Saturday, January 28, 2012

Repost: I Really Have to Talk to Bono, Part Deux

This is the second part to my "review" of White Man’s Burden by William Easterly. According to this book, everything Jeffery Sachs and Bono have told you is wrong. Well maybe not everything. Dropping the debt is a very good idea.

There is no poverty trap. In most cases, bad governance or internal strife (ethnic cleansing, civil wars, racism etc) causes poverty. Poverty cannot be “made history” with a “big push.” Top down solutions created by “planners” have never worked in the Third World. People who understand the culture and social relationships of a community are in a better position to help than bureaucrats are. Easterly calls these people “searchers.” He thinks we need more searchers and fewer planners.

Easterly’s book is filled with anecdotes and stories that illustrate the points he’s trying to make. For example, planners decided that everyone needed a bed net. Good idea but they didn’t ask if the people actually wanted, or would use, bed nets. Many bed nets got used as fishing nets or veils. When searchers gave the bed nets to a nurse in a clinic to sell, they told the nurse she could keep a portion of every net she sold. She made sure the nets were in stock. She made sure that the people knew what they were for and how to use them. Patients were more likely to use them for their intended purpose because they paid for them. Deaths from Malaria declined in the area the nurse was working in.

The other problem with foreign aid is that there is very little accountability. If the bed nets didn’t work the nurse would hear about it right away. The patients would want a new net or their money back. Aid agencies are not accountable to anyone when their programs do not produce results. The only time aid agencies have to justify their existence is when they are trying to get more money from donor countries. Aid agencies must appear to be at least trying to do something in order to keep the aid money flowing in. This leads to an abundance of what Orwell might recognize as DoubleSpeak.

Since Donors understandably don’t want to admit they are dealing with bad governments, diplomatic language in aid agencies becomes an art form. A war is a “conflict-related reallocation of resources.” Aid efforts to deal with homicidal warlords are “difficult partnerships.” Countries whose presidents loot the treasury experience “governance issues.” Miserable performance is “progress [that] has not been as fast and comprehensive as envisioned….” When government officials want to steal while the aid agency wants development, there are “differences in priorities and approaches [that]… need to be reconciled.” If debt-relief dollars disappear before reaching the poor, then “continued progress on the Expenditure Management and Control Program will be needed…”

Diplomatic donors also put a positive spin on awful recipient governments by asserting that while things are bad, they are getting better. The use of gerunds indicating progress is ubiquitous in aid documents such as “developing,” “emerging,” and “improving.” – p. 137-138

The aid agencies are beginning to believe the DoubleSpeak. The Millennium Project 2005 report was a very positive document but…

The report lists sixty-three poor countries that are “potentially well governed,” and thus potentially eligible for a massive increase in foreign aid. The list includes five out of seven countries singled out by Transparency International in October 2004 as the most corrupt in the world: Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Chad, Nigeria, and Paraguay. The list of “potentially well-governed” countries also includes fifteen governments that Freedom House classifies as “not free.” – p. 154

Reading this book was hard. It was often very depressing. What’s the point of getting AIDS drugs to people if they’re only going to die of malnutrition/starvation? What’s the point of trying to help people rise above poverty if the society they live in does not consider them to be worthwhile people (of the wrong class or race or religion)?

Easterly makes a point of saying that the things the aid agencies want are not always what the governments have an interest in providing. Some governments have no interest in raising the country’s population out of poverty. In some cases it might be politically expedient to keep a part of the population in abject poverty. People who have to spend all their time scraping out a living have no time to join political parties. They have no interest in maintaining the infrastructure needed to help those living in poverty improve their lives (roads, hospitals, schools etc.)

The tragedy of poverty is that the poorest people in the world have no money or political power to motivate Searchers to address their desperate needs, while the rich can use their money and power through well-developed markets and accountable bureaucracies to address theirs. The foreign aid bureaucracy has never quite gotten it – its central problem is that the poor are orphans: they have no money or political voice to communicate their needs or motivates others to meet those needs. (p. 167)

Easterly thinks aid agencies would just stop trying to work with governments and resign themselves to not only providing aid but maintaining the infrastructure needed to put the aid to good use. He talks about one country where an aid agency built a road but then government did not maintain it so in a few years the road was unusable and the people it was meant to help were no better off.

…aid bureaucrats have incentives to satisfy the rich countries doing the funding as well as (or instead of) the poor. One oversight in the quest to help the poor was the failure to study the incentives of its appointed helpers. The bureaucratic managers have the incentive to satisfy rich-country vanity with promises of transforming the Rest rather than simply helping poor individuals. International bureaucratic incentives also favour grand global schemes over getting the little guy what he wants. (p. 167)

Easterly tells the story of a village where the smoke from cook stoves was causing a lot of respiratory disease. An aid agency spent a lot of money to replace all the stoves with safer models. What they did not stop to do is ask if anyone wanted the new stoves, what kind of stoves they needed or if they would use new stoves. Turns out no one wanted the stoves and nobody used them. They went back to the old stoves the moment the aid agency left. Meanwhile the aid agency listed the replacement of “deadly” stoves in its “win” column.

I take getting my needs met for granted. If someone came into my house and said “we’re going to do this and this and give you this,” without asking me what I wanted and needed you know I would have something to say about it. I can write letters and emails and make phone calls until I get my needs met. If all that fails, I can call my local television station and get the media involved. The poor don’t have that ability. They have to take what the aid agencies want give them. The solution is easy: the aid agencies ask the people what they need and then they give it to them. Simple.

I had always thought that aid agencies asked the poor what they wanted and then provided that. Easterly showed me any examples of how that is not so. This has gotten quite long and I didn’t even get around to the IMF or the World Bank.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

10,000 Days

Some of you know that I don't have a television. I watch all my TV online. In addition to what broadcast TV, I have become addicted to various web series. A new one started last Friday. It's called 10,000 Days. Here's the official description:
10,000 days ago Comet 23 struck the Pacific Ocean with the magnitude of all the nuclear weapons in the world. The Beck Family was among the lucky few who survived the heat blast and fire storms. And then the freezing began. The comet had knocked Earth away from the sun; encasing the planet in snow and ice. For those who survived, life was violent and dangerous. The daily battle wasn’t just against the punishing climate but against each other for the basic necessities that meant life or death. Still, the weather was growing colder and the ice was expanding. Villages were being crushed by violent tremors. And then the Becks found an object from the past, buried deep in the ice. And with it came a choice. A choice that could either save them or destroy them.
Normally I would stay away from anything that takes place in ice and snow. I had to check this out because one of my favorite actors, Peter Wingfield, is in it. I've been waiting a long time for this series to get online. I think it has the makings of a good series. Hopefully they'll be releasing new episodes each week.

The first trailer:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Repost: I Really Have to Talk to Bono

I am just about finished White Man’s Burden: Why The West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good by William Easterly. It has taken me a long time to read this book for two reasons: 1) there is a lot of detailed information and 2) I did not want to believe what he was saying. Easterly writes in a clear manner and provides many notes. He states his sources. I now have yet another list of books I want to look at.
In a chapter called “The Healers: Triumph and Tragedy” Easterly talks about AIDS. I found this to be one of the most depressing chapters. Before reading this chapter, I thought that (Project) Red was a good idea. Now I am not so sure. Bono has constantly made the point that the antiviral drugs needed to help AIDS patients are cheap and available at any chemist’s shop. These drugs cost “$304 per person per year” (p. 250) which sounds good until you add in all the other costs:

Three hundred and four dollars is just the price of the first-line therapy drugs per year. The population first needs to be tested to see who is HIV-positive. Patients need to have their viral load tested to see if they should start taking drugs and, after taking them, if the drugs are working to decrease the viral load. The drugs are toxic with potentially severe side effects. Health workers need to adjust the combination of drugs when side effects are too extreme. Patients need counseling and monitoring to make sure they are taking the medicine (if there is less than full adherence to treatment, the virus builds up resistance to the drugs.) Patients also need treatment for the opportunistic infections that afflict AIDS sufferers. So treatment is more expensive than just the cost of the drugs. The World Health Organization is working with the figure of $1.500 per year per patient for delivering treatment to prolong the life of an AIDS patient by one year. (Page 250)

$1,500 still does not sound like a lot. Multiply that by the 29 million plus (p.239) people currently infected. Then add the new cases everyday. It adds up to a whole whack of cash to keep people alive for one year. What about all the people who will die of other diseases?

According to Easterly, “the total amount of foreign aid for the world’s approximately three billion poor people is only about twenty dollars per person per year.” (p.251) Easterly asks where the money for AIDS treatment will come from.

President Bush’s 2005 budget proposal increased funding for American AIDS program (especially treatment), but cut money for child health and other global health priorities by nearly a hundred million dollars (later reversed after protests.)

Bush’s cut in other health spending was particularly unfortunate when two and a half times as many Africans die from other preventable diseases as die from AIDS. These diseases include measles and other childhood illnesses, respiratory infections, malaria, tuberculosis, diarrhea, and others. Worldwide in 2002 there were 15.6 million deaths from these causes, as opposed to 2.8 million deaths from AIDS. (p.251)

When stated like that it doesn’t make sense to spend so much money on treatment of AIDS when cures and prevention for these other diseases (the cure for tuberculosis costs $10) are available. The money should be spent where it will do the most good. Thanks to people like Bono, AIDS is currently sexy and Western donors are anxious to be seen giving to the right (sexy?) causes. Easterly calls the current push for AIDS treatment SIBD Syndrome (p. 254). SIBD stands for “something is being done.” Rich country voters need to be convinced that SIBD to keep them donating. “A political campaigner giving a graphic description of AIDS patients dying without life-saving drugs is hard to resist…. But money should not be spent according to what the West considers the most dramatic kind of suffering.” (p. 257)

Easterly also makes an argument for prevention of AIDS verses treatment. “A years supply of condoms… costs about fourteen dollars.” (p.251) Treatment is not a cure and the first-line drugs do not work for long.

The United Nations Population Division in 2005… estimated that the added years of life from antiretroviral treatment to be a median of 3.5 years. After that, resistance to the first-line treatment (the one with the cheap drugs, which is all that is on the table in Africa, outside South Africa) builds up and full-blown AIDS sets in. (p. 253)

Can we really justify spending millions of dollars to keep people alive for another four years when others are dying of curable diseases? If you asked the people of Africa, would they want so much money spent on AIDS treatment? Consider this:

If money spent on treatment went instead to effective prevention, between three and seventy-five new HIV infections could be averted for every extra year of life given to an AIDS patient. Spending AIDS money on treatment rather than on prevention makes the AIDS crisis worse, not better…. For the same money spent giving one more year of life to and AIDS patient, you could give 75 to 1,500 years of additional life (say fifteen extra years for each of five to one hundred people) to the rest of the population through AIDS prevention. (p. 255 emphasis his)

Easterly also talks about how AIDS prevention programs have been scuttled by religious groups. These people feel that giving people condoms will lead to promiscuity. Hmmm. I’m not going to go there. All I know is that condoms would help. These people stopping prevention programs in the name of some deity of other are causing a lot of pain.

So all this brings me to my current crisis about Bono, (Product)Red, and The Global Fund. Last week I spent some time reading things on the GF website. I was trying to find out how much of the money goes to AIDS prevention and what kinds of preventions the GF supports. Easterly has a long, very long and hard to read chapter in his book about aid bureaucratic language. I can honestly say I tried to read the reports and papers on the GF site. But I soon got frustrated because they seemed to use a lot of words to say very little. If I had not read Easterly’s book I might not have noticed. I never did find the answer to my question although I did find the statement that the GF was committed to a balance of prevention and treatment. I found descriptions of prevention activities for malaria and TB but nothing for AIDS prevention. The only mention of AIDS prevention was on their main AIDS page: “Components of successful prevention efforts include clear and accurate communication about HIV/AIDS and methods to prevent infection, HIV counseling and testing, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.” Nothing specific (besides talking to people). So I emailed them and asked for specifics. I’m still waiting for a reply.

Until I get an answer I can’t support The Global Fund. I now know that I cannot support any AIDS aid agency that doesn’t spend the bulk of its money on prevention.

Sorry Bono.

I’ll be posting more about Easterly’s book. One post cannot cover the many important points.

End of part one. See part two next Saturday.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 36

English: Yoga 4 Love Community Outdoor Yoga cl...
Image via Wikipedia
You do have to celebrate the little successes.

Sometimes that's all you have. But that's okay because they can add up. This week, I got all my blog posts done - on time. I managed to get 8 hours of sleep for the first time in months. I also managed not to blow a fuse at the restoration crew that told me they were done in my apartment for the day and then came back five times.

Small successes. Works for me.

This week's card:
Stretch Yourself  
Loosen your limbs and reap the benefits of a loosened flow of creativity. Well, no guarantees, but it's certainly a way to keep your neck, legs and back from cramping up every time you grip that paintbrush till your knuckles turn white. If you don't have time for a yoga class, stretch by yourself slowly and gently. Lie on the floor and tense and then relax different muscle groups. Don't forget to breathe regularly as you do this. 
I've been really bad. I haven't been to the pool in ages. I used to go to an aquafit class every Tuesday and Thursday. I've been meaning to go back. I just haven't gotten there yet. Now that I'm thinking about it I'm going to shoot for next Tuesday. I'll let you know.

Creativity Resources

A Workout For Geeks - Suggestions for making your workout less boring.

Geek Into Shape - A weekly workout for Twitter junkies.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Repost: I Had A Dream

I have weird dreams. I'm sort of used to them. Last night's was really weird. I very rarely dream about celebrities. And those dreams are never sexual. At all. That I had a dream about Bono is not strange. I'm a big fan. Many people I know are big fans. Even so this dream had me saying, "What the fuck?!!!"

In my dream, Bono was a werewolf. I can see Bono as a vampire (above?) but a werewolf?


It was a full moon and Bono escaped. I had to call animal control to tell them that my wolf cross dog was loose. I also said that he'd been abused by a previous owner so people should not get near him and they should use a tranquillizer gun.

Next I'm at the pound with a training collar and leash. Wolf Bono is still a bit groggy when I slip the collar (with his id tags - one a dog shaped tag with the name "Button" on it.) over his head. I then begin to treat him the way I treat PADS puppies. He has to "heel" (sit at my right side), "let's go" (walk at my side) and then sit. At one point he tried to go after something on the floor and I growled, "leave it" and gave him a major leash correction. I listen to the animal control officer lecture me about getting my dog neutered.

We were leaving the pound when dream ended.

I woke up shaking my head. Bono's wolf name is Button? Okay. I actually do know where that came from. I have a tendency to say that some guys are "cute as a button." Still, it's a very odd name for a wolf.

Some dream definitions

From Dream Moods:

To see a wolf in your dream, symbolizes beauty, solitude, mystery, self-confidence and pride. You are able to keep your composure in a variety of social situations and can blend in with any situation with ease and grace. You are a loner by choice. Negatively, it represents hostility and aggression. It may also reflect an uncontrollable force or situation in your life. In particular, if the wolf is white, then it signifies valor and victory. You have the ability to see the light even in your darkest hours. 

To see a werewolf in your dream, indicates that something in your life is not what it seems. 

From the now defunct Predictions: Dream Dictionary:

Dreaming of any particular celebrity often reveals a fantasy for friendship or romance. These dreams may also show a sense of being a peer or equal to that celebrity as if to say, "I can do that, too." A second aspect of this phenomenon is living vicariously through a celebrity. In this instance, people will assume a peculiar sense of participation with a public figure's success and notoriety. 

Of course, because today's media completely inundates the public with images and rumors of celebrities, they may appear in your dream simply as extraneous static. 

Ya Think?!

So I'm no further along at figuring out what that dream was trying to tell me. At least it was more interesting than my last "celebrity" dream.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Getting Creative - Week 35

That old cliché about the best laid plans bit me in the ass this week. Friday morning I was woken up by a fire alarm. As I stumbled my way down the stairs and out of the building I noticed water flowing where it shouldn't be. A contractor, working on the building's heating system, broke the sprinkler system sending gallons of water through the building.

I got lucky. The damage wasn't too bad. Still, I had to have a dehumidifier and two industrial fans installed. One was placed in my tiny bathroom. For the next three days I had the unique experience of doing my business in a wind tunnel. I was tempted to hang a sign saying “Gentlemen calls must remain seated during the entire performance.” Goddess knows some of them have bad aim at the best of times. The novelty wore off on the third morning when I got toothpaste in my eye. That stuff STINGS.

I was insanely happy when they took the fans out on Monday. With the noise and the workmen coming in and out I haven't spent a lot of time writing. I'm hoping that everything in my apartment will be done by this time next week. Fingers crossed.

This week's Card:
Celebrate Small Successes 
Although you may already have picked out something to wear to the Academy Awards or decided how you will spend your MacArthur Genius Award grant money, it's well worth celebrating the little successes that happen on the way. Since Carnegie Hall is already booked for many years out, you should celebrate the smaller milestones you have earned the hard way. From mastery that really difficult sonata to completing that book proposal, there are many accomplishments to be celebrated.

The week wasn't a total loss. I did write something other than blog posts. A friend sent me a short story... really just one scene, as a Christmas present. I decided to write another scene for his birthday. That gave me only two weeks to come up with an idea and get it done. True to my usual MO, I didn't even get it started until the day before his birthday. I did get it done so Yay Me!

Creativity Resources

30 Ways to Celebrate Your Successes – Some simple ideas for any size success.

40 Everyday Successes – There are things to celebrate every day.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Repost: I Lied

In the bunch of questions I posted a few days ago there was one about my first celebrity crush. Now that I've had time to think about it I realize that before Shaun Cassidy there was this man:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I think I fell in love with Matt Helm (America's answer to James Bond) at a very young age. Then I fell in love with Dean Martin's voice. I used to have a nightgown with a rabbit on it that said, "You're No Bunny Until Some Bunny Loves You."

To this day every time I hear "That's Amore" I get a craving for Pasta Fazool. I've got one right now. And that's bad because I don't have the makings.

Madison's Pasta Fazool


  • 1 cup dried white beans, such as cannellini or Great Northern, soaked overnight, or use canned and rinse well
  • 4 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving 
  • 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped 
  • 1/2 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped 
  • 1/2 celery rib, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 -2 garlic cloves to taste, minced 
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped ripe plum tomatoes or canned whole plum tomatoes, drained 
  • 1 fresh rosemary sprig, finely chopped 
  • 3 1/2 cups boiling water 
  • 1/3 package (lb) fusilli, small pasta shells, small ziti, or fettuccine or tagliatelle broken into roughly 2-inch lengths 
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 
  • 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • freshly grated Parmigiano cheese for garnish 


Drain the beans and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat and gently sauté the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the beans to the vegetables along with the tomatoes, rosemary, and about 3 cups boiling water.

Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, until the beans are tender - 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the age and size of the beans. Add more boiling water from time to time as necessary: the beans should always be covered with simmering liquid. (You can skip this step if using canned beans.)

When the beans are very tender, transfer about 2 cups beans and their liquid to a food processor and process to a thick puree. Or put them through the medium disk of a food mill.

Stir the puree back into the beans.

Add the pasta and another cup of boiling water to the beans in the pot. Cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and add salt and lots of black pepper.

Serve in a warm soup tureen or in individual warm bowls, garnished with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of parsley, and some Parmigiano.

Pass more cheese and olive oil with the soup.

I think I can trace my attraction to dark haired, dark eyed men to my grandmother's funeral. That was the first time I saw all of my mother's brothers in one place. Years later, when looking at pictures from the event, I discovered that they looked like a mafia convention. At the time I thought they were rather attractive. It's an image I've carried in my head all these years. 

Being attracted to men who look like my uncles might seem icky to some. At least I'm not attracted to men who look like my father. I've met plenty of those women even when they don't admit it, all you have to do is look at their boyfriends/husbands.

I don't know how my post about Dean Martin Lust turned into an examination of my psyche but there it is.

Reposts are posts written for previous journals or other places online that no longer exist.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Creative -- Week 34

Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidd...
Image via Wikipedia

The last card was about listening to your inner voices. I often have trouble when I write fiction. In the back of my mind is the idea that you have to write what people will read. You can't write for yourself because it's just a kind of literary masturbation. On the other hand if you're not writing what you like then why are you bothering? This debate goes on every time I start a project. The most common result is that I drop whatever it is I was working on.

This week's card:
Be Open To Adventure 
What do scaling a cliff, starting a painting, parachuting out of a plane, buying a kiln, and running a marathon have in common? They all take courage as well as commitment. Summoning the courage to try something new in the physical realm – something exciting and a little scary – helps strengthen the same muscles that boosts us to new creative heights. Dreaming of rafting down a river or trekking up a mountain? Say “yes” to that fantasy. Prove to yourself you can do it. You'll have the exhilaration of that success to draw on later, when you're gathering the confidence to write a screenplay that'll knock Spielberg’s socks off.

I live mostly in my head. I'm not really a very “physical” person at all. I never have been. I don't have a lot of fantasies in the “physical realm.” I'd like to travel someday but I have a very sedate idea of that too. I've been slowly gathering materials to paint with. Maybe this week I will give some thought as to what I would like to paint.

Creative Resources

How to be Adventurous – 9 easy steps to becoming more adventurous.

The Spirit of Adventure – A look at the psychology of adventure.

Getting Creative is a 52 week project where I will try to work my way through 52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity by Lynn Gordon. You're welcome to come along as I do a card a week for a year.

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Monday, January 2, 2012

What is real? Is it art?

On the last day of 2011 I had an interesting Facebook conversation with a Canadian musician who is currently on tour. I'd asked him what he thought of this:

His answer was quite passionate. The term "bullshit" was front and center. Did I mention he was the singer in a punk band? His feeling was that it was manipulative. While he eventually conceded that it is a form of creativity, he believes that there is no substitute for real interaction between the band and the audience.

I agree with him. Like I am with a lot of things, I'm of two minds. The geek in me says, "Cool!" I want to see just how far the technology can go. There's another side of me that thinks Hatsune Miku is souless.

"Real" musicians have made digital forays. Michael Buble currently has an avatar in CityVille. In 2008 U2 played a concert in Second Life. But that's different from a computer program creating a voice and another program creating visuals. 

Sometime in the night my subconscious reminded me that one member of the Japanese girl group AKB48, Aimi Eguchi, is a computer-generated avatar made from features of six of the other girls.

At first she was presented as just another new member of the band. Fans started getting suspicious when she was getting too much publicity. Eventually the band's management came clean. Were the fans upset? I couldn't find anything that said they were. Once the perfect pop singer was explained everything quieted down. Did I mention that AKB48 has multiple #1s in Japan?

Do people really care if it is real or not? Are music fans in Japan that different from the rest of the world? Thousands of people in LA paid around $50 a head to see the synthetic singer "live." I'm not sure I would. Maybe if Queen created a synthetic Freddie Mercury. He'd have to be damn good but my curiosity might make me shell out the dough. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Large Hadron Collider in Lego

Physicist Sascha Mehlhase spent 81 hours making a Large Hadron Collider out of Lego. Check it out at the  University of Copenhagen