This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Reflecting and Looking Forward
2012 will be will be eventful. We will have consequential elections in China, Russia and the United States of America.
As always we will have to deal with range of disasters, both natural like earthquakes and man made like famine. More dictators will fall and more economies will spin into turmoil.
At a personal level we all will have our moments of triumph, deep hurt and grief. And for some of us we will come close or encounter our own mortality.
And to you all, here is 2012 with some tears and lots of laughter.
But it is a wonderful world, and its all we have.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Roman Politics and the Triumph of Christianity
There was no room in the Inn and behold a child was born in a manger. Wise men and humble shepherds bowed in adoration. But with the birth of a child, an empire was threatened and a King sought to commit murder.
For many centuries, the Romans worshipped legion of deities – gods and goddesses. Many of these deities came from the lands conquered through the ever-expanding Roman empire.
Two religions, Christianity and Judaism refused to honor “Roman gods” and idolize Roman emperors. As a result, Jews and Christians endured much hardship and relentless persecutions for centuries. Famous Christian martyrs of this period include Saint John and Saint Peter.
In the 4th century, God sent a vision of light at midday and an Emperor was converted to Christianity. Emperor Constantine adopted God’s symbol (the intersection of the Greek letter chi and rho) and wore it against every hostile power he faced.
After his vision, he immediately declared Christianity legal in the Edict of Milan. He completely abandoned paganism and put his full force of favor towards advancing the cause of the Church of Christ. He commissioned the construction of several grand cathedrals and emboldened Christians to worship openly in ancient Rome.
Constantine also made Sunday an official Roman holiday so that more people could attend church, and made churches tax-exempt.
He made December 25th, the birthday of the unconquered pagan Sun god, the official holiday. Today we celebrate the days as Christmas –the birthday of Jesus. His mother, Helen, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and began excavations to recover artifacts in the city. This popularized the tradition of pilgrimages in Christianity.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Towards a breakthrough in Science Education
Scientists and science education scholars have been hard at work grappling with the search for novel and innovative ways of teaching science. There is a broad consensus among scientists and teachers of science on the need for a scientific approach to science education.
Here is a snippet of what I consider frontier thinking that will deliver the yearnings of Bruce Alberts.
The practice of science is invariably an encounter of ill-structured problems that can have multiple causal paths and hence multiple approaches to solutions. To approach such problems, unscrambling through “higher-order” mental processes such as analysis, synthesis, and abstraction are vital. Creative thinking—the most complex and abstract of the higher-order cognitive skills can allow unscrambling of problems and produce solutions through unconventional non-classical insights.
However, we teach science in colleges and lower levels as if problems that require understanding and application of science fall neatly into a pre-ordained singular pathway to a correct solution.
We seldom think of science as a creative process and the scientist as a creative entrepreneur. There is therefore very little learning of any higher order cognitive skills.
In a sample of 77 undergraduate life sciences given by 50 different professors, less than 1% of items in the assessment required students to apply analytical, synthesis or abstraction skills. It is therefore not surprising that only circa one fourth of US college graduates possess the cognitive skills necessary to solve conceptual problems.
Admittedly, creativity is a complex, multi component construct and, therefore, is not easy to define or teach or assess, especially in the context of science. But creativity is at the heart of the advancement of science. As Albeit Einstein so elegantly put it, “To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science”.
However, there is evidence the cognitive operations required for creativity can be acquired through instructional strategies, which are relatively simple modifications of the active learning known to be effective for teaching abstraction and problem-solving.
In article recently published in Science, Robert L. DeHaan of the Division of Educational Studies at Emory University suggests that two broad categories of mental operations are needed to produce creative insight, namely: associative (divergent) thinking, where thoughts are defocused, intuitive and receptive and; analytical (convergent) thinking, which entails the capacity to analyze, synthesize and focus.
Associative thinking increases the probability of accessing weakly associated
Ideas. Convergent thinking involves unexpected recognition of novel relations through conceptual re-ordering or conceptual integration or blending of concepts or ideas.
A fundamental problem persists in science education: preparing undergraduates as scientists. This problem raises a persistent question: how do we structure teaching and learning of science to foster scientific curiosity, reasoning, and problem-solving to produce a generation of science undergraduates who think scientifically.
Robert L. DeHaan noted that while we expect science students to solve problems, we rarely refer to the creative aspects of the scientific discoveries that we teach. In an article published in Science in 2008, Sarah Miller and colleagues advanced the idea of scientific teaching. They argued that scientific teaching comprise methods that encourage students to construct new knowledge and to develop scientific ways of thinking. Carl Wieman, recipient of Nobel Prize in physics in 2001 believes that successful science education transforms how students think, so they can understand and use science like scientists.
According to Carl Wieman, fundamental institutional reform is necessary to deliver the needed reforms in teaching and learning of science.
Carl Wieman identifies key challenges to delivering fundamental reform to science education: research universities and their faculty care little about teaching or student learning; introducing research-based teaching and learning in college science programs will require resources to develop and test effective pedagogical materials, supporting technology and providing for faculty development; the budget for R & D an the implementation of improved methods at most universities is nearly zero.
These challenges present a framework for a coherent call to action to deliver a breakthrough in science education.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Politics has an inordinate share of the less elegant and more obtuse of our kind. However, politics can attract truly remarkable individuals.
In his book, the “Audacity of Hope”, Barrack Obama writes about the Clinton administration. He says that the reason he admired Bill Clinton is that he tried to grapple with and solve problems.
Plato in his “Republic” postulated the ideal of a state governed by intellectuals who combined comprehensive theoretical knowledge with the practical capacity for applying it to concrete problems. Intellectuals can be described as individuals dedicated to the life of the mind.
Bill Clinton is a truly rare kind of politician.
In his latest book, “Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy”, Bill Clinton posses the one question at the core of the US growth and stagnation conundrum, namely: How do we ensure America’s economic, political, and security leadership in the more competitive, complex, fragmented and fast changing world of the twenty-first century?
And to Clinton’s question, the template for action may be found in this quote from Abraham Lincoln, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present”.
Bill Clinton, I think, is the only political figure in America who can talk truth – unvarnished truth – to Americans about what ails the economy and polity and what could be done in an attempt to fix the problems.
Now here are excerpts (from Newsmax.com) of Bill Clinton on the Bill O’Reilly show.
In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Bill Clinton makes the case for changing the economic structure of America as only he can make.
Former President Bill Clinton said he doubts that the Supreme Court will repeal the national healthcare law, and it behooves America to have the reform in place.
“No other rich country in the world spends more than 12 percent of income to insure 100 percent of the people,” Clinton said Tuesday on “The O’Reilly Factor,” referring to the “17½ percent of income to insure 84 percent of the people” the United States spends. “And we don’t get better health outcomes. It’s terrible economics.”
The 42nd president, making a debut appearance on the popular Fox News show, also discussed the Obama administration, Guantanamo Bay, the Taliban, and the 2012 election. He is promoting his newest book, “Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy.”
O’Reilly asked Clinton about the “class warfare” rhetoric that’s dominating the clash between Republicans and Democrats.
“I don’t look at it as class warfare,” Clinton said. “I don’t mind paying more taxes ... but that won’t solve the problem. That will help us balance the budget when there’s growth again. We have to change the whole job structure of America.”
On the topic of Guantanamo Bay, Clinton said, “I don’t believe I’d have ever opened it in the first place, but I’d like to see it closed. I think there are places [detainees] could be kept in America.”
He commented on Vice President Joe Biden’s recent statement that the Taliban is not a direct U.S. enemy by saying he would be "really concerned if they were to govern Afghanistan."
“One of the things that I would be concerned about, and always have been with the Taliban, is how miserable they made life for so many women and little girls,” Clinton said.
He said he respects Newt Gingrich and the former House speaker’s run for the Oval Office, but said, “I’m going to vote for Obama.”
“I believe in a whole different direction in energy policy,” he said. “I think the president’s done a good job with foreign policy, and I think he’s got a better economic strategy, now, going, than the one [Newt’s] likely to implement.”
Clinton said Obama has a better than 50 percent chance of winning in 2012.
“He’s out there running against himself now,” he said. “As soon as he gets an opponent, it’ll be, ‘For the next four years, who do you think is more likely to take us in the right direction?’”.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
Academia and its Discontents
I came away thinking about life as a scientist and academic as nasty, short and brutish.
But there seems to be real crises Down Under.
“Australian academic researchers are rallying behind a report that laments their working conditions. The government-funded study, out in September, surveyed 5,525 academics across all career stages and fields at 20 universities. It found that nearly half of academics under 30 want to leave the country or the profession owing to low pay and lack of job security.
Researchers are frustrated by teaching obligations that cut into research time; low grant success rates; and 70- to 80-hour working weeks. Emmaline Bexley, a lecturer in higher education at the University of Melbourne and lead author of the study, says she hopes that her research will “help government and universities to work together to replenish the academic workforce”.
-AArticle published as in Nature Volume 478 pg 549, October 27 2011
Saturday, December 17, 2011
To Do Death in the Active Sense
In his last essay in Vanity Fair he wrote, “So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline”.
An antitheist, Hitchens was unwavering in his belief in rational thinking by describing organized religion as the main source of hatred and tyranny in the world. Hitchens argued that faith was the surrender of reason, surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals.
Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2010, Hitchens said he would not turn to religion for comfort. He made it clear that if anyone ever claimed he had converted at the end of his life,” the entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark”.
Christopher Hitchens enlightened and enraged many. He proffered penetrating insight on a broad range of issues of deep public interest, from politics to religion and his own mortality. Before he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer Hitchens said, “I wanted to be fully conscious and awake, in order to “do” death in the active and not the passive sense”.
He is best known perhaps for lambasting Mother Teresa. Hitchens claimed that Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor but rather a friend of poverty.
Christopher Hitchens wrote penned two dozen books, including "Letters To A Young Contrarian," "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" "Hitch-22: A Memoir" and last but not least, “Arguably. In September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines
In his last book, Arguably, Christopher Hitchens writes, ” I was informed by a doctor that I have as little as another year to live. In consequence, some of the articles were written with the full consciousness that they might be my very last. But it has given me a more vivid idea of what makes life worth living, and defending and I hope very much that some of this may infect those of you who have been generous enough to read me this far.”
I think Christopher Hitchens was one of the most effective and accessible public intellectuals of our time.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Africa: A Trap of Potential?
There is endless chatter about Africa’s potential. Tony Blair believes that Africa can be for the first half of this century what Asia was for the second half of the last century. This is truly bold optimism.
Admittedly, Africa has in abundance valuable mineral resources. For instance, Africa has 10 % of the world’s oil resources, 8 % of the world’s gas resources, 60 % of the world’s diamonds. Namibia alone has 7 % of the world’s uranium resource.
This potential game gets even better. The untapped mineral resources –cobalt, diamond, copper and gold- of the DR Congo are estimated at $24 trillion (38% of global GDP), the equivalent of the combined GDP of Europe and the United States of America. The DR Congo’s hydroelectric power potential is estimated at 100,000 MW.
But Africa’s combined GDP is just $1.7 trillion, a mere 2.6% of the global GDP. Why I ask, is Africa locked in this eternal trap of potential?
Africa’s trap of potential becomes explicable when you take into account that it has the highest proportion of: the world’s hungry and malnourished; the world’s poor; the lowest gross enrollment ratios at all level of education; badly managed countries; and the highest disease burden – mostly preventable diseases.
African political class does not have an inordinate share of kleptocrats compared to Asia or countries like Italy or Russia or India or Pakistan.
Bill Easterly has pointed out that the divergence between Africa and East Asia, for instance is dramatic. The two regions, Easterly observes, started from similar level of per capita income, economic structure and human development.
In their essay “Africa’s Growth Tragedy: Policies and Ethnic Divisions”, William Easterly and Ross Levin suggested that Africa’s high ethnic fragmentation explains a significant part of most of the factors that stymie Africa’s growth.
Although there is broad consensus about the adoption of flawed policies as cause of the Africa’s growth tragedy and about the causal relationship between the quality of public and private institutions and the quality of governance, there is still inadequate understanding of the main reasons behind the apparent lack of growth in a majority of African countries.
Lant Pritchett, Michael Woolcock, and Matt Andrews discuss the mechanisms of persistent implementation failure. They use a variety of indicators to illustrate that many countries remain in “state capability traps” where the implementation capacity of the state is severely limited. Pritchett et al suggest that at the current pace of progress Liberia would take hundreds of years to reach the capability of a country like Singapore and decades to catch up with a moderate capability country like India.
Weak human capacity or intellectual capital is at the heart of state capability trap and implementation failure among African countries. Africa’s underinvestment in higher education is persistent and debilitating. According to 2009 statistics by UNESCO, gross enrollment in Africa’s higher education was just 5 % compared to 20 % in East Asia and 70% in OECD countries.
The technical caliber of the civil service in a majority of African countries betrays decades of underinvestment in human capacity. For instance, a 2011 audit of revealed that after half a century of independence less than 10 % of Kenya’s civil servants have attained higher education. Similarly, in 1998, less than 3% of the national public administration staff of Mozambique had received higher education.
It seems to me that a critical outcome of low technical competence within public and private sector in a majority of African countries has encouraged the perpetration of classic modernization as an approach to development. Rather than evolve their own unique pathways and theory of developmental change, African states have relied on models and approaches to change, including institutional forms imported from other countries. Pritchett et al have referred to this as “isomorphic mimicry”.
Isomorphic mimicry is the reason why a majority of African countries subscribe to the logics development and yet fail to acquire real capability. Isomorphic mimicry is the reason Africa is teaming with experts and consultants of every color and creed.
Underinvestment in education, isomorphic mimicry and the mistaken belief in the Hegelian teleology of classic modernization is the reason we do not hear an African led discourse on a uniquely African development trajectory suited to Africa’s context.
Africa like other continents and regions must define it destiny and chart her own cause. African governments must ramp up investments in higher education. African scholars and intellectuals must engage and grapple with the search for authentic, context relevant solutions to catalyze a uniquely African path to sustained development.
Africa’s true potential lies in its human resources, not on troves minerals beneath the surface. The riches of Africa’s resources will always benefit everyone else except Africans as long as Africa’s human resources remain a desolate wasteland.
No amount of aid or expatriate support will substitute for Africa’s lack of capability. And only Africans can and must confront and overcome Africa’s challenges.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
In Defense of Science
However, any reference to science as a political act almost often raises the ire of scientist. We always want to think of our trade as dispassionate and driven primarily by evidence gained through reason, careful observation and painstaking experimentation.
Michael Foucault, the French postmodernist uses the term ‘power/knowledge’ to signify that power is constituted through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and ‘truth. According to Foucault, each society has its general regime of truth, a general politics of truth; the types of discourse, which it privileges as true, the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth and the status of those charged with proclaiming what counts as true.
The regimes and general politics of truth are the progeny of scientific discourse and institutions and are reinforced and validated through the education system, the media and the dominant or state sanctioned political and economic ideologies. The battle for the truth is seldom about the quest for absolute truth but a battle about the status of the truth and the socio-economic and political role it signifies. Truth is about the interests enabled or constrained.
If we assume that scientific method is a reliable method of creating the truth and the essential knowledge base as well as the power it confers. As Francis Bacon put it “power and knowledge go hand in hand”. Since science opens new vistas of knowledge, it pushes as to question old paradigms and disrupts existing order, and that is always political.
In a new book, Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America, Shawn Lawrence Otto argues that the politics of science is not new. Every time a scientist makes a factual assertion such as the earth goes around the sun, there is such a thing as evolution, or that human are causing climate change somebody’s vested interests are either enabled or constrained.
Lawrence Shawn Otto further argues that the reasons the church went to absurd lengths to deal with Galileo are the same reasons we fight political battles over climate change today. According to Otto, the practice of science cannot be apolitical. The essence of the scientific process is to question long-held assumptions and to build knowledge that is independent of our beliefs or assumptions.
Hence a scientifically testable claim can be shown to be most probably true or utterly flawed, regardless of who makes it – president or pope or peasant. Science is therefore inherently egalitarian, annihilating hierarchical power structures.
Otto posits that the challenge to authority that science presents is one of many reasons why it has flourished in free, democratic societies. Otto further suggests that the scientific revolution has been led largely by the liberal democracies of Europe and North America. Of significance is the observation by Otto that the prevailing political climate in the US has hampered US policy makers’ capacity to respond to many and urgent science policy issues.
In her widely acclaimed book “The Age of American Unreason” American writer Susan Jacoby observes;
“It remains to be seen, as the current presidential campaign unfolds, whether Americans are willing to consider what the flight from reason has cost us as a people and whether any candidate has the will or the courage to talk about ignorance as a political issue affecting everything from scientific research to decisions about war and peace."
In his book “The Assault on Reason” Al Gore asks "Why do reason, logic and truth seem to play a sharply diminished role in the way America now makes important decisions?" Al Gore offers that the persistent and sustained reliance on falsehoods as the basis of policy, even in the face of massive and well-understood evidence to the contrary has reached levels previously imagined.
Thomas Jefferson believed that without a well-informed voter/citizenry, the very exercise of democracy becomes removed from the problems it is charged with solving. One might think Jefferson was referring to the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street. There is no debate or discussion in empty chambers of the Senate or the House of Representatives. The US Congress is silent, dysfunctional.
Without the anchor provided by enlightened opinion of the citizenry and their representatives, society may become paralyzed or worse, corrupted and besieged by powerful interests seeking to perpetuate and preserve existing hierarchical power structures.
Lawrence Shawn Otto asks if American-style democracy beholden to the Tea Party, the Birthers, and Occupy Wall Street will be able to compete in the age of reason–; complex, science driven global economy – where nations like China are run by engineers and scientists.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Feeding the World and Saving the Planet
But climate change is also a challenge for which a capacity for global governance is nearly lacking. Global competition and narrow sovereign short-term economic interests have triumphed over a collective responsibility to our common future.
Can we as humans recognize the scale of peril that climate change presents and rally global capital for collective responsible action?
As we cross the 7 billion mark, the scale of the anthropocene as an era of catastrophic transformation becomes ever more worrying.
Providing food, fibre and shelter in a business as usual fashion will only make the planet hotter and leave a growing majority of hungrier in an inequitable and unstable world.
But through innovation we can nourish and cloth the world and heal the planet. It does not have to be a zero sum game.
What can (must) we achieve in Durban at COP17?
Agriculture: A Call to Action for COP17 Climate Change Negotiators
Our world faces formidable challenges. The global population has now crossed the seven billion mark and is projected to reach nine billion by mid-century, requiring at least a 70 percent increase in agricultural production to meet increased demand.
The world's resources are under more strain than ever before as global demand for water, energy and food is on the rise. At the same time, climate change threatens farmers' ability to produce enough to meet growing demand, and poor communities' ability to access nutritious food.
More frequent and extreme weather events are affecting our food supply, our infrastructure and our livelihoods. Last year, Russia suffered its worst drought in more than 100 years, triggering forest fires and destroying millions of hectares of crops. This year we have seen the Horn of Africa face its worst drought in 60 years as more than 13 million people requiring emergency food aid and pastoralists losing a third of their livestock. Recent flooding in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Cambodia has also impacted livelihoods and worsened food insecurity.
The most vulnerable regions of the world – developing countries – are disproportionately affected by climate change, despite contributing little to carbon emissions. People in developing countries depend heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods, yet are increasingly challenged in their ability to produce sufficient food for their families and for markets.
Whilst agriculture is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, it has significant potential to be part of the solution to climate change. Preserving and enhancing food security requires increasing agricultural productivity whilst at the time adapting to and mitigating climate change. It also requires a shift towards building farmers' and vulnerable communities' resilience to climate shocks, and related food price volatility.
More productive, sustainable and resilient agriculture requires transformations in how rural people manage natural resources and how efficiently they use these resources as inputs for crop production. For these transformations to occur, it is essential that the world's farmers, scientists, researchers, the private sector, development practitioners and food consumers come together to achieve climate-smart agriculture.
Yet the agricultural sector remains astonishingly underfunded. As a percentage of total investment, agriculture has dropped from 22 percent in 1980 to approximately 6 percent today. In absolute terms, this constitutes a drop to roughly half of the funding allocated thirty years ago.
At the upcoming climate change negotiations in Durban, we call on negotiators to recognise the important role of agriculture in addressing climate change so that a new era of agricultural innovation and knowledge sharing can be achieved. Specifically, we ask that they approve a Work Programme for agriculture under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) so that the sector can take early action to determine the long-term investments needed to transform agriculture to meet future challenges.
• UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
• UN World Food Programme (WFP)
• International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)
• The World Bank
• CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)
• Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
• International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
• Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR)
• Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)
• World Farmers' Organisation (WFO)
• Global Donor Platform for Rural Development
• ACP/EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)
• Farming First
• Danish Agriculture and Food Council
• Agriculture for Impact
• International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Moving Beyond Foreign Aid
This I think is the most engaging question for those who think about global socio-economic sustainability. Preeminent scholars notably, Jeff Sachs, William Easterly and Paul Collier have advanced competing ideas. Contestations on models, approaches and the necessity of foreign aid persist.
In 2000, 193 heads of states signed the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The MDG represents, in my opinion, the largest official sanctioning of massive capital flows from the developed world. I think the universal endorsement of the MDGs essentially signaled the triumph of foreign aid.
The Commission for Africa was initiated by British government in 2004 to examine and advance an impetus for Africa’s development initiated the Commission for Africa also known as the Blair Commission for Africa. The G8 summit in 2005 in Gleneagles pledged what the Commission report asked for – doubling of aid and significant extension of multilateral debt relief.
But the dominant perception of the place and role of aids is changing. Tony Blair, the most fervent advocate for increased aid inflow in Africa is now more nuanced about his position. He now argues that governance capacity –making governments more capable – is needed to transform Africa.
In article published in the Washington Post yesterday, Tony Blair make s the point that there is a need for “broadening our thinking beyond aid to strengthen states and markets, and developing a new set of global relationships to tackle global issues”. He further argues that the “issue of governance, how to get things done, is the biggest single challenge for governments worldwide”.
Tony Blair has also asserted that "without building effective capacity, without Governments capable of delivering practical things and on a path to release from
dependency on aid, then aid can only ever be a palliative – vital to many, but not transformative of a nation".
Here is the full version of Tony Blair’s article. Tony Blair is the founder of Africa Governance Initiative.
Ending global aid in a generation
By Tony Blair, Published: November 26
Fifty years ago, the scene in Busan, South Korea, would have been a familiar image of international aid: sacks of grain stacked precariously on a crumbling dockside. The backdrop would have been a country emerging from war and dependent on outside assistance to meet the most basic needs. But when national and development leaders gather in Busan this week to discuss the future of aid, they will see a very different place: the fifth-busiest commercial port in the world, transporting advanced technologies around the globe. This, writ small, is the Korean miracle — the transformation of a country from aid-dependent to aid donor.
The international goal must be to make sure many more countries are transformed. This will require building on the success of aid, broadening our thinking beyond aid to strengthen states and markets, and developing a new set of global relationships to tackle global issues. Each challenge is, of course, hard in itself — but they are also clear and achievable. I believe that within a generation no country need be dependent on aid. This matters around the world but especially to Africa, the continent most dependent on aid and a focus of my own work.
Things are already moving in the right direction. While the West has experienced a decade of sluggish growth, emerging economies have taken up the slack — 19 economies, including eight in sub-Saharan Africa, more than doubled in size from 2000 to 2010. Meanwhile, health and education are improving. In just one example, 10 times more people were receiving treatment for HIV-AIDS from 2003 to 2008 than was the case a decade earlier. And while the Arab Spring has rightly received the world’s attention, the steady political change south of the Sahara could be as significant in the long term. In the 1980s there were three truly free elections in sub-Saharan Africa. In the past decade there were 25. A new generation of democratically elected leaders is emerging, eager to take their countries forward.
Aid has played a significant role in this progress, particularly the improvements in health and education through the Millennium Development Goals. The first challenge is for the richer countries to deliver on their aid commitments. Bill Gates estimates that meeting existing aid promises would generate an extra $80 billion a year for development. That translates into millions of lives saved and children educated.
But aid alone is not enough. Ultimately, development progress depends on governance and growth. All societies, no matter how wealthy, need governments that can deliver tangible improvements in the lives of their citizens and be held to account for the results. They need economies that generate wealth and improved living standards for all. This requires a new approach.
To strengthen governance, we should help governments to develop the capacity they need to deliver for their citizens. This issue of governance, how to get things done, is the biggest single challenge for governments worldwide. Since leaving office, I have focused on this issue through the Africa Governance Initiative, which works alongside political leaders to help them reform and build their systems so they can implement development plans and tackle poverty.
Supporting economic growth requires action on all sides. Leaders of emerging economies must ensure that they are able to attract high-quality, sustainable investment; that the rules are clear and followed; and that they work together to remove regional trade barriers. But the rich world has a role in opening up its markets and ensuring that global trade rules are fair.
This theme of shared responsibilities brings me to the third challenge — building a new set of global relationships. Even as we address the first two challenges, we need to fundamentally rethink the way rich and poor countries interact and begin moving from thinking in terms of rich countries helping poor countries to an understanding of how everyone can contribute to shared goals. The world has changed; the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses makes the old distinctions increasingly irrelevant. And the big issues today need global action. Security is one issue that no country, rich or poor, can tackle alone. Others include climate change and how we manage scarce resources such as water or oil. And we all share a common interest in achieving a more stable financial system. These global issues have a huge impact on development, and we need to build international systems that can handle them.
In recent years, I have visited the West African ports of Freetown, Sierra Leone, and Monrovia, Liberia, many times. Both were at the center of brutal conflict in the past decade, and their destruction symbolized what was broken in their societies. But as they are rebuilt and revitalized, they are becoming a different kind of symbol for their people: beacons of progress, openness to the wider world and self-determination. If the international community acts boldly at this week’s meeting in South Korea to set out a new plan for development, the port of Busan can itself become a symbol of where Freetown and Monrovia are heading.
Monday, November 14, 2011
The Fountainhead of Inequality in America
It is a must read for anybody who has dared to believe that America is a place where all things are possible. It is a must read for anybody who doubts that American schools and colleges reproduce, reinforce and legitimize social inequality. It is a must read for anybody who is in search of the fountainhead of the divide between the 1% and the 99%.
Peter Sacks argues that American higher education is not a meritocracy and that individuals do not succeed solely on the basis of talent and perspiration. American higher education, especially the elite schools, is an aristocracy. They guarantee a front seat in the proverbial bus.
In an article in The New York Times November 13 2011 Peter Sacks weighs in on legacy admissions into Ivy League schools. He argues that in America, the race up the social, economic and political ladder is rigged and the winners are pre-ordained.
After you read this article and hopefully his book, Occupy Wall Street will make a lot of sense to you.
And here is Peter Sacks "Hard-Core Economics"- Published in The New York Times November 13 2011.
“The notion that highly educated and affluent families -- who already provide so much cultural and economic capital to their children -- should be granted even more favors from elite universities via legacy admissions preferences is bound to rub believers in the American “meritocracy” the wrong way. There’s just a certain stink to the whole enterprise.
The true nature of legacy admissions policies becomes crystal clear if we change frames and consider that the American “meritocracy” as we know it has very little to do with merit. But this “meritocracy” has everything to do with creating ever-evolving rules of the game, as necessary for elites to perpetuate social and economic superiority from ordinary people.
Legacy admissions is part and parcel of a social reproduction process that enables elites and their children to always move to the front of the line.
Elite institutions have an implicit bargain with their alumni that essentially says, 'You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.'
In fact, besides legacy preferences, institutions have created all sorts of mechanisms to maintain and reproduce inequality. For example, elite schools rely on the dogmatic notion that gate-keeping tests, like the SAT, GRE or LSAT, actually have any bearing on a students’ ability to succeed in school. They don’t.
Why is this dogma so entrenched and powerful? It so happens that the SAT and similar tests invented to assess “intelligence” have always sorted Americans quite conveniently by social and economic class.
In arguing for legacy exemptions from the admissions channels normal students face, elite institutions assert a First Amendment right to create the freshmen class as they see fit.
There’s plenty of lofty rhetoric in defense of legacy preferences, such as the need to maintain the historical soul of the university through intergenerational binds. But that’s a disguise for the real, unstated reasons, which boil down to hardcore economics.
Elite institutions have struck an implicit bargain with their alumni. That bargain essentially says, “You give us money, and we will move your kid to the front of the line.”
The entire basis for creation of the charitable contribution in the U.S. tax code is that individual contributions to charities, including educational institutions, must not “enrich the giver.”
In fact, the system of legacy admissions at elite schools is all about enriching the giver. With a wink and a nod, colleges and universities gladly accept the white envelop stuffed with alumni cash, in return for the promise of favoritism.
The whole enterprise is brought to you by the generosity of ordinary American taxpayers, via tax breaks and subsidies. Their children are waiting patiently in the back of the line, buying into the myth that the system is fair and meritocratic, when in fact, the game is rigged, and the winners are pre-ordained.”
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Aldo Leopold and the World at 7 Billion
After we learned to cultivate and grow things, and especially since we invented and deployed the plough, our relationship with nature changed forever since. Moreover, we have our Judeo-Christian moral and intellectual foundation to undergird our agrarian proclivities. “And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28, American King James Version).
For many centuries, our relationship with the earth has been largely adversarial, man against nature. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, John Muir, George Perkins Marsh’s Man and Nature, Aldo Leopold’s A Sandy County Almanac and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring have been literary cornerstones or more boldly the sacred text of an era of environmental conscience.
Today we realize that the future of our kind is inextricably bound with the health of the planet. It is not about the preservation or conservation of charismatic wilderness or monuments of nature or keystone species of plants and animals. It is about everything. It is all or nothing. It is about the only place we call home. It is about our survival. It is about repairing a broken relationship. It is that moment, “let talk about us”, humans not apart from but as part of nature, not separate.
As we grapple with the gargantuan 7 billion question, the eternal wisdom of Aldo Leopold may provide a platform for humble and deep reflection. Here is Aldo’s forward to the Sand County Almanac.
“Like winds, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild and free. For us the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.
Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. There is no other way for land to survive of mechanized man, nor for us to reap from it the aesthetic harvest it is capable, under science, of contributing to culture.
The land as a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics. That land yields a cultural harvest is a fact long known, but latterly forgotten.
But wherever the truth may lie, this much is crystal–clear: our bigger – and – better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health so as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap. Nothing could be a little more salutary at this stage than a little healthy contempt for a plethora of material blessings”.
Monday, October 31, 2011
How to Keep the next Billionaire Innovator in College
Dean Kamen, a prolific inventor believed to hold more than 80 US patents dropped out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. The founder of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison dropped out of two universities, University of Illinois and University of Chicago. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines did not drop out business school. At 16 he dropped out of school.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are hundreds of unknown and unsung heroes, men and women, who do not posses college diplomas but have built incredible businesses, created value, and transformed communities and changed our world.
But how is it possible that some of the world’s most brilliant innovators are college dropouts? In contrast, the academia has been outstanding in churning out lawyers, doctors, engineers and professors. We have no shortage of writers, literary critics, historians and politicians. Of the 55 UK to date, 41 have been graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. 15 out of 44 US presidents, including George W. Bush attended and graduated from Ivy League colleges.
What is it about the classroom and formal education that enables bureaucrats but stifles and suffocates for entrepreneurs?
The global economy is struggling and in dire need of new businesses and new jobs on a global scale. Moreover, we need business that will create millions of new jobs while providing sustainable solutions to our food, water and energy challenge. Meeting this challenge will require thousands, even millions of start-ups by a global army and network of entrepreneurs, ready to fail and rise up again.
University education as we know it today is about learning through narrowly defined academic subjects geared toward high stake tests and assignment of grades. Failure is stigmatized and must be avoided. Poor grades or failure looks bad in a resume or transcript. This is antithetical to the DNA and logic of biological evolution and business. Why does education through exams and grades discount the Darwin’s grand idea that failure and error can progressively give rise to models of intentional design?
We must re-imagine education for a tumultuous, uncertain world. A world that is vastly different from the world for which the classical models of education were fashioned.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
The World at 7 Billion
Just over a decade ago, there were 6 billion people on the planet. At the end of this month, there will be 7 billion of us. Associated with rapid increases in human population is urbanization. By some estimates, only 30 % of the world’s population lived in cities. It is estimated that by 2025, 60 % of the global population will live in the cities.
The challenge of providing adequate water, food, shelter and atmospheric resources for 7 billion people, a majority of who are urban dwellers is incredibly complex.
A crowded and more urbanized planet could touch off an environmental crises and inevitable lead to social, economic and humanitarian catastrophe. To produce more food, especially with current technologies, we will strip the earth of the vital vegetation resources, especially rainforests, coastal forests, savannas and wetlands. The attendant loss of biodiversity will be colossal, triggering further crises in the delivery of critical ecosystem services.
At the current population and with the projected growth of a another billion in 14 years, is it possible to offer all human beings a chance for a productive and prosperous life while sustaining vital services including provision of food, water and a place to live?
Our planetary resources are no doubt finite. For centuries, since the industrial revolution, we have deployed technology to mechanize production and processing of goods and services. The use of global atmospheric resources to fuel growth has generated a veritable tragedy of the commons. The global impact of climate change presents a singular lesson on the limits of growth.
Could population be the trigger for the end of how civilization, at least as we know it today? Is there any such thing as sustainable development?
The easy thing to think about in these circumstances is population control. One might argue that we must stabilize the global population at some point before the mid century. This is hard enough especially when you have to confront the deeply private and sacrosanct dimensions human sexuality, culture, religion and more importantly, gender power relations.
Consumption, our demand on the planets ecosystems has become especially problematic. Per capita consumption of global resources has grown geometrically. We use more water for domestic use, we need more “atmospheres” to dump green house gases, and we need more food and hence more carbon, land, fertilizers and water for agriculture.
Global consensus and cooperation is needed to achieve two goals; slow down human population growth and scale down our demand and use of planetary resources.
Maybe we need another planet if our civilization is to continue to exist.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Is The US Paying the Price of Globalization?
What ails the US economy has been years in the making. What we see today; the collapse of housing markets, job losses, crippling Federal and private debt, troubled banks and corporation are fundamentally symptoms of deep systemic malaise.
My sense is that what is wrong with the US economy has got to do with the hubris of Washington and the greed of Wall Street and Corporations.
But I think that the US is really a victim of globalization and technology. Globalization and technology are the reason jobs will not return to the US and unemployment will remain stubbornly high. Let’s face it, no amount of grandstanding and brinkmanship by the US Congress will bring jobs back, at least not high quality well paying jobs.
Globalization has created a league table of winners and losers. And the US tops the table of losers. For instance, a typical worker at GM in the US weighs in at $56 on the hour. In China and India a worker performing at the nearly as productive as the US worker costs GM under $5 an hour.
In Ramos Arispe Mexico where GM is investing $500 million, labor costs are $7 an hour. To stay profitable in an increasingly competitive auto industry, it is not hard to figure out why Detroit is not the place to be. It is therefore not surprising that GM has reduced its hourly workforce from 89,000 to 50,000 in the last five years.
In 2008 Volkswagen arrived in Chattanooga Tennessee with a packet of dough, $1 million and a promise to create 2,000 jobs and a $14.50 per hour pay package. The median hourly wage in Chattanooga was $12.66 in 2007. This is not anybody dream job and certainly not the promise of perks of middle-class. And if you think about, what VW is offering to pay in Chattanooga is truly globally competitive.
Like agriculture in the last 50 years, the role of manufacturing is in a precipitous decline. So “designed and made in America” is just wishful thinking. Re-treating into protectionism is one option of getting manufacturing humming again while paying $56 an hour. But this is a sure way to undermine global competitiveness of US products against lower-cost imports from places such as China, India Mexico Brazil and South Africa.
Can the US reverse what seems like an inexorable decline in incomes? By 2010, real median household income had fallen to $49,445, compared with $53,164 in 2000. So it is about time US politicians stopped talking nostalgically about the restitution of manufacturing jobs. That ship has sailed away to a far off land, literally.
It seems to me that the US has not yet come to grips with the reality of globalization or the international connectedness of production. It has one disastrous consequence for US manufacturing: decline.
The US has only one option if it must stay in manufacturing. It must evolve its industrial infrastructure base into producing high tech products that capitalize on the high skill levels of its workforce.
The US should focus and enhance its edge in aviation and defense. These are far superior sectors with regard to wages and the US has no competitors here, yet. I think the US should play to its strength in education, entertainment, computing and financial services.
Although the median household income fell between 2000 and 2010, wages for those with higher education rose by 1.4 percent in the same period. But attaining a college degree remains a distant dream to millions of Americans.
The White House says 1.2 million students drop out of school each year, and only about 70 percent of entering high school freshmen go on to graduate. The Obama administration is offering a $900 million carrot to the nation’s school systems to tackle what many view as an abysmal dropout rate that threatens America’s ability to compete in the new global economy.
Only 41 percent of low-income students entering a four-year college managed to graduate within five years, the Department of Education found in a study last year, but 66 percent of high-income students did.
Higher achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) is critical if the US is to remain globally competitive. But the Program for International Student Assessment revealed that students from 20 other nations in math and science outperformed the top-performing US high school students.
This is troubling statistics. But the inter-generational consequence on US global competitiveness is dire.
The US cannot compete in the same league with Brazil or Russia or India or China. It has to out educate and out innovate the BRIC.
So merely yelling jobs on the floor of Senate or the House or out on the campaign trail just won’t do. Real and urgent investments in Education is fundamental and urgent.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
"Death is very likely the single best invention of Life"- Steve Jobs
Here is what I find eternally wise about Steve Jobs.
1. Giving commencement speech at Stanford. "this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation."
2. Dropping out of college. " one of the best decisions I ever made in my life."
3. " You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. "
4. Getting fired from Apple. " the best thing that could have ever happened to me. .." It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life."
5." You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever."
6. "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right."
7. " You've got to find what you love."
8." Death is very likely the single best invention of Life."
9. "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."
10." Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish."
Here is the full commencement speech. You decide.
"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
Video of the Commencement address.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much"
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone from Zain Kenya
Monday, October 3, 2011
The Myth of Rick Perry
The Perry presidential announcement usurped attention from the Iowa Straw Poll.
Rick Perry stole Michele Bachmann’s thunder. Mitt Romney’s front-runner position was instantly diminished.
Rick Perry was the man of the moment. He had the big stage, an adoring base and a messianic halo over his head.
Then came a torrent of pretty dramatic pronouncements from Gov. Perry. Within a week of announcing he criticized the Federal Reserve, suggesting it was treasonous and that the people of Texas would treat Ben Bernanke “pretty ugly”.
Rick Perry called Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” in his 2010 book, “Fed Up.” He repeated this claim at the CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate, adding that the program was a monstrous lie. Perry makes a broader point, arguing that the social safety net was fundamentally an unconstitutional expansion of big government, which Americans have been “forced to accept.”
Clinton described him as good-looking rascal. Obama was more gracious, calling for Perry to choose his words more carefully.
Rick Perry’s recent goofy and incredibly tongue-tied performance in the GOP presidential debates has cast a long dark shadow on his capacity and political staying power. And Herman Cain winning the Florida GOP straw poll is fueling speculation about Perry’s ability to withstand the rough and tumble of a long political campaign. According to Obama, Perry must realize that this isn’t like running for governor or senator or for congress.
Perry has taken sustained hits from GOP opponents, especially Michele Bachmann, have questioned Rick Perry's 2007 decision to issue an executive order mandating HPV vaccines for schoolgirls, arguing that the policy amounted to a "government injection".
Moreover, moderate Republicans worry that his Perry’s professed doubts about global warming and evolutionary theory will make him a tough sell among independent voters.
This Perry situation reminds me of one of the most fascinating Greek Myths is that of Daedalus and Icarus, his young son.
Daedalus managed to create gigantic wings, using branches of osier and connected them with wax. He taught Icarus how to fly, but told him to keep away from the sun because the heat would make the wax melt, destroying the wings.
Icarus soon saw his wings melting.
Icarus fell into the sea and drowned. The Icarian Sea, where he fell, was named after him and there is also a nearby small island called Icaria.
I am not suggesting that the Perry presidential campaign will crash. But it could really struggle in the days to come given the precipitous decline of his stature.
In the assessment of the GOP field of candidates The Economist used a soccer analogy. It is a penalty kick and POTUS is standing at one corner of the goalmouth, his leg shackled to a heavy anvil, the economy. Republican presidential candidates line up to shoot the ball. One by one they trip up and fall before they kick the ball.
In the words of The Economist the Rick Perry is the "latest figure spread-eagled haplessly on the field".
It is becoming clear that the GOP donors are getting nervous about the field of candidates that have come forth. The donors are exerting pressure on Governor Chris Christies of New Jersey to enter the race. The growing belief that somehow Chris Christie may be the GOP savior represents a sapping of confidence that Perry can beat Obama in 2012.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Complexity Made Simple
He is in my opinion the most elegant communicator in the print media. He has an unmatched capacity to communicate very complex ideas in the most simple and accessible style, without being simplistic. Most people, especially journalist and other kinds or writers, just cannot.
In an Op-ed article, The Lost Decade, in writes in the last couple of sentences, “The world economy has many rigidities. The worst ones are in people’s heads. “
I read this and I think of how we educate our children, the challenges we face as human kind and wonder what the future holds for us.
David’s Brooks’ central argument is that because of our constricted and mechanistic view our solutions are often incommensurate with the problems at hand.
In reference to the global financial crisis, David Brooks observes that most economist think the next few will be bad with a chance of getting worse. The reason the crisis will get worse is because it has many fronts or currents, which merge and are self-reinforcing. The product, not sum, is therefore emergent. The emergent condition is more terrible than the sum of its parts.
It is the product of the complex interplay between them. To put it in fancy terms, the crisis is an emergent condition — even more terrible than the sum of its parts. In a candid indictment of global leadership, David Brooks notes that the ideologues who dominate the conversation can not think in holistic, emergent ways.
Use the fable of Ghor, the blind men and the matter of the elephant; Brooks illustrates the folly of reductionist approaches to solving emergent problems. Like blind men without any knowledge of the form or shape of an elephant – we grope sightlessly gathering information by touching – we persuade ourselves that we understand the whole.
President Obama’s stimulus package did little to create jobs and inspire investors. But rather than acknowledge that other emergent factors were at play, the administration just called for more stimulus spending. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans believe that lower taxes and less regulation will get the US economy kicking again.
The US economic crisis if fueled by many currents, which merge and feed off each other. These include depressed consumer demand, credit crunch, collapse of housing market, high consumer debt, regulatory burdens, skills mismatch and the turmoil in the EU. No single one of these currents prolongs or sustains the economic crisis.
And then David Brooks delivers the most brilliant lesson in complexity and systems thinking. And he writes, “when you are confronted by a complex, emergent problem, don’t try to pick out the one lever that is the key to the whole thing. There is no one lever. Instead, try to reform whole institutions and hope that by getting the long-term fundamentals right you’ll set off a positive cascade to reverse the negative ones.”
David Brooks has offered the most accessible and non-technical lesson in complexity and systems thinking. This should be the primary role of the media in a modern society; inform and educate the public.
Three cheers to David Brooks!
Saturday, September 17, 2011
You too can live as long as a Japanese
The proportion of people aged 65 years and older has quadrupled during the past 60 years to 23% in 2010. However, despite the ageing population, Japan’s health expenditure is only 8·5% of gross domestic product, one of the lowest in the OECD countries.
Why is the Japanese population so healthy? How has Japan achieved the longest life expectancy at birth worldwide?
Understanding what has contributed to making the Japanese population healthy in such a fairly short period is important for global health policy, particularly for countries struggling to improve health.
Improvements in the health of the Japanese population were noted in the 1920s. Declines in infant mortality rates were partly attributed to increased literacy of mothers through provision of free and compulsory education. By the early 20th century almost all girls attended primary school.
Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life. The Japanese are exceptionally health conscious, regular health check-up is the norm. Mass screening is available in the community, at school and the work place.
Japanese diet, which has improved in tandem with economic development over the last five decades, is balanced and highly nutritional. The prevalence of adult obesity in Japan is 4 % compared to 26.6 % in the United States of America.
Previous studies have shown that strong ties in Japanese communities appear to be associated with improved outcomes in mental health, dental health, and physical functioning, while buffering against the adverse effects of income inequality.
Japan’s impressive population health outcomes demonstrate that a reduction in mortality rates can be brought about by the interplay of improvements in both medical care and other societal factors such as income, education, nutrition, and sanitation.
As early as the 1950s, mortality rates for non-communicable diseases, other than stroke, were already low owing to a favorable lipid profile and glucose metabolism, a generally low body-mass index, and other lifestyle factors relating to diet and low to moderate alcohol intake.
The contrast between Japan's life expectancy and those of Sub-Saharan African countries is disconcerting. For instance, the life expectancy in South Africa is 51.6 years. Kenya’s life expectancy is 54.9 years. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country has a life expectancy of just 48 years.
The poor status of Africa’s population health is comparable to Japan’s in 1947, when male life expectancy at birth was 50 years and female life expectancy was 54 years.
The Lancet article suggests that the main driving force for improved population health was the strong stewardship of the new Japanese Government in implementing major structural reforms in the health sector and placing priority on investment in key interventions for public health in the early phase of economic growth.
The Japanese experience presents relevant and invaluable lessons, especially for Sub-Saharan African countries.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Living in The City Drives You Mad, Literally
Recent projections indicate that 69 % of humans will live in cities by 2050. This is hardly surprising. On average, across nations, people who live in cities are better educated, wealthier and generally enjoy high standards of living.
Recent studies also show that cities are the heartland of creative innovation, renewal and transformation.
Steve Jobs grew up in the western US conurbation. Galileo and Michelangelo lived in Renaissance Florence. Plato and Socrates both lived in fifth-century BC Athens, a city-state.
Clearly, the city must have some effect on our minds. Good and bad.
Previous studies have shown that living in the city has serious mental health effects. Mood and anxiety disorders are more common among city dwellers. More importantly, the incidence of schizophrenia is elevated in people born and raised in cities. The City drives you mad, literally.
A study published June 23 in the journal Nature by German researches revealed that city living was associated with increased amygdala (part of the brain associated with memory and emotional intelligence) activity, while urban upbringing affected the anterior cingulate cortex (the key region of amygdala regulation).
The study posits that urban effects on mental illness are causal and suggests that increased social evaluative threat, including social defeat and chronic social stress could be the specific factors affecting the brain.
The key question is how to integrate the understanding gained from neurosciences, social sciences into a public policy response to the challenges of urbanization.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Fatherhood Kills Manhood
In a study of 624 Pilipino men, fathers who spent several hours a day giving care to their kids had a massive drop in testosterone.
The study shows that while the single men with higher testosterone levels at the beginning of the study were more likely to find partners and become fathers, new fathers experienced a drop in levels of the sex hormone greater than drops seen in men of the same age without children over the study period.
The study reveals that men who spent more than three hours a day caring for children — playing, feeding, bathing, toileting, reading or dressing them — had the lowest testosterone.
These findings may suggest a biological trade-off, with high testosterone helping secure a mate, but reduced testosterone better for sustaining family life.
Moreover, the study suggests that men’s bodies evolved hormonal systems that helped them commit to their families once children were born.
The study also implies that men’s behavior can affect hormonal signals their bodies send, not just that hormones influence behavior.
This study brings into focus one likely explanation for previously observed health disparities between partnered fathers and single men.
Married men and fathers have lower risk for certain diseases and mortality. It has been shown that high testosterone may increase risk for prostate cancer and adverse cholesterol profiles. High testosterone has also been linked to risk-taking behaviors that can affect men’s health, such as drug and alcohol use and promiscuity.
So men and not just women, could actually biologically hardwired for parenthood.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
September 11 2001 : Ten Years Later
Two passenger planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth plane, mission aborted, crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
3,000 people were killed. George W. Bush, then US president, declared war on terror. Bush defined the axis of evil. Two wars were promulgated. The US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. The world rallied behind the US.
Osama Bin Laden and radical Islam became the face of the enemy. And the world was polarized forever.
After 9/11, it was not possible to imagine just how much the four plane assaults on US soil and the subsequent war terror would change the world and how we live.
The two wars, especially Iraq become the most polarizing policy decision in US domestic politics, drawing sharp ideological lines differentiating how Republicans and the Democrats view homeland security as well as US foreign policy.
The most far-reaching consequence of the 9/11 attacks is the cost to the US in treasure and blood.
Nearly 7,500 American troops have been killed in combat in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the deserts of Iraq, and on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul and Kandahar.
The US Congress has approved nearly 4 trillion dollars in military spending in the last 7 years on the war against terror.
The spending on the war is in large part responsible for the US fiscal disaster and the mounting budget deficit. The spending on the war has put the US in China’s deep pockets.
In many ways, a focus on homeland security and the execution of two wars has undermined public investment in US infrastructure. The antiquated nature of fundamental infrastructure such schools, roads, high-speed rail and broad Internet has eroded the capacity of the US to develop a sophisticated modern service infrastructure necessary to compete in a global economy.
But one good thing did come out 9/11. The rise of Barack Obama in many ways was made possible by the discontent among many Americans with the leadership of George W. Bush as well as the continuity and status quo that Hillary Clinton embodied. America needed to change and a recalibrate of its attitude to the rest of the world. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama offered the hope and promise of change.
Obama, then Illinois State Senator, had argued that Iraq was a war that should never have been waged and that the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan was the essential war.
Full-scale engagement in a costly combat operation, in my opinion, contributed to the neglect of education and vital dimensions of social welfare investments. The result is staggering and worrying social inequality in the US.
The war on terror and the catastrophic collapse of the global economy and the stubbornly persistent economic down turn in the US have been something like the perfect storm.
9/11 has in my sense contributed to the undermining of US power and confidence both at home and abroad. The polarization the US public and the rise of partisanship and dysfunction in Washington has been the worst in many decades.
The aftermath of 9/11 continues to sap the creative juices of the US polity. When George W. Bush swore to go after Al Qaeda, both he and his military advisors had no clue how to engage a non-state enemy.
It is hard to judge or evaluate weather the war on terror can ever be won or what the implications of a draw down of US troops would mean for the Afghan internal stability and the capacity of the Al Qaeda-Taliban axis to inflict terror attacks on the US.
What is clear is that the US cannot afford a sustained combat mission in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen. The US military is overstretched, ill equipped and yes, broke. Painful budget cuts must be made to reign in the US fiscal deficit. The Pentagon will not be spared.
9/11 has left the US fractious internally and isolated globally. The global economic leadership the US once enjoyed was shattered. First, by the collapse of the mortgage market, second by the ugly display among Congressional leaders during the debt ceiling debates and third by the decision by S & P to downgrade the US credit rating from AAA.
The fiscal deficit and high unemployment will dominate the US presidential politics in 2012. The trouble is that while this intense focus on the domestic agenda is important, it will only serve to further isolate the US globally and the global geo-politics will re-align along new axis defined by BRIC, Turkey and Mexico.
The US role in the Arab Spring reflects the beginnings of what will be US trepidation and hesitation to project its influence as the bastion of liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.
10 years after 9/11 today, Americans will gather in ceremony both somber and filled with gratitude to the men and women who have served and paid with their lives to keep the homeland safe and secure.
But 9/11 will be a constant reminder as trigger of the precipitous decline of US domination of the global political and economic stage.
9/11 may have heralded the Asian Age, the emergence of a new world order.
Monday, August 29, 2011
The Dream Must March On
King and the vast assembly African Americans had come the nation’s capital to cash a check, a check that would give “us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice”. But in his oratory, replete with powerful imagery and delivered with unsurpassed oratory, “the check had come back marked insufficient funds”. But King was not deterred. And he proclaimed, “We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation”.
King had also come to the nation’s capital to remind America of the “fierce urgency of now”.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was to be dedicated on the National Mall on Sunday. But thanks to hurricane Irene, the ceremony was postponed.
But just like his life and what he stood for, the memory of King still draws fierce controversy.
Commenting on the King Memorial on the National Mall in the New York Times, Cornel West, philosopher and professor at Princeton noted that the “events constituted major milestones in the turbulent history of race and democracy.”
According to Andrew Young, one of King’s loyal lieutenants, former Mayor of Atlanta and former US Ambassador to the United Nations, “as America’s first black president, Barack Obama is doing the legacy of Martin Luther King proud. Cornel West disagrees. Cornel believes that “the age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy”.
Andrew Young believes “King would be most proud of the statue’s sheer size. King spent all his life as 5’ 7’’ so his ego would make him admire it”. That is vintage witty Andrew Young. But Cornel West thinks, “King weeps from his grave. He never confused substance with symbolism. He never conflated a flesh and blood sacrifice with a stone and mortar edifice.”
Cornel West reminds us that King’s dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.”
According to Andrew Young, “We know you are enslaved when you are in a democracy without the right to vote but when you are in a free enterprise system, in capitalism, without equal access to capital, we still have problems. Equal access to capital means equal access also to education and employment opportunity, so we still have a long way to go on Martin Luther King’s dream.”
But here is what King would say today, just like he did 48 years ago on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial “ I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.”
And against all odds and tribulations, the dream must live on.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Fixing the Crisis in Education
In the article the authors decry the deplorable performance of US students in various international tests. The national response to remedy low student achievement was the enactment of the No Child Left Behind Law, which requires public school students to pass standardized math by 2014. The law punishes schools if students do not pass. President Obama has also been drumming up support for his signature education reform program, Race To The TOP.
The article I think inadvertently raises fundamental practical and philosophical questions about education. They observe that the worry of poor grades or under achievement in math by US students is founded on the assumption that there is such a thing as a universal body of mathematical knowledge and skills that students must demonstrate competent mastery of.
The authors note that math curriculum is highly abstract and largely unhelpful in preparing students for different careers. This I can say with confidence is true for curriculum in all disciplines. Education as delivered through the school curriculum is largely irrelevant to the world of work and the challenges of ordinary day-to-day living.
The authors ask for instance how often most adults encounter situations in which they must apply a quadratic equation to solve a real life problem. But they observe that all adults need to understand how mortgages are priced. As investing adults, we all need to understand how to read a company’s balance sheet.
At the core of these questions is one major concern or worry. How can we make education relevant to the learner? Or more fundamentally, what kind of education will be relevant for work and daily living?
Many employers rate that skills and knowledge of most high school or college graduates as fair or poor. And I have met and interviewed many.
There is in a sense a crisis in education. It is a crisis of relevance as well as substantive useful knowledge and skills necessary to strive in a globalized and complex economy.
The authors give a brilliant example of how we could make math relevant and fun to learn. “Imagine replacing the sequence of algebra, geometry and calculus with a sequence of finance, data and basic engineering. In the finance course, students would learn the exponential function, use formulas in spreadsheets and study the budgets of people, companies and governments. In the data course, students would gather their own data sets and learn how, in fields as diverse as sports and medicine, larger samples give better estimates of averages”.
The article concludes “It is through real-life applications that mathematics emerged in the past, has flourished for centuries and connects to our culture now”. I rephrase this by saying, it is through the real-life application of knowledge that understanding, and discovery has flourished and connects to innovation.
We all have a real choice. But time is not on our side. We must make education relevant and prepare the next generation to take their rightful place in society.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Native Informants No More,
Invariably, universities in the North have the cash and infrastructure to dedicate to research. But often the field site for research happens to be in Africa. This is especially true for research in areas such as tropical ecology and biology. What tends to happen is that African scholars are invited by counterparts from the North as partners in a research project that is conceived and funded to serve not their interests or address priority research questions that are urgent or immediately relevant to a local problem.
African scholars in this arrangement tend to play the role of "native informants". For the most part they facilitate access to field sites, arrange introductions with government and local officials. So for practical reasons, African scholars merely serve a PR role. If they are lucky they may get a graduate student on the project and also get their name close to the end of the list of authors in a publication.
The reason for this bad situation is because public spending on research in Africa is infinitesimal or nonexistent. Hence invitation to "collaborate" in a project by researchers from the North is by far an irresistible proposition.
But this is to change.
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Agency for International Development have opened a funding stream for scientists in the developing world. The Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) will enable collaborations with scientists who are funded by the NSF; the US National Academies will help to administer the initiative. Applicants need a letter of support from their US-based partners. The first request for proposals will be released in August, and the first round of funding will be awarded later this year. Six PEER pilot projects — focused on areas such as hydrology, biodiversity and seismology — are already being financed in Tanzania, Bangladesh and elsewhere.
--Nature 475, 415 (01 July 2011) doi:10.1038/nj7356-415b
Published online 20 July 2011