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.