June 30, 2008

What If . . . ?

Quite a while back I voiced my . . . incredulity . . . sure, why not, at John McCain for positing that "the fight against radical Islamic extremism was part of the “transcendent challenge of the 21st Century."  Ezra Klein points out that he is now offering this same response as the answer to the question of what "is the gravest long term threat to the U. S. economy."  I agree with most of what Klein says here - regardless of how much you want to push national security as your chief qualifier for office you've got to throw folks a bone on that question and give an answer that actually touches on the day to day fears and worries about the economy that most of the nation is dealing with at the moment.  (McCain better be careful or he's going to back himself into a Giuliani.)  

But I was especially delighted to see this from Klein:  
There are essentially two sets of premises under which you could answer this question. The first is the real world, which contains likely threats to the American economy. Things like a deep recession that's worsened by a credit contraction. Or oil prices that turn out to be skyrocketing not because of transient speculation, but enduring global instability and a dawning recognition of peak oil. Or a health system that isn't fixed, and is chewing up 30 percent of our GDP in two decades.

The other set of premises is the fantasy world. This is more like Marvel's "What If?" series. What if the Supervolcano explodes? What if we have an "I Am Legend" style pandemic? Or a "28 Days Later" zombie virus? What if "radical Islamic extremism" prevails and terrorists establish a global caliphate?
Anytime that references to Marvel's What If . . . ? series make it into the political debate is one more day that we can say with quiet confidence that truly, the terrorists have not won. 

PS - Of course it does.  Wikipedia has a list of all of the What If . . . ? issues.

To Tell The Truth

It seems like it would be difficult to pull off a show like To Tell the Truth in this here "internet age," for all the obvious reasons.  This is an episode that aired in 1980 which improbably asked the contestants to correctly identify the real Rosa Parks.  There are layers to anonymity and fame.  You can know faces and names without knowing stories and accomplishments, and vice versa.  We have undoubtedly swung to the other side of the spectrum in recent times as I'm constantly recognizing people with no remembrance as to why I should.  However, it's tough not to wince a bit at the fact that 3 of the 4 contestants didn't know Rosa Parks on sight.  

A Better Milk Jug?

Apparently, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Costco will soon be switching to a redesigned milk jug, which, I assume, means everyone else will be switching soon enough as well.  I don't shop at those stores so I haven't seen one in the wild yet but the audio slideshow has some good pictures and info on the design.  Here's the side by side analysis of the old and new jugs:


Chegg: The Netflix of College Textbooks

"The Best Way to Rent Textbooks."  I had no idea this existed.  Is it cheaper than buying via the internet and then reselling?


AIDS Profiteering

There is a lot of frustration brewing in the world of HIV/AIDS prevention these days and it's coming from all directions.  This piece from the Washington Post is from Sam Ruteikara, co-chair of Uganda's National AIDS Prevention Committee:
The President's Emergency Plan for HIV-AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has been mired in the Senate for months. Last week finally brought signs that a vote, and passage, could be near. The program would cost $50 billion -- that's $165 from each American to fight AIDS, or $1.3 billion from New York City alone. But will the money allocated for AIDS stop the spread of the virus in sub-Saharan Africa, where 76 percent of the world's HIV-AIDS deaths occurred last year?

Not if the dark dealings I've witnessed in Africa continue unchecked. In the fight against AIDS, profiteering has trumped prevention. AIDS is no longer simply a disease; it has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

In the late 1980s, before international experts arrived to tell us we had it all "wrong," we in Uganda devised a practical campaign to prevent the spread of HIV. We recognized that population-wide AIDS epidemics in Africa were driven by people having sex with more than one regular partner. Therefore, we urged people to be faithful. Our campaign was called ABC (Abstain, or Be Faithful, or use Condoms), but our main message was: Stick to one partner. We promoted condoms only as a last resort.

Because we knew what to do in our country, we succeeded. The proportion of Ugandans infected with HIV plunged from 21 percent in 1991 to 6 percent in 2002. But international AIDS experts who came to Uganda said we were wrong to try to limit people's sexual freedom. Worse, they had the financial power to force their casual-sex agendas upon us.
There's more food for thought in the middle, but he closes with this:
We, the poor of Africa, remain silenced in the global dialogue. Our wisdom about our own culture is ignored.

Telling men and women to keep sex sacred -- to save sex for marriage and then remain faithful -- is telling them to love one another deeply with their whole hearts. Most HIV infections in Africa are spread by sex outside of marriage: casual sex and infidelity. The solution is faithful love.

So hear my plea, HIV-AIDS profiteers. Let my people go. We understand that casual sex is dear to you, but staying alive is dear to us. Listen to African wisdom, and we will show you how to prevent AIDS.
There are some harsh indictments in there and if it weren't so late I might have something to say in that regard, maybe tomorrow.

June 29, 2008

Dr. Horrible

From Joss Whedon and friends:
Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

More here.

Via Waxy

Two interesting pointers from Waxy, in addition to the one mentioned below:

One Post Wonder: "a collection of amazing blogs that have one post" 

Google Book Search has made available for download the U. S. copyright renewal records.

Silent Running

In a comment to a post below I mentioned the 70's science fiction film Silent Running.  It's one of those movies with a cult following that you somehow know about but have never seen and it came to mind last week thanks to the convergence of the release of WALL-E and the news about the fertility of the Mars soil.  Here's the beginning of the plot summary from Wikipedia:
The movie depicts a future in which all plant life on Earth has been made extinct. Only a few specimens have been preserved just outside the orbit of Saturn, in enormous, greenhouse-like geodesic domes attached to a fleet of American Airlines "Space Freighters". Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern) is one of four crewmen aboard the Valley Forge, one of the 2,000 metre-long freighters, and is the resident botanist and ecologist who preserves the forests for their eventual return to Earth, and the reforestation of the planet. Lowell spends most of his time in the forests, cultivating the plant and animal life.
Read the rest if you want the spoilers but suffice it to say things take a turn for the dramatic pretty quickly.  It was directed by Douglas Trumbull who is a special effects legend in the sci-fi world having handled them for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Blade Runner.  That, my friends, is what we call a resume.  Ebert gave the film four-stars when he reviewed it in 1971.  Anybody seen it?

Here's the trailer from YT:

PS - I assumed there would be some reference to Silent Running in WALL-E but this page of easter eggs in WALL-E (via Waxy) doesn't seem to mention it - although I used the "find" function to avoid spoilers so I didn't read it closely.

Capitol Words: ada

The Capitol Word of the day for June 25th was "ada."  Which, via the ever reliable Wikipedia, means that last Wednesday Congress could have been discussing any of the following: a Pascal based programming language, a dog actor from the sitcom Spaced, a character from Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness, the sister of Charlemagne,  or a town in Ghana, Serbia, Ohio, Oklahoma or Minnesota.  But odds are they were talking about this.


1.  More on martian soil from Nature.  They say it's a pH between 8-9 which may actually be a bit high for asparagus.  I think olives and pomegranates can handle that kind of pH and probably most of your brassicas.  A high dollar boutique crop like "Martian Olives" or "Out of This World Pomegranate Juice" would probably be the way to go.

2.  Homemade twinkies.  (This is a good blog for those who are baking inclined - more towards the cake/cookie end of the spectrum)

3.  List of countries by total length of piplelines.  Further "underground" evidence that our infrastructure is completely sunk in petroleum.  

4.  Food books are flying onto the shelves these days and most are re-treading the same old ground but this one looks interesting.

5.  Who is the "trailing spouse" in your marriage?

7.  Addendums/Corrections:  That 6th foot was a hoax; and I'm still confused as to what that "pregnancy pact" was.

June 28, 2008

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

We're doing a bit of house sitting this weekend so for the first time in quite a while we've got access to a TV and cable, which is how I stumbled across Kanye's top 25 favorite rap videos on BET this afternoon.  I was surprised to see that we have the same favorite rap video.  Actually, now that I think about it I guess it does make sense.  It's flashy but really tight and clean.  Puffy and Mase are at the top of their game.  The colors, the movement, the close, tight shots are so simple but they work so well even in this version with the cut-aways.  Good song, great video.

Professor Splash

This raises many questions.  

Not the least of which is why is everyone wearing a tuxedo?  

PS - I'm pretty sure he blacks out there for a few seconds on landing.

The Most Obscene Town In America?

I meant to mention this earlier but forgot until I saw this great post at SAI.  If you haven't seen it, this story in the NYT about an ongoing obscenity trial in Pensacola, FL provides the backdrop:
Judges and jurors who must decide whether sexually explicit material is obscene are asked to use a local yardstick: does the material violate community standards?

That is often a tricky question because there is no simple, concrete way to gauge a community’s tastes and values.

The Internet may be changing that. In a novel approach, the defense in an obscenity trial in Florida plans to use publicly accessible Google search data to try to persuade jurors that their neighbors have broader interests than they might have thought.

In the trial of a pornographic Web site operator, the defense plans to show that residents of Pensacola are more likely to use Google to search for terms like “orgy” than for “apple pie” or “watermelon.” The publicly accessible data is vague in that it does not specify how many people are searching for the terms, just their relative popularity over time. But the defense lawyer, Lawrence Walters, is arguing that the evidence is sufficient to demonstrate that interest in the sexual subjects exceeds that of more mainstream topics — and that by extension, the sexual material distributed by his client is not outside the norm.
SAI decided to go one step further and try to find where a defendant would have the best chance of being acquitted - i.e., which city is the most obscene.  Here's the rubric they came up with:
We used George Carlin's (R.I.P.) "Seven Dirty Words" as obscenity proxies, and looked up each of them on Google Trends. We restricted the results to the United States, and noted the top 10 cities querying each of the seven words. Top scores went to cities that showed up on multiple lists; to break ties, we assigned weight values depending on a city's rank on individual lists. Note that Google weights its own results to account for population: The cities listed above showed the greatest percentage of searchers looking for dirty words, not the greatest number of people.
I'm sure there are all kinds of problems in that logic but still pretty clever.  Here is their top ten:
The 10 American Cities Most Likely To Search For Obscene Material

1.  Louisville, KY
2.  Rochester, NY
3.  Philadelphia, PA
4.  Newark, NJ
5.  Los Angeles, CA
6.  Irvine, CA
7.  Pittsburgh, PA
8.  Las Vegas, NV
9.  Albany, NY
10.  Orlando, FL
Louisville?  Who knew.  Must be all those seminarians.

The Inaugural Meeting of the Council of Stellar Management

MMORPG's continue to fascinate me:
REYKJAVIK, Iceland — This city near the top of the world has a distinguished history of hosting summit meetings. Presidents, prime ministers and premiers have come here to discuss their differences and chart earth’s future.

Yet mere planets were beneath the concern of the nine leaders — warlords, religious crusaders, industrial tycoons, freedom fighters, university dons and banking moguls — who temporarily set aside their differences last week and gathered here under a banner of peace. After all, they had an entire galaxy to consider.

Of course that galaxy does not really exist. Yet for the more than 200,000 players of the science-fiction game Eve Online; for the company here that created it, CCP; indeed for the broader concept of how companies relate to their customers, the inaugural meeting of the Council of Stellar Management was a watershed in the evolution of online democracy.

Corporations of all sorts have long used focus groups and surveys to find out what their customers are thinking. With the Council of Stellar Management, CCP has taken that idea an unlikely step further: allowing its customers, the Eve players, to elect their own representatives to express concerns and suggestions directly to the company. CCP then flew the nine players here at its expense to wield the brickbats. The company plans to repeat the exercise every six months.
Read the whole thing in the NYT.

Won't You Be My Neighbor

Nice op-ed in the NYT on the challenge and benefits of knowing your neighbors and one man's efforts to cross the property line barrier with sleep overs:
Before I left, Lou told me how to get into his house in case of an emergency, and I told him where I hide my spare key. That evening, as I carried my bag home, I felt that in my neighbor’s house lived a person I actually knew.

I was privileged to be his friend until he died, just this past spring.

Remarkably, of the 18 or so neighbors I eventually approached about sleeping over, more than half said yes. There was the recently married young couple, both working in business; the real estate agent and her two small children; the pathologist married to a pediatrician who specializes in autism.

Eventually, I met a woman living three doors away, the opposite direction from Lou, who was seriously ill with breast cancer and in need of help. My goal shifted: could we build a supportive community around her — in effect, patch together a real neighborhood? Lou and I and some of the other neighbors ended up taking turns driving her to doctors’ appointments and watching her children.

Our political leaders speak of crossing party lines to achieve greater unity. Maybe we should all cross the invisible lines between our homes and achieve greater unity in the places we live. Probably we don’t need to sleep over; all it might take is to make a phone call, send a note, or ring a bell. Why not try it today?

Backtracking the Obama Smears

Interesting piece in the Washington Post on attempts to find patient zero in the "Obama is a Muslim" e-mail smear.  This bit was interesting:
"What I've come to realize is, the labor of generating an e-mail smear is divided and distributed amongst parties whose identities are secret even to each other," she says. A first group of people published articles that created the basis for the attack. A second group recirculated the claims from those articles without ever having been asked to do so. "No one coordinates the roles," Allen said. Instead the participants swim toward their goal like a school of fish -- moving on their own, but also in unison.

June 27, 2008

Where Can't You Grow Asparagus?

Kottke points to an article from the BBC on the fascinating details about Mars that are emerging from the data sent back by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander.  This one involves the recent soil sample taken by Phoenix and the subsequent soil tests that it performed.  Here's the cool part:
Although he said further tests would have to be conducted, Mr Kounaves said the soil seemed "very friendly… there is nothing about it that is toxic," he said.

"It is the type of soil you would probably have in your back yard - you know, alkaline. You might be able to grow asparagus in it really well."
As well as being far less acidic than anticipated, the soil was also found to contain traces of magnesium, sodium, potassium and other elements.
In addition to how amazing it is that they threw a robot from Earth to Mars, somehow landed it in one piece, and then made it run a soil test via remote control (we have to send ours to a lab in Michigan!) it is pretty incredible the results that they are getting back.  Basically, fertile soil. 

However, making the claim that it can support the growth of asparagus (a vegetable that I'm betting he pulled off the top of his head) really isn't that big a statement.  Ok, it's a big statement, we're talking about freaking Mars here, but bear with me.  One of the biggest travesties taking place at your local supermarket is how much they are charging for asparagus, because you can grow that stuff virtually anywhere.  As long as you've got a soil that drains remotely well and a pH anywhere between 4 and 8 you can throw some in the ground and produce enough to satisfy your own household at the very least, and even better it's a perennial. Most vegetables prefer a slightly acidic soil, 6.6, 6.7, 6.8, but asparagus is generally very forgiving when it comes to pH.  I'd be curious to know exactly what the pH of the Mars soil was - I think soils are officially considered alkali when they have a pH above 7.3.   

It was also interesting to see the mention of other trace minerals in the soil as well.  Soil pH and its relationship to the availability of minerals and nutrients is actually pretty interesting.  Here is a standard chart used in most soil biology classes describing the relationship:


Not sure what the point of this post was but we'll go with this:  plant your own asparagus.

Noonan: The Problem With Being McCain

Pomeroy mentioned Peggy Noonan's rise in prominence the other day so I paid attention to this post at Marbury pointing to Noonan writing in the WSJ.  After explaining that McCain is interesting only when he is being McCain and not a formalized shade of McCain, Noonan goes on to say this:
And there is another problem that is bigger than all of that, and he is going to have to think himself through it. And that is that there is a sense about his campaign that . . . John McCain has already got what he wanted, he got what he needed, which was to be top dog in the Republican Party, the party that had abused him in 2000 and cast him aside. They all bow to him now, and he doesn't need anything else. He doesn't need the presidency. He got what he wanted. So now he can coast. This is, in the deepest way, unserious. JFK had to have the presidency—he wanted that thing. Nixon had to have it too, and Reagan had to have it to institute his new way. Clinton had to have it—it was his destiny, the thing he'd wanted since he was a teenager.

The last person I can think of who gave off the vibe that he didn't have to have it was Bob Dole. Who didn't get it. And who had a similar lack of engagement in terms of policy, and philosophy, and meaning.
I saw a clip of McCain on the news last night and thought the same thing:  he's totally phoning it in, he looks incredibly bored.  Her prediction of how things will play out come November also sounds very plausible:
The campaign will grind along until a series of sharp moments. Maybe they will come in the debates. Things will move along, Mr. Obama in the lead. And then, just a few weeks out from the election, something will happen: America will look up and see the inevitability of Mr. Obama, that Mr. Obama has already been "elected," in a way, and America will say, Hey, wait a second, are we sure we want that? And it will tighten indeed.

The race has a subtext, a historic encounter between the Old America and the New, and suddenly the Old America—those who are literally old, who married a guy who fought at the Chosin Reservoir, and those not so old who yet remember, and cherish, the special glories of the Old—will rise, and join in, and make themselves heard. They will not leave without a fight.

And on that day John McCain will suddenly make it a race, as if moved by them and wanting to come through for them one last time. And then on down to the wire. And then . . .

Religion Matters: Mugabe Plays the God Card

The runoff "election" is underway in Zimbabwe today and Sokwanele will be posting updates if you want to track the voter turnout or lack thereof. What more can you say?

Not much I thought, but writing in The Globe and Mail, Daniel Morris gives a new perspective on Mugabe and the election through the lens of Zimbabwe's religious landscape:
In perhaps his sincerest admission of how he has regarded today's runoff presidential vote, Zimbabwean strongman Robert Mugabe recently told a group of businessmen in Bulawayo: "Only God, who appointed me, will remove me."

The not-so-veiled threat of more violence was the last straw for beleaguered opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who promptly announced his withdrawal from the race. In southern Africa and beyond, even the usual apologists for Mr. Mugabe's behaviour were moved to issue condemnations. More vocal critics were appalled at his craven demagoguery.

But his words would have been heard differently in Zimbabwe itself. Religion plays a major role there, especially in politics. Indeed, in many respects, God is an active player in this campaign.
Morris then goes on to relate how Mugabe has often invoked Nehanda, the spiritual guardian of the Shona lands and thus an important anti-colonial symbol, in his rallies and how an anti-Christian sentiment has emerged in violence perpetrated on his opponents and an anti-Nehanda strain has emerged among Mugabe's opponents:
Twenty-five years later, Nehanda continues to play a role in Zimbabwean political debate. On June 14, Mr. Mugabe told a crowd of supporters: "We are prepared to fight for our country if we lose it the way it was lost to Mbuya Nehanda." Editorials in the state-run Herald newspaper regularly claim Nehanda's endorsement of government policies. For many people accustomed to consulting a spiritual medium for everything from weather forecasts to medical ailments, the divine sanction resonates.

But there is a twist. With the rise of Pentecostal Christianity in Zimbabwe in recent years, some Zimbabweans who are fed up with Mr. Mugabe have come to reject Nehanda as a demon. One blogger - an admitted supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change - recently indicted Mr. Mugabe as a new "host" of Nehanda.

In any case, when Mr. Mugabe said that "only God" can remove him, it was not just an empty provocation. It was a well-calibrated speech to the many Zimbabweans who believe there is a certain legitimacy that only God and the ancestors can provide.

The world already knows Mr. Mugabe is cynical and dangerous. But to understand the enduring, if waning, support he has been able to maintain for decades, the story goes beyond modern politics. The current battle for the presidency of Zimbabwe is taking place in the spiritual world as well, where the soul of a religious ancestor continues to be used as a political weapon.
I would like to read more on this angle. For instance, how has Mugabe's relationship with the religious establishment in Zimbabwe evolved, as by all accounts he was a very devout Catholic in his youth? As his anti-Western rhetoric has increased has that been reflected in a more vocal embrace of the traditional spiritualism represented by Nehanda? Again, religion matters.

Young and Restless in China

I've only watched a couple of segments so far but Frontline's "intimate look into the lives of nine young Chinese, coming of age in a society that's changing at breathtaking speed," titled Young and Restless in China, is highly recommended. 

PS - As are virtually all of Frontline's programs available online.

TED Top 10

If you've been interested in checking out some TEDTalks but have been wondering what the cream of the crop is, TED has bailed you out by posting their TEDTalks Top 10 page.  The short summary video is worth watching even if you've seen most of them before.

June 26, 2008

Uncle Wiggly Wings

NPR had a great story this morning on Hal "Uncle Wiggly Wings" Halvorsen:
When West Berlin was cut off by Soviet troops 60 years ago, British and U.S. aircraft flew in food, diesel and coal to residents. On the anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, co-host Ari Shapiro talks with Andrei Cherny, author of The Candy Bombers, and pilot Hal Halvorsen, whose secret mission was to shower the children of Berlin with candy.
Definitely worth a listen.

Evangelicals Are Cracking Me Up

There have been a ton of stories in the news over the last week swarming around religion and politics.  Its early in the general election campaign so the candidates are jockeying for position, trying to define themselves on a national and not just a party level, so there are the usual overtures towards religious voting blocks taking place.  Out of that has come the usual avalanche of pontificating on which candidate is gaining the most traction amongst religious/value voters and how that might affect the November election.  Since the elections of 2000 and 2004 the most coveted slice of that pie has been the ubiquitous "evangelical voter," so not surprisingly a lot of the ink being spilt has been done so in an attempt to explain where these voters are trending.  Fueling this "religious voter" love-in in the last couple of days has been the release of the always interesting U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum (good analysis here) and the hubbub over the Obama vs. Dobson smack-down.   

So, all of that to say that with all of this coverage you would have thought that someone would have described the religious/political landscape with something that resonates with me as "accurately" portraying what things actually look like on the ground, but I've been pretty disappointed so far - not in the "trends," but in the coverage.  However, I think I finally found someone who gets it right.  J. Daryl Charles has a piece up at First Things entitled, "The Myth of the Evangelical Crackup."  The title and the bulk of the article is a pointed critique of David Kirkpatrick's long piece in the NYT Magazine back in October entitled, "The Evangelical Crackup" and by extension much of what has been written since.  Much of what has been written by the mainstream media since Kirkpatrick's piece was published has simply restated what he said:  the evangelical voting block that propelled Bush to wins in 2000 and 2004 is fractured, there are new trends and leaders emerging that refuse to be characterized by a single party or issue, Republicans can't count on the evangelical base anymore, etc., etc., etc. - Kirkpatrick was ahead of the curve in making these claims.  However, even when I read the piece last year something didn't feel right about it, Charle's gives voice to some of my unease not just about Kirkpatrick's piece but about the plethora of others that have followed it:
Conspicuously absent from Kirkpatrick’s reporting, a genre that rests on the perpetuation of false or exaggerated stereotypes, are several inconvenient facts. First, it ignores the remarkable—and seldom reported—diversity among evangelicals on matters social and political. Those of us who teach at the university level cannot help but be impressed by the current generation of young evangelicals, who possess a remarkably sensitized social conscience that is far more diversified and progressive than evangelicals of a previous generation. This development, it needs reiteration, has been measurable since the 1980s and is both heartening and to be encouraged. To describe this as a “recent” phenomenon or a “desertion” of traditional priorities or a major leftward political shift, as Kirkpatrick does, is pure fiction. Kirkpatrick need only consult a recent Pew study that reports “a small increase in the number of Democrats” that is coupled with an increase in the number of “independents and politically unaffiliated Americans.”
. . . . . . 
In the end, important changes surely have been afoot throughout wider evangelicalism, but neither are the most significant of these developments “recent” nor do they spell a collapse of traditional evangelical commitments in the social-political arena that equate to an exodus to the Democratic party, Kirkpatrick’s own wishes notwithstanding. There is—and will always be—the potential for uncritically adopting political allegiances that obscure the church’s role in society. But just for once—only once—I would love to hear an activist, or a New York Times correspondent, chasten the religious left and warn against the idolatry of hitching our horse to the Democratic party. Indeed, the last time I checked, the new wave of political messianism had the unmistakable smell of Chicago-style politics.
If you're interested in how things might actually play out in November give the piece a read.

Tsvangirai Denies Guardian Authorship

Update:  The Guardian has now posted Tsvangirai's denial of authorship but still hasn't explained what happened with the original op/ed.  Strange.

A friend and I were just discussing the situation in Zimbabwe and Morgan Tsvangirai's call for UN military intervention.  Our conclusions were similar to those of Chris Blattman in that we couldn't see how that would end (or begin) well.  I said I was somewhat surprised at Tsvangirai's tactics and now feel somewhat justified in that skepticism with the word via Sokwanele that Tsvangirai is denying authoring or approving of the op/ed piece (currently down/removed) that appeared in the Guardian.  Here's a bit from his statement:
An article that appeared in my name, published in the Guardian yesterday, does not reflect my position or opinions regarding solutions to the Zimbabwean crisis.

Although the Guardian was given assurances from credible sources that I had approved the article this was not the case.

By way of clarification I would like to state the following:

I am not advocating for military intervention in Zimbabwe by the United Nations or any other organization. The MDC is committed to finding an African solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe and appreciates the work of SADC in this regard. I am asking the African Union and SADC to lead an expanded initiative, supported by the United Nations, to manage the transitional process. We are proposing that the AU facilitation team, comprising eminent Africans, set up a transitional period which takes into account the will of the people of Zimbabwe.
There is a bit more information here, but it seems an unfortunate misstep at an incredibly tense moment in Zimbabwe.  Hopefully it was an honest one.

June 25, 2008

Send Barack Your Baby

Send Barack your baby.  From the FAQ:
Why is Barack doing this?
In modern presidential campaigns, the candidates visit thousands of towns and cities. Even so, it is impossible to visit a majority of the country, let alone all of it. Barack is doing this to revolutionize campaigning for the millions of babies who would otherwise never get to meet him. Now they don’t have to wait for a visit—they can come to him. For a kiss, a hug, or simply some hope.

How long will my baby be with Barack himself?
You may choose from three interaction types: a kiss, a hug, or giving hope. For a kiss or a hug, Barack spends roughly two minutes with a baby. Giving hope usually takes about twice that long.

May I send a camera to commemorate my baby’s time with Barack?
No, as we wouldn’t want your camera to get lost. Instead, a professional photographer records every baby’s special moment, and you can order one set of prints at no charge. Check off your preferred print size on the packing slip you include with your baby.
Pre-internet presidential campaigns were so dull.

RZA Hearts Broccoli

As previously mentioned, I've been away from the computer and internet for a couple of days so I'm supposed to be catching up on work and staying away from the feed reader but this had to be passed along as it combines two things close to my heart:  the Wu-Tang Clan and broccoli.  From the Vulture blog:
Speaking of snacks, are you still making your famous RZA burgers?
You mean the ones with the waffles, right? Yeah I’m definitely still making those. Those are the shit.

What other vegetarian dishes are you working on?
I’ve been really big on broccoli lately, man. Nah mean? There's a couple of ways to make it. You can sauté it with butter and olive oil together. Or I like to soak it rosemary oil and then lightly fry it. Put that shit over some rice … that shit is tasty, my nigga.
Tasty indeed, RZA.  Tasty.  Indeed.

Snarky Comment of the Day

From the BBC:  "U.S. to ignore Zimbabwe poll result."  

So pretty much a continuation of our policy on the country in general.

June 24, 2008

Recently Spotted: Summer Hay

I've spent the last two days on the back of a tractor mowing our pecan orchard.  Which is another way of saying that I've spent the last two days in a state of extremely hot jittery motion.  Almost any time of the year the orchard is lovely.  Tucked away in a small hollow on the bend of the river you can work amongst the trees and feel like you've wandered much farther from home than you really are.  They're cutting summer hay in these parts and it gives me pleasure to see the bales ranged across a freshly cut field.  This is the property adjacent to our orchard:

Last years harvest was a bumper crop thanks to the mystical combination of well timed rains and good management but pecans bear in alternating years so we'll do a lot of work with not much to show for it this year.  This is a shot of the orchard mowing in process:

June 22, 2008

These are Strange Days: Example #387

Amy Winehouse will die unless she can beat her addiction to drugs, her father has warned. Mitch Winehouse said his daughter, who was rushed to hospital last week after collapsing, has developed the chronic lung disease emphysema, possibly due to smoking crack cocaine.

His comments have cast doubt on the likelihood that Ms Winehouse will attend Nelson Mandela's birthday concert in Hyde Park on Friday, or that she will be able to perform at Glastonbury the following day.
To read more jarringly discordant sentences like these, see the full article.

Quote(s) of the Day

"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart.”—Henry Clay, American statesman

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”—Philo of Alexandria

Both come via Gideon Strauss, who appears to be fitfully blogging again.

Capitol Words

Capitol Words is an interesting single serving website (did Kottke coin that term?):
Capitol Words gives you an at-a-glance view into the daily proceedings of the United States Congress through the simplest lens available-a single word. For every day that Congress is in session, Capitol Words displays the most frequently used word in the Congressional Record.

Tsvangirai Withdraws from Election

The MDC has unearthed an elaborate and decisive plan by Zanu PF to rig the elections through the following measures:

1.  Commandeering the uniformed forces to use the postal ballot and forcing them to vote in front of their superiors.
2.  The prevention of MDC election agents to get to the polling stations through roadblocks and arrests.
3.  The three Mashonaland provinces have been identified as rigging centres where ballots are going to be stuffed.
4.  Villagers are having their national identity cards confiscated denying them their right to vote.
5.  There is a plan to record the serial numbers of ballot papers so as to intimidate voters.
6.  The holding of forced pungwes (overnight meetings) where MDC supporters are beaten and forced to undergo “re-education”.
7.  The abuse of traditional leaders.
8.  The use of massive violence as a weapon to influence the ballot.
It is, however, signed: "President Morgan Tsvangirai"

Morgan Tsvangirai has withdrawn from the runoff election that was scheduled for this Friday.  This is completely understandable as the escalating violence has been pretty well reported.  Essentially things have gotten so bad that Tsvangirai realized that asking people to vote for him was asking people to die for him.  I understand it and I'm even further saddened by it as well as baffled as to what will happen now.   

PC(USA) Moderator: Bruce Reyes-Chow?!

This is pretty inside baseball so unless you're interested in the goings-ons of religious denominations that you yourself have no affiliation with you may want to skip ahead.

Bruce Reyes-Chow was elected moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  As you might expect Bruce is a pastor, but I would wager that he is known by an even larger number of people as a blogger.  I've been a casual reader of his blog for a while so I knew he was running for the moderator position but assumed that he was something of a dark horse candidate (again, I'm not a presbyterian so I could be wrong on that)  For those who are vaguely familiar with navigating any religious political structure here are your visual clues: he doesn't wear ties, but does have an earring.  Here's a good snippet from the above linked story that points to how this is an interesting, and I think important, shift in leadership:
Minutes after being elected moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow said during a press conference he was eager to get back to his hotel room.

It was not that he wanted to get a well-deserved rest after Saturday night’s speech, question-and-answer session, and his second-ballot election.
Instead, Reyes-Chow said he was more keen on checking the Internet buzz his election was generating.

Reyes-Chow, a 39-year-old San Francisco pastor, husband and the father of three daughters between the ages of four and 11, said that blogging and using Facebook and other social networking sites “is part of my way of being, how we naturally engage with people.”He believes being transparent and prolific will “help people feel invited to participate in the church in a new way.”

He also recognizes people have “concerns about why we share so openly,” especially on the occasion when he places his political views online.

“I see something and I think, ‘That’ll blog,’ and I put it on,” he said.

During his campaign for moderator, someone asked Reyes-Chow if he could tell the person something about himself that could not already be found on his blog.

“Not really,” Reyes-Chow said. “I am an open book, pretty much. I am excited about connecting with folks and using my spiritual practice of blogging.”
I'm very interested in religion and I'm very interested in the internet/technology so I'm probably overstating how interesting this is in reality, but even given that this is a progressive  mainline protestant denomination I still think this is a big deal.  Not only for what Bruce isn't, the old-guard, but primarily for what he represents for the future of the PCUSA, which is also the future for every other American denomination whether they recognize it or not.  As a fellow member of the global Christian faith (and a fellow blogger!) I'm encouraged by his election.

June 20, 2008

N. T. Wright on Colbert

Yes, that headline is correct.  

Bishop N. T. Wright was on Colbert last night.  Surreal.  

They chat about his new book Surprised by Hope but essentially have a discussion on eschatology.  Wright, an Anglican, gets in a nice good natured jab at Colbert, a Catholic. 

PS - If you're unfamiliar with Wright and even mildly interested in Christian theology he's a good place to start.  He's incredibly bright, articulate and balanced and possesses a rare trait among scholars of any faith - the ability to listen sympathetically to those who disagree with him.  The N. T. Wright Page is a good resource for some free reading and listening.

PPS - Colbert has to be one of the smartest guys on TV.

PPPS - For some reason Thursday's show isn't on Hulu yet.

"You Try, We Give"

A good, creative example of "enlightened self-interest":
Two months ago, Portland, Oregon-based Jama Software -- the makers of a web-based project management app called Contour -- began a program called "You try. We give." The idea was simple, for everyone who signed up for a free trial of Contour, the company would set aside some money to invest in microloans at Kiva. In theory, word of their philanthropy would help spread their product and more people would sign up to try it out, get hooked, and pay for the full version. Today, Jama made a bold decision: stop advertising on Google AdWords, and instead funnel the money from their advertising budget into Kiva.

June 19, 2008

Pregnancy Pact

From Time:
As summer vacation begins, 17 girls at Gloucester High School are expecting babies—more than four times the number of pregnancies the 1,200-student school had last year. Some adults dismissed the statistic as a blip. Others blamed hit movies like Juno and Knocked Up for glamorizing young unwed mothers. But principal Joseph Sullivan knows at least part of the reason there's been such a spike in teen pregnancies in this Massachusetts fishing town. School officials started looking into the matter as early as October after an unusual number of girls began filing into the school clinic to find out if they were pregnant. By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together. 
The NYT makes the Jamie Lynn connection.

Power vs. Poverty

This is an interesting piece in the New Statesman by Duncan Green.  This portion in particular left me reflecting again upon the role of religious and faith-based organizations in development work:
If you define development merely as rising GDP per capita, then the story almost ends there - effective states create the basis for rapid growth. But development, parti cularly tackling poverty, is about far more than that. When the World Bank, in an unprecedented exercise, asked 64,000 poor people around the world about their lives, what emerged was a complex and human account of poverty, encompassing issues that are often ignored in the academic literature: the importance of being able to give one's children a good start in life, the mental anguish that poverty brings. The overall conclusion was that, "again and again, powerlessness seems to be at the core of the bad life".
Tackling such powerlessness is not just about election campaigns and government. Building "power within" - for example, women's assertiveness to insist on their right not to be beaten in the home - and "power with" - in the form of collective organisation - is essential to achieving the wider empowerment that transforms politics and societies.
Issues of powerlessness and "power within" - now we're talking faith.

Putting Meat In Its Place

This is a good piece by Mark Bittman on how to begin the process of eating less meat.  The sort of thing that might have prompted helpful thoughts for us when we started seriously scaling back our meat consumption a couple of years ago and may be helpful now to those considering doing the same.
Let's suppose you've decided to eat less meat, or are considering it. And let's ignore your reasons for doing so. They may be economic, ethical, altruistic, nutritional or even irrational. The arguments for eating less meat are myriad and well-publicized, but at the moment they're irrelevant, because what I want to address here is (almost) purely pragmatic: How do you do it?

I'm not talking about eating no meat; I'm talking about cutting back, which in some ways is harder than quitting. Vegetarian recipes and traditions are everywhere. But in the American style of eating — with meat usually at the center of the plate — it can be difficult to eat two ounces of beef and call it dinner.

Cutting back on meat is not an isolated process. Unlike, say, taking up meditation or exercise, it usually has consequences for others.

The keys are to keep at least some of your decisions personal so they affect no one but yourself and, when they do affect others, minimize the pain and don't preach. (No one likes a proselytizer.)

On the other hand, don't apologize; by serving your friends or family less meat you're certainly doing them no harm, and may be doing them good — as long as what you serve is delicious, and that's easy enough.
He then goes on to list several practical steps to take and think through.  Worth a read.

Equal Measure

Clever measuring cup.


Six Feet

Another severed foot washes ashore in British Columbia - that is six since August, two in the last three days.  Apologies for the morbid fascination.

June 18, 2008

Days of Summer

In other online video news, Hulu has started its Days of Summer releases.  They will be posting a new feature every weekday until the end of August.  The first three up:  Lost in Translation, The 3 Stooges Collection and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Not too shabby.

YouTube's Screening Room

More information here on YouTube's plan to offer free online screening of independent films as part of their move towards longer form video. 

Occasionally Music: The Death of the Rural South?

USA Today has a pretty good article on the demise of small towns in the South.  I knew things were bad but I didn't know they were this bad:
This speck-on-the-map town, once Alabama's third largest, is home to fewer than 400 hardy souls. It has four tiny churches: Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Episcopalian.

Through the years, so many people have left that members of different churches worship together so they can keep the congregations going. They call themselves "Methobapteriapalians." Says Maxine McClusky, a member of Gainesville Baptist and St. Albans Episcopal churches: "Sometimes on Sunday morning, it's just one or two of us and the preacher."
Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians worshipping together?  My mind boggles to think of how they navigate the liturgical minefield of deciding what ends up in the communion cup.  All bad jokes aside, and while it is nothing new, this is a fairly depressing article to me.  As I've mentioned before, I'm a product of the rural south, with all the baggage and benefits that are incumbent upon that heritage, and I still have an immense fondness for the small town of my birth as well as the plethora of others like it scattered across the southeast.  The article touches on all the classic pitfalls of the death of rural America: the move from rural agriculture to urban industrialization, a legacy of unresolved racial tension, the empty downtown storefronts and the depressing reality of having to leave a place you are rooted in so that you can feed your family.  

Bleh.  It put me in a melancholy mood and when I'm in a melancholy mood and thinking of my roots I usually listen to Emmylou Harris's "Red Dirt Girl."  This could be the anthem of the "black belt" and considering she wrote it while driving through that region, where her own roots lie, I suppose it might as well be.  There are some near perfect lyrics in here:
She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she dug right in.
But one thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
There ain't know end.
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only 27 and she had five kids.
Coulda' been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Names Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.
Man, that is good song writing - give it a listen:

PS - I'm actually more optimistic about the fate of the rural south, and of rural America in general for that matter, than I have been for a while.  I think that there are some things converging globally and locally that are going to make our rural towns more viable options than they have been for quite some time.  A confluence of technologies that allow you to be absent from the urban cityscape while still connected to the marketplace and sustainable living preferences that are more readily achievable in a rural setting which I think may combine to bring about a rural renaissance in America's small towns - especially for those that find themselves 2-5 hours outside of metropolitan areas.  At least that is what I try to convince my wife. 

Achebe and the Great African Novel

From The New Yorker:
Western reviewers praised Achebe’s detailed portrayal of Igbo life, but they said little about the book’s literary qualities. The New York Times repeatedly misspelled Okonkwo’s name and lamented the disappearance of “primitive society.” The Listener complimented Achebe’s “clear and meaty style free of the dandyism often affected by Negro authors.” Others were openly hostile. “How would novelist Achebe like to go back to the mindless times of his grandfather instead of holding the modern job he has in broadcasting in Lagos?” the British journalist Honor Tracy asked. Reviewing Achebe’s third novel, “Arrow of God” (1964), which forms a thematic trilogy with “Things Fall Apart” and its successor, “No Longer at Ease” (1960), another critic disparaged the book’s language as “folk-patter.”
This was a grotesque misreading. In a 1965 essay titled “The African Writer and the English Language,” Achebe explains that he had no desire to write English in the manner of a native speaker. Rather, an African writer “should aim at fashioning out an English which is at once universal and able to carry his peculiar experience.” To demonstrate, he quotes several lines from “Arrow of God.” Ezeulu, the village’s chief priest, is curious to find out about the activities of the new missionaries in the village:
I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eyes there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a Mask, dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying had we known tomorrow.
Achebe then rewrites the passage, preserving its content but stripping its style:
I am sending you as my representative among these people—just to be on the safe side in case the new religion develops. One has to move with the times or else one is left behind. I have a hunch that those who fail to come to terms with the white man may well regret their lack of foresight.
By deploying stock English phrases in unfamiliar ways, Achebe expresses his characters’ estrangement from that language. The phrases that Ezeulu uses—“be my eyes,” “bring home my share”—have no exact equivalents in Achebe’s “translation.” And how great the gap between “my spirit tells me” and “I have a hunch”! In the same essay, Achebe writes that carrying the full weight of African experience requires “a new English, still in full communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings.” Or, as he later put it, “Let no one be fooled by the fact that we may write in English for we intend to do unheard of things with it.”

Out Smearing the Smears

This is a pretty funny piece in Slate suggesting that the Obama campaign's anti-smear site isn't being proactive enough - they shouldn't just be countering smear emails they should also be releasing their own "rumor" emails.  Here are a few suggestions they offer:
Barack Obama wears a FLAG PIN at all times. Even in the shower.

Barack Obama is a PATRIOTIC AMERICAN. He has one HAND over his HEART at all times. He occasionally switches when one arm gets tired, which is almost never because he is STRONG.

Barack Obama has the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE tattooed on his stomach. It's upside-down, so he can read it while doing sit-ups.

Barack Obama is a DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. His favorite book is the BIBLE, which he has memorized. His name means HE WHO LOVES JESUS in the ancient language of Aramaic. He is PROUD that Jesus was an American.

Barack Obama goes to church every morning. He goes to church every afternoon. He goes to church every evening. He is IN CHURCH RIGHT NOW.

Barack Obama's new airplane includes a conference room, a kitchen, and a MEGACHURCH.

Barack Obama's skin is the color of AMERICAN SOIL.

Veganic Farming

The Associated Press has a brief article on Veganic Farming.  For me this falls into the novelty filled category of "the luxury of choice."  I prefer a system of small-scale food production that integrates animal husbandry with vegetable production, but it's another interesting wrinkle on the variety of options that are out there when we start thinking creatively about a move away from "conventional" agriculture.

News Flash!

This just in . . . . fertilizers make plants grow!  

Ok, nothing new there but that seems to be the gist of this article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, "How a Kenyan Village Tripled its Corn Harvest."  If you added a question mark to the end of that title I would have answered, "Throw a lot of money and fertilizer at local farmers," and that is pretty much what the Millennium Village Project, which the article profiles, is doing.  The MVP is the brain child of Jeff Sachs and my skepticism is by no means the first criticism that it has received.  The article focuses primarily on agriculture so I will too, here is an excerpt:
"No one is arguing anymore whether you can double production through input subsidies to small-holder farmers in most agricultural environments across Africa," says Glenn Denning, director of the Millennium Development Goals Center in Kenya. "We now have the evidence from the Millennium Villages that Africa holds tremendous potential to actually be the supply response to the global food crisis."
Who was arguing this in the first place?  Again, if you've got enough money and fertilizer you can increase yields anywhere you want for a limited period of time.  And that's the rub.  Limited.  Eventually the money runs out, no one supports an unsustainable project forever, and eventually the nutrient requirements of your soil outpace the inputs which you can acquire and apply.  The problem isn't usually how to increase yields but how to do so sustainably - in every sense of the word.  A model of agricultural production that attempts to turn Africa into the corn belt seems preposterously naive and intentionally oblivious to the changing tides and limiting factors in global food production.  

I like the idea of the MVP as a laboratory for ground level development efforts but I wish they were more grounded in reality and the complications of scalability and sustainability.  This is particularly true with agriculture.  There are significant areas of production that they could be focusing on: water conservation, soil enrichment with organic matter, seed selection, collection and storage, and the integration of local markets with regional markets.  Unfortunately these final comments from the article are more telling than they realize:
A number of other African countries are now waiting for the funding to implement a similar national program, including Tanzania and Rwanda.

"We need to move very quickly and get a financing mechanism so that these countries can access funds to pay for seeds and fertilizers and train extension workers," says Denning.

Gapminder World Getting Bigger

Good news from the Gapminder World Blog:
We have added over 100 new indicators, covering a wide variety of topics in health, economics, inequality, technolgy, geography and more.

Note: the list of indicators are “work in progress”, so the selection of indicators to include or exclude might be revised in the near future. Their names might also be revised and more detailed explanations will be added. Please also note that the coverage (in number of countries and time span) is generally smaller for these new indicators
If you've never played around with the Gapminder World tool it's definitely worth your time.

Requiem for a Day Off

I love these mashups of classic movie trailers/scenes set to music of a decidedly different tone, this one comes courtesy of Kottke.

June 17, 2008


This is pretty weird right?
A fifth human foot in a year has washed ashore off the coast of British Columbia, and this time it's a left one.
Confession:  Take this as either a sign of the times we're living in or my own cynicism reaching new heights but ever since hearing the news of the last couple they found my initial thought has been viral marketing.

Soul Train Now Boarding?

My fondness for R & B and soul music owes a large debt to watching Soul Train on Saturday afternoons as a kid, usually on the down-low as my parents weren't big fans of "the hippest trip in America."  So, it was bittersweet to read that The Don had decided to sell the show to new owners who plan on bringing it back to the air.  Good to see it possibly heading back to the small screen, sad to see that Cornelius will no longer be involved, but like he said, "thirty-five years is a long time."  Here's wishing you "love, peace and soul" Don.

Anecdote:  Don Cornelius and I used neighboring urinals at The Peabody Hotel sometime around 1993 1997.  I nodded and said hi and he replied with the coolest "Allllright" I've ever heard.  He also wore the largest watch not attached to a wall I've ever seen, had on a mind-boggling yellow suit and was accompanied by a bodyguard at least four feet thick.  I washed my hands really slow.

Bicycle Tutor

This looks like a pretty good site for those of the two-wheel persuasion.

Recently Spotted: Honey

The traditional honey harvesting day in these parts is the weekend of July 4th so we're out checking the hives on a weekly basis until then.  We found good news when we opened them up this morning:

That frame has a mixture of drawn comb (comb that has yet to be filled with honey) uncapped honey (honey that the bee's haven't "finished" yet - which they do by fanning the honey with their wings to evaporate the water content to the point at which it will not ferment) and capped (finished) honey.

That is a frame of capped honey.

And that is where the magic starts around here - mesquite blossoms in full bloom.

June 15, 2008


This is the first actual news that I've heard on the planned Office spinoff.  Sounds like they may not lose any characters, but do a Mork & Mindy/Happy Days style segue.  

June 12, 2008

Religion and Development Revisited

In a post entitled, Why the Base of the Pyramid Needs God, Moses Lee over at the NextBillion blog has returned to a topic that has been on my back burner for a while now as well. Here is his opening paragraph:
In my previous post, I suggested that BoP enterprises should consider partnering with faith based organizations (FBOs) on the ground, particularly in countries where religion plays a large role. In this post, I’d like to put forth another distinct, but similar idea: FBOs in the West can play a large part in the overall BoP Movement. Crazy, right? Maybe not.
No, not crazy at all. In fact, its probably much closer to crazy to think that they can not, or are not already doing so. Whether or not that involvement looks like something that the World Resources Institute would want to endorse as either positive or sustainable is another question. A couple of quick thoughts which I can hopefully return to later:

Moses presents FBOs as bringing two things to the development table - money and heart. Unlike Moses, I wouldn't go so far as to say that "churches are well off" - Joel Osteen and Rick Warren are not the norm, the average congregation size in the US has long been below 200 people - but it is a fact that churches are still the most common charitable organization to which people give (2/3 of households in 2003 which I'm sure has continued to decline since then). So there is some money in play out there that could possibly be channeled in the direction of development. For Moses that is where the heart comes in:
. . . . I think many FBOs are perfect candidates to jump on board not only because of funding, but also because of their mandate to “love thy neighbor.” Imagine what could happen if churches and other FBOs from the West started channeling their resources and energies to affect the billions of poor in a sustainable way? As an active volunteer at my church in Ann Arbor, I have shared with many of the leaders/pastors the idea of using market based approaches to addressing poverty in areas of the world we are involved with.
And here too I think he is largely correct. There is inherent in the Christian faith a call to care for the other, the alien, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (I won't wade into trying to explain why that call has often been marginalized, distorted or ignored within various strands of the Christian tradition) and thus there should be a natural motivational fit for working with FBOs.

A couple other points:
1. One of, if not the, most convincing cases for working with FBOs is that they are already there. Money and motivation are already being used to put boots on the ground, as they say. Whether they are stand alone non-profits or church based volunteers there are countless groups going to the developing world every year. Now, what are they doing once they get there? Moses mentions proselytization and that certainly takes place - they are faith-based organizations. But the age of the rice-Christian is largely over and secular NGOs are naive to think that proselytization is the only form of expression that the "faith" in FBOs can take (Moses doesn't say that in this piece). Many FBOs that do have both a relief and development and "preaching" mission have separated them logistically and those that have not generally operate with greater sensitivity and awareness when engaged in relief and development work - if for no other reason than that they have realized that it just doesn't "work" very well otherwise. What they could benefit greatly from is the expertise that secular NGOs possess which could be used to bolster their good-intentioned efforts into something more like long-term sustainable development.
2. Second verse, same as the first . . . . except in reverse (too much?). They are already there. Name a place in the developing world where religion is not an integral part of the cultural structure. You can come up with a few bastions of communist-infused atheism but even there if you dig beneath the state-sanctioned surface you'll find something. There are "churches" everywhere. Groups of people who organize themselves around a set of beliefs and a way of living, who gather together on a regular basis, who often have some form of leadership structure already in place, who have a voice in the lives of families and their communities, who are already networked and distributed. They are there and they are not American and they are not European. Religion matters. You can certainly argue the pros and cons of its overall influence but it's not going away and we ignore it to our own detriment. FBOs understand the language and worldview of religion and they can be of significant strategic value in connecting existing religious communities and their structures with the programmatic efforts of NGOs.
3. FBOs are not afraid of doing the micro-level "dirty work," of digging in and getting to know people. They do it to a fault sometimes. They often need help seeing the macro-level possibilities.
4. When talking about FBOs you have to use "usually" and "generally" a whole lot, because just like there are screwy good-for-nothing NGO's there are screwy good-for-nothing FBOs.
5. Some FBOs may not want to work with secular NGOs.

These are some initial sloppy, quick thoughts on the way out the door to lose money at a poker game so I'll return to clean up my mistakes later.

The Opposite of Good

"The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference."  That oft quoted bit of wisdom from Heschel seems to sum up the Zimbabwe situation.

June 11, 2008

For My Wife



This one is still our favorite:


Intrade Electoral Map

A projected electoral map based on the Intrade prediction market.

Prom Night in Mississippi

The Bryant Park Project has a good report on this years prom in Charleston, MS - the first racially integrated prom the town has ever had.  This could easily be the story of the small southern Mississippi town that I grew up in, or for that matter any number of towns across the Southeast.  I graduated high school in 1994 and every post-football game dance, homecoming, or special-event dance that I ever attended was a privately sponsored off-campus event for whites only (often at the whites-only country club).  The story was the same for my black classmates.  It was a system supported and maintained by the adults and parents on both sides of the racial divide, but one which I am ashamed to admit that we as students never seriously questioned.  The only subversive act that we managed occurred in the finale of our senior class's homecoming presentation for returning alumni in which we all paired up with dance partners of a different race (thanks for the dance Tracy!).  I recognize how telling it is that we thought this simple act of choreographed boldness was in fact an act of defiance.  Four or five years ago my own high school finally made the switch to a racially integrated school sponsored prom, and to my knowledge the blacks and whites only events were allowed to die a long overdue death.  It would be naive to think that our impromptu snub at the lingering racial conventions had anything to do with it but maybe we can at least call it foreshadowing.  Be sure to watch the slideshow as well.

PS - part of me wonders how much the rise of hip-hop culture, and the music that spreads it, as a near universally defining motif for teenagers, even in rural America, has helped this transition to take place in places like Charleston. 

The Perverse Religion of African Development

Via Africa Unchained, George Ayittey gives a brief historical analysis of the state of development on the African continent:
But there was a pervasive belief among the nationalists and elites that Africa's own indigenous institutions were "too backward," "too primitive" for the rapid development and transformation of Africa. Almost everywhere in Africa, the native institutions were castigated as "inferior." Ashamed of the label of "backwardness," the elites embarked upon a program of development that placed obtrusive emphasis on industry. No longer should Africa be relegated to the "inferior" status of "drawers of water and hewers of wood." Industrialization was synonymous with development. Consequently, agriculture and other primary activities were shunned as too "backward."

. . . .

It was widely assumed, not only by African elites but outside experts as well, that the adoption of foreign values was necessary for successful economic development. Development became synonymous with "change." Nkrumah, again, best expressed this attitude. Though agriculture was the main economic activity of indigenous Africa, he felt he could not rely on peasant farmers for a rapid agricultural revolution because they were "too slow to adapt or change their practices to modern, mechanized methods".

. . . .

Development was almost everywhere in Africa misconstrued to mean "change" and the "adoption of modern and scientific methods." In this rote behavior the real meaning was not clear. The approach was akin to what educators call the "refrigerator fallacy." All teachers have refrigerators and therefore if one tried hard enough to acquire a refrigerator, one would become a teacher! The developed countries were industrialized and therefore if one acquired enough industries (and perhaps a nuclear bomb), presto one would become a developed country.

. . . .

Economic development does not mean the wholesale and blind acquisition of the symbols and signs of modernity. Nor does it mean everything about indigenous Africa must be rejected in favor of alien systems. In fact, the true challenge for development practioners is how to use the existing so-called "primitive, backward and archaic" institutions to generate economic prosperity. These institutions can never be alienated from Africa's peasants. They are part of their culture. One cannot expect these peasants to suddenly renounce their age-old traditions and ways of doing things. Nor is such abjuration absolutely necessary, as demonstrated by the stupendous success of the Japanese. The Japanese did not have to become "Americanized" or "Sovietized" in order to develop.
Read the whole thing.

June 10, 2008

How do you shade a lake?

From The Big Picture: in order to prevent the formation of the carcinogen bromate in Los Angeles's Ivanhoe Reservoir the DWP dropped 400,000 black "bird balls" into the reservoir to shade the surface of the water.  The LA Times article is here.


My happy-sunshine discovery of the day:  full episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report now up on Hulu.

Following the Footprints

Who owns the copyright to the ubiquitous Footprints In the Sand poem?  Multiple claims but no one knows for sure -there's got to be a ton of royalties up for grabs on this one - NPR tries to get to the bottom of things.

June 9, 2008

Buy Beer, Sell Eggs

Nielsen's data on consumer purchases during periods of recession:
According to Nielsen’s analysis of macroeconomic variables, historical trends and consumer behavior, products such as seafood, dry pasta and candy are most immune1 to a recession. Beer and pasta sauces also show some level of immunity to recessionary times. Those products among the most vulnerable or recession-prone include carbonated beverages, eggs, cups/plates, food prep/storage items and tobacco.


In the better late than never category, WHO hits its target for providing antiretroviral drugs to developing countries . . . . two years late.  Related, here and here

Profile of Adam Chodikoff, the guy who tracks all the embarrassing political double-speak for The Daily Show.

King Arthur Flour's test kitchen takes The EasyBake Oven for a spin

Easterly and Michael Spence add comments to the previously mentioned Martin Wolf piece on the end of "development experts" discussion.  This from Spence:
Two other points struck me as worthy of attention. One I believe is widely accepted. While a framework can identify the elements of the sustained growth process and the policy ingredients that support it, actual priorities have to be country and context specific, because the initial conditions and the political environments vary greatly. That growth strategies are country specific does not mean that every case is completely idiosyncratic, nor does the fact that collectively we don’t know everything mean that we don’t know anything.
Widely accepted but often forgotten it seems.

I've done a poor job of posting our wine findings of late so here is a recent list to get you by.

Blogosphere Goodness

Is Barak Obama the Messiah - your one-stop blog shop.  

Religion of Comic Book Characters

I assume this has been around for a while but I've never seen it.

The Oscars of Food

The 2008 James Beard Awards have been announced.  The rewards reflect the broader trends moving through the food world these days - an emphasis on local production, high-quality "real" ingredients, whole grains, sustainability and a vision of food that takes seriously its place (and its place of importance) within systems large and small, local and global.  Winner's that I've brushed up against lately:

Peter Reinhart won again in the Baking and Dessert category for Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor.  Like his previous winner, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, this is a must have for any baker - hugely informative, great recipes, solid go-to breads as well as more challenging novelties.  Having said that I haven't opened it nearly as much as I have Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Using Apprentice we've made breads that rank in our "best breads we've ever eaten" category but its been more hit and miss with Whole Grain, which I think is simply an indication of a steeper learning curve for working (and eating) with whole grains than a flaw in the book.  

Barbara Kingsolver won in the Writing on Food category for Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.  My wife read it and I thumbed through it and we both came to the same conclusion - a useful "beginners" book for those who are becoming interested in local, sustainable food production and consumption but unless you are already on board you'll probably be turned off by her tone and shrillness.  Kingsolver is a good writer and I think her editor did her a disservice by not steering her in a more broadly accessible direction.

The Victory Garden won for Television Food Segment, National or Local - I remember seeing this as a kid and would have bet that it wasn't even on anymore.  Not only are they still around but they have a podcast.

The Splendid Table won again for Radio Food Show.

Undoubtedly with an eye on the current global food crisis, Frances Moore Lappe won the Humanitarian Award.  I've mentioned Frances before in the context of her book World Hunger: 12 Myths, The Food First Institute and the Small Planet Institute.  A very worthy recipient.

Blog Archive