31 January 2011

Donation Based Film Journey

A Girl Story is a very clever 'donation based film journey' by Nanhi Kali.  Each short video makes up the story of the young girl Tala.  For each chapter to be shown, a certain donation mark must be reached.  Presently 8 of the 11 videos have been unlocked with $1000 worth of donations.  So far, the project has raised over $4,000.

In addition to being a clever campaign, they have done good job of using the stream of youtube videos to connect in success.  Placed in a horizontal line, each video transitions from one to the next with action moving directly between the two panes.  I do not know too much about the foundation, but think the campaign in terms of creating engagement is very savvy.  What if an NGO took it to the next level and offered a documentary in a similar format?

Gates on Polio

This is worth keeping an eye on this morning. At 9:30AM tomorrow the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will have a webcast discussing polio.
Bill Gates will join global leaders to discuss what the past can teach us about protecting children around the world from polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases. The event will be moderated by ABC World News anchor Diane Sawyer, and speakers include:

30 January 2011

New Happenings

I am going to be producing "The Healthy Dose" each morning along with Mark Goldberg for Population Services International.  The format will be a collection of about 10 global health stories from the previous day.  As it is published on their Healthy Lives blog I will provide a daily post that links over.  So, check out the PSI blog each morning to see some of the latest going on in global health.

You can find the premiere post here.

28 January 2011

Mubarak Solving Your Internet Problems

President Mubarak of Egypt just shrugged off internet problems telling people that they should turn their routers off and on again. Maybe he can learn a thing or two from the IT Crowd.

Quote of the Day

The last thing I want to do is be a PhD who passes the buck on to the next generation. I know I can't single-handedly do it, but I want to be part of the generation that realizes this goal. And I think I can help realize this goal by sharing that message that we can end extreme poverty, that it doesn't take a lot to make a big difference.

-Shawn Ahmed aka UnCultured speaking to CBC as he gets ready to go to Davos

Shawn and I have had some friendly sparring on twitter, but I do have to congratulate him for being invited to Davos. However, I do not think that PhDs necessarily 'pass the buck on to the next generation.' I am going to assume he did not mean it that way, but there are plenty of PhDs doing some very important research in international development.  Just ask CGDev, J-PAL, IPA, Aid Watchers, Owen Barder, Chris Blattman, Esther Duflo and many more.

Is Haiti a "Money Pit?"

A commenter in my post about Haiti in the Huffington Post wrote the following:
I am no longer interested in Haiti. I feel that the U.S. has enough problems.

Haiti is a money pit. I am asking all readers to consider this question: Is America so rich, so unencumber­ed [sic] with debt, so wonderfull­y equal in its distributi­on of wealth, that we can afford to throw endless sums of money and manpower into a country that has clearly shown itself to be a failure?
Last week, I wrote a bit about a study which tested donors and their propensity to support disasters through donations as opposed to ongoing issues that are a part of poverty in general. The authors of the study connected the findings to the just-world fallacy, but Joe and Don pointed out that the connection was dubious at best as there was little found that actually pointed directly to the actions of the donors and the belief in a just world. It is possible that it contributed, but also possible that it did not.

So, how can we reach out to people who see Haiti as a "money pit?"

Rand Paul's Take on Foreign Assistance

Rand Paul wants to cut foreign aid, amongst a few other things, and gives the the following reason:
Despite billions of dollars spent in attempts to prop up economically weak countries, U.S. foreign aid has had almost an opposite effect. In the 1990s, a Clinton administration task force found that despite decades of foreign assistance, most of Africa and parts of Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East are economically worse off today than they were 20 years ago. In 2000, the Meltzer Commission found that the World Bank and organizations like it spent record levels backing projects in developing nations, only to have 55 to 60 percent of them fail because the money went to poorly managed economies where the money was either squandered by corrupt officials or imprudently spent.

27 January 2011

NPR Covers Slum Dog Tourism

NPR covers the rise of slum tourism in the short period after the success of Slumdog Millionaire.
The 18-year-old guide, Satender Sharma, is a former street kid himself, so he knows firsthand about the perils and freedoms of living by your wits in the city.

"In this walk," he promises, "I will tell you more about the street life, how children comes on the street, what they are doing." He does it with a deadpan, teasing wit that only fades when he tells how he ran away from home at the age of 11 to escape an abusive father.

"My father used to beated up all our family," he says. "He is taking alcohol. One day he beated my mom very badly, and he killed her."
and continues...

Map of the Day - Global Research Collaboration

Olivier H. Beauchesne put together a map, like the Facebook Friendship Map, that measures collaboration between scientific researchers from 2005 to 2009.

 The map is high resolution, so click in and have a look.

How Much Did Your Education Cost?

A bit like the Lottery of Life done by Save the Children (which I liked as a concept, but did not as a billboard campaign), Building Tomorrow has put together a similar tool which calculates the price of an American education.

Born in 1985 and attending public schools in New Jersey, my education from 1st to 7th grade, according to the tool cost $96,670. They juxtapose this with their estimated cost of $350 per "Building Tomorrow Student in Uganda." It is definitely quite striking and I know that the number jumps even further as my pre-k to kindergarten years as well as secondary through college years are added to the total.

What I would like to see is more information that explains why it cost so much for my education and then some data about the social and economic value of my education. In other words, what is the return on all that money the state of NJ has spent on me. That would require a lot more data and work, but it would probably hit home the economics and importance of such an investment.

How much was your education?*

Note: I do not know anything about Building Tomorrow, just think the tool is neat. Please leave any thoughts about the organization in the comment section if you have a familiarity with their programs. The point of the post is not to support them, but to point out a clever awareness tactic.

*Don't worry, you do not have to share your birthday.

26 January 2011

Coordinating and Watchdoging Haiti

Saundra does an informative pair of interviews for Utah Public Radio with Nigel Fisher, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN in Haiti and Karl Jean-Louis, the Executive Director of the Haiti Aid Watchdog that is worth listening to.  The discussions touch on the important issues of coordinating the relief and recovery effort in Haiti as well as keeping NGOs honest and open in regards to what is happening on the ground.

Saundra has done two programs thus far for UPR and they have been some of the most informative discussions in regards to Haiti that I have heard in the past year.  There have been a lot of good tweets and blog posts that cover many of these issues, but it is a shift to hear the discussions on media that is meant to reach the greater public.  Keep an eye out for Saundra's shows and I will try to share them here as they come out.

Note: I cannot seem to get the show to not auto-play, so please forgive this error.  I have added a jump to prevent it from playing every time someone comes to my page.

American Voters Don't Care

...too much about foreign policy.  It was all about the economy and last night's State of the Union showed just that.

It is absolutely understandable, but if Obama wants to make meaningful cuts into the DoD, shouldn't he spend a little more time talking about American foreign policy?  The Bush levels are notably inflated, but coming below most of Clinton's presidency while fighting a war in Afghanistan is a bit off.  The economy had to play a large role in the speech last night and that should account for less time spent on foreign policy, but Obama missed yet another chance to emphasize the fact that domestic cuts will see little change in the deficit.

Who Said This?

My task is to inform, to create awareness of the needs of children. It would be nice to be an expert on education, economics, politics, religions, traditions and cultures. I'm none of those. But I am a mother and I will travel.
Answer After the Jump

25 January 2011

Quote of the Day - Dani Rodrick

HT Ezra Klein

Pictures of the Day - Côte d'Ivoire Elections

Young men hold hands as they stand in front of a street fire set by supporters of opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara in protest of incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo's refusal to leave office, in the Koumassi neighborhood of Abidjan, Ivory Coast December 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) #

An unexploded grenade lies on a street in the Abobo neighborhood of Abidjan January 11, 2011. Police raided the neighborhood, which is loyal to Alassane Ouattara in the early morning hours leaving at least four dead. (Jane Hahn for the New York Times) #

Both via the always great Boston Big Picture

Dear Global Fund, It's Not Easy Being Green

John Heilprin of the AP reports:
A $21.7 billion development fund backed by celebrities and hailed as an alternative to the bureaucracy of the United Nations sees as much as two-thirds of some grants eaten up by corruption, The Associated Press has learned. 
Much of the money is accounted for with forged documents or improper bookkeeping, indicating it was pocketed, investigators for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria say. Donated prescription drugs wind up being sold on the black market.
He continues to list off the findings through the internal audit and it is well worth reading the article.  Then follow it up with reading this post from William Savedoff of the Center for Global Development who says:
When I read the story, though, it didn’t contradict my previous blog. Rather, it demonstrated why it is so difficult for us to have serious discussions about corruption in global health aid.

To be gripping, headlines and articles tend toward the dramatic side of any story with a strong temptation to exaggerate. Yet, the true dimensions of corruption are rarely known because we only hear about the few programs that report problems. So how are we to know what’s really going on?
Celebrity bashing has been and can be quite fun, but I will not do that today. Rather, I will point out the fact that corruption can take place anywhere and with any organization. The Global Fund hoped to be a workaround solution to the UN and it seems that this audit has exposed why things are so slow.

This ties back to the DIY debate. Part of the reason that things operate as they do is because NGOs have adapted and learned how to be more effective over time. They are not perfect by any means, but the hurdles which are encountered are due to findings like what the Global Fund has now learned.

In short, it's not easy being green.

24 January 2011

Photo of the Day - #SWEDOW in Brazil

Volunteers stack up donations at a Red Cross relief station in Teresopolis, Brazil on January 19, 2011. (VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images) #

via Boston Big Picture

Collier vs The Economist (or Moyo vs the World)

Provocative economist Dambisa Moyo burst onto the scene with 'Dead Aid' and has followed up quickly with her most recent book titled "How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly—and the Stark Choices Ahead." Her first book general received positive reviews from those who were newer to the topic and mixed reviews from those within the aid community. It became easy to accuse those within the aid community of wanting to save their own jobs.

However, it looks like the newest book from Moyo might have vindicated such critics. The economist writes a scathing review that kicks off with the title "How the reader was lost" and questions Moyo's ability to understand basic economics, saying:

21 January 2011

Tracking the MDGs

The Center for Global Development has put together a map of the world which allows people to check the progress of each country trying to achieve each of the Millennium Development Goals. If you go to the site, you can click around and see progress based for each country or break it down by individual goal.

Tracking Aid Projects - Development Loop

Development Loop has been entered by AidData into the World Bank Apps for Development Challenge and I think that this is a great idea. The practical use of this is that if it can include as many programs as possible with recent data, it could provide a resource which tracks what is actually being done in international development. More to the point, it can let someone who is interested in supporting a specific project in a specific region to know what already exists. If used properly, this can be a tool for potential DIYers and NGO start-ups where they can see if the problem that they perceive a need to be filled is already being addressed by another NGO in the area. This could then lead to greater collaboration and sharing of knowledge.

All in all, I am very excited about the potential for this application.

20 January 2011

Photo of the Day - Man with Bread Gun

A Tunisian demonstrator holds his breadstick like a weapon in front of riot police during a protest against the country's new government in Tunis on January 18, 2011. (FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images) #
Be sure to see all the photos from Boston Big Picture here.

19 January 2011

Haiti: Pointing Fingers and Embracing Failure

Stories about relief and reconstruction in Haiti after the earthquake have been overwhelmingly dominated by a simple narrative: "Haiti is failing and it is the fault of ___." Oxfam, for example, tell us that it is Bill Clinton who has "failed Haiti." But while many have been quick to point fingers and assign blame for the slow speed of recovery in Haiti, this can dangerously lead to a poorly-informed public and a skewed set of incentives for donors and NGOs.

Read the Rest at the Huffington Post

Special thanks to the Guardian, J, and Jina Moore for editorial advice

Of Course! People Donate More to Disaster Victims.

Joe Turner brought to my attention a study from Royal Holloway, University of London revealed:
[P]eople are more likely to donate to victims of disasters that are perceived to have natural causes, such as floods or earthquakes, rather than humanly caused factors.
The findings show that people are more willing to part with their cash for victims of disasters such as the Tsunami, Haiti earthquake or more recently the floods in Australia and Brazil. But there is a reluctance to donate to victims of humanly caused events such as wars or civil conflict, such as the Darfur crisis, because those victims are blamed more for their plight even if they are objectively blameless. 
Dr Hanna Zagefka, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, explains: “In line with the ‘Just World Belief’ hypothesis, people have an inherent need to believe that the world is just, and so the suffering of innocents calls into question this just world belief. In order to protect it, people try to construe suffering as just whenever possible, and generally humanly caused events provide more opportunity for victim blame than naturally caused events. In addition, the research shows that victims of natural disasters are generally also perceived to make more of an effort to help themselves, and people like to ‘reward’ those who are proactive by donating to them.”

18 January 2011

Haiti Evaluation Resource

For research nerds, such as myself, this is a very exciting idea and website:
The Office for Haiti is an activity of the Culture in Global Affairs program (CIGA), and is supported by the Elliott School of International Affairs and its Institute for Global and International Studies. The Office for Haiti is dedicated to increasing, analyzing and sharing social science knowledge for development in Haiti.

The Office for Haiti has begun building a database of evaluations of foreign aid programs and projects in Haiti. This searchable electronic library is open to the public.

We seek your contributions to building the collection and your suggestions for its improvement. The database will provide an archive of evaluations that will support future analyses of the effectiveness of various approaches to development through foreign aid. Our early endeavors focused on human development projects including health, housing and women's projects.

Through its parent organization, CIGA, the Office for Haiti sponsors public events about Haiti. Two events held during 2010 are available for viewing through the Elliott School's Web Video Initiative.

IBM's Watson vs. The World

**Tech Nerd Alert**

I think this is fascinating how algorithms were written to make a computer which can successfully compete on Jeopardy. Imagine this kind of knowledge used for search engines. Some already do it a bit, but this is a whole different level of advancement.

17 January 2011

Quote of the Day - Duncan Green

Funding actions to prevent and respond to sexual violence is important. But too much focus on sexual violence as the latest hot topic ignores the problems as communities actually experience them and the far reaching political change needed to stop all forms of violence. We need to listen to communities describe their experience of violence and engage accordingly. We need governments, both DRC and donor countries to engage politically. And then, maybe, we will see the lives of men and women, old and young, start to improve.
Duncan Green writes today that 'Rape is Not the Only Story in Congo' and I am glad to see that the issue so simplified by Enough and Invisible Children starts to get a little more information.  I think his conclusions are dead on.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Ben Harper sings Like a King into I'll Rise. Seems like a song about Dr. King that segues into a poem by Maya Angelou (read it below) is perfect for today.

The Economist compares US states GDP and Population to Countries around the World

The Economist compares US states GDP and population to countries around the world. A very neat interactive map that they have allowed to be embedded, so the one above is not a simple image, so play around with it a bit.
Which countries match the GDP and population of America's states?

IT HAS long been true that California on its own would rank as one of the biggest economies of the world. These days, it would rank eighth, falling between Italy and Brazil on a nominal exchange-rate basis. But how do other American states compare with other countries? Taking the nearest equivalent country from 2009 data reveals some surprises. Who would have thought that, despite years of auto-industry hardship, the economy of Michigan is still the same size as Taiwan's?

HT Brett Keller

16 January 2011

Quote of the Day

[H]elp people because they are people, not because you hope it will make them like you. Effective disaster relief may indeed win hearts and minds – but if its recipients begin to suspect they are pawns in a public relations game, effective disaster relief will be all the harder to provide.
-Tim Harford in Financial Times

15 January 2011

Owen Barder at the EWB Conference

"Aid works, but not as it should," starts Owen Barder in his remarks to Engineers Without Boarders Kumvana Conference taking place in Toronto this weekend. Do watch the talk he gives so you can not only see his Hans Rosling impression, but hear his thoughts on the current state of aid. Sadly, his slides are not available, but Owen is usually quick to share the slides from his talk and I am hoping that he will do the same for this one.

I will probably post some more videos from the conference as I watch them. I am hoping that the one from Scott Gilmore of PDT will be shared as I am interested in hearing his experiences with their recent failure report.

CSIS Chat with Côte d'Ivoire President-elect Alassane Ouattara

A discussion with the President-elect Alassane Ouattara of Côte d'Ivoire held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Moderated by:
Jennifer Cooke
Director, CSIS Africa Program

Followed by a panel discussion with:
Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh
Senior Associate and Regional Director for Central and West Africa
National Democratic Institute

Akwe Amosu
Director of African Advocacy
Open Society Foundation

Worth a watch.

14 January 2011

Is This (Animal) Poverty Porn?

The equivalent video for an NGO would be decried as 'poverty porn' by people (and likely myself). So, if I hold an organization, such as Smile Train, to a higher standard with the argument that it is exploitative of children and sends the wrong message, should it apply here?

13 January 2011

You Can't Say He Doesn't Know What He Is Talking About

George Clooney speaks with President Carter and shows that he seems to know what he is talking about. I have been as critical of him as any other of the Satellite Sentinel Project, but his understanding should not be glossed over, laughed at, or ignored.  This is beyond caring and good intentions, Clooney must be recognized for learning and listening, the very things that he should be doing.

Technology and Haiti Relief

A very neat infographic (click on it to see it close up) from the Knight Foundation that shows how "New Technologies Helped in Novel Ways with Haiti Earthquake Relief."
Relief workers used innovative technologies in unprecedented ways to aid in the recovery of quake-ravaged Haiti, a new report has found.
Interactive maps and SMS (Short Message Service) texts helped guide search-and-rescue teams and find people in need of critical supplies, as the Caribbean nation became a real-world laboratory for new communication tools.
HT Paul Clammer

12 January 2011

Haiti: Less Words, More Pictures

Pictures taken from Boston Big Picture. Be sure to see the whole thing here.

Transparency Lessons From Facebook

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Anti-Social Network
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook
What should you not do when trying to appear as an organization that is about "the people?" Hide how you are delivering services. No, it is not USAID (who is getting better), but Facebook who wants to know everything about your life to be shared with strangers and companies as long as it can hide in the dark. If you are not hiding anything, then why not be a little more transparent? After taking a hit or two over the changes of privicy policy (which was overblown), maybe it is in the interest of Facebook to be proactive?

HT Ezra Klein

11 January 2011

Quote of the Day - Krugman

My vision of economic morality is more or less Rawlsian: we should try to create the society each of us would want if we didn’t know in advance who we’d be.

Paul Krugman today

Clooney has a Win-Win

CNN's Fareed Zakaria interviews (jump to min 25) George Clooney and John Prendergast on Sunday discuss the Satellite Sentinel Project. The most interesting point comes when Zakaria asks Clooney if he hopes if the pressure of knowing that the images are being taken will cause a change in actions and Clooney responds with, "we don't care." Zakaria then follows up by asking what Clooney things will be difference since satellite images have been used before in Darfur and other instances. The response from Clooney is that this time they are ahead of the game and will be more proactive. Lastly, it is interesting when Clooney points out the advantage of Enough not being a state so that they can easily set up such a project. Clooney and Prendergast see this as a clear advantage, but the DIY debate has hashed out already how there can be equal drawbacks.

In the end we will just have to wait and see how this all plays out. Regardless of what happens, I am sure that Enough will call this a success. If nothing happens they will say that they successfully deterred activities. If something happens but it is not bad, it will also be a success. Even if civil war breaks out, they will say that they had the proof. Either way, there is no way anyone can accuse them of crying wolf because all results will lead to a positive outcome. Hopefully this does put pressure on Sudan and deters action, but I do not think that will be enough.

(pun intended)

10 January 2011

Quote of The Day

“I’m sick of it,” he said. “If your cynicism means you stand on the sidelines and throw stones, I’m fine, I can take it. I could give a damn what you think. We’re trying to save some lives. If you’re cynical enough not to understand that, then get off your ass and do something. If you’re angry at me, go do it yourself. Find another cause – I don’t care. We’re working, and we’re going forward.”
-George Clooney discussing criticism of his Satellite Sentinel Project to Geoffrey York of the Globe and Mail

Photo Credit: Pete Muller/AP

09 January 2011

Video of the Day: National Geographic Does 7 Billion

Mark Goldberg posted this first, but I had to as well.  It is that interesting.  We will hit 7 billion people at the end of the year.  Watch the above video to learn more about what that means.
Most interesting statistic – 7 billion people standing shoulder to shoulder would fill the city of Los Angeles.  There are not as many of us as it might seem (or Earth is huge).

08 January 2011

Radiohead for Haiti

Radiohead held an impromptu concert to raise money for Haiti last January and have now released the 'DVD' for a free download.  Like In Rainbows, the offering is technically free with a request to support Oxfam America to 'pay' for the DVD.  Though it is certainly raw (Thom Yorke asks for forgiveness from the crowd as they are in the album recording mentality), there is something rare about seeing the guys playing some of their best tracks (Exit Music, How to Disappear Completely, Paranoid Android, Fake Plastic Trees) with little preparation.

This is a must watch for a Radiohead fan.

If you want to save the download, here is the concert in its entirety via YouTube:

Amazon Affiliates

In order to defray the very small costs of this blog and possibly bring in a little money to allow me to attend more conferences, I have decided to join as an Amazon affiliate.  You all can show your support for AVFTC by clicking through the link on the right hand side to do your Amazon shopping.  It is that simple.  Thanks for your continued support.

07 January 2011

American Volunteers Drop In To Rescue Haiti

Dateline might be doing everyone a favor with a special that shows exactly what not to do.

In a powerful episode of Dateline, Ann Curry travels to the remote hills of Haiti, following a group of American volunteers on a risky rescue mission as they take a giant leap into the unknown to save lives and transform the village of Medor. Airing Sunday, January 9th at 7pm/6c, Curry reports on how the fight to save this village is also a fight against time. Dateline cameras follow this group of brave volunteers as they parachute into Medor, treat more than a thousand people suffering from cholera and other diseases, and build an airstrip on tough, impenetrable terrain in the hope that it will help connect this isolated village to the outside world. With the odds against them, they must complete their mission in just 12 days.

Going to reserve full judgment until I actually watch it. It looks bad, real bad, but it is not fair to really comment without knowing the exact situation that gave cause to the actions of the group. However, the video sure does make it sound like a bunch of Americans decided to take action into their own hands and show up to save a village. If it is nothing more than that there are some potential problems.  I am holding out with the hope that my instincts are wrong.

HT Tales From The Hood

….and if you do not like skydivers but like surfers, "Eat your heart out Nicholas Kristof. Dude!".

I Trust Her Analysis

Prof Laura Seay over at Morehouse tweets:

Texas Sudan

She knows what she is talking about and I trust her analysis.

Quote of the Day - Paul Currion

Because the one thing we can never get enough of is Whites in Shining Armour. The real reason why there’s a human resources problem in aid and peacekeeping is because we don’t trust, value or promote national staff quickly enough or far enough to fill the gaps that we know exist.
- Paul Currion commenting on Scott Gilmore's optimistic post about 'Off the Map'

06 January 2011

Donor Money Used "For The Cure"

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Tip/Wag - Susan G. Komen Foundation & Spider-Man Musical<a>
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>March to Keep Fear Alive

Colbert gives a tip of his hat to the Susan G. Komen for the cure foundation for their dedication to suing other organizations who use the phrase 'for the cure.' Laura Bassett reports for the Huffington Post:
So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure--and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground. 
Blum told HuffPost that legal fees comprise a "very small part" of Komen's budget, but according to Komen's financial statements, such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds. 
Komen is sounding like the Monsanto of nonprofits. Maybe Gates will partner with them as well...

05 January 2011

Daily Funny

In the January 3rd edition of the New Yorker.

Constructive Criticism and A Resolution(ish thing)

The best analysis of aid blogging yet comes from Matt at Aid Thoughts (and it applies to me as much as everyone else):
5. The aid/development blogging community is becoming less apt at meaningful debate than it is at self-congratulatory criticism of outsiders.
While social media developments like Twitter have brought us closer as a community, such proximity has done little to foster new and interesting ideas. With some exceptions, 2010 was a rehash of old ideas, with much blogging (including this blog) dedicated harping on those who lacked appreciation of ideas we found sacred. We spent very little time testing those ideas and bouncing them off of each other, instead joining each other in various wars on outside laymen. While I wouldn't expect to see the same cutthroat back-and-forth visible in strictly academic circles, I do believe you can find more heat on the Star Wars message boards than you can in the average development blogging debate.

We should aspire to be islands of critical thought which more likely to spar with each other than slap each other on the back. Part of the joy of blogging is sharing new, interesting ideas, then viciously tearing them apart.

I have tried not to fall into the above trap, but it is easy as it is hard to take criticism. At times I want to push things a bit but I admit to being a bit reserved from time to time. Not one who makes resolutions, but I would have to say mine for the year will be to try to be a bit more forward and offer commentary that will be more forward without being confrontational. It is possible (and likely) I will fall back into old habits, so please feel free to hold my feet to the fire. All I ask in return are constructive comments.

04 January 2011

DMB and The Grateful Dead (non aid post)

I threaten in my about section to write posts that are not about aid and development at my whim.  I have not really done that, but I am changing pace today after reading Concerted Effort: The Dave Matthews Band shows how to make money in the music industry by Annie Lowrey for Slate. As an avid fan of both acts who came too late to see The Dead before the death of Garcia (I refuse to see a show of them in other incarnations although I have seen RatDog when I worked security at the Palladium), but having seen DMB numerous (let's just leave it as 20+ times) I feel somewhat qualified to address the issue.

All in all I think Lowery makes a good assessment of the state of the music industry and the success that DMB have found through touring, but it was this passage which ruffled me a bit:

In many ways, DMB is their inheritor: a serious touring band that has caringly cultivated a devoted fan base and ended up becoming an industry anchor.

This is just plain wrong. The connection between DMB and The Dead is pretty thin when taking a look at what influenced the two acts, style, fan base, etc. DMB has sold millions of records and have produced strong albums. They have not seen this in record sales, but fans of the band will recognize this. On the other hand, Deadheads will skip studio albums for live tapes and albums. The best Dead album (in my opinion) is easily Europe '72. The best by DMB is (again, my opinion) Before These Crowded Streets.

Both bands are at their best when seen live, but the DMB experience is largely tied to the show experience as well as the music. The Dead had the experience as well as the stand alone jams which could be listened to ad infinitum. A better band to call the "inheritor" of The Dead is Phish. A band which has grown simply by touring and with nearly no commercial success. Phish fans will not talk about the greatness of Junta, but the transcendence of NYE '95 at MSG. This is a band with essentially no radio airplay who has built its success on long jams, live shows and constant touring (yes there was a hiatus and semi-break up, but they toured for nearly 20 years straight before that.

Although they have not made nearly the same amount of money as DMB, they have drawn on the same rabid fans as The Dead. Take a walk down the aptly named "Shakedown Street" before a Phish concert and you will see the community that has been formed amongst fellow fans as they sell shirts, drugs, food and beer. Do the same for DMB and you will find beer pong, flip cup, corn hole and the like (some a Phish concernts but not nearly the same extent).

I understand what Lowery is trying to do and she does start with the qualifier before her statement, but I think that there are many bands who are a better fit (re: Disco Biscits, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic) than DMB.

Keeping things light, this is the best song written by The Grateful Dead:

Still Not About Us

A great post by Crystal Hayling (do read the whole thing) for The Center for Effective Philanthopy titled Whose Volunteer Experience Is This Anyway? I have said before that it is not about us and this post does a great job of addressing the same idea.

But, she then went on to explain, the trip had all but been ruined by the fact that when they arrived the locals took the books and materials they’d brought and proceeded to build the structures themselves. Her kids, who had planned what they wanted to do and how they would direct the building process, were sidelined by locals who took over and did all the work themselves. Her kids were invited to participate, but they weren’t allowed to lead “their” projects. The goal of the trip, she complained, had been for her kids to feel how they could make a difference and this experience hadn’t provided that at all. “Overall, it left a bad taste in their mouths for future volunteer work,” she concluded.

It was then that I yelled, “It’s not about you!”

In my head.

Aloud, I asked her politely, “Whose volunteer experience is this anyway?”

HT Alanna and Shotgunshack

Clooney's Satellites

This is an excellent interview from ABC of George Clooney and John Prendergast about their decision to spend $750,000 to use satellites to monitor and record the border of Sudan and South Sudan for the next six months.

I argued that celebrities can be most effective by using their status to bring attention to an issue and it seems that is what Clooney is doing. During the interview he points out that have been human rights violations and there is a need for people to know what is going on and governments to act differently. This general appeal is the perfect way to bring forth the issue while allowing those with a greater understanding of the situation/region to provide policy suggestions.

It feels like I am rarely positive here, but I have to commend Clooney. The utility of the satellites is up for debate, but I like what I am hearing. How about you, what do you think of the new Clooney? Also, do you think that the images captured will in fact provide the necessary evidence to cause nations to act differently?

HT UN Dispatch

I took a little risk / Send [lawyers, guns and] money

Tina Rosenberg reports for the New York Times on the successes of conditional cash transfers in Brazil.

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow.

03 January 2011

ABC and Gates Garner $500k After First Special

On December 17, the year long ABC News/Gates Foundation special "Be the Change: Save a Life" premiered with a 40 minute special that covered topics across the world addressing global health.  ABC is now reporting the success of the show:
The response from viewers was overwhelming. In the first week after the special aired, nearly 10,000 people donated more than $500,000 to organizations working on problems highlighted in "Be the Change: Save a Life"
I am still a bit hesitant about the partnership, but I am happy to see that people watched the show and took action after seeing the innovative actions of some around the world.  However, the theme of "Whites in Shining Armor" persists and that is a bit troubling ("We'll be back with more smiles for more kids around the world in a moment," says Sawyer going to commercial break ).  I can only hope that this will shift throughout the series.  Kristof addressed the issue of connecting audience to story through an American protagonist and I can understand the utility of the action if it is done in an intentional manner which will lead to a shift of Western-centric reporting to local.  For example, it would be great to see this series have features that are populated by mostly local action taking place in communities.

All in all, I will admit that it is not fair to fully evaluate the series based on the first episode, speculation and my concerns.  I want to mostly focus on the ability bring about action as evidenced by the outpouring of giving.  Although I am a little pessimistic as this is the season for giving.  So, it will be worth seeing the long term impact of the series and the trends of giving based on subjects and timing for the episodes.

Grey's Anatomy goes to the Third World

Are you gonna watch Off the Map next Wednesday?

Welcome to "la ciudad de las estrellas" (the city of stars), a tiny town in the South American jungle which has one understaffed, under-stocked medical clinic. That's where idealistic young Dr. Lily Brenner just landed, along with fellow doctors Mina Minard and Tommy Fuller. All of these young doctors are running away from personal demons, but they aren't the only ones with emotional baggage. Take the legendary and enigmatic Ben Keeton, who was the youngest Chief of Surgery at UCLA. He walked away from it all to found the clinic. Together with his right-hand doctor, Otis Cole, the mysterious Dr. Ryan Clark and local doctor Zita Alvarez, he'll teach the newcomers how to save lives in the most challenging environment they've ever worked in—while taking them on adventures of a lifetime.

In this ensemble drama, six doctors who have lost their way will go to the ends of the earth to try to remember the reasons why they wanted to become doctors in the first place.

01 January 2011

Thank You!

I wanted to thank my readers who have stuck with me as well as those who have just come across this blog.  In the month of June, I had 850 page views and 600 unique visitors.  By all accounts, I was doing well.  I have seen consistent growth this year and had a December that saw over 9,000 page views and over 6,000 visitors.  It blows me away to see the growth of support in just 6 months.  So, I want to take a moment to say thank and express my hope that I can continue to learn from all of you.
Thank you and happy New Year.