Tuesday, November 30, 2010

New Stuff

As Dylan said "the times they are a changing"

-First you may have noticed that we have found a new home within the Maru Institute's domain. The Maru Institute's website is still under construction, many of the links aren't working yet, but definitely check out what is there and come back as I will be rapidly filling in the blanks in the next couple weeks. It will give you some idea of what we are trying to build in Malawi.

-There are a few new Malawi-focused blogs on the blog list that I recommend checking out. Jimmy Kainja's is particularly good. My thanks to Stories on Malawi for having such a comprehensive list of Malawian blogs.

-I am a complete noob when it comes to working with the guts of the internet. Its hard.

And here is another song from Malia


Monday, November 29, 2010

Progress, The Malawian Opthalmologist's website

These guys are cool.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The new look and other stuff.

-So I'm getting close to the point where I will integrate this blog into the website for the research center we are starting. The new look will match that website better.

-check out this podcast with the Dean of the college of Social Science at the University of Malawi, Dr. Wapu Mulwafu, during which he talks about the social history of water in Malawi and the current challenges to doing research in the country.

- I just ordered "Venture into the Interior" by Laurens Van Der Post. Apparently it was wildly popular when first published back in 1952. The book charts Lauren's travels in Malawi, particularly Mt. Mulanje and the Nyika plateau. Historians aren't a big fan of his work nonetheless


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Africa Past & Present

Here is a great ongoing series of podcasts on Africa from the African Online Digital Library. The latest one is an interview with Terence Ranger about his new book Bulawayo Burning which is a social history of Bulawayo, a city in southern Zimbabwe.

Recording ChiTonga

Another one of the research projects that we want to do in Malawi is to create a dictionary and grammar of the Chitonga language. As far as I can tell, this has never been done before. ChiTonga is spoken by the 200,000 or so Tonga people of Malawi. They are the dominate ethnic group where we will be living. Their language is distinct from that of the Tonga in Zambia and Zimbabwe. To help me with this we will be using a suite of lingustic software developed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics(SIL). These guys have been around for nearly 80 years and have worked in over 100 countries and with nearly 3000 languages. Right now I am trying to get my head around their ToolBox program.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Own your country

This is an inspiring message from Kenya from kuweniserious.org. I think it applies to most countries, African and otherwise. What do you think?


Darwin's Nightmare

This documentary, made in 2004, looks at the perch fishery in Lake Victoria. Perch is not native to the lake and caused massive changes in the lake's biodiversity which contributed to its eutrophication. Its all pretty depressing stuff.
But I'm not sure I totally buy the moral story that the filmmakers were pushing. As usual, the Africans are portrayed as victims of an uncaring global economic and political system. The Russians are importing weapons as they export fish. The Indians are making all the real money. And the Europeans don't give a damn as long as the fish meet their health and safety standards.
Certainly there is some truth to this narrative. But that's the thing about stereotypes; they are never entirely false.
They are however always lazy and misleading.
I'm certainly not an expert on Lake Victoria so I don't have an alternative narrative, but I'm pretty sure it exists.
The story of Africa-as-victim has been told too many times. It hasn't helped anyone. And frankly, by now, its boring.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Quality Monitoring

One of the things we want to do at our research center in Malawi is some basic water quality monitoring of Lake Malawi. So I've been reading up on how to create a water quality monitoring program. Initially we are going to start measuring the indicators that don't require a lot of expensive equipment. Once we are better established we will expand as the budget allows. The most recent broad-based water quality monitoring data that I can find is quite old. The GEF/SADC funded "Lake Malawi Biodiversity and Conservation Project" which wrapped up its work in 2000 did quite a comprehensive job, outfitting a research vessel and laboratory in Senga Bay. I would be interested to know if that laboratory, or the one at Monkey Bay, is still operational.

The goal will be to eventually measure these 20 indicators which are/were (is it still operational?) collected by GEMSwater program network stations.

Of these indicators we will start measuring the following:
1. temperature
2. TSS (total suspended solids) and TDS (total dissolved solids)
3. pH
4. turbidity
5. phosphorus
6. dissolved oxygen

High on the list of other indicators we want to measure are chlorophyll-a and nitrates/nitrites. There are expensive in-situ multi-parameter analyzers available but we will wait before we take that plunge. For now it looks like buying individual analyzers for each parameter incrementally is the way to go. Hanna Instruments look like a good option.

If anyone knows of other options, or thinks that I can include other parameters cheaply from the list above, or that I should prioritize my parameters differently, do let me know.


Soldier Banda wants to sing

Update: So I didn't know that Lucius had already been a MP in Malawi until 2006. He lost his seat when it was discovered that he had faked his academic credentials, which apparently are necessary in order to be a MP in Malawi. (can someone confirm this for me?) The song above is from his latest album, 15-15 which has been banned from airing on the state-run Malawi Broadcasting Corporation. Contrary to what I said below, according to this at least, he has decided to leave politics behind for now. Though you certainly wouldn't know it from this latest album which is full of political commentary.

Its been rumored that Lucius Banda, will be getting into politics. Listen to his platform. Its a good one. But does he have chance?



This dude has skills.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Lusubilo Orphan Care Project

h/t to Clement for this one. Watch this video about Sister Beatrice and her Lusubilo Orphan Care Project. It is the co-recipient of the 1.1 million dollar Opus prize. She works in the northern Karonga District of Malawi.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Malawian Goverment to implement Rural Housing Credit Scheme

This is interesting.

I am generally quite leery of credit. I don't use it often myself and the financial crises that have rocked the world economy over the past couple years prove that if it is badly managed very bad things can happen.
However it is also certainly the engine of all modern economies. Provided that it is extended to people responsibly I don't see why the rural poor should be categorically denied it.
With this kind of scheme the devil really is in the details and implementation however.
I'm a fan of De Soto and his calls for developing countries to focus on property rights issues but most African nations seem to have real trouble moving forward in this regard. There is a good academic paper floating around that tries to explain why this is, I'll try to dig it up for another post.


Well this isn't good...

The Malawian parliament has passed new legislation allowing the government the authority to ban any publication that it deems to be "contrary to the public interest."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cichlids, Cichlids, Cichlids, and...Cichlids

This fellow has the most comprehensive collection of information on the Cichlids fish family, of which there are nearly 1000 species in Lake Malawi alone, I've seen anywhere. He deserves a medal.

The "red texas" cichlid.


The same sad story.

I've been catching up on the history of Lake Malawi fisheries and their management lately. One of the best compilations of articles on the subject are the proceedings from the Lake Malawi Fisheries Management Symposium held in 2001. I haven't found many more recent publications on the subject.
Unfortunately the story of Lake Malawi's fisheries is very similar to that of other fisheries around the world. Advanced trawling techniques combined with insufficient or inaccurate determinations of MSYs coupled with a lack of will or ability to enforce quotas and fishing gear restrictions led to overfishing in most parts of Lake Malawi, particularly in the south, and in the case of Lake Malombe to the near total collapse of the chambo fishery.

The central role that foreign aid organizations have played in this sad tale is also common in Africa. Fortunately Lake Malawi has not experienced yet the disasters that befell Lake Victoria due to eutrophication and the invasion of exotic species. Watch this acclaimed documentary, Darwin's Nightmare, for more on that.

Next I want to look at the numerous aquaculture projects, also entirely donor-funded, that have been implemented in Malawi. The promotion of an aquaculture industry in South Korea has been quite successful both economically and as way to transition existing fishers away from unsustainable fishing practices to potentially more controllable fish farming. Many aquatic and marine conservationists are as skeptical of aquaculture as they have been of open-sea/lake fishing but, although far from perfect, I think aquaculture is at least a step in the right direction.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Problems at Mzuni.

This is the latest in a series of bad news coming from Mzuzu University. Students at the College of Nursing are protesting over an apparent fees hike. Recently fees at the University of Malawi have also been raised. Whats to be done?



Malawian/UK jazz singer Malia. Check her out.


Timve Magazine

This is a great site on Malawi's music scene. It is thriving. And there are a lot of songs free for download. Browse the artists section and find someone you like. I have been.
Malawi has not been immune to the current popularity in many African countries for American-style hip-hop derivatives. Much of it not to my liking but there are a several artists, who I will be highlighting, that I think do a great job of finding their own voice by mixing African and international musical influences into something new and interesting. Esau Mwamwaya's music is a great example of this.



Young Kay is a leader of the younger urban music scene in Malawi.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Andrew Mwenda says "Stop helping us"

Mr. Mwenda is a Ugandan who runs this newspaper. He is provocative and persuasive, I think.


The last acceptable prejudice

My wife is South Korean. We wanted to get her a green card. Because she is Korean to do that we must have the veracity of our marriage scrutinized by U.S. Immigration. She has to have a medical exam. She must have multiple interviews and complete multiple forms. I must document my financial status. And we must pay the U.S. government a lot for this privilege. It takes months to process.

Because I am not Korean I must take an aids and drugs test in order to work in South Korea.

When we were last in Malawi my visa was free, my wife's was not.

Because we are not Malawians we cannot purchase freehold property in Malawi.

For a Malawian to go to the U.S. he must go through a lengthy visa requisition process that only the rich or well-connected can successful navigate.

Governments of every nation discriminate based on nationality. The practice is unashamedly enshrined in law the world over. But like a person's race, or gender, or sexual orientation, one's nationality is not a real choice.

And yet there is no ethical uproar. Why not?


Towers of Midnight review.

So I finished the 13th book in the Wheel of Time fantasy series. Like the 12th book Sanderson does a much better job of pacing the story lines than Jordan ever did. But some of the word and phrase choices, particularly with Mat, strike me as too modern and too jarring with how Jordan voiced some of his characters. But overall I was very satisfied and am ready to read the final installment which apparently will be out quite soon, early next year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Experimenter's Regress

More from "Science in Democracy"

"More recent studies suggest the dilemma of an
“experimenters’ regress”: the validity of replication rests on properly re-
peating the original experiment, but the only way to know whether one
has properly repeated the experiment is that it replicates the results of the
original. The only way to get out of such a dilemma is through social
processes of negotiation and compromise through which scientists reach
agreement on what will count as an adequate replication."

If you were one of those biology 101 students whose lab work never quite replicated the "right" results (like me) don't worry you're in good company. Blattman talks about this too.



So I wrote earlier about my wife and I moving to Malawi. With only about seven weeks left in Korea (we fly for South Africa on the 6th of January) this blog is going to go through a bit of a transformation. For now my studies of Korean coastal management on location are almost finished and accordingly here I will focus less on Korea and more on all things related to our to move to the wonderful "dark" continent.
As with all adventures, the first steps to realizing them are to dream, plan, and prepare. Well we have been dreaming most of our lives, made our plans, and are in the final stages of our preparations Already we have had our fair share of ups and downs, surprises both good and...not.
And we expect them to keep on coming!

Eventually the plan is for this blog to be integrated into the business website of our dive center on Lake Malawi. But until all the paperwork is written and signed we feel its best to leave the business website, on which I have been working diligently (and with much cursing), off the airwaves. For now you can follow us here.

First off many of you reading may have now idea where Malawi is in Africa. So take a look at the map below.

Second you are probably noticing that Malawi is a landlocked country. So why, you might ask, would you think of operating a scuba diving center there? Well watch the below video and you'll see why.

And I'll leave you with this from Lucius Banda, one of the godfathers of the Malawian music scene.


Stewart, a Jester not a Partisan

After watching this interview I believe it.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Americans wants to send these guys back?

Good story about two Mexican immigrants who ran in the New York marathon. Americans need to remember who they are.

"Give us your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

America is a nation of immigrants. The moment it turns its back on its own kind is surely the moment it will fall.


A tough one

So I've been watching the West Wing for the past few weeks. Its very good, though it's obsession with abstract intelligence is slightly off-putting. I'll talk about that more in another post.
I just finished watching and episode in which the Ayatollah of Iran asks the U.S. president to allow his dying 15 year old son to come to the U.S. for a life saving operation. For added dramatic effect, the only doctor in the U.S. who can do the operation is the son of an Iranian who was killed by the Ayatollah.
As you would expect from a heart-warming drama (which the West Wing aspires to be) the U.S. President allows the boy to come to the U.S. and the doctor does perform the operation. And of course we are all supposed to be impressed with their magnanimity.
But I'm not so sure, though certainly not on the grounds that the president and doctor should have stuck it to the evil Ayatollah by letting his son die.
Rather I'm uncomfortable with the decision because it assumes that the president should have the power to bestow such benevolence in the first place. Why didn't the president simply say "Sorry but that's not my choice to make." After all the president is not the U.S.'s Chief Immigration Officer, somebody else has that job. What about this case made it okay for him to disregard the established divisions of authority in the government. And if it was justified to do so in this case, why not others?
Without question this boy deserves to come to the U.S. and receive the operation. But then so do thousands of other children around the world. Sadly we don't live in a world where that is possible. One might nevertheless support the decision with moral platitudes about "not making the perfect the enemy of the good." but I don't think that is very convincing here. The president in this case is not doing all he can to help the thousands of children in the world who would benefit from American healthcare, he is not fighting the good fight (and realistically never will), but rather simply helping a singular child because that child is the son of a powerful person. That isn't something I can feel good about.

There are some choices that we should not give ourselves the power to make.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Good Words

So "Science in Democracy" starts off well at least in so far as Brown's "philosophical cards" pretty much mirror my own. Here's an excerpt,

"To put my philosophical cards on the table: I am persuaded
that rationalist, essentialist, and determinist conceptions of science and
technology are neither empirically accurate nor normatively desirable.
Technological determinism may capture the ways in which many people
experience the technical imperatives that shape their lives, but it does not
offer a viable theory of scientific and technical change.8 Technical facts
and artifacts do not become socially established merely because they are
true or effective. Scientists study nature by engaging with it; nature,
scientists, and often society at large are transformed in the process. I also
take it as given, however, that scientific facts are not socially constructed,
if that means natural forces and entities play no causal role in their cre-
ation. The world does not lend itself to all possible constructions. This
perspective, common among STS scholars who study the “co-production”
of science and society, avoids radical constructivism or relativism on the
one hand, and the traditional view of scientific truth as unmediated cor-
respondence to reality on the other.9 Put in the most general terms, scien-
tific facts emerge from hybrid processes shaped by human ingenuity and
initiative, sociotechnical structures and institutions, and nonhuman enti-
ties and phenomena."


Towers of Midnight

The latest Wheel of Time book, number 13, is finally out. I really liked Sanderson's first attempt with The Gathering Storm and hope this next one will be as good.

Science in Democracy

Increasing public participation in coastal management policy making has arguably been the single greatest cause of ICM academics for the last 20 years. In developing countries the very legitimacy of donor-supported coastal management initiatives stands or falls on the extent to which local actors have been included. Yet the justifications for this public participation have never really involved a radical reconceptualization of scientific knowledge or its role in coastal management policy formulation. So it will be interesting to delve into how STS academics think about the role of public participation in public policy making, particularly in those policies that have traditionally been dominated by physical scientists such as environmental and health management. Mark Brown's Science in Democracy looks like a good place to start.

Friday, November 5, 2010

This is how its done.

I've been reading the journals of Dr. David Livingstone (of "Dr. Livingstone I presume?" fame) during his treks through Africa, mostly Mozambique and Malawi. Such adventures as he had are impossible these days. The Doc brought camels and Indian water buffalo on his second trek to Malawi to see if they could withstand the tsetse fly any better than could European pack animals.
Imagine deciding today that you were going to spend six months riding a camel through Africa. What an adventure!

You can read his journals too, many of them are up on Gutenberg.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

This is what I was talking about.

So the other day I ranted a little bit about the difficulties of starting a business. These guys do it better.


People as Scientific Instruments.

Good article from Spontaneous Generation. Social scientists generally assume that, to quote the article, "subjects (people) can give valid reports of their own subjective states" and that it is the scientist's job to collect these reports and analyze them. But usually in order to do this they must carefully construct an environment in which the respondent feels comfortable speaking honestly otherwise the results won't be "valid." Think about how carefully survey questions are worded and how much controversy occurs when pollsters are deemed to have written/produced "biased" reports.
In this line of thinking humans are scientific instruments that produce reliable data only when calibrated (controlled) very carefully. Pretty much like any other instrument actually.

But I'm not sure this line of thinking is worth pursuing. "Valid" here is too fuzzy a term with too many unspoken assumptions tied to it. While acknowledging that there are ways of obtaining more or less reliable data from people, unlike other instruments, it is perfectly conceivable that a person may produce contradictory data during the course of a series of test that all still valid or honest or whatever.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My political compass

This is a fairly interesting little survey aimed at telling you your "political compass." I like that it is trying to get away from the analytical prison of "right/left" thinking. Here is my result.

The Adventure Begins

So my wife and are moving to Malawi early next year. We'll own and operate a scuba diving business on Lake Malawi and also start up a mostly volunteer-powered, non-profit, research center. I'll be wrapping up my studies of Korean coastal managment for now although certainly not forever. The research center will focus primarily on studying Lake Malawi liminology. But since I come from a mostly social science background it will also hopefully be able to look at the lake's management systems, both formal and informal, and its economics.
Lake Malawi is widely recognized as the premier tropical freshwater diving destination in the world. It is home to more species of fish than any other lake on the planet. The cichlid fish family alone has nearly 1000 species in the lake. So there is plenty of biological diversity ripe for study and enjoyment.
I'll put up links to websites shortly to give you a better idea of what we will be up to and to tell you how you can join in, either as a diver, volunteer, researcher, and/or educator.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The world how it really is. (almost)

This is the Gall-Peters projection map. Its a "flat" map of the globe that doesn't distort the actual sizes of the continents as much as the more widely used Mercator map. Notice how much bigger Africa is and how much smaller Europe and North America are than we are used to seeing. Geometry dictates that no flat map of a sphere is every going to be perfect, but thats not to use something better if we have it. And the Peters map is better.