22 December 2014

Map of the day: the rise of military spending in Africa

Global military spending is on the decline (largely thanks to the massive US budget falling). While spending in Europe flat-lined and the US goes down, the rest of the world is spending more each year. The map from the Economist shows changes in spending in African countries over the past decade.

I will allow smarter people than I to analyze what is happening and what it means. There are a few unexpected countries that are dark, at least to me.

19 December 2014

Should I still support/watch the NFL?

Andrew Forbes explains why he gave up on the NFL this year. This essay captures a lot of my feelings about the state of NFL and football as a sport. I have not forsaken it quite yet, but draw closer.
It’s a small, unimportant thing, the game of football, but for a long, long time, it was a large part of my life. Which inherently means that this exercise has been an inquiry into self, too; an effort to eliminate something dear from my life and gauge the results of its absence. Piecemeal self-negation, if you will. A slow removal of certain Jenga blocks in order to see how many can be taken away before I topple altogether.

But maybe it’s even more than that. Maybe I’m asking the question: Is it right for me to watch the NFL? Maybe it’s just reassuring to know that it’s okay to ask such questions.

There is no clear answer here, and that doesn’t much concern me; some things can’t or shouldn’t be clear, or definite. I can’t adequately define love, but I couldn’t live in a universe devoid of it. Perhaps the point of such self-inquiry is to silently arrive at greater awareness, and then to assimilate that knowledge without proselytizing to our fellow citizens. For each of us to arrive at these things independently, in our own private darknesses. I guess that’s possible. If so, I have to accept the possibility that by broadcasting my journey into self-discovery here, you might deem my inquiry to have been a futile one.

And that’s fine by me.

15 December 2014

Weigh in: UNICEF's South Sudan campaign and videogamers

UNICEF has a new campaign video showing it presenting a "game" about a South Sudanese refugee girl at a big gamer conference. People get upset, some walk out and new people learn about the hardship faced by people displaced due to conflict. It is an interesting idea, but does it work? My feelings are mixed, but take a look and tweet at me (@viewfromthecave) with your thoughts.

Provocative visuals touch on the humanitarian sector

A series of rather provocative images by Spanish artist Luis Quiles were recently featured on Elite Daily (a new site to me, too). They offer various social commentary, with a fair bit of sexuality in many of the prints. Two of the ones highlighted stood out for crossing over into depictions of Africa. Here they are and the accompanying descriptions from Quiles:

This work is a critic about religious establishment who use religion all around they find misery to get more believers. This people don't need a holy book, don't need a fake God, don't need a fake hope. This people need a real hope, a real education, they need schools, FOOD, medicines, preservatives...They need a real future, not a fake truth.
Kid soldier (no description included)

14 December 2014

When Wall Street and philanthropy went on a date

ProPublica keeps taking a bite out of the wider charitable sector. This time, it turns to donor-advised funds. As a young person with not much money to kick around, this is a new concept to me. Here is their set up of the problem:
For about 40 years, charitable giving held steady at about 2 percent of gross domestic product, while donations from individuals have stayed at around 2 percent of disposable personal income, according to Ray D. Madoff, a Boston College law professor and frequent critic of donor-advised funds.

Over the last few years, the donor-advised funds have grabbed significant market share. The total amount of assets under management at donor-advised funds rose to $54 billion in 2013, up 20 percent from $45 billion a year earlier. Fidelity's alone have skyrocketed to $13.2 billion.

Contributions to donor-advised funds rose 24 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, to $17 billion. They only gave out less than $10 billion, so money is building up in them. And the amount paid out each year declined in each of the last three years through 2013, according to Alan Cantor, who runs a philanthropy consultancy and is a frequent critic of donor-advised funds.
The decline in money available is certainly concerning, but that is based on a lot of assumptions. Chief among them is that all money is well spent. There are some worrisome incentives here and an issue of witholding money that can generate long term impact, but spending is not the biggest problem when it comes to creating impact. At least that is in my estimation.

Anyway, the story is worth reading in full.

03 December 2014

New campaign tells the stories of Ebola survivors

A new campaign shares the stories of the West Africans who survived Ebola. While stories have talked about the survivors, the stigma they face and the important role they play in the response due to their acquired immunity, the stories of their experiences are lacking. #ISurvivedEbola just released its first video as a part of its transmedia campaign to share the stories of the survivors. In this video, we meet William and his son Patrick. The Liberians describe their experience with Ebola and how it has claimed the lives of 14 family members, including William's wife. See more stories here.

HT GlobalVoices

02 December 2014

Is development policy futile? A good argument for yes

I tend to place myself in the category of a tempered skeptic when it comes to international development and aid. Both are quite different, I know, but I remain optimistic that there are things the world can do to help reduce suffering and improve the lives of the world's poorest people. With all of that said, enter Marc Bellemare with a smart blog post describing why he thinks development policy is futile. He makes a good case.

So in sum, even if you know with certainty what kind of policy intervention a city, region, or country needs to develop in the foreseeable future (and that is a big if considering that there is generally a trade-off between internal validity — credible estimates of causal effect — and external validity — how widely those estimates apply — and considering the complex environment in which development policy is implemented), on a long enough timeline, that policy intervention will no longer be the right thing to do.

This wouldn’t be so bad if development policy could be changed seamlessly, but in a world of finite resources, adopting new development policies usually means letting entire industries die off because other countries are much better at it than you are, and supporting them would be like keeping a terminally ill patient who is suffering on life support indefinitely. People in the industries that have to be let go of will typically fight tooth and nail to keep their subsidies, benefits, and what they have come to see as entitlements.

So what are development wonks to do? “Nothing” does not seem like an option, especially given that chronic economic underdevelopment is, at least in theory, the result of multiple market failures which have to be overcome simultaneously, and that coordination failures often prevent us from doing that. So the right solution might well be to build enough flexibility in development policy, and codify that flexibility into whatever law allocates subsidies and benefits to specific industries. The kind of flexibility I have in mind would mean that subsidies and benefits would be terminated by law when it becomes obvious that an industry has outlived its usefulness. But codifying that kind of flexibility into specific economic rules and regulations has to be industry-specific, and therefore extremely difficult. All of this points to the futility of development policy.

Definitely read the full thing. I am curious to hear from others what they think about Marc's ideas.