Sunday, December 27, 2009

Off to Africa

Well the blog is probably going to be pretty quiet for the next couple of weeks as I am going to be traveling through Mozambique, Malawi, and South Africa. My girlfriend and I will be looking around for good places to start up a Backpacking Hostel and meeting up with old friends in SA. If anyone has any suggestions about "must see" places in either Moz or Malawi then drop me a comment.
We bought a camera so hopefully I will have some good pictures to post up here in the near future.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Twelve of the Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm

I've been reading the Wheel of Time fantasy series since high school. Although I am not a huge fantasy genre follower, this series is fantastic. Tragically the author, Robert Jordan, died before he could finish all the books. For several years now his fans have been eagerly awaiting the next installment under a new author, Brandon Sanderson, who was chosen by Mr. Jordan's wife to finish off the series.

It was well worth the wait. I am a very slow reader and still finished the 784 page book in 2 and a half days. If it is not blasphemous to say so, I think Sanderson does an even better job of pacing the story than Jordan, who had a tendency to drag things out, ever did.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

South Korea, and Aid success story, or not?

South Korea is often cited, generally by aid supporters, as an example of an aid success story. Many, it seems primarily due to their lack of personal knowledge of the subject, are careful not to assert a direct causation between aid received and development made, but nonetheless heavily imply such a link. Most recently Owen Barder, in a very thoughtful article, cited South Korea in just such a manner. He stated that “Some of the most striking examples of growth in the 20th century were in countries such as Korea and Taiwan, which were supported by large amounts of aid.” In response to his article I called such implied assertions “laughable” and “offensive.” Although perhaps a bit harsh, I stand by this criticism. Here is briefly why.

I’ll start with a quote from David Steinberg former USAID official and expert on Korea’s development. Writing in 1982 he said that:

“AID policy now emphasizes the equitable distribution of goods and services, but Korea for almost twenty years paid little attention to the rural sector-the majority of the population at that time. The act stresses the importance of the role of women, but they have essentially been ignored in Korea except as low-cost, light industrial labor receiving wages that are clearly discriminatory. Free labor unions are advocated, but those in Korea are government-controlled; human rights are stressed, but they essentially have been ignored in Korea. Thus, whether nations today could emulate a Korean model with U.S. assistance is questionable.

From reading this quote one might assume that the “Korean model” had been singularly ineffective in promoting development. Knowing that for the twenty years in question Korea had also been ruled by a military dictator, Park Chunghee, might further confirm this assumption. Knowing that prior to the Park dictatorship the Rhee administration was infamous for its corruption and mismanagement of aid money, prompting the US government to threaten suspension of its aid, one might make be even more sure that Korea had been a developmental disaster for 30 years.

And yet you would be deeply mistaken. By 1982 Korea’s economy had grown by an average of nearly 8% per year for roughly 30 years, a feat virtually unmatched in modern human history. Furthermore, contrary to what one might expect from near total dictatorial rule, the fruits of Korea’s economic expansion were more equally distributed across the population than in many Western democracies. Its gini coefficient in the early 80s was in the low 30s and continued to decline throughout most of the 1990s.

And yet Steinberg was/is not alone in his general pessimism about the applicability of this astoundingly successful “Korean model” to other aid-recipient countries. Most Westerners who have studied Korea’s development have been equally pessimistic, especially following Korea’s 1997 market crash and subsequent IMF bailout. Kleptocrats and dictators rarely inspire Western admiration. My personal view is that pessimism for a variety of reasons, none of which is a sympathy for dictators or kleptocrats, is largely misplaced. But that is the topic for another post. The point here is simply to show that even aid supporters who have carefully studied Korea’s development acknowledge that other factors, many of which the international community disapproves of and hence is unwilling to promote internationally, were central to the success of Korea’s development. In summation Steinberg states

Could the Koreans have accomplished all they did without United States assistance? The answer is probably yes…but at a slower rate… The Koreans attained the economic growth they have achieved basically on their own by formulating their own policy framework and implementation systems.”

For more discussion of how Korea accomplished this read Steinberg’s review article from which the above quotes have been pulled (sorry I couldn’t find an ungated copy).

To wrap up it should be readily admitted that this is a huge topic and that this post has at best merely scratched at some of the important issues. If you care to argue about its specific points in more detail, or about ones I have not mentioned, please leave a comment and I will address them.

Bottom Line: Korea benefited from aid. However many of the fundamental causes of its economic expansion were antithetical to most aid prescriptions that were, and still are, promoted by international development agencies. Therefore citing it as an aid success story, even implicitly, is inappropriate and misleading.


Friday, December 18, 2009

The not often enough repeated call for civility and distinctions.

David Zetland over on Aguanomics has a makes a great post about why it is important, but difficult, to maintain distinctions between personal and professional relations. It is too easy to attach our self-worth to exterior indicators like grades or money or popularity. But doing so rarely has beneficial effects in the long or even short term.

A Global Welfare System? I hope not.

Owen Barder, who is a thoughtful, articulate, and measured supporter of the current system by which the developed world aids the developing world, has written an interesting article here on the OpenDemocracy blog. One of his larger points is that we need to re-conceptualize what aid is meant to do and what it is capable of doing. He seems to be advocating for some sort of permanent global welfare system. Although I am sympathetic to a lot of what he says, aid surely helps some people, such a system would not be a step in the right direction. Here are a few of my concerns.

1. A global welfare system implies a global welfare provider, and even then welfare systems are extremely tricky to implement well. We don’t even have a provider however. The “international community” (as Copenhagen is showing) is a very divided and dysfunctional one. We should not have confidence that it can run such a system well.
2. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I think such a global welfare system would be immoral. We cannot treat roughly 2/3rds of the world as if they were incapable of surviving in the global economy, and therefore in need of a welfare system. This is dehumanizing and simply wrong. Welfare systems in developed countries typically take care of 10 to 20% of a population and even at this level we encounter all sorts of dependency issues.
3. Such a welfare system would shift our focus away from fixing our horrid international economic system to simply taking care of those whom it excludes. This is also immoral. “Perserving livelihoods” while excluding people from competing, i.e. giving them a fish rather than teaching and allowing them to fish for themselves, is not a second-best approach which we should embrace.
4. (And this a more pedantic concern arising from my current doctoral studies in Korea) The idea that South Korea can be held up by aid supporters as an example of their success is laughable, and worse, offensive to the Koreans who have worked determinedly for the past 50 years to develop their country.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interdisciplinary Connections, Complexity Theory, Classical Liberalism, Integrated Coastal Management, Sociology of Science, and Symbolic Anthropology

As my doctoral studies slowly advance I am beginning to perceive ideological connections between various disciplines that have not, at least from my reading of the literatures, obviously influenced each other very much. I can think of a few reasons why I might be drawing these connections where others have not.

The first, and most unlikely, explanation is that I am a really clever fellow who has managed to stitch together some unified threads that coherently tie all of these seemingly disparate disciplines together.

A more likely explanation is that my relative isolation from academic interactions, (living on an island in the middle of the Yellow Sea) has resulted in a much more random, almost hodgepodge, journey through the major thinkers in academia than is typical for doctoral students. This lack of guidance has allowed me to wander about, so to speak, with greater freedom through the thoughts of academics from diverse disciplines and backgrounds.

The final explanation is that this aimless wandering has caused me to see mirages. Like a man lost in a desert without a guide and water Ive started seeing connections that arent really there.

So as a corrective I thought I would briefly list why I think the above disciplines are connected by common philosophical or ideological sympathies.

1. All of the disciplines understand the world to be a deeply complex place about which we can have only partial and imperfect knowledge.

2. None of the disciplines think that this complexity can be made unproblematic, mastered, or overcome.

3. All of these disciplines are skeptical of centralized and distanced authority and hierarchy.

4. All of these disciplines recognize and value diversity and believe it to be very deeply seated. Believing the world to be ontologically one thing, while admitting the existence of multiple epistemologies, is not sufficient. Rather they all argue, without necessarily retreating into relativism, that one should have a very humble opinion of ones own opinions.

Does anyone else who is familiar with these disciplines agree, or not?


Monday, December 14, 2009

Hayek's The Road to Serfdom, more thoughts on Libertarianism

Ive finally gotten around to reading some Hayek. He is something of a founding father of Libertarianism. Although I find his writing stylistically questionable, run-on sentences abound, the content of those sentences is much more appealing. The Road to Serfdom provides a convincing account of why Socialism is inimical to freedom. Therefore my love of freedom makes me skeptical of Socialism. I particularly like this excerpt in which he discusses the foundations of the opposite of Socialism, namely Individualism.

This is the fundamental fact on which the whole philosophy

of individualism is based. It does not assume, as is often asserted,

that man is egoistic or selfish, or ought to be. It merely starts

from the indisputable fact that the limits of our powers of

imagination make it impossible to include in our scale of values

more than a sector of the needs of the whole society, and that,

since, strictly speaking, scales of value can exist only in individual

minds, nothing but partial scales of values exist, scales

which are inevitably different and often inconsistent with each

other. From this the individualist concludes that the individuals

should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own

values and preferences rather than somebody else's, that within

these spheres the individual's system of ends should be supreme

and not subject to any dictation by others. It is this recognition

of the individual as the ultimate judge of his ends, the belief that

as far as possible his own views ought to govern his actions, that

forms the essence of the individualist position.”

However Hayek, at least in this book, does not lay out a how those who are skeptical of Socialism, like me, should go about organizing a government, or seek to reform the one that they are a part of.

For as even Hayek admits everyone needs a plan, not just Socialists. He does say that such a plans main goal should be to promote fair competition. But he doesn't say how you do that. Perhaps his later book, The Constitution of Liberty will be more forthcoming on this topic.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Beware the of 아주머들 (Ajummas)

"Ajummas" in Korea are famous for their brusque strength and determination. The literal English translation is "aunt" but this fails utterly to capture the nuanced and rich imagery that the word evokes in Korean minds. According to this article it looks as if the North Korean government's latest currency swap policy, known as "Kim Jong Il's Great Confisication," has led to an Ajumma Revolt of sorts.

Hell hath no fury like an Ajumma scorned.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Go shopping China!

Maybe a year or so ago I remember watching a press meeting in which the then U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, chided the Chinese for not spending enough. This week David Brooks, who I often like, repeats this sentiment saying that the Chinese consume too little.

I have several problems with this. First, these statements are simply arrogant. Who are we (Im American) to tell the Chinese people what they should do with their money?

Second, these statements are perverse because they are simply bad counsel. Since when was American-style profligate consumerism something to be promoted internationally? Our economy is in shambles partly because people recklessly spent too much by taking easy credit that they couldnt reasonably expect to pay off.

Third, such statements are plainly driven by naked American self-interest. We need the Chinese to spend more to help us, not because of some impartial need to, as Brooks puts it, address global imbalances.

America has sunk pretty low if it has to try and pull other countries down (like China) in order to pull itself up.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Orthopraxis vs. Orthodoxy, more from Baker's Korean Spirituality

Here is another great insight from Baker's Korean Spirituality. He states that until the introduction of Christianity into Korea most Koreans were more concerned with orthopraxis (acting correctly) rather than orthodoxy (believing the correct thing). Here is an excerpt,

"[Confucian] privileging of performance and emotion over belief was
challenged by Korea’s first Christians, who refused to participate in
traditional ancestor memorial services. They argued that bowing before
tablets representing the ancestors was a form of idolatry, because
it implied that the ancestors were actually present in those tablets. In
the ritual-based worldview of traditional Korean religion, such an
objection to ancestor memorial services missed the point. Bowing
before the tablet was not making a statement about whether the spirits
of the ancestors were present in those tablets. It was not a physical
expression of faith in the actual presence of the ancestors. Rather,
bowing was a way for the descendants to show that they still loved
and respected those who had brought them into this world. Moreover,
participation in an ancestor memorial service reinforced family

What do you think? Is orthopraxis or orthodoxy, more important? Vote at the poll on the right.


The anti-individualism of Korean Spirituality

Ive written before about how Western culture seems to be unique in the world in its promotion of individuality and independent thought. There is much literature on how Asian societies are much more sensitive to context and relationships than Western Ones. Don Bakers book on Korean Spirituality (see book list for link) is an easy read and helped me immensely to clarify some of the spiritual reasons why this might be.

He talks about how the Korean concept of evil is better translated as a feeling or state of disharmony. Begging the question of disharmony with what, Baker replies, disharmony with other people and spirits. So at a very fundamental level Koreans traditionally have believed that avoiding evil requires one to be aware of, and get along with, those around them. Being in harmony with a group, rather than with a God or with some religious book, is the ultimate goal.

Though certainly only one piece of the puzzle, it is a good insight.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Page 295 "The Absence of Evaluative Data on ICM Programs." Page 297 "Successful Practices Related to ICM Processes" Cognitive dissonance anyone?

These quotes are headings from the otherwise very informative, and widely used, book Integrated Coastal and Ocean Management (see my Book List for a link) by Biliana Cicin-Sain and Robert Knecht, who are probably the two top experts on, and developers of, ICM in the USA.
But everyone has a weak spot and this is theirs. How, I must ask, can one know what is "Successful" if one has not bothered to collect any data by which to make that evaluation? To their credit they spend the 2 pages between 295 and 297 talking about the biases that cause this absence of data. But disappointingly they spend a mere two paragraphs calling for improvement in this area and offer no suggestions on means to overcome anti-evaluation biases or methods by which data could be collected.
Their book was published in 1998 and over the past decade a few people in the field have started making more calls for greater M&E and produced methodologies towards that end, but I have yet to see one really rigorous evaluation performed.


Monday, December 7, 2009

The Power of Property Rights

I've been reading Hernando de Soto's The Mystery of Capital and am very impressed. For a good summary of his basic message you can watch this 30 minute talk he gave at conference this past July. His basic message is that getting people legal property rights will go a long way towards lifting them out of poverty. I agree.
The hard part is actually accomplishing this.
When I was working in the Gambia I remember talking with a man who was trying to get his village to work together on a project. For this project they needed some land. As I was living in the village at the time and familiar with project's goals, the guy asked me where I thought might be a good place. I counseled him to pick a plot of land farther from the village because there would be fewer hassles over conflicting property claims if the project eventually ever started making a profit. I had a few other concerns about the project, mostly stemming from its communal nature, which in practice meant that most of the work would fall upon the women of the village who already had plenty to do. But in any case the guy (who was really well-intentioned) basically ignored my advice and together with other villagers decided on a plot that was closer to the village because it would be more convenient for the women.

Within a couple days two families were physically assaulting each other because they both claimed ownership of the land in question.

Thats the problem with informal ownership, which is part of de Soto's point. But formalizing ownership isn't easy. Many, especially politicians, would probably rather let sleeping dogs lie while those who are benefiting from what de Soto calls "extralegality" will actively oppose attempts to shine light on their dark and fuzzy dealings.
Its been nine years since de Soto published his book and his organization, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy, gained a wider audience. I'm looking forward to reading about what progress (if any) they have made in helping developing countries with this formalization process.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Coporations, Big, Mean, and UnGreen? Think again.

This is an interesting piece by Jared Diamond about how many (though of course not all) big corporations are actually making big strides towards being more environmentally friendly. Diamond particularly congratulates some of the corporations that greenies typically love to hate, Walmart and Chevron. I'm not entirely convinced, but I do welcome any article that dares to complicate the black and white world that many radical environmentalists love to live in.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution for the pointer.


Liberalism, Krugman style

Getting off the island this weekend to hang out with my brother I found Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal (see my book list for a link) book lying around. As a Nobel winning economist and leading Democratic intellectual I thought he might have something interesting to say. So I read it. Here is a list of a few things I liked and didn't like.


1. He is right to be annoyed at the excessive decadence of the top 1% in America who unapologetically "earn" ridiculously large sums of money.
2. He is also right that progressive taxes are perfectly justifiable.
3. He is also probably right that racial and anti-immigration prejudices, even in the last fifty years, have continued to play a shameful role in American, and particularly Republican, politics.
4. Most broadly his distrust of large monopolizations of power by small minorities is well-founded.


1. He is too big of a cheerleader for the Democratic party. The arguments made in the book are not intellectually rigorous but rather blatantly politically charged and full of unbalanced scrutiny.
2. His obsession with achieving greater economic equality is philosophically shallow and unappealing.
3. Attached to #2 he presents American politics as very black (Republicans) and white (Democrats) and refuses to meditate on the tough philosophical questions that might blur, add a little gray, to this stark picture.
4. He is over-confident about the government's ability to manage economies and legislate social norms.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Amazing video of a very 'clear-headed' fish

Hat tip to Environmental Economics for this link to a video at the National Geographic Website of a really cool looking fish. You can see its brain. What was the evolutionary trajectory that brought this one about? Perhaps the sheer and obvious awesomeness of having a clear head was enough?

The Worldly Fisherman

Winter out on Heuksando means wind, rain, and consequently high waves. However the fishermen out here are pretty confident. I caught a ride with one of them to a nearby island today and had a great little chat. As he was barreling through the waves up to the dock I knew I was in for quite a ride. One of the first things I noticed when I started taking rides with these guys was the speed with which they dock their boats. It is as if they are playing a game with themselves to see how fast and close they can get their boats to the dock before having to throw their engines into reverse so as to avoid smashing themselves to bits against the concrete. The fisherman I was with today was no exception, even with the high waves.
But as I jumped onto the filthy, slippery, seaweed covered boat and crammed my way into the tiny wheel room to avoid the rain and waves, I was surprised when the fisherman asked me my name in English with a very good accent. Only about a hundred people, of whom he was one, live on the island to which we were headed and it is about as far out into the blue as you can get so I wasn't expecting such fluency.
And as it turned out his English ability was quite limited and broken. But as we spoke, primarily in Korean, he told me how 20 years ago he had worked on the big cargo boats and spent some considerable time in Spain and all over the globe. Our conversation wasn't long but I was impressed to find such a worldly fellow so far out.

There goes one more (of a too long list of) shattered stereotypes.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Fisheries Management in Chile

Two chapters about Chilean fisheries management from this recent book are quite interesting. In them Castilla et. al discuss the implementation of a fisheries management policy that encouraged the development of what basically amounted to mini community run EEZs all along Chile's coast. Within these management zones local fisher community committees, formed under government guidance, were given the right to regulate access. Although great regional variation existed, generally this process was thought to work fairly well from a governance and sustainability perspective.
It also put some artisanal fishers out of jobs or forced them to move to unregulated fishing grounds.
This is not a bad thing. Modern fisheries simply require fewer fishers. Wishing back those jobs is as futile as Pittsburgh wishing back its steel industry.
What I like about the policy is that it seems to have been able to act as an effective transition mechanism. Shutting down fisheries suddenly and completely is rarely possible, ICCAT has proven that. However shifting management authority closer to the fishers, or at least some of them, looks like it might be an effective way of ultimately limiting fishing pressure in a management zone. The self-interest of those fishers with management control will encourage them to crowd out other fishers.
To put it crudely the managing fishers will do the government's dirty work for it. What government couldn't do for political reasons, fishers will do for economic ones.
Communal property rights ala Mrs. Ostrom.

The only problem left, which to their credit the two chapters acknowledge, is how to get those out of work fishers new jobs.


For the Christian folks out there

My father, a former Catholic priest, professor, and all-around amazing guy, spent the first years of his retirement re-translating the Book of Psalms into meter and verse and publishing them as a prayer book. Never one to slow down he has also recently set up a website called A People's Breviary at which one can stop in daily, or whenever the mood strikes, and follow the Catholic Church's liturgical calendar and pray.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Climategate, one more time.

The recent theft and publishing of emails written by top climate scientists in which various troubling statements (see below) are made has made a lot of news headlines. Disappointingly many academics have treated this story as no big deal stating that anyone who knows academia should not be surprised by such vitriol. To me this response smells suspiciously like academic damage control. The best response by far that I have read is here in the Economist. Instead of brushing off the email statements the Economist rightly contends that skeptics should not be silenced if for no other reason than Science itself works only to the extent that it is open to alternate or new theories and data. Without and open mind Science literally cannot function.
My personal position, as I have said before, is that anthropogenic climate change is likely a reality, though I don't think anyone has good numbers on its extent, or on our ability to reverse it. What is certain, however, is that the attitudes represented by the below statements are not helpful towards furthering our knowledge and that reasonable people should question the data that such scientists have produced.

"I've tried hard to balance the needs of the science and the IPCC , which were not always the same."(

"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !"(

"If anything, I would like to see the climate change happen, so the science could be proved right, regardless of the consequences."(

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Nanny governments, should I get one too?

As an American who has lived in two and a half other western countries, Scotland*, New Zealand, and South Africa, I have always found that people from those countries have a much greater comfort level with big government than I do. Blanket statements are always crude, but most of them seem to accept the idea that government is there to take care of them as a life-long Nanny might do. Most feel entitled to free education (even at the University level), healthcare, water, and even in some cases housing. They argue that government must supply such things because they are basic human rights, or because it is a matter of equality, or because the poor will suffer without them.

I don't quibble with the values behind any of these reasons. I'm a big fan of human rights, equality, and helping the poor. But strangely enough I can't really personally identify with the sense of entitlement of my foreign friends.

I don't feel that government owes me a free university education.
I don't feel that government owes me healthcare.
I don't feel that government owes me free water, or housing, or welfare checks if I don't have a job, or even a monthly Social Security check when I retire.

Why this is the case I'm not really sure. And while in the company of those with such senses of entitlement I do feel rather strange. Yet perhaps even more strangely I don't feel any urge to adopt such a sense of entitlement, though it would obviously be to my benefit to do so.

In fact I usually feel rather ashamed when I ask someone else to do something for me and even somewhat annoyed when someone claims to be doing something 'for my own good.' Flowing, naturally I think, from these feelings is my general inclination to provide for myself, help others who haven't been as lucky as me, and be suspicious of, or at least uncomfortable with, those who claim an interest in protecting me or giving me stuff. So if given the choice between having the government provide something for me or others by taxing me and keeping my money and doing that thing myself I will usually opt for the later.

Am I weird? Should I be more willing to let the government do stuff for me? Should I simply try harder to embrace dependency and entitlement like my non-American western friends by demanding my own Nanny?

*Yes I am aware that Scotland is not technically a country but I love the place and enjoy flattering it. As to South Africa being only half western, the statement is entirely complimentary. South Africa's multiculturalism is its greatest treasure.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Want to Know How a Whale Eats? Think Parachutes

This is a great article at Discover magazine about how large whales, Fin and Blue specifically, manage to feed their enormous bodies. Here is an excerpt:

"In order to make lunge-feeding work, you have to have a really big mouth to capture enough water in one gulp. But in order to have a big mouth, you need a big body. And in order to keep that big body running, you need to get a lot of food. And in the very act of getting that food–diving deep, lunging open-mouthed, and then pushing a school-bus-sized volume of water forwards–requires a lot of energy on its own."

Thanks to MR for the pointer.


Monday, November 23, 2009

The NOAA's fate and One Angry Man's Choice.

Edward Wenk Jr.'s account of The Politics of the Ocean in 1960s era America argues that President Nixon placed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) within the Department of Commerce instead of the Department of Interior in 1970 because he was annoyed at Walter Hickel, the Head of the Interior, for some anti-Vietnam statements that he had made and so was unwilling to increase his funding by giving him a new institution to administer.
I have read elsewhere that Walter Hickel also embarrassed himself at some Congressional hearings by admitting that he unaware of the report that was calling for the establishment of the NOAA.

In either case it is troubling that such an important decision seems to have been made on such petty considerations. One hopes that most government decisions are made with more deliberation.


Peak Oil? Not Likely

In this article George Will argues that new sources of fossil fuels are being found everyday and that known current supplies are not going to run out anytime soon. Although I dislike the tone of the article, particularly his disdain for, and mis-characterization, of environmentalism, I pretty much agree that oil, natural gas, and coal are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Furthermore he is right in saying that as of now we really don't have viable alternatives. Solar, wind, and nuclear technologies are simply not capable of producing the amount of energy we need.

This doesn't mean we should abandon developing those technologies further, or that we don't need to worry about using energy as efficiently as possible. But it does mean that doomsday scenarios can't be responsibly employed to motivate these actions.

I for one don't see this as a big loss. The story is the same with climate change. We don't need hysterical, and dubiously grounded, predictions to motivate us to reduce our carbon footprints. There are plenty of other reasons why doing so is a good idea.

When are we going to start treating each other like adults who can be reasoned with rather than children who need to be scared into action?


Fantastic talk by author Chimamanda Adiche

The TEDx conferences held around the world showcase some fascinating speakers.
Here is one by Chimamanda Adiche, a Nigerian author talking about the dangers of the Single Story.

It is eloquent.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why I hate partisan politics.

So as Americans become more confident that the US economy is not going to fall off a cliff, people are beginning to reflect on why it got into such a mess in the first place.

Democrats predictably blame Wall Street greed and poor, and too few, government regulations. They also tend to believe that the Stimulus Package was critical in pulling the economy back from the abyss.

Republicans and Libertarians on the other hand predictably blame government regulations which they claim created perverse incentives for businesses to take risky action that they could not calculate well. They also tend to believe that the Stimulus package has been poorly executed, too big, and created a budget deficit that is going to be a huge long term problem.

Neither side credits the other's arguments as being remotely valid.

Yet from where I stand both are exactly half right.

Democrats are right that Wall Street is hopelessly decadent and greedy.
They are also right that existing government regulations proved incapable of stopping the economic crisis.
They are also probably right that the Stimulus package, if only for psychological reasons, was neccesary.
Republicans are right that government regulations and institutions contributed to the economic crisis.
Republicans are also right that there is little reason to believe that increased government regulation and bureaucracy will prevent future economic crises.
And finally they are also right that huge deficits need to be avoided and that the Stimulus Package and TARP are terribly flawed.

Yet no one I know is saying ALL of these things. Rather partisanship forces Democrats and Republicans to harp loudly about the cherry picked realities that suit their ideology and remain silent about those that don't.

Republicans caution against demonizing Wall Street, and Democrats label anyone skeptical of the government's ability to save the day as doomsday preaching crazies.

God (please do) Bless America, it needs all the help it can get.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Rise of the American Fishstick

Michael Webster in his history of American fisheries policy notes that the destruction of traditional fish species such as cod and haddock forced the American government and fishing industry to promote new species of fish to the American consumer. However because many of these fish were, to put it delicately, ugly, they recommended that sellers display these fish only after they had been cut up into fillets or steaks and that in the case of the Monkfish they really would be wise to remove its hideous looking head before marketing it.

Julia Child with a monkfish

I find this very sad but also slightly amusing. Apparently these days we are eating some really god-awful looking fish. Webster goes on to say that the good old American fishstick was hailed by no less than President Eisenhower for its ability to increase fish consumption, convenience, and eliminate odors, not to mention its ability to hide those ugly fish under a crisp golden fried batter. He reports that production of fish sticks went from 3000 metric tons annually in 1953 to over 28,000 metric tons just two years later in 1955.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Complexity and Story-telling

As I have been investigating the process by which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States was established I've been impressed by the number of factors that need to be considered. Writing a simple, clear, readable, narrative is extremely difficult. For awhile now I've simply thought this was due to my poor writing skills and muddled thinking.
Fortunately for my ego however I have begun to think that my inability to develop a clear story might be a strength rather than a weakness. A couple of weeks ago I listened to this talk by Tyler Cowen, an economist, about the dangers of story-telling. His basic message was that the stories that we tell ourselves or tell others cannot give us greater clarity on a subject by disentangling or highlighting the Truth, but rather are always simplifications of the Truth and therefore always misleading. Listen to the talk, he speaks much more eloquently and entertainingly than I can write and its not that long.

In any case, what I take away from that talk is that I needn't be so concerned with attempting to identify, rank, and weave together all the various factors that led to the establishment of the NOAA.

Simplifying reality is simply lying.

Rather a better approach may be to discuss humbly the multiple, messy, complex, and ultimately bewildering factors that produced the NOAA (and everything else for that matter) in as organized and as readable a manner as possible.

Perhaps doing so will produce the strongest argument for believing that any idea or event like the establishment of the NOAA is inextricably entangled with, and contingent upon, an innumerable, and ultimately indescribable, web of interconnected historical and cultural factors.


Monday, November 16, 2009

An Interesting Statistic, Imams on the Dole

On Colbert Nation, Christopher Caldwell, author of this book about Islam and Europe, offered an interesting statistic. Apparently 2/3rds of the imams in France receive public welfare support.
Particularly in a country with such a strong secular tradition in terms of government/religion relations, that's quite an anomaly and begs are sorts of interesting questions.

For example is the French government aware of the extent to which it, albeit indirectly, is a very strong supporter of Islamic evangelism in France? After all, but for its financial support most imams in France would have to find other occupations. And if the French government is aware, what do they think about it?


Blending In

Courtesy of Marginal Revolution, here are some amazing pictures by Chinese artist Liu Bolin. He paints himself. Unfortunately the Chinese government apparently doesn't appreciate his skills.

There is no accounting for bad taste.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Debating Corruption

This is a great discussion/debate by two leading economist/development experts. I tend to agree with Mushtaq Khan that corruption is a very tricky concept with a lot of implicit western biases and that attempts to stamp it out in developing nations rarely produce helpful results.
On the other hand I personally hate working in places where I have to deal with corrupt entities. It really cramps my style when I am constantly being hassled for bribes.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Running like a Tarahumara

Quite often Google Talks invites interesting people to talk about books they've written. This guy wrote a book called Born to Run about a group of Mexican Indians who can run for hundreds of miles just for the fun of it. Here is the link to his talk at google. I've personally never cared for distance running very much, although I remember liking it briefly in middle school. But this dude has actually made me think about giving it a try again. The island I live on has beautiful mountain and ocean scenery so I really have no excuses. I also like his anti-hightech gear philosophy. Apparently barefoot running is the way to go.

Understanding is hard.

Here is a good interview with Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan. I don't know anything about the situation there or have any opinion on Karzai or what the West should do in Afghanistan but I like this exchange between him and the interviewer. As background they are talking about how Karzai pardoned some young drug traffickers at the same time that he pardoned a young man who had been convicted of posting material on the internet that was deemed offensive to Islam. The drug traffickers were connected to Karzai, while the international community was pushing for the release of the internet boy.

MARGARET WARNER: It’s just hard for a Western audience to understand, when you have the Afghan government, with the help of the international community, established this special drug court, with very strict rules of evidence, very strict procedures, they actually make an arrest, they make a prosecution, they sentence these drug traffickers to prison and they’re freed. And they’re connected to somebody close to you.

HAMID KARZAI: You put it very well. It is very hard for the Western audience to understand what I’ve done. It is equally hard for the Afghan audience to understand what some members of the international community are asking us to do against our judicial procedures, against our laws. So I guess that finds the answer to it. Therefore in that context of the West not understanding what we do and we not understanding what the West asks of us is the problem. That’s why we must sit down and settle some of the issues between us.

I like how unapologetically and symmetrically Karzai answers Ms. Warner. Of course I personally do not support drug trafficking or locking up people for expressing their views on the internet. But how willfully naive do we Westerners have to be to not realize by now that most Afghans think that saying bad things about Islam is a graver offense then selling poppies?

And what unmitigated arrogance must we appear to have to the Afghans when we cry indignantly anytime that Karzai doesn't hop when we tell him to, in exactly the way that we want him to.

The point is not who is right and who is wrong, but how stupid we are to believe that we can change Afghan culture through guns and money.

People think differently, really differently, and that ain't gonna change.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Military-Industrial-Academic Complexes

Jacob Darwin Hamblin, historian of science has written a great book entitled Oceanographers and the Cold War about the close relationship that existed between the US Navy and marine science during the Cold War.
Its pretty ironic that the technology now used by the commercial fishing industry was nearly all developed under the auspices of the US Navy and federal government which also funded most academic oceanographic research. In fact, the line between the two kinds of research was often hard to distinguish. However the work of those academic researchers has since revealed the devastating effects that such technologies have enabled the commercial fishing industry to have on the world's oceans. Which in turn has motivated the US government to spend more money on trying to regulate such destructive activities.

As my old high school woodshop teacher used to say "Every new solution creates two new problems."


Oldies but Goodies

Recently I've been watching old classic movies. Specifically I've been watching every movie made in the 1930s that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Some of them are a bit dull. For instance I wasn't particularly impressed by All Quiet on the Western Front. The book is much better. However 1937's Life of Emile Zola is quite good. The late 19th century was an interesting time in France. From Here to Eternity is also good but I never knew Sinatra was such a scrawny little fella. Most interesting are the masculine, pre-feminist era, cultural mores that unconsciously permeate these movies. If anyone has watched the HBO series Mad Men and wants to see the real thing I particularly recommend watching On the Waterfront in which Marlon Brando plays a fantastically macho and yet richly complex character.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cool Maps

These maps show population densities of countries in a very unique, and slightly humorous fashion. Most of them remind of the Venus de Willendorf statue.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The price of credibility

I recently read this posting. Daniel Roodman of the Center for Global Development, after reading this posting on Easterly's Aid Watch, made the point that, if one wishes to credibility engage in genuine debate, one needs to be as critical in examining the arguments of one's supporters as of one's critics. Roodman went on to state that he thought Easterly had failed to do this in the case of one of his supporters, Dambisa Moyo.

I think this is a very good, though admittedly difficult, standard to hold people to.

Yet when I asked Mr. Roodman to apply it to his own post things got difficult. Easterly's post, which served as the inspiration for Roodman's, stated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was knowingly using dubious statistics about Malaria prevalence in Africa to argue that malaria-fighting foreign aid initiatives had been very successful, when in fact the reality, according to Easterly, is much more complicated, and ultimately less rosy than the Gateses make it out to be.
As Roodman's Center for Global Development receives substantial funding from the Gates Foundation, I asked him. in the spirit of his own posting, to weigh in on the issue, i.e. did he think the Gateses were being responsible in their use of the Malaria statistics in question?

Sadly, he deferred, claiming ignorance of the Malaria issue and refusing to educate himself so that he might offer an informed opinion.

To what can we attribute this odd behavior? After formulating a very good principle "about what constitutes credible reasoning in the grand debates" and then applying it to Mr. Easterly, he fails utterly to follow it himself.

Finally and most ironically, Mr. Roodman may himself provide the answer to this question when he states in the same posting:

"Lets be frank: many think twice before criticizing the Gates Foundation because it is so big and funds so many organizations."

What a sad truth.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Finally the American Healthcare Industry is Competently Explained

This American Life consistently produces amazingly informative and interesting radio programs. Their latest two part series on Healthcare in America is another triumph. If you have any interest at all in understanding why American healthcare is so screwed up, or just want to listen to a very interesting story, take a listen.

The Loneliest Number, or Not?

According to this, the Greeks had quite a debate about whether 1 and certainly 0 were actually numbers. Some even weren't sure about 2's status.

I'm glad these days we've resolved those questions for ourselves. But it does make you marvel at the diversity of perceptions that can exist in people heads. Some Greek people actually didn't think that 2 was a number, while I literally cannot even imagine (I've been trying for a whole 5 minutes) to think of it as anything else.


Crafting an Argument

I just finished my analysis of the development of Integrated Coastal Management in the United States from its inception with the publication of the Stratton Commission report in 1969 and through the first 13 years of the Coastal Zone Management Act's implementation up to1985. After that I took a look at how ICM promoters exported ICM management principles to a couple of developing countries, Ecuador and Tanzania, from 1985 right up to almost the present day.

During the research for this analysis, I tried to show how, and why, ICM is a deeply culturally and historically entrenched management system. Following that in my review of ICM development efforts abroad I discussed how ICM promoters have failed to develop coastal management systems that are sustainable in contexts which are very foreign to the ones in which ICM itself developed in the United States.

My supervisor likes my argument but thinks it needs to be crafted more persuasively. I agree with him.

Then over on Bill Easterly's blog, which always manages to get people talking, I read this post in which Easterly suggests that the Aid community "hates" criticism while the Medical community "appreciates" it. His point was not a very radical one, namely that Medicine benefits from continuous rigorous testing of its efforts and that Aid should be more open to the possibility that such testing of its own efforts might improve its ability to support development. The need to evaluate one's progress should not be controversial. Society starts doing it to every 5 year old child when they enter kindergarten.

And yet the commentaries on this post picked away at Easterly's argument like vultures on a dead carcass. Some accused him of picking fights, while others accused him of being condescending, while still others quibbled with the extent to which the Medical community really appreciates criticism. Few actually engaged with his broader point.

Now comment sections on any blog are rarely known for their civility, but many of the people who do follow Easterly's blog are fairly knowledgeable people in fairly high-up places.

Being careful and deliberate in the way one crafts an argument is of course extremely important. But it certainly isn't heartening to know that no matter what you write someone, and these days it seems like a lot of people, are going to try and drag you into a fight.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Climate change, why so emotional?

So recently a chapter from the new book Superfreakanomics has sparked another round of the seemingly endless, and shrill, climate change debate. Why is this issue so emotional? The standard (and probably correct) answer is because of all the money that is tied to it. Having said that I suppose whenever talking about this topic it is prudent to give the disclaimer that I actually believe in human induced climate change. I'm not sure how much effect we are having, nor am I particularly optimistic that we can actually "combat" climate change. But, if we are to believe this article, we may not even have to.

With that said it should be blindingly obvious that there is no excuse for pumping more nasty stuff into our atmosphere than we absolutely have to. So I guess my point is since when did we need childish scary bedtime stories to motivate ourselves to do the right thing? Especially when those bedtime stories are often based on predictions that have proven to be about as accurate as a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale? All this does is give ammo to the SUV driving, rain forest destroying, private-jet flying, wackos who will take any excuse they can find to continue with their decadent and profligate lifestyles.

We don't need emotionally-driven campaigns to see the value in living frugally and stepping lightly on our lovely planet.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Elinor Ostrom

Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist, has won the Noble Prize for economics. Here she is on youtube talking about the limitations of Hardins Tragedy of the Commons concept. Its very good. This book seems to represent her thoughts most fully. Ive put it on my reading list.


A Korean Review of American Coastal Management

Lately I’ve been translating a scholarly article by one Park Min Gyu of the Korean Maritime Institute. In it he takes a look at U.S. Fisheries management policies and in particular at the U.S. Fisheries Conservation and Management Act of 1976 (FCMA). His goal is to review U.S. practice and see how it may apply to Korean fisheries.

One of the interesting things about the article is that despite mentioning a long list of other U.S. coastal and marine laws and regulations, it fails utterly to comment on the U.S. Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 (CZMA). This is odd because the CZMA was the foundation upon which modern American coastal and marine management was built. It also provided the first model to which international development efforts to improve coastal management looked for guidance.

Yet this Korean article completely ignores the CZMA in favor of reviewing other U.S. legislation with much more technical and species specific goals such as the FCMA (which established ITQs), or the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, or the Driftnet Impact Monitoring, Assessment and Control Act of 1987.

Certainly one article can’t be expected to look at everything. However there may be other reasons for the CZMA’s absence. Generally in its efforts to modernize, Korea has shown great skill at adapting and adopting Western practices while at the same time resisting cultural, and even political, Westernization. The CZMA provides the backbone upon which coastal and marine management in the US functions, but in many ways it is a highly culturally and politically contingent creation. The CZMA mandates a very decentralized, participatory, and ideally non-hierarchical approach to coastal management that is highly consonant with American, but not necessarily Korean, cultural and political ideals.

Perhaps this Korean author sensed that the CZMA was culturally and politically unsuitable and decided to focus on the more technical pieces of U.S. coastal and marine regulation? If so what does that say about the West's traditional approach of promoting CZMA-like programs in developing countries that undoubtedly have different cultural and political backgrounds?

It will take more research to see if this is a trend in the Korean coastal and marine management literature.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I love old men.

This guy is 29 with a 73 year old father. He just "twitters" some of his father's funnier remarks.
I can sympathize. I am 27 with an 83 year old father, though my father doesn't have nearly as bad of a "potty mouth."


Friday, October 9, 2009

Coastal Managers of the World Unite!

I'm relatively new to blogging but have really been impressed with its ability to connect people to have constructive conversations. Particularly in the academic world where we have previously been forced into having snails-paced conversations through books, journals, and conferences, this is extremely useful.

Which makes me all the more disappointed that people involved in coastal management are not blogging more.

The general development community has a great set of vibrant blogs by people who are intimately involved in that world. If you want a good list of some of them just stop by my blog at (shameless promotion) and take a look at my "blogroll." I particularly recommend Bill Easterly's (author of White Man's Burden) blog and the "wrongingrights" blog. Great ideas at these blogs are exchanged rapidly and effectively. However they currently tend to be dominated by economists. Where is everybody else?, although a forum (amongst other things) and not a blog, is an exception to this rule and has managed to draw together a great group of people interested in coastal and marine issues in Southern Africa who regularly have insightful conversations and exchange valuable information.

Lets do more of this and make the "Integrated" in Integrated Coastal Management more of a reality.

Also if anyone does know of other great forums or blogs related to Coastal Management, please do share!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Will the cheerleaders please sit down?

Every academic field has its cheerleaders, its innovators, and...everybody else. The cheerleaders make me tired. In my particular field, Coastal Management in developing world contexts, the cheerleaders incessantly cry for more community involvement, "capacity building," and empowerment. Their greatest enemies are the usual greedy corporations and power-hungry politicians. Most recently I heard these two groups called a "nexus" which to me sounds suspiciously similar to "axis." I thought (hoped) we were finished with those.

Its not so much that I disagree with this analysis. Corporations are greedy. Politicians are power-hungry. And local communities must be meaningfully involved in managing their resources. My problem is that everybody already knows these things and harping on them hasn't made much difference.

Can we please change the conversation, think up some new ideas or approach the challenges of coastal management from a different angle?

Here is one suggestion, sufficiently provocative, but (I think) worth at least five minutes of consideration. What if we were open to the possibility that a sustainable coastal management program might not require the development of strong democratic principles?


Monday, October 5, 2009

Great read about an apparently fictitious Darfur representative

The creators of Abu Sharati are some sophisticated, twisted, people.

Great work compliments of wronging rights.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Communalism, the Natural Way?

The more time I spend outside of the United States the more I realize that communal societies, defined as societies where the scope of individual activity is normatively seen to be subordinate to, and legitimately curtailed by, the interests of whatever group that individual belongs to, are the norm in the world. Normative individualism is, as far as I can tell, found only in the United States and to considerably lesser extents in most other Western nations. Thirty years ago we might have been able to say that modern economies demanded such individualistic norms. But with the rise of many Asian economies whose societies remain strongly communally orientated, that argument can certainly no longer be even tentatively made.

So if this strange individualism was not responsible/necessary for, or did not develop because of, the West's 200 or so years of modernization, where did it come from?

And related to that question, if a society's ability to have a modern economy is not coupled to its adopting individualistic norms, is the reverse true? I.e. were/are there any cases of earlier, or simply less economically advanced societies, that were/are also normatively individualistic?


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Would you like some AIDS with that?

While working in the Gambia I happened to meet an enterprising Gambian man who had what he thought was a brilliant idea. Even far out in his little rural village this fellow knew that money for AIDS awareness workshops was pretty easy to come by. Now he himself wasn't much interested in AIDS, but he was very interested in beekeeping. So he asked me to help him get money for an AIDS workshop at the local high school at which each student would be given, not condoms, or even speeches on the glories of abstinence, but their very own beehive. And because the students were so diligently engaged with their studies this charitable Gambian man would even take it upon himself to manage those beehives on their behalf, in exchange for a healthy percentage of the honey that they produced.

Although sorely tempted, I had to turn this budding entrepreneur down.

Fast forward several years and I find myself reading over a report of a coastal management project in Tanzania in which that project documents how it took upon itself the task of formulating an AIDS awareness Training Guide and running AIDS awareness workshops.

I can't say that I am surprised. Nor was I surprised to see the sloppy, awkward, and dare I say mildly humorous way, in which it was shoe horned into this coastal management project's "Results Framework."

How would you like to have some HIV/AIDS mainstreamed into your activities?


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Emails to Nowhere

I've been reading over a report written by the implementers of a coastal management program (the TCMP) in Tanzania. This is how they described their efforts to keep in touch with the Tanzanians, particularly those at the "local level."

"In addition to the working groups, the TCMP has a communications unit

that works to promote coastal management in Tanzania at large. The

TCMP has attempted to keep Tanzanians updated through newspaper

articles and TV coverage. Other communication tools include the Pwani

Yetu (Our Coast) newsletter, the E-Pwani e-mail listserv, and on-line

posting of key TCMP documents. This communications network is

critical to the successful development of the national ICM policy,

providing rapid access to local programs and key constituencies at the

local level."

Email, online postings, TV, and newspaper articles, in a country which at that time (1995-2000ish) had a nearly 70% rural population, virtually none of whom had access to electricity, and a large percentage of whom, especially the women, were illiterate.

Now of course the people writing this report knew all of these circumstances very well. They were in the country for over five years. But still they had the.....balls? (and I say that in a sincerely complimentary way) to write the clearly absurd statement, which bears repeating, that such methods of communication were "critical" and provided "rapid access" to "key constituencies at the local level."

The sociological circumstances within which this can occur demand further study.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A slice of American decadence anyone?

Courtesy of The Liberal Order

"The 78 percent number (i.e., 78% of NFL players go bankrupt within two years of retirement) is buoyed by the fact that the average NFL career lasts just three years. So, figure a player gets drafted in 2009, signs for the minimum and lasts three years in the league: He will have earned about $1.2 million in salary. Factor in taxes, cost of living and the misguided belief that there will be more years and bigger paydays down the road, and it becomes a lot easier to see how so many players struggle with money after their careers end."

The sad thing is I actually can see how, in the US, a football player could go broke after making 1.2 million dollars in just three years. In contrast, in rural Africa it would take approximately the combined wages of 50 men, working for their entire adult lives, to earn 1.2 million dollars.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

The (Failing) Performativity of Aid

In 1986 the University of Rhode Island (URI) and USAID started a coastal management development in program (CRMP) in three developing countries, Ecuador, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. The leaders of this program from the URI, had just finished helping the State of Rhode Island develop its Coastal Management program. That program had been developed in response to the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act which called on, and funded, all coastal states to develop their own coastal management authorities.
The performativity of the CRMP lies in the way that it was implemented. In short their philosophy was: what works in the USA must work for Ecuador, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. In one of the many papers published from the activities of the CRMP, Stephen Olsen (1998), its director, stated

At the time the central ideas that had emerged from US experience were viewed as principles to be followed, not hypotheses to be tested and there was no consideration of either rigorously documenting baseline conditions as they existed when the pilots began or establishing control sites.

In other words, they didn't bother to understand the local conditions (the baseline), were supremely confident in their US experiences (principles vs. hypotheses), and set up no ways to measure if in fact they were making a difference (control sites). And all of this ironically is coming from a paper entitled A Learning Based Approach to Coastal Management.
To compound this the rest of the paper actually documents many of the difficulties they ran into in implementing the CRMP, I would argue precisely because of their cookie-cutter approach to the process, though the authors can never make themselves come to this conclusion. The best they could do was this line.

"Despite significant differences in management contexts the features of coastal management expressed by the hypotheses that underlie the US coastal management program were relevant and are believed to be critical to successes in the pilot countries."

Note how the paper retreated here, what were previously "principles" from US experience are now mere hypotheses, though thankful (was there ever any doubt?) they proved to be not only "revelant," but "critical." With this US paradigm securely in place, the problems in implementing the CRMP could not come from the now validated US principles/hypotheses, but instead from the usual culprits of any development project, namely corruption or a lack of "transparency," a "lack of capacity", and the absence of a concerned "constituency."
And so the CRMP performatively tried to turn US principles into Ecuadorian, Thai, and Sri Lankan reality. Small "successes" were made in this regard but generally speaking after 9 years work, not much sustainable fruit has been borne.

I'll leave it to you to decide if that is a good or a bad thing.