully for Indiana fans all over:
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Say it aloud. The very title causes the pulse to quicken, if you, like me, are a lover of pulp fiction. What I want is goofy action--lots of it. I want man-eating ants, swordfights between two people balanced on the backs of speeding jeeps, subterranean caverns of gold, vicious femme fatales, plunges down three waterfalls in a row, and the explanation for flying saucers. And throw in lots of monkeys.

The Indiana Jones movies were directed by Steven Spielberg and written by George Lucas and a small army of screenwriters, but they exist in a universe of their own. Hell, they created it. All you can do is compare one to the other three. And even then, what will it get you? If you eat four pounds of sausage, how do you choose which pound tasted the best? Well, the first one, of course, and then there's a steady drop-off of interest. That's why no Indy adventure can match "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981). But if "Crystal Skull" (or "Temple of Doom" from 1984 or "Last Crusade" from, 1989) had come first in the series, who knows how much fresher it might have seemed? True, "Raiders of the Lost Ark" stands alone as an action masterpiece, but after that the series is compelled to be, in the words of Indiana himself, "same old same old." Yes, but that's what I it to be.
And all the people said, "Amen."

May 19, 2008

Note to Self

This isn't normally the type of thing I would spend much time worrying over but I couldn't let this slide:
With billions suffering in poverty, environmental policies must not further oppress the world’s poor by denying them basic needs. Instead, we must help people fulfill their God-given potential as producers and stewards.
When I'm stationary again I want to remember to comment a bit about the intersection of theology, culture and worldview behind this particular statement.

May 18, 2008

Links: Away Game

Still on the road so posts are hard to come by for a few more days:

Political filter:  for slightly different reasons this has been my take on the election for a few weeks now: 
To sum it up:  A candidate who cannot get elected is being nominated by a party that cannot be defeated, while a candidate who is eminently electable is running as the nominee of a party doomed to defeat.
Manufacturing a Food Crisis - The Nation:
It is not only defiance from governments like Malawi and dissent from their erstwhile allies that are undermining the IMF and the World Bank. Peasant organizations around the world have become increasingly militant in their resistance to the globalization of industrial agriculture. Indeed, it is because of pressure from farmers' groups that the governments of the South have refused to grant wider access to their agricultural markets and demanded a massive slashing of US and EU agricultural subsidies, which brought the WTO's Doha Round of negotiations to a standstill.
More on Via Campesino here, small farms here and food sovereignty here - both from the Food First Institute.



Cuisipro Ice Cream Scoop.

Desktop client for Google Reader.

Political Filter 2:  Obama pushing the faith angle.

Blackboard talks to Facebook.

Penguin continues to release great new book covers - this time OO7 gets the treatment. (Previously)

May 16, 2008

PC Eating Ants

We'll be in the Houston area over the next few days and we'll be keeping our eyes open for these ants:
For some unknown reason they are attracted to electrical equipment, which is causing problems for residents in the Deep South. The ants have destroyed PCs in homes and offices, ruined pumps at a sewage treatment plant and even taken a fancy to homeowners' gas meters, according to reports from the Associated Press.

"If you open a computer, you would find a cluster of ants on the motherboard and all over," said Tom Raspberry, the owner of Budget Pest Control and the man the ants have been named after. "You'd get 3,000 or 4,000 ants inside and they create arcs. They'll wipe out any computer," he told Computerworld.

The Johnson Space Center has reportedly called in pest control experts to make sure the little critters don't start chomping their way through NASA's computer systems. Although, according to Raspberry, he's already seen colonies on the NASA site.
More from the Houston Chronicle.  They are apparently related to the Caribbean crazy ant.  I've got a Mac and my wife has a PC, so we'll see which one they go for first.

TED Africa 2008

Ted Africa 2008 has been cancelled.  Shame, there were some really interesting things that came out of last years gathering in Tanzania.

(via)

May 15, 2008

A Better Mouse Trap

This is very clever.

Money for Nothing

Sokwanele has a long list of good links to bring you up to speed with what is happening on the ground in Zimbabwe.  See this post for the scoop on Zimbabwe's newly issued 500,000,000 bank note.

Nielson Shmielson

We don't have a TV and haven't had one for quite a while.  Ok, we have one but its in a box, several states away, underneath a number of other boxes.  There are only two things I miss.  One, March Madness (mostly solved by NCAA On Demand).  Two, PBS.  So, today I was glad to see that PBS has finally announced plans to get serious about distributing its programming more broadly via online video.  Their platform will be . . . um, er . . . The Platform, who is already handling the online distribution of Frontline and will hopefully have much more to offer in the days ahead.  It would be great if PBS became as progressive and embracing of distributing their content via online video as NPR has become with podcasting their programming.  (Confession:  I loves me some nature documentary.)  

Notorious

Foreign Policy lists the world's most dangerous gangs.

Here are their Wikipedia entries:  Mungiki, PCC, MS-13, and United Bamboo

May 14, 2008

World Bank committed, the Senate . . . not so much

The World Bank released their new agenda for action on HIV/AIDS in Africa today.  Entitled "Our Commitment: World Bank's Africa Region HIV/AIDS Agenda for Action 2007-2011" it does pretty much what it says - lays out the World Bank's plan of action for dealing with HIV/AIDS in Africa over the next four years. I've only perused it so far, you can download it here, but it attempts to make the case for how the World Bank is going to move their focus from emergency relief mode to long-term, sustainable development mode by integrating their HIV/AIDS response into broader development efforts that take into account the changing dynamics of the epidemic.  With new infections still on the rise in Africa it will be interesting to see how these efforts play out on the ground and in what areas of the pandemic it is actually feasible to shift from relief to development.  It also acknowledges the World Bank's shift from the role of major funder for HIV/AIDS programs to that of "development partner and complementary funder."  In that new role it lays out these goals for the agenda:

• Strengthen the long-term prioritized sustainable response through incorporating HIV/AIDS more explicitly into national development agendas, focusing the response, articulating realistic strategies built on solid evidence generated by good M&E, and integrating HIV/AIDS efforts with those of other diseases.
• Intensify and accelerate a targeted multisectoral response by interventions in
education, transport, agriculture, and health; and by working with the private sector, CSOs, and local governments.
• Build stronger national systems to manage the response effectively and efficiently in health service delivery, financial management and procurement, supply chain management, human resources, and social services.
• Strengthen donor coordination by maintaining the commitment to the Three Ones and working effectively to rationalize the global aid architecture for health.
Ironically enough one of the funding sources that has supplanted the World Bank as a major donor for HIV/AIDS programs in Africa, PEPFAR, also found itself in the news today but for much less laudatory reasons.  Sadly this type of behavior is nothing new, although, as I mentioned previously, I still think President Bush is going to see this as a legacy issue (what other options does he have?) and go to bat for it in the end.

Brunettes Not Fighter Jets

New Flight of the Conchords video:  Ladies of the World


Contextual . . .

Google maps has added integration with Wikipedia.



To turn on the feature click the "More" button and check the Wikipedia option.

May 13, 2008

Dap

I spent the bulk of my day on a tractor trying to outrun the rain and get some seeds in the ground, so internet access has been somewhat limited.  But I would be remiss if I didn't thank Chris Blattman for the nice plug over at his blog.  I'm a big fan of Chris's blog and think he's doing really interesting work and asking important questions along the way - which is to say that it's nice to be found interesting by someone you find interesting.
  
 

May 12, 2008

Recently Spotted: Online Edition

I can only assume that in another 40 seconds or so Godwin's Law will have been verified in each of these discussions.

Amazon forum, bottom of the page, while checking out this interesting looking book.

Loose Ends

A follow up comment by Martin Wolf in the previously mentioned conversation over at the Financial Times.  A quick quibble on this bit:
Mr Cobham’s basic plea seems to be that we should make the poor better subsistence farmers. I don’t really believe this can be the long-run future, though it must be a part of the short-run future.
I think this is a mischaracterization of Cobham's comments and more broadly of the aims of groups like Christian Aid, and it seems to be a common one.  Short of modern homesteaders, who like many of us have the luxury of making impractical lifestyle choices housed in the rhetoric of ethics/values, there aren't a whole lot of folks out there who want to be subsistence farmers.  There are, however, a number of people - you could make the case for as many as one billion of them - who need to be subsistence farmers if they are going to feed themselves, their families, and their communities.  Subsistence isn't the final goal of agricultural development for individuals like Cobham, or organizations like Christian Aid but it is often a necessary and much desired stop-off when moving from hunger to development.  Necessary in that it creates space for further progress, desired in that the alternative is starvation.  Collier is correct in saying that there is a tendency to romanticize the pastoral ideal but both he and Wolf are wrong if they think it is a tendency which those who actually work with subsistence farmers are prone towards.  They are equally wrong, and I think in the long run harmfully so, in thinking that the only two viable visions of global food production are subsistence farming or Monsanto.     

May 11, 2008

Links

Critiques of current HIV/AIDS policy:  more focus needed on male circumcision and reduction of sexual partners - here, here and here.  However, some good news concerning reduction of mother-to-child transmission.  Related - secret wives in Kenya.


The guy with the flute is the more amazing of the two to me.  (via)


Worldometers - real time world statistics in a variety of categories.

80% of nail salon technicians in California are Vietnamese, 43% nationwide - the story behind the numbers is surprisingly interesting.  

Does military intervention work? - Paul Collier.

Purchase for Progress

I haven't heard much in the news about the WFP's Purchase for Progress program, in fact a Google News search turns up exactly zero results, but it is the type of thing that I would like to hear more about, especially given all the talk currently making the rounds about how to address the global food crisis.  In a post entitled Food for the Hungry: The Case for Buying Locally over at the Ideas for Development blog Josette Sheeran mentions the program while bringing us up to speed on what the WFP is, has been and hopes to do doing regarding the local procurement of food for the hungry.  Here's a bit of what she has to say:  
. . . . in promoting local procurement in developing countries, I think we have been ahead of the curve. Where I would admit we may have been slower – until more recently – is in promoting the extent of WFP’s involvement in local procurement, the fact that we have been doing it for decades, and explaining the reasons why we think it is so important.

As a major player on global food markets, WFP has been in the business of buying basic food commodities from one source or another for pretty much the past forty years. One of our guiding principles is to get the best price for the food we buy, so we can stretch the precious money we receive off donor governments and use it in the most efficient way to feed the world’s hungry.

The experts who run WFP’s food procurement unit realised fairly early on that there were obvious advantages if food could be purchased close to where it is going to be used. Food that is sold by small farmers in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, might not be as cheap as that which you find in the sophisticated North American and European markets, but if you buy locally, you can cut down dramatically on the costs of transport and storage.

More importantly, these savings are among a number of positive advantages that come with local procurement. Foremost among these is the opportunity to use WFP’s local procurement policy as a way of investing in the sometimes fragile agricultural economies of the developing world.

With our “purchasing power” we can make a real difference. In 2007 that meant ploughing US$612 million into developing countries where we purchased more than 1.6 million tonnes of food from small farmers. To put this in perspective, by virtue of our local procurement policy, WFP put more money into Africa in 2007 than the World Bank.
There are a lot of ways to dissect that last sentence but I'll leave it alone for the moment and get on to the bit about Purchase for Progress:

The question we are now asking ourselves is how we can use this big “purchasing footprint” - that stretches from Uganda and Ethiopia to Pakistan, Colombia and beyond – to support small farmers in a way that helps their business grow and contributes to the evolving economies of the developing countries where they live.

Our first step has been to set up a “Purchase for Progress” unit at WFP headquarters in Rome, which is launching a set of pilot activities – primarily in Africa – to explore how we can take this exciting concept further. We want to work with a broad range of partners, including governments, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations, farmers, traders and research institutions to see how we can use WFP’s purchasing power to sustainably develop the agricultural sector.

If, in fact, the WFP can figure out ways to leverage its "purchasing footprint" to move more in the direction of sustainable development of the agricultural sector rather than focusing on procurement for emergency relief efforts that would be an encouraging development (no pun intended).  Like I said there isn't that much more in the way of details out there about the Purchase for Progress program.  About the only thing constructive I've been able to track down regarding specifics of the program are these documents (pdf) from a briefing held at the beginning of April.   From the overview:

The question may well be, why now? It is a combination of factors. The realities of a rapidly changing global environment and economy, climate change, high commodity prices, fuel costs and freight rates mean that WFP needs to revisit its modus operandi to meet challenges ahead and reposition itself strategically for the future. It is against this backdrop and in expectation of a rise in beneficiary needs that WFP is placing even more emphasis on local and regional procurement practices.
. . . . . .

In sum, priority will be given to local food purchases when this does not conflict with other requirements of WFP operations, namely the provision of adequate and timely food assistance. Procurement activities will also help producers and service providers to build the skills and capacities they need to produce higher-quality food able to reach more developed markets, thereby promoting sustainability. WFP will create synergies by conducting procurement that complements supply-side interventions by other partners such as micro credit and seed inputs.
This has the chance to be constructive, proactive, sustainable policy that has the potential to alleviate not only emergency hunger but to put farmers more firmly on the path out of subsistence - it will be interesting to see how much of it bubbles to the surface.

May 8, 2008

Mux 2.0

Here's a new mix for your listening pleasure.

Liner notes:

This is the video for the first song:



They make great summer music, thus the 3 songs, and Parade is a good album.

I heard a few songs from Heather Waters' last album but this has a different sound . . . 

Jayber Crow is a recent discovery and I really like them.  They are named (I assume, I couldn't  find a reference on their website) after the titular character of my favorite Wendell Berry novel.  Hear more here.


Silver Bus is a beautiful song off a beautiful album, which I always forget about, by Lori McKenna, she has a new album out but I haven't heard it and must have recently signed with Warner Bros because that website is the definition of corporate.

Some more Santogold in there along with new songs from The WeepiesSun Kil Moon, and Kasey Chambers.

That brown is #663300.

Eat Your Heart Out Bruckheimer


These are some amazing photos from Chile when a thunderstorm ran into a newly erupting volcano.  Someone should be filming that for the upcoming Thor movie.

(via)

May 7, 2008

Sustainable Agriculture?

The Southern Rural Sociological Association has released a special issue of their journal, Southern Rural Sociology, that focuses on the topic of Sustainable Agriculture and Quality of Life and from a quick perusal there appear to be some very interesting papers.  Many of you are undoubtedly frequent readers, subscribers even, of Southern Rural Sociology but I confess I had never heard of it before this particular issue.  However, I am quite familiar with an affiliated organization of theirs, S-SARE (hang on, its a mouthful - Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education), the Southern branch of, you guessed it, SARE.  Fancy acronyms aside they are a pretty straight forward institution that administers grants funded by the USDA and EPA for research and education regarding sustainable agriculture.  Last year I did a bit of the groundwork (literally) on one such grant researching the use of cover crops in pasture planted for goat forage and attended a couple of SARE events - they are good people doing good work.  However, I was working at an institution that was interested in issues of agricultural production and sustainability not solely for productions sake but for the eventual (and hopeful) transformations that those methods and production could catalyze in areas of the world traditionally plagued by extreme hunger and poverty - and there were occasions when reading SARE documents left me somewhat cold or frustrated because they didn't follow the food out of the field, so to speak.  So, all of that to say (God bless you if you're still following this) that I was encouraged to see this issue of Southern Rural Sociology written in coordination with S-SARE in an attempt to bring more social science research into the sustainable agriculture family. I was particularly encouraged by this abstract from the first paper:
This paper introduces the special issue of Southern Rural Sociology and lays the groundwork for the rest of the papers. The genesis of this special issue flows from the efforts of the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (S-SARE) program to bring more social science research into its portfolio of  projects. Our concern is that by providing best management practices (Band-Aids) to a fundamentally unsustainable agricultural system, the sustainable agriculture movement (and SARE’s granting program) favors the environmental component at the expense of economic and social “legs” of the sustainable stool. While focusing on the history and work of the SARE program, we provided a social science perspective on sustainable agriculture.

They then have this to say about the goals of the issue:  

One of the three main pillars of sustainable agriculture is the enhancement of the quality of life for farmers and rural communities. There are two distinct strands of research in sustainable agriculture. One looks at production issues (and to a lesser extent marketing issues) and examines best management practices (BMPs) using sustainable techniques (usually substituting on-farm inputs for off-farm uses of agricultural chemicals and pesticides). While this area of research (normally conducted by plant and animal scientists at Land Grant Universities [LGU]) is helpful in reducing the adverse environmental effects of conventional agriculture, it leaves in place the present agricultural system.

The other strand of research explores the barriers and opportunities to transforming agriculture based on sustainable principles. It is this latter strand that this special issue of Southern Rural Sociology (SRS) addresses. Broadly, this type of work includes research related to: (1) the development of local/regional food systems that incorporate production, processing, and marketing; (2) the development of links between two or more different subsystems of the supply chain: production, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption; (3) the barriers and opportunities for the development of production and marketing cooperatives for alternative food products; and (4) similar topics that link issues of sustainable agriculture to community well-being. This SRS special issue flows from the efforts of the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (S-SARE) program’s efforts over the last few years to bring more social science research into the SARE portfolio of projects. We are concerned with the direction of sustainable agriculture research (both in the SARE program–regionally and nationwide–and in the sustainable agriculture movement overall) in providing best management practices (Band-Aids) to a fundamentally unsustainable system that needs to be reexamined.

There is more that could be said on this but I would make the case that a very similar type of self-examination could prove beneficial to the global agricultural industry in light of the present food crisis.  If you wanted to lay out a plan for introducing reform to the global food system you could do far worse than start by giving thought to local/regional food systems, links between supply chains, alternative food production and the impact of agriculture on community well-being.  Any chance that Josette Sheeran, Jacques Diouf, or Robert Zoellick are subscribers?  

The Office: Org Charts

NBC made Dwight's org charts from last week's episode available for download:

There are some funny touches that obviously couldn't be seen during the broadcast.  My favorites:  "Creed Bratton" and Mose, et al making it onto the emergency chart.  Download them (pdf's) here and here if you're interested.

PS - Blogger is acting wonky so it wouldn't let me post the images . . . . 

Always Manifesto-ing


The evangelical illuminati released their previously mentioned Evangelical Manifesto this morning at the National Press Club.  You can download the 7,500 word document on their website.  They address the dual issues of evangelical identity and evangelical's role in society.  I haven't had time to wade through the whole thing yet but if there is anything of interest I'll keep you posted.  Here is a bit from their summary:  
First, we repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen. One error is to privatize faith, applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular and causes faith to lose its integrity.  

The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, Christians become the “useful idiots” for one political party or another, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology. Christian beliefs become the weapons of political factions.

Called to an allegiance higher than party, ideology, economic system, and nationality, we Evangelicals see it our duty to engage with politics, but our equal duty never to be completely equated with any party, partisan ideology, or nationality. The politicization of faith is never a sign of strength but of weakness.

PS - Most surprising signatory to me:  Ergun Caner of Liberty Theological Seminary, yes THAT Liberty.

May 5, 2008

Discussion Continues

Update:  Mr. Collier's comment is drawing quite a bit of attention from a number of bloggers (the last one completely and snidely misses the point re: fertilizers)- much more attention than his previously linked and much more expansive piece in the Times.  The most helpful comments come from Chris Blattman, who tweaks Collier's call for an expansion of large scale commercial agriculture by suggesting a "hybrid between peasant and agri-business production" and the Economist who raises concerns similar to my own in regards to this business as usual approach to agriculture:
There are other points I wish Mr Collier had addressed. Fertiliser, which has enabled the world to generate enormous growth in agricultural output, is largely produced from petroleum. This seems to place a long-term constraint on food output, absent some new innovation.

One of the more difficult things for those outside of the agricultural world to come to terms with is the reality, that you can not draw infinite gains from a finite system (something we are slowly coming to realize with broader environmental issues as well)  Every farmer knows and understands this regardless of what methods they are practicing - be it reliance upon artificial, chemical inputs or dependence upon more traditional green/brown manures and cover crops - there is only so much of a crop that you can tease from the soil.  Production, production, production can not be the only card on the table for combatting long term global hunger.  We need much more creative solutions that deal with distribution of resources, conservation/restoration of arable land, local markets, food sovereignty, water catchment, and approaches to agriculture that are romantic only in the sense that they take advantage of the wholistic systems of food production that our planet was designed to sustain rather than propping up industries whose by-product, and certainly not their intent, is to feed others.  We must be more imaginative than to believe that "seeds in the ground" is anymore the one-stop answer for hunger than "boots on the ground" is for military conflict.  (I'll save you the points-in-case).  We need to keep talking, thinking and working.

Bart van Ark comments on Alex Cobham commenting on Paul Collier commenting on Martin Wolf:

The supply side of this crisis stems from much more – and potentially much more enduring – issues than such bad luck events as droughts. A strong focus for many years on development of manufacturing and services in many emerging economies, notably in Asia, has come at the cost of improving agricultural productivity. World production of rice and wheat has barely increased in the past 10 years, and agricultural productivity has severely slowed in several key producing countries in Asia, including China (2 percent per year from 1996-2003, compared to 4 percent from 1989-1996), India (around 1 percent from 1995-2005 compared to almost 2 percent from 1985-1995, and Indonesia (only 1 per cent from 1995-2004 compared to more than 3 percent in 1985-1995). The causes of this productivity slowdown include a relative neglect of agricultural R&D, low investment in rural extension services, and even a failure to extend infrastructure such as roads and irrigation to rural areas. There is enormous potential to increase both food supply and agricultural productivity in these countries, but it will take time to bring production back up to the levels needed to meet demand.

Previously.

We Hurt the Ones We Love the Most

I don't Twitter but its an interesting technology, and so is this rumination on whether or not it may have to die to live - a dilemma that I think will become increasingly common with technologies emerging under this model (Free blog post idea: Twitter as tragic hero):
Is Twitter too important to be left in the hands of Twitter? That's the argument that bubbled up over the weekend. The argument is that Twitter is not distributed. This means that if Twitter goes down no one can Twitter. It also means if Twitter goes out of business, or just screws up, we could lose all of our tweet history.

. . . . It is entirely possible that before Twitter makes its first penny, it will become too important to exist in its current form, and the community will feel it has to be replaced by an open source, distributed framework. This should strike fear into the hearts of anyone who decides open their API. While the Open API strategy has clearly sped up adoption, it may have worked too well. In fact, it may have worked so well that Twitter may be killed before it ever makes it out of the womb -- by people who love it.

. . . . The lesson from all of this may be that communications apps can't live without an open API, But they can't live with them, either. Of course I have been skeptical that any communication app can make money, and particularly Twitter, but I could not envision that they would and could be undermined as a platform like this. It is truly astonishing to watch.

I'm curious too as to whether or not (when?) such a circumstance would begin to impact innovation, or at the very least drive it back under the proprietary umbrella.

May 4, 2008

Links

The top 100 comic book runs:  #15 is my personal favorite; confession - I've never read a single issue of Sandman.
Depressing new HIV numbers out of South Africa:  + 2 million more than recent estimates. 

The Death and Life of  the American Newspaper from The New Yorker.  I love reading the print editions of newspapers, there I said it, and much like the author I think they serve purposes in our society that can not (will not?) be replaced by an internet press corp.

Helpful NPR interview with Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved - the bit about how most food "aid" negatively impacts those we are seeking to help is one of the most common ah-ha moments for groups who visited our farm.  Patel was formerly with the Food First Institute, an excellent resource for those interested in issues of global hunger - their World Hunger: 12 Myths is what I recommend for anyone who wants an easily digestible introductory look at the issue.  He is also a blogger.

Suburban gardeners in the Wall Street Journal - look for the eventual return of victory gardens over the next five-ten years.  You could substantially reduce those start up costs if you wanted to. 

Regardless of where you live these days there is a taco truck around that is serving the best tacos in town - seek it out if you have not already and then you will understand why folks in LA are fighting for their taco truck's rights.  This is our favorite truck in these parts:


I'll be interested to see what this group has to say regarding the politics of faith come Wednesday.

May 3, 2008

John Hodgman on Presidential Spiritual Advisors

"You have to understand that simply in the course of doing their jobs presidents transgress against God in ways that you can't begin to imagine.  Four years in office and their souls end up looking like the floor of a gas station restroom."

That pretty much sums up why I don't have any faith criteria for admittance to the oval office.  The whole things pretty funny - worth a watch.


More on Food?

I think it is fair to say that if, over the past ten years, we had spent even a fraction of the time we've spent in the last month in serious conversation talking about where our food comes from and how it is grown we might be in a slightly better place than we currently find ourselves.  One of the elements that has been snaking itself through much of the commentary is the confession that the current global food crisis shouldn't have surprised anyone - here's to history not repeating itself.

I'm really hoping these discussions begin to move more quickly from descriptive to prescriptive so I was glad to see Martin Wolf's piece in the Financial Times' Economist's forum entitled "Food crisis is a chance to reform global agriculture."  Its a helpful piece that summarizes much of what might be beneficial in rectifying the global picture going forward - my one major quibble would be the same one raised by Dani Rodrik - that many are painting with too broad a brush in the rush to raise the alarm:

The fact is that millions of very poor growers of rice and other food products are much better off as a result. The poor that are affected the worst are the urban poor, not the rural poor.

A point I buried at the bottom of an earlier post as well.  (Rodrick also points to this paper on household poverty impacts from the recent changes in food prices.)  

The Wolf piece is also helpful because it elicited a comment from Paul Collier who basically rehashes his earlier comments published in the Times - ie, we need to ramp up large-scale global agricultural production.  I've already expressed my skepticism of viewing this "harder, better, faster, stronger" approach to conventional agriculture as a silver bullet for the global food crisis because it is incumbent upon a number of other externalities that I believe we would be foolish to continue trusting so uncritically.  Helpfully, Alex Cobham, policy manager for Christian Aid, pushes the conversation forward by commenting on the post and raises many of the questions that I was thinking:

Paul Collier argues that romanticism about agriculture and the environment has clouded the judgment of policymakers. That may be true. But romanticism about the role of the market, and the potential for large-scale agriculture, has also some blame to take. Ultimately, there is no scope for, nor likelihood of, the latter making a great change to the production and consumption possibilities of the poorest people on the planet. Staple food yields will instead be improved by providing a little more security to marginal producers, by replacing and improving institutions that were rashly abandoned, and by giving these producer-consumers some prospect of food security.

Hopefully, Wolf and Collier will continue to push the discussion forward.

Slightly inside baseball:  for those who like to read drama between the blog-lines, you may recall that Collier took Christian Aid to task in The Bottom Billion for what I believe was characterized as "commissioning dubious Marxist research on free trade."      

May 2, 2008

Your Friday Video

This is the final round battle of the BOTY 2007 between Japan's Turn Phase Crew and Korea's Extreme Crew:

Part 1:


Part 2:



You can see their crew showcases as well:  Extreme Crew here and Turn Phase here.

Extreme Crew won the battle but Turn Phase won the showcase event.

There are some insane moves in there but the guy from Turn Phase who spins on his head is unbelievable.

Korean crews won the BOTY in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2007 - hanyru wave baby.

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