Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Thursday, 24 December 2009


Obama's taking quite a bit of heat for the outcome of the recent climate summit. For example George Monbiot writes:
the immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama
Naomi Klein also holds Obama's feet to the fire.
I think there is some counter-evidence to push back against this notion that Copenhagen was down to Obama's failure to use his powers to fly in the face of special interests and take real leadership on the issue.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

What are we gonna do about OJ Uganda?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's scratching their head at the strange juxtaposition of Uganda's recent move to outlaw female circumcision with moves to pass a bill that would strengthen penalties against being gay.

Unfortunately, this bill seems to be part of a trend of politicised anti-gay sentiment in Central/Eastern Africa; Burundi crimnalised homosexuality in April, and an anti-gay legal code is currently being debated in Rwanda's lower house of Parliament.

It's interesting that the "cherished culture" of Uganda is invoked to defend this bill when part of this culture has just been outlawed.  Also puzzling are the accusations of neo-colonialism levelled at foreign opponents of the bill when the proposed anti-gay legislation has links to the activities of U.S. religious leaders and activists.

Human rights organisations have called for donors to Uganda to withhold their aid, however I believe that this could be counterproductive. Any threats dovetail with the anti-colonial narrative being utilised by supporters of this bill. The activities of international human rights organisations on this issue are also hobbled by the same anti-colonial sentiment. There isn't much these groups can do that will not be demagogued as foreign meddling, and Western disrespect of Ugandan values. That being said, the possibility of losing up to 40% of the national budget might provide a great incentive for politicians to water down the bill. And given its nature I'm hard put to it to voice objections to any actor who'd consider using that source of leverage.

Museveni could still veto it, however while he appears to have given private assurances to U.S. officials that he will work to stop the bill becoming law, Museveni has not yet matched those private actions in public. His history of anti-gay rhetoric will make it difficult for him to come out against any version of the Anti-homosexuality bill.  On the other hand two op-eds against the bill in government controlled media, could be in spite of their problems (outlined HERE and HERE) a sign for optimism.

I think pressure to modify the bill using an approach that focuses on policy analysis, and other forms of expert advice to hammer home the practical implications of passing the bill with its most outrageous language (such as damage to social capital due to people perceiving the law as approval of violence against gays, hindering the fight against the spread of HIV, and the likely violations of international treaties -which signatories cannot just decide to unsign using domestic law-  and the pastoral relationship - no small issue in a country as religious as Uganda) is more likely to be effective than overt LGBT or human rights advocacy as such efforts can more easily avoid demagoguery.

Long term, I believe -based on my very limited understanding of the Ugandan context- that religious leaders are the only actors with enough legitimacy to change the zeitgeist.  Leaders who do not use murderous rhetoric against gays could be engaged in dialogue with more radical preachers. Meanwhile the Ugandan media could also be engaged to report responsibly on marginalised groups, perhaps through the development of new conflict sensitivity curricula in journalism school. I also think there could be work to introduce disruptive information in order to debunk the ideas in books such as Coming out Straight and The Pink Swastika that have influenced the anti-gay movement. Most importantly great pains would need to be taken to keep any intervention from being seen as anything other than locally owned.

Friday, 18 December 2009


An acquaintance of mine in finance sent me THIS article with a dire prognosis for the future of Japan.

Basically, Japan is really in for it when they can no longer borrow money on the cheap. If the price of borrowing rises the results could be catastrophic. (Think of what happened to many of the people who bought homes using mortages with teaser rates.) The Japanese government may default on its debt or, according to David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, enter a period of hyperinflation where prices rise out of control in response to lack of confidence that the Japanese currency will maintain its value.

Japan's ability to service its truly staggering national debt is dependent on the strength of the export economy and the populace acting as a source of finance. Unfortunately for the government, the export economy has taken a real beating in recent years.  This in my understanding is in large part due to the domestic economic policies of the last decade, which drove Japanese companies to move their assets overseas to get better returns. Japanese companies could do OK because they didn't need Japanese revenue, they got most of their money from sales overseas. However, with the financial crisis, the amount of overseas revenue has been slashed. A strong yen in a global downturn = nicht gut because their exports became less competitive.Worse still, Japan's population is shrinking, and aging; meaning a decrease in available finance as the tax base shrinks and savings are used fund retirement.

What a mess.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The Pan wore brown!

Man this intro brings back memories.

I'll try and get reacquainted with this as I remember it being a good series with decent character development and plot. Had Tim Curry as Hook, and dude is one of my favourite actors.

All that pomp, and those horns! Pity about the bootleg synth strings.
Speaking of horns check out 1:14-1:25 from this Star Wars tune. Williams gets cussed out for being derivative (cough! Duel of The Fates = Carmina Burana: O Fortuna cough!) but those horns at 1:20. Jai ho! They do something to me.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Look ye at his works

(h/t a commenter at Balloon Juice) I found part of this 2006 article by Paul Krugman about Joe Lieberman to be quite prescient.

The money quote:
The question now is how deep into the gutter Mr. Lieberman’s ego will drag him.

Well, I think we may all have the answer to that question.

Can't take a compliment

Managed to have a nice long chat with my teacher today. Was good to catch up with her after my three months away in Japan. She seems to take great pride in my achievements, and is generous with her praise, which always leaves me feeling energised and ready to receieve my crown (seriously, right after our conversation you could have shown me all the unemployment figures you wanted, and I would have kept on smiling.) At the same time however receipt of such praise always leaves me feeling very embarrassed.

I think my feelings are rooted in two things: firstly, and this could be a cultural thing, the slightest hint that an elder is treating me as they would a peer is something that is slightly disconcerting. One of the cultures in which I was raised coming up on the mean streets of Southwest London is quite hierachical, with great respect given to ones elders. As a result I usually address people with their titles, and even feel slightly facetious when I use their first names in contexts where formal titles would be strange or inappropriate. Indeed I've been struck by the lack of formality that characterises many of the student-teacher relationships I have seen here in the United States. I think British Academia is much more formal, though it could be changing. Also, the very idea that I am worthy of such treatment is rather strange, my feeling is What, in my few years on this earth could I have possibly done to be given such praise, to have my hand shaken as a peer?

Second, I think part of me hearing that someone thinks I'm great. Again part of me just can't believe that anyone could have such a high opinion about something I've done, or the person I am. It just doesn't match the image I have of myself. This could be because while many of my closest friends, and family have a very abstract idea of what it is I do, I don't think a detailed conversation would be possible, or of interest to most of them.

My mother in particular fretted about my choice of both undergrad and master's courses. For instance, "what job", she asked with clear concern in her voice, "can you do with philosophy?" It was the way she said "philosophy". I'm sure there's a joke out there that the first words of English Nigerians learn (and never forget) are "doctor", "lawyer" and "engineer". If there isn't there ought to be. My mother uttered that word "philosophy" as if it were entirely foreign to her daily vocabulary, and therefore distrusted. Moreover as a word she did not use, I'm certain she considered it -and subsequently the entire discipline- as useless. I'm sure my recent achievements have done nothing to change her feelings.

I also think there's a little fear in there.  I resist the idea that the nice things people are saying could represent me as I am.

Anyway. Please don't get it twisted,  if you have good things to say, keep them coming. I like hearing them. It gives me something I can aspire to. Like that Obama fellow when he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A cool boss?

These pics courtesy of TPM may have endeared me a little to Republican National Committee Chairman Micheal Steele. However I can't shake the niggling suspicion that the interns in these pics are actually  mocking him. Steele reminds me a little of a boss I used to have when I was on the JET programme working for the board of ed. of a small Japanese city. A bit of a clown, and more than a little inappropriate at even the best of times. He exchanged shaggy-dog gags at social events, and would creep out my female colleagues by making comments with sexual undertones. I regarded him perhaps as I would a drunk uncle who would prove to be an amusing spectacle at any wedding reception but my own. And I could certainly see him striking similar poses.

Down time

My reports have been handed in, orgs to which I could send my work are winding down for the holidays, and are too busy tying up loose ends to attend to me. I'm damn near impecunious, and the job market is dismal.

Looking, with great effort, for the bright side; the down time is an opportunity to try and increase the number of publications I have under my belt, and brush up on useful skills like quantitative analysis. Moreover my decision to return to the US seems not to have been as crazy as the voice in the back of my head was telling me. I have contacts here, and they're looking to hook me up with work. They are stars. I've heard some promising noises, the only problem is that I would need to find a way to survive until about a third of the way into next year to take up those opportunities, they're likely consultancies though, rather than opportunites for regular employment. This is somewhat disconcerting when there is little question about the regularity of bills. Hopefully I, or my contacts, will find something before I run out of money. Once again, fell deeds await.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo...

I recently stumbled across THIS visualisation of a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan. It really is a thing of beauty. I'm just not sure how such a complex set of dynamics could be shaped to fit coalition interests using an instrument like the United States military.

Reading through the presentation one of the first things that came to mind was the likely costs in terms of blood and treasure that would be required to pull off such a project. It also brought to mind an observation by Eric Martin over at Obsidian Wings. There seems to be a general sense of suspicion towards the idea of "social engineering" by the govenrment, or the government spending large amounts of money on its citizens; yet at the same time similar projects overseas draw little criticism. There is also in the United States the pervasive idea that the government messes up everything it touches, however when it comes to these same vast projects overseas such skepticism is largely absent.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Tonight, we dine in Hell

Back in Londinium, spending time with the family before I return to the States.

Last Thursday's farewell dinner went very well, and I handed in my evaluation report the following day. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable and valuable experience. I really will miss my former colleagues. It would be great if I were given responsibility to work with the org staff to implement and monitor any changes based on my recommendations. It will be interesting to see what the directors make of my report.

My relationship with the org will continue to some extent, I have some responsibility for the dissemination of an English version of policy papers in the "West" - since I had a hand in producing them.

I'm off to play some Halo. I leave you with a tune from Phantom of the Opera (the movie adaptation with Gerard "This is Sparta!" Butler), which I sing often. Too often.