Saturday, August 18, 2007

More on the CARE decision

This article from the Global Development Center talks more about the CARE decision.

To my Anonymous commenter: yes, I do think that my organization is hypocritical. But alas, I am a mere peon here, and have no control over it. I do, however, make my opinion known regularly. Might be why I'm still a peon.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Response to comment

I don't have a lot of time to write today, but I'd like to that the commenter from CARE. I think that you have a point regarding the balance between the good that can be done with the money and the possible harm done by food aid. I work in program development and fundraising right now, and totally understand regarding the loss of $46 million - you are right that someone (probably my organization!) will step in to fill the void. However, I still applaud CARE for doing what I think is the right thing, and making a decision that I believe will make their programming more effective.

This is a really sensitive and debatable topic. I definitely have my views on food aid, as any regular reader of this blog knows, and think that the entire food aid system should be dismantled, with the possible exception of emergency food aid. I do stand by my statement that those agencies, like my own, that accept food aid are being hypocritical. This comes from my view of the food aid system in general. I also certainly understand the argument the commenter made, even though I don't agree with it.

Anyone else want to chime in? Grandpa, I'm sure you have something to say on this.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

CARE: not a hypocrite anymore!

This article describes CARE International's decision to stop receiving USG food aid for its development work. Basically, they have finally come around to the hypocrisy of selling American commodities to the same folks they do income generating projects with. I wish that the organization that I work with could see it in the same way.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ding dong, the witch is gone!

Karl Rove has stepped down! Celebrate!

I'll blog later about my fabulous trip to Colombia (it is an amazing place). For today, I'm going to celebrate the departure of the #1 minion of the Antichrist from the US Government!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

La Pit... I mean, La Paz

Ok, I'll be very up front with you -- I do not like La Paz. Bolivia in general is great, but this city is awful. In addition to having a very frustrating time professionally while here, I'm tired of the atrocious driving, dog poop everywhere, nasty sewer smells, horrible service, blank stares, noise, and no-dinner-Sundays. I'm not kidding about the dog poop -- people walk everywhere here, but still there is dog poop everywhere. I mean, curb your damn animals, people! It is foul.

The city does have a few redeeming qualities (none of which involve bookstores or cinemas). One is the cheap restaurants, most of which are at least decent, and some very good. Another is the great textiles (albeit not yarn, really). And a final one is the fact that they actually have a reasonably good orchestra (no, I'm not delirious).

About the restaurants:
  • Angelo Colonial (On Mariscal Sucre, not on Linares as it says in the Lonely Planet): The steak was good, the mashed potatoes were good, and the atmosphere is great. The restaurant is filled with fascinating antiques and the candlelight makes it really romantic and cozy. The service, however, was a joke. She forgot what we ordered minutes after asking us, and even though she wrote it down, forgot my water and my salad. I'm not kidding, I have no idea what she wrote down or why, because generally you write things down so you refer back and don't forget, but apparently she was only doing it for show. This isn't the place you want to go for great food and a taste of Bolivia, but rather for a decent romantic date. The price was right, though. Our meal cost less than $5 a person.
  • Pronto Dalicatessen (Jauregui 2248 in Sopocachi): I love this place. The food is good, and really creative. It has nothing at all to do with a delicatessen, unless it is opposite day. The play is on the "Dali" - and the food is a bit surreal, but lovely. The service was excellent, and the ambiance top notch. I really like this place, and can't recommend it highly enough. Go there. It is relatively cheap, too, with a meal and a 1/2 bottle of wine only costing about $8.
  • La Comedie (Pasaje Medinacelli 2234, off 20 de Octubre in Sopocachi): This is a lovely restaurante, in a beautiful, ship-shaped building. The food was great, the service could have been better, but the chocolate mousse made the entire city of La Paz fall away and the rest of the night a dream of chocolate. Meal cost about $7, totally totally worth it. Go there.
  • Alexander Coffee and Pub: These guys are all over the place. Decent but not great food, good coffee, and they let you sit there forever. DO NOT BUY A BROWNIE! They are horrid. A comfy and decent-service cafe nonetheless.
  • Le Bistrot (Guachalla 399, between 6 de Agosto and 20 de Octubre in Sopocachi): This place is ok, but I always feel a bit let down. It is in the Alliance Francaise building, and has a decent atmosphere, but the food is only ok. It tries to be good, but misses somehow, and the waitress I had both times was a bit spooky and weird. Probably good as a bar, but not so much as a place for a meal.
  • Terraza (20 de Octubre 2331 in Sopocachi): DO NOT GO TO THIS PLACE. It is one of the worst restaurants I've ever been to. Horrid disgusting food and bad service. They should be ashamed of themselves. The Lonely Planet says that they are "stylish", but that can only be true if your sense of style includes eating food that grosses you out and having to get up from your table and search around the restaurant for your server. If there were restaurant police, they would shut this place down.
  • Arabica (20 de Octubre, just down from the Terraza): this place is good. Clean, good service, comfy and peaceful, good coffee, and great food. I had a "nido", which is a yummy fresh bread "nest" filled with delicious veggie or other stew, perfect for a cold La Paz day, and a goat cheese and tomato salad, which was lovely and hit the spot (and was ok for foreigners to eat, if you get my drift). I highly recommend this place for a lazy Saturday afternoon, or a workday lunch.
  • The Lounge (Calle Presbitero Medina 2527 in Sopocachi): I love this place, and it isn't because of the awesome owners, who I didn't meet until after I tried the top-notch food and yummy french fries. Beautiful place, great food, and a really good price. Definitely go there. The owners are a Bolivian musician and his American wife, and they are two of the nicest people I've ever met.
I went to some other places, too, but these are the ones that most stick out in my memory.

Textiles: go to the shop Comart Tukuypaj and its sister store out back and up stairs Inca Pallay. Both are fair trade shops that directly support the artisans, and have lovely products with a just price and high quality. Inca Pallay has saleswomen who can tell you about the weaving and the history of the cooperative. Their work is top notch and stunningly beautiful.

As for the orchestra, I'm not kidding! My friend Joseph and I went last night, and it was lovely. A great break from the ubiquitous pan flutes and guitars, and a solid orchestra. I was pleasantly surprised, expecting a nightmare of noise, but they played well, albeit lacking in discipline and decorum. The music was muddy but good, and the solo cellist was great. I give the conductor a lot of credit -- bravo, Maestro!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sao Paulo

I would like to begin by expressing my sorrow at the accident in Sao Paulo. My thoughts are with the families of the victims.

As I have mentioned before, GRU airport is a menace to human civilization. It should probably just be closed, razed, and re-built from scratch. Congohas should definitely be closed, forever. Furthermore, TAM airlines is a joke. For a nation with as much human resource capacity as Brazil, you'd think they would have a more reliable national airline. This accident falls squarely at the feet of the TAM leadership, who are clearly incapable of running a safe and efficient airline.

Update: If you don't take my word for it, I have back up.

Monday, July 09, 2007

If this plane were a man...

Someone would be in trouble.

I love this plane. I can't wait to fly on this plane. Check out that overhead storage! Check out the "islands"! The lighting -- it changes to keep your circadian rhythms in order! I'm totally going to try to sit on the upper deck!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Um, yeah.

Dude. How is this news? Development folks have been saying this stuff for years.

Apparently, the NYT thinks that it is newsworthy to report that elimination of subsidies on agriculture (cotton in particular, in this article) would help African farmers.

Regular readers of this blog know that I've been harping on this forever, and I'm not alone! This is a regular thread of conversation in our circles.

When are US newspapers going to get with the program?

Sunday, June 17, 2007


At first, Brazil didn't want me, now it can't get rid of me.
Because my ticket was purchased a bit late in the game, I ended up on a long flight to Recife, through Lima and then Sao Paulo. Any flight with that many stops is bound to be challenging, and it was.

Everything was fine until I got to Sao Paulo. That airport is a DISASTER. I'm not kidding. I've been in horrible airports, but usually they are horrible because of ugliness, confusion/bad signing, bad smells, or no shopping/food. Sao Paulo's Guarulhos airport, however, is hands down the most chaotic, ugly, noisy, dark, confusing and inefficient place I've ever seen IN MY LIFE. If you read this blog regularly, you know I've been in a lot of airports. Not one holds a candle to GRU.

I arrived on a Taca flight from Lima. I got my bags out of the baggage claim and through customs without a problem, but when I went to re-check them for my onward flight, there was no place in sight to do so for Taca, which is what my ticket said my next flight was on. I decided to just go to the check-in counter, since I had plenty of time. After a quick spin around the domestic terminal, I realized with increasing panic that Taca was nowhere to be had. The information lady, in a combination of Portunol and charades, made it clear to me that my flight didn't exist, and suggested that perhaps it was really a code share with TAM, the Brazilian domestic airline. So, off I went to TAM.

TAM has its own terminal, pretty much, and apparently for good reason. The line for domestic flights wound all the way out of the terminal into the ugly and weak shopping area. This did not bode well. By this time, I was going to be cutting it close to make my flight, so I was nervous. I was also alone, so standing in line for a couple of hours was going to be logistically challenging if I needed, say, to use the ladies' room. Thankfully, during the next 3.5 hours that I stood in line (yes, three and one half hours in line in a noisy, dark, smelly, ugly airport, alone), that issue did not arise. I got to the desk, and, indeed, my flight was on TAM. And it was indefinitely delayed.

I went to the gate area (which has two small and limited places to eat, so if you are hungry, eat before security) to join the mass of humanity packed into the gate area like so many hot, smelly, annoyed sardines. The loudspeaker was crackly, which made it doubly difficult for me to understand the Portugese-only announcements. Everybody and their brother was deluging the staff with questions about their flights, and the departure boards were confusing and kept changing the gate numbers and ETAs. I ate 4 cheese breads for dinner with a Coke Zero and waited. The WiFi wasn't working very well, so I couldn't even play around on the internet.

At one point, they made an announcement that our gate was changed to gate 3, so we traipsed up the broken escalator. There, the loudspeaker was working better, and we heard that there was some sort of Air Traffic Controllers' strike. Every time they announced that a flight was leaving, a cheer would go up among everyone in the gate. I was approached by a Ghanaian man and a bunch of Filippinos who asked me to "be their leader", since I at least understood 50% of what was going on, whereas they understood 0%. I agreed, but immediately made my job a bit easier by convincing announcement guy to do the announcements in Portuguese and English. I knew he spoke good English, and he did a good job helping us out with the announcements. Obrigada, announcement guy!

After about 4 hours of this, they finally announced that our flight was going to leave from yet another gate, and we happily rushed back down the broken escalator and boarded. We were happy. It was weird. This is a good example of extreme discomfort making small happinesses seem huge and amazing.

Recife was nice and fun. Good food, nice beach. Unfortunately, it rained all week, so no real beach time, plus there are a lot of sharks there, so there wouldn't have been any swimming anyway. The Hotel Jangadeiro is adequate and on the beach, but nothing special. If you like food, you MUST eat at the Oficina do Sabor in Olinda. The food there is amazing, and the chef is a great guy. They are also a partner of one of our employment programs, so if you see a Maos de Moleque item on the menu, ordering it will help a really cool project of ours to support kids at risk in poor urban areas. Overall, good trip.

Now, I'm sitting in a Best Western in Sao Paulo. Once again, that freakin' airport has defeated me. The incoming flight from GRU to Recife was delayed, so my outgoing flight was also delayed. All of my connections on the way back were tight, less than 1 hour in between, so any delay basically meant that the rest of my trip was screwed. The check-in agent couldn't check me in for the Taca flights, either, so I was going to have to do that in Sao Paulo as well, and she basically said that I should be prepared for another delay there. True to form, the GRU-Lima flight was the only one that was not delayed that day, so I missed it. I spent last night at the nice Best Western here in SP (definitely recommended mostly because cheap, clean, and convenient), and will try to make at least one more leg of my trip today. I am counting on being stuck overnight in Lima tonight, because my connection to the Quito flight there is only 50 minutes, and, judging from the chaos in GRU, I'm sure that my Lima flight will be delayed.

Somehow, in all of this, I'm not flipping out. Normally, this kind of BS gets my blood pressure up to dangerous highs, but I'm feeling pretty ok with it. Maybe I sprung a gasket or something. Maybe I went right on past exploding head and back to calm? Who knows. I just hope that I get home this week.

Moral of the story: have low expectations when you fly through Sao Paulo's GRU airport, and bring plenty to do in the meantime (books, knitting, whatever).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Please stop killing aid workers

Two Lebanese Red Cross aid workers were killed in fighting in Lebanon while trying to rescue people.

I've said this before, and I will keep saying it: please stop killing aid workers. No matter who you are, we aren't the enemy. We don't carry arms. We are, for the most part, neutral parties. This is especially true of the Red Cross. We help everyone, and we do our best not to hurt anyone. Killing us will get you nowhere and nothing but reduced credibility and the scorn of people everywhere.

It is things like this that make me want to throw in the towel and give up on the world. When people kill those who are so obviously just trying to do the right thing, I wonder why we should bother.

Update: attacks on aid workers in Darfur.
Update 6/14/2007: attacks on aid workers in Sri Lanka

Friday, June 01, 2007

Design for the Poor

This NYT article describes innovative design aimed at creating products that can be bought and used by the world's poor. I've often wondered when people were going to catch on that the poor, although they don't have a lot of money, are actually a huge untapped market for good products. I've also wondered why we constantly try to get the poor to use technology that works for us in our environments but clearly is not appropriate to their environment, rather than jointly coming up with technologies that work in their environments for their purposes. This is a good start.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dr. Weiss, I told you so

Dani Rodrik backs me up on what I asserted during my oral exam upon graduating from SAIS. Saying "free trade is always good" is simply not an acceptable answer.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Inhumane Humanitarianism

This article in the WaPo talks about the impunity at the UN, and the way that the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) manages refugee crises around the world.

While I'm not convinced that self-settlement in host countries is the best solution for the problem the article poses, the author makes a solid case for why things need to change in refugee camps, and particularly in those camps managed by UNHCR.

I often think that the humanitarian community, especially those who work in emergencies and complex humanitarian emergencies, fails to appreciate the delicacy of the situation of our beneficiaries. I'm not saying that they are weak or incapable of managing their lives; rather, I'd like for all of us to remember that we are serving people who are living a nanometer away from death, and it is up to us to ensure that we don't push them even closer.

Friday, April 27, 2007

You know it is bad when...

What does it say about a country when the potential first lady doesn't even want to be there?

The wife of Nikolas Sarkozy, candidate for president of France:
Cécilia Sarkozy, 49, the wife of the front-runner and conservative candidate, Nicolas Sarkozy, has been largely absent from the campaign. Asked how she envisioned her life in 10 years, she replied, “In the United States, jogging in Central Park.”

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bush does something good!

Ok, I'm not the biggest fan of food aid overall, but I really dislike the way that the US has been doing it.  So, reading this article made me very happy.

Celia Dugger from the NY Times does a decent job reporting on Bush's food aid proposal, which will allow food for food aid purposes to be purchased locally.  The article doesn't make it clear how the purchases will be done, and it won't be more than 25% of the total US food aid, but it is a good start.

I have to admit that it turns my stomach to think that I support something that Bush did, but whatever.

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Chinatown, Lima

Saturday was a day for exploration in Lima. My friend, MJ, who is Peruvian, and I went to Chinatown in search of a good chifa, or Peruvian Chinese restaurant. Many folks who haven’t been to Latin America find it difficult to believe the number of Asian immigrants here. Peru likely has more than most, having had even a Japanese-descended president, Fujimori. Chinese food in Peru is similar to Chinese food everywhere, but with some special Peruvian touches. The fortune cookies are different, but the fortunes are the same. Mine said, “The stars are in your favor”.

After eating, MJ and I wandered around Chinatown a bit and saw the arch. It is small, but definitely Chinatown. I think that you can buy everything there, from Peruvian handicrafts to the latest in Japanese technology to Chinese herbal medicine to books in German. Wild.

I will note, Chinatown is not somewhere you want to go with a big handbag and lots of jewelery. You need to be very careful down there, and don’t go alone, even in the daytime.

Tomorrow, you will likely be seeing a rant about depraved backpackers and the damage they inflict on society in general, and some notes about our visit to some project sites in the countryside.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

I'm not old, I'm aged to perfection

Happy Birthday to me!
Thanks, Good Husband!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two things that will do more to end poverty than foreign assistance

I keep coming back to two basic things that the United States can do to attack global poverty more effectively than we've been doing it for the last 60 years through foreign assistance. 

First, we need to buckle down and make our educational system from Kindergarten through PhD the inarguably best educational system in the world.  Graduates of the US educational system affect every part of the world system, and, by virtue of being graduates from the US system, have an inordinate amount of control over what they affect.  Therefore, if we want better results from the world in general, we need better input.

But that isn't the main subject of today's rant.  Rather, I'd like to touch on the second of my two things: agricultural reform.

I know that I'm a Democrat and that that would lead one to believe that I'm a supporter of farm subsidies, but I'm an economist and pragmatist first, which means that farm subsidies actually give me nightmares.

As this article in the Christian Science Monitor points out, those subsidies once meant to support small farmers are now going to large industrial farms, and skew the world agricultural market in such a way that farmers in the developing world are unable to compete, even though they need the money far more and have a significant comparative advantage in the production of many agricultural products. 

Subsidies in general are not good economic policy, but this one is beyond the pale. 

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

A longish blog

First topic: There is this television commercial produced by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) which encourages us all to avoid rummaging for "treasures" in trash dumps. Besides being a poorly produced ad in general, there are some serious problems with it in terms of public health programming.

First, it runs on CNN International. I haven't seen it on any local television stations. I'm not sure about you, but I can't imagine too many folks who would be both garbage-dump rummagers (and apparently allowing their children to rummage as well) and CNN International fans. If the "not garbage rummaging" message were a product and my market were the rummagers, who are most likely poor city-dwellers, I don't think that I would waste money putting my ad on CNN International.

Second, the ad is in English. The Pan American Health Organization, as its name suggests, primarily serves the Americas. The ad features people who are most likely Latino. Most of the people who live in the Americas don't speak English, and I don't really think that this ad is directed to Americans and Canadians. I know, I know, Belize and some Caribbean countries speak English, but really, is an English-language ad on CNN International really the best way to get the message out?

So, in conclusion, Dear PAHO, I promise that I will not let my children rummage in the garbage, and will tell my friends that it is dangerous. You can now focus your efforts on people living in the Spanish-speaking shanty towns or the Portuguese-speaking favelas. Thank you for your concern.

Some things about Lima:
We found this little shop when we were exploring Miraflores one day. I love the name, and wondered what they were videoing.

I think that I'm going to start calling my camera the Bodega Cam.

This next photo is from "Love Park", the Parque del Amor on the Malecon in Miraflores. It is a really pretty little park with a statue of lovers overlooking the sea. The wall is covered in beautiful mosaics with quotes about love. People apparently like to carve their names and messages of love into the leaves of this plant.

Shopping: Go to Dédalo. It is a complete change from the typical tourist stuff, and also supports the work of Peruvian artists and designers. It is in Barranco, on the Paseo Saenz Peña, at the corner of Saenz Peña and El Libertador San Martín.

Sights: Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Anthropología, y Historia del Perú, on the Plaza Bolivar in Pueblo Libre. Next to the equally cool Museo de la República.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The problem of the bad well-intentioned program

The article that the title links to describes the failures of the national program to counter marijuana production and use. Basically, as I've been saying for years, the program is a complete failure -- production is up and use has not significantly changed since the 1970s.

In a logical world, where things make sense and people make decisions based on information and reason, a program that failed, especially so miserably, would be immediately ended and a new and better approach sought by analyzing what went wrong.

We don't live in that world.

Instead, we live in a world where it is politically better to support a failed counter-drug program than to admit that a counter-drug program failed. No one wants to be seen as soft on drug use. Last year, I took an evaluation class that looked at a similar problem with the "Just Say No" campaign, which had the perverted effect of actually increasing drinking and drug use among participating students by a significant amount, but no one would vote to eliminate funding for it because no one wanted to be the one who didn't support counter-drug measures targeting our youth.

I stand by my assertion that the best way to manage the international drug problem is for the US to legalize drug use. Prohibition allows only one enforcement response: jail time. In these days when we know that our fancy programs and the threat of jail are not working, and jails are increasingly bursting at the seams, it makes infinitely more sense to legalize and regulate. I'm not the only nutcase who thinks so: Milton Friedman wrote a paper on legalization. Below, a quote from the linked article:

"So what's the alternative to this failed war on marijuana? Contrary to claims by Drug Czar John Walters, the alternative isn't "surrender," it’s common-sense regulation: Take marijuana out of the criminal underground and establish sensible controls. Treat it like we do alcoholic beverages, with everyone involved licensed and required to follow a strict set of rules. Educate teens about the dangers of drugs with materials that treat them with respect and present the facts honestly."

Hey, is anyone paying attention?

This article, pointed out to me by my husband, is really scary.  I love to scuba dive, but that's not the only reason this detailed description of the plague currently ravaging our oceans scares me.  It scares me because things like this are happening, affecting human life tangibly and broadly, and yet most of us remain blithely insensitive to the effects our irresponsible lifestyles are having on the environment.  An environment we depend on for our own lives. 

Dear reader, no longer can we go about our days thinking that myopic scientists are warning us about low-probability dangers.  This stuff is for real.  It is an ugly truth that many of the things we love about being human, and, in the rich northern countries, the "necessary" luxuries we slave for, are exactly what is leading us down the path of our own destruction. 

These days, the news has been a frustrating read to me, because the same stories are being recycled again and again.  What passes for "breaking news" or news analysis is merely a case of journalists taking advantage of the fact that we aren't paying attention.  I think that this is a symptom of our sickness: we can only sleep at night if we delude ourselves into thinking that the prophets are scare mongers and the scare mongers are prophets.  Otherwise, the guilt from our effect on the planet and its people would consume us.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ah, the beach

Last week, I went with a friend to San Bartolo, a beach town south of Lima. It was beautiful. The white houses climbing up the sandy-rocky cliffs beside the blue ocean reminded me of pictures of some places in Greece. The surrounding landscape is a desert, which is at first shocking, but really emphasizes the bright blues of the sky and water.

We spent our late mornings lazily eating breakfast followed immediately by lunch on this terrace overlooking the small bay where my friend's house is. What a luxury. In the afternoons, we laid around with friends on the beach, eating the freshest mussels prepared in the Peruvian way and ice cream. In the evenings, a good meal was followed by some leisurely drinks. One of the nights, we went to the discoteca Home, which was ok. I'm not usually into discos, but we had a blast, and didn't get in until near 4 in the morning, which is actually late for Peruvians.

The whole weekend was so lovely that it was almost impossible to return to Lima.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fey Day

I'm feeling very strange today. Could be that I overslept. See definition 1b.

Main Entry: fey
Pronunciation: 'fA
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English feye, from Old English f[AE]ge; akin to Old High German feigi doomed and perhaps to Old English fAh hostile, outlawed -- more at FOE
1 a chiefly Scottish : fated to die : DOOMED b : marked by a foreboding of death or calamity
2 a : able to see into the future : VISIONARY b : marked by an otherworldly air or attitude c : CRAZY, TOUCHED
3 a : excessively refined : PRECIOUS b : quaintly unconventional : CAMPY
- fey·ly adverb
- fey·ness noun

Monday, April 02, 2007

Canonization of JPII

It is pretty easy to see why Pope John Paul II is on the way to sainthood, especially if you are a reasonably faithful Catholic.

The article that piqued my interest today is about the beatification process, the first step in declaring a saint. The BBC article talks about a French nun who claims to have been cured of Parkinson's after praying to the deceased Pope. Ok. No problem. This is the thing that caught my attention:

"Information for the dossier was gathered on the former Pope's life and teachings, including all private writings from the period before he became Pope, and checked for orthodoxy to ensure that he expressed no heretical views."

So, it could be possible that he caused a miracle (or more) even if he were a heretic? That doesn't make any logical sense to me (leaving aside whether or not miracles make any logical sense). If the man were a heretic, and heretics were evil/bad, then why would God let him cause a miracle? God wouldn't, right? So then, if she prayed to JPII and god a miracle, it should stand to reason that he wasn't a heretic.


Friday, March 23, 2007

Jeffrey Sachs and his pipe dream

Grandpa asked me to tell him what I thought of this article by Jeffrey D. Sachs, "Rapid Victories Against Extreme Poverty". Dr. Sachs, I used to think that you were really smart and that we just disagreed. Now, I think that you need to revisit some of the basic texts of economics and development theory. Not to mention come visit me in South America.

His definition of poverty is ok, even if his "basic needs" are a bit broad to be basic. I'm not sure that people "need" telecommunications.

However, his proposed solution doesn't at all address what created the situation of poverty in the first place, if not corruption, mismanagement, and weak institutions. It almost seems as if he is saying that poverty is its own cause, which is a tautology. Not to mention, if corruption, mismanagement, and weak institutions are not a problem, what does he think is going to happen to the schools and clinics and roads that are built under his plan? That they are just going to spontaneously rejuvenate themselves? That individuals will suddenly buck the trend of the problem of the commons that has existed since time untold and take care of them in some sort of hokey cooperative utopia? I thought this guy was an economist!

Furthermore, where is the magic market that will absorb, without displacement of market share, distortions, and price issues, all of this suddenly increased agricultural production? What about the environmental effects of increased fertilizer use and run-off? What is the incentive for farmers to re-invest in their farms if they are being subsidized? I thought that this guy was an economist!

Basically, his whole idea is going right back to the charity of early "development" efforts, and there is no reason to believe that the results will be any different. Decaying clinics, schools with no teachers (the corrupt governments aren't paying them enough to be there now, does he think that building a new school will change that?), rusting farm equipment in fields, empty irrigation trenches, etc. If I didn't know that he has traveled extensively in the developing world, I'd think he'd never been here before.

Finally, it is not the responsibility of the developed world taxpayers to relieve the governance burden from corrupt, mismanaged, and weak developing country governments. It is their responsibility to govern. We can provide services to help them do that better, but no way do we take this on ourselves. Then we will be doing it into eternity, while the leaders of these countries while away their time on the beach or at the country club.

That's what I think.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Dia de San Patricio

I'm in Peru today, with Joe. It is a very long story as to why we are here and not in Quito, but suffice to say that it turned out to be a pleasant change of scenery, in spite of the adverse circumstances. Lima, as I failed to mention here the last time I was in Peru, is a great city, and one I really enjoy.

Tonight we went out to dinner to a great restaurant called Osaka. It serves up a beautiful selection of Japanese-Peruvian fusion food, including some of the best sushi I've ever had, the absolute best seaweed salad ever, and some really great sesame tuna. It is in San Isidro, at Conquistadores 999. They eat late here, but if you need reservations call 222-0405.

After that, we decided to celebrate Saint Patrick's day in the traditional style, at Murphy's Irish Pub (Schell 627 in Miraflores). It was quite an experience, with a wide variety of folks, local and international, young and not-so-young. There was a rather amusing MC leading a beer-drinking tourney and singing Irish drinking songs. The pick at right was from before the bar was packed to the gills. It got even more crowded as the night went on.

A good time was had by all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Santa Cruz, Bolivia

While I was in Bolivia, I also visited the city and surroundings of Santa Cruz, where my organization supports housing improvement and water and sanitation projects. The goal of the housing improvement projects is to contribute to the prevention of Chagas disease and malaria, which torment this low-lying, tropical region.

Santa Cruz, unlike La Paz, is low and hot. It is almost a totally different country. The entire time I was there, I felt like I was in a costal tropical city, rather than a land-locked city in the llano of South America. The low, colonial and colonial style architecture in the center of the city make one think that they are in a very old place, but in truth, the city was hardly a large town before the 1950s and import-substituting industrialization created the current industrial and business metropole that it is now. It is a fun city, as well, with a much more active and interesting night life than La Paz, and much better food. The industrial and commercial success, however, is very much limited to the already rich. The surrounding areas suffer from enormous poverty.

We stayed in the Hotel Asturias (, which I recommend. It was clean and comfortable, and had a decent breakfast. It is also easy to access the rest of the sprawling city from there by taxi or on foot. The hotel is located on Calle Moldes 154, telephone +591-3-333-9611. We ate at the Casa del Camba, which, while incredibly cheesy, is a good place to get local food and beer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

La Paz

This is my first trip back to Bolivia since 1999. The airport is exactly as I remembered it; I even remembered exactly where Jason stood with the Thermos of mate de coca and a sweater, waiting for me to exit the arrivals door. Weird.

The city is not as nice as Quito, and much bigger. Everything seems a little dingy and sad. Maybe it is just the weater?

My first night (to which I arrived after a typically frustrating and uncomfortable flying experience) was horrible. Please do not ever stay in the Aparthotel Sopocachi. What a dump. No drinking water (which is a big problem when you arrive here at the high altitude), no coffee, no breakfast, horrid bathroom, uncomfortable bed, you name it. It was the first time in my life, after probably nearly a thousand different hotels, that a hotel actually made me cry myself to sleep. I'm SO not kidding.

So don't stay there, ok?

Today, I changed to the cheaper and MUCH nicer Hotel Castellon. Great, simple, comfortable rooms and clean, nice bathroom. Free Internet in the lobby, breakfast included, tea free all day, good service, fridge with beer and coke! You can find it in Miraflores, Avenida Argentina 2145 at the Parque Triangular. Email them at, or call at 591-2-2244145.

Tomorrow, after a slew of meetings, we are headed to Santa Cruz! More when I get back.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Quito Update

There really isn't a lot to tell right now. Not much is going on.

Rafael Correa seems to be doing ok as President. Things seem quiet on the political front.

The weather is concerning me. It is supposed to be the rainiest time of the year right now, and it hasn't rained for days. Other countries in the region are suffering from intense floods due to El Nino. I'm afraid that Ecuador will be looking at crop problems later this year, and maybe other environmental disasters.

If you like jazz and are in the area, you MUST go to the Pobre Diablo, on Isabel la Catolica. Amazing place. Strange system for keeping your tab, but nonetheless, a lovely and musically fantastic place.

Monday, February 12, 2007

To Guatemala and Back

To the left is a pic of the view to the west over Quito from our condo.
For the past two weeks, I've been holed up in Guatemala for some pretty intense meetings and a workshop. The first week was in beautiful Antigua, of which I got to see very little, but it was a great place to have a conference. The second week was in Guatemala City, which surprised me.

In Antigua, some of the folks attending the conference stayed at the Hostal Santa Ana. It is a beautiful old house with rooms facing a courtyard and free coffee every morning. The owners are as nice as can be, but the rooms are spare. It was a challenge for us to be there on business, as there were no phones or Internet in the rooms, but the place was very clean and comfortable. I highly recommend it to people who want a quiet and sweet place to stay out of the main part of town. It is on Calle del Hemano Pedro. Our conference and the rest of our group was at the Hotel Villa Colonial. I'm not sure about the rooms, but there is OK wireless access around the grounds, and the food is good. It was a lovely place to have a conference, and apparently is also lovely for tour groups of senior citizens from around the world. Not the place to stay if you are a party person, but quiet and beautiful. Don't be fooled by the antique look of the place, it is only 8 years old! During the conference, we had a chance to purchase beautiful handicrafts from Artesanias Rosa, a women's group supported by my organization in Guatemala. They do really nice, high-quality work, and the fair price supports a good cause. They are located on 10 Av. and 7 calle number 18, in Zona 3 of San Marcos. They open on request. I'll post pics tomorrow.

In Guatemala City for our workshop, we stayed at the Radisson Guatemala City, which, on the surface, is a very nice hotel, but really is a crapper. Every room had different services, Internet service is $10/day, which is a rip off, they had no free water in the rooms, which is essential in Latin America, and the food is mediocre at best. Our conference room was nicknamed "the cave" because it was small, dark, and smelly. I recommend you avoid it like the plague.

Overall, it was good, but I'm very happy to be home in Quito, and am excited to finally move into our new condo here. Not sure if it will happen today as planned, due to difficulties getting a mattress, but hopefully tomorrow I'll be in there.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Home sweet condo

On Wednesday afternoon, I went out with the real estate agent to see some properties to rent. I didn't expect to find a place right away, but went with an open mind. The agent, Maria Paulina, was great, as was her mother and business partner, Elvira. Very talkative and informative on Ecuador and Quito in general.

The first place they showed me was perfect. It is a beautiful condo in a very secure building in a great neighborhood. Three bedrooms, a maid's quarters, a huge kitchen and pantry with all the modern accoutrement, a laundry room, and a gorgeous garden terrace with a built-in barbecue. I think that it has more floor space than our house in Baltimore, and most of the Western wall is window, with a view over Quito to the Pichincha volcano. We can probably move in next week! Woohoo!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Enough politics, now for Quito

I'm here, safe and sound and out of breath from the altitude.

On the flight down here, there was a moment when I felt myself move mentally from "leaving home" to "going home". It felt strange, but good. Today, when I walked west down Mariscal Foch toward the center of the tourist district, I met the second phase of this transition, and found myself feeling physically linked to this place. I looked up to the mountains that loom over the western side of the city and the Spanish word "ubicarse" came to mind -- to locate oneself, to know where you are. I knew where I was, and that felt good.

My grand plan for the day was to sit for an hour or two at a cafe for a snack and coffee or water and people watch and write and maybe knit. Alas, Quito had another plan. I went to the Coffee Tree, a cafe in the tourist district recommended by a colleague. Normally, these aren't the types of places I hang out when I'm living in a place. I never spent a lot of time in the Inner Harbor or the cheesy "cultural centers" in Kenya. However, I'm new here, and this place was recommended, and I thought that I could muse on the role of tourism in development and cultural exchange. So there I sat, peacefully, surrounded by chill tourists. I ordered an empanada and some water and started to write. No sooner did I get my empanada and get into my book than a bunch of street musicians in black tights showed up. They were loud and mediocre.

I knew that I should have been supportive of them, doing their best to share their culture's music with tourists and make a buck off it, but they were not good at all. All I wanted was a quiet sit at a cafe, and instead I got these jokers. I couldn't even think, because one of them was about a foot away from me, strumming loudly on a poorly tuned guitar and singing everything but the correct notes. So, I got the check, and decided to walk until I found another good place to stop.

I didn't find any other little cafe on my trek, but I did get to see more of the city. Through the Parque Ejido and its artisan market, to the Parque la Alameda with its paddle boats and jungle gyms, toward the old town. Old town is interesting in its way, but not the best place for walking, really. The sidewalks are narrow and full of people bustling about. The store fronts are not meant for tourists, and mostly sell cheap imported products or questionable food to locals. The traffic is horrible. But it is all made better by the beautiful colonial architecture. I found Quito's old town to be strange in comparison with similar sections of other cities. usually, these places are bursting to the seams with cheesy tourist stuff or expensive restaurants, cafes, and high-end bars. Lima was like this, and frankly, I loved it. I don't mind mixing it up with the peeps on occasion, but the cheap and tacky stores don't do justice to the elaborate and well-restored buildings they inhabit.

I admit that I didn't make it all the way to the heart of the old town, the Plaza Grande. I got tired, it was a long walk, and my lungs still aren't up to the altitude. So, I grabbed a cab and came home to the peace and quiet of my lovely apartment in Apartamentos Los Quipus in the La Floresta district.