28 April 2008

Soros's New Book

Woodruff: What of your book and the philosophy that comes of it?

Soros: In human affairs, as distinguished from natural science, I argue that our understanding is imperfect. And our imperfect understanding introduces an element of uncertainty that's not there in natural phenomena. So therefore you can't predict human affairs in the same way as you can natural phenomena. And we have to come to terms with the implication of our own misunderstandings, that it's very hard to make decisions when you know you may be wrong. You have to learn to recognize that we in fact may be wrong. And, even worse than that, it's almost inevitable that all of our constructs will have some kind of a flaw in them. So when it comes to currencies, no currency system is perfect.

Soros's New Book

Woodruff: What of your book and the philosophy that comes of it?

Soros: In human affairs, as distinguished from natural science, I argue that our understanding is imperfect. And our imperfect understanding introduces an element of uncertainty that's not there in natural phenomena. So therefore you can't predict human affairs in the same way as you can natural phenomena. And we have to come to terms with the implication of our own misunderstandings, that it's very hard to make decisions when you know you may be wrong. You have to learn to recognize that we in fact may be wrong. And, even worse than that, it's almost inevitable that all of our constructs will have some kind of a flaw in them. So when it comes to currencies, no currency system is perfect.

20 April 2008

Luck School

After ten years of research, a professor in England says not only has he discovered the four scientific principles of luck, he claims he can turn an unlucky person into a lucky one.


Tragedy of childhood

Tragedy of childhood. Not infrequently, noble-minded and ambitious men have to endure their harshest struggle in childhood, perhaps by having to assert their characters against a low-minded father, who is devoted to pretense and mendacity, or by living, like Lord Byron, in continual struggle with a childish and wrathful mother. If one has experienced such struggles, for the rest of his life he will never get over knowing who has been in reality his greatest and most dangerous enemy.

Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, 422

16 April 2008

Alarm at China's influence in Timor

IMPOVERISHED East Timor has signed a $28 million deal with China to buy two advanced patrol boats in a move that will alarm Australia and Indonesia about increasing Chinese influence in the struggling nation.

The deal was signed on April 12 by Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, Secretary of State for Defence Julio Pinto and Hao Yantan from the Chinese defence company Poly-Technic.

China has been steadily increasing its presence in East Timor. It is involved in oil and gas exploration and was responsible for compiling a geological survey of the half-island state.

China has also recently built a massive Foreign Ministry office on Dili's waterfront.

The contract for the patrol boats provides for 30 East Timorese defence force personnel to undergo training in China. Foreign policy experts yesterday expressed concern at the deal and said money would be better spent on social infrastructure.


Former colonial power Portugal gave East Timor two ageing Albatross-class patrol boats armed with 20mm cannon but both ships are in need of repairs. The East Timorese defence force was also hard-pressed to find the $500,000 a year required to keep the boats running.

"Nobody is arguing that East Timor needs to be able to control its own waters, but to sign a $28 million patrol boat contract with the Chinese raises questions about affordability and says much about the expanding role of China here," said a Dili-based Western security analyst, who asked not to be named.


13 April 2008

Just Yell Fire

A Tae Kwon Do black belt and Filipino street fighter who can take down a grown man, Jessup says her call to action was the abduction and death of a young girl from Florida.

To empower girls around the world, Jessup played a key role in the production of "Just Yell Fire," a free training video teaching self-protection for young women that has been viewed by 2 million people in 37 countries.

Jessup, who says the girls she meets are what keep her going, also travels to schools around the United States to help instill in young women the knowledge that they have the right to stand up for themselves if facing a scenario like date rape or abduction.


11 April 2008

Why I Am Not a Lefty

I do not rubbish the idea that one group of people are exploited in order for the rich to become richer[,] but [the fact is that] the poor have only themselves to blame for trying to live with loads of debts. It is a matter of one's choice to leave the best to the last.

Lisa, Chorley, Lancs


She says it perfectly (with the assistance of my editing).

Behind Every Fortune Lies a Crime

The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.

- Honoré de Balzac

10 April 2008

Your Chances of Being Killed

Marketing military security to the corporate sector in the name of national interest can be tricky when the public is bored with terrorism, and when risk assessments show minuscule likelihood of public danger. Even during Howard's regime - and even after he increased the risk of terror when he invaded Iraq - the free-market Centre For Independent Studies pegged the risk to Australians here and overseas as: "about 1 in 333,333. [Chris] Leithner compares this with the rate of death from pesticide poisoning (1 in 200,000), lightning strikes (1 in 30,000), motor vehicle accidents (1 in 60) and disease caused by smoking one packet of cigarettes per day (1 in 6) and concludes that 'the "terrorist threat" is thus minuscule'


Haiti president appeals for calm

Haiti president appeals for calm

From correspondents in Port-Au-Prince | April 10, 2008

FRESH violence broke out in Haiti today, forcing UN peacekeepers to intervene as President Rene Preval appealed for calm and ordered a clampdown on deadly protests against high food prices.

For the second day in a row, UN soldiers pushed back demonstrators trying to reach the presidential palace using tear gas and firing in the air, radio reporters said.

It was not immediately known if there were any casualties today. According to an unofficial count, five have been killed by gunfire and about 40 have been wounded since the unrest erupted last Friday.

"The solution to the high cost of living is global and we are paying the price for all the bad policies applied for 20 years in Haiti," Mr Preval said in a televised address.

"I have ordered the Haitian police and UN soldiers to put an end to the looting," he said, adding violence "will not resolve the country's problems".

The US State Department announced it had suspended the operations of its embassy until the violence subsides in the poorest country in the Americas.

"We suspended embassy operations for today because of some of the violence and demonstrations that's taken place in Haiti," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

"We fully hope and expect that over time those demonstrations will dissipate and we will get back to a situation where we can continue normal embassy operations."

Thousands have been demonstrating since Friday in the capital of the impoverished Caribbean nation against rising food and fuel prices.

Blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers were called in yesterday to protect the presidential palace as the demonstrations turned violent.

Port-au-Prince was paralysed again today while several stores were ransacked by protesters armed with clubs, some holding guns, according to witnesses.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for calm and "urges all demonstrators to refrain from any further acts of violence," his office said.

He also deplored attacks against the personnel and facilities of the 10,000-strong UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as well as against the Haitian government and private property.

Group of youths again erected barricades of old tyres in different areas of the capital Port-au-Prince.

"We are trying to control the situation. Our police are putting out fires lit in the barricades which are blocking the roads," police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said.

"We will punish the pillagers," he said.

The protests began last week after a sudden jump in fuel and basic food commodity prices in the poor country of 8.5 million people.

The rice price has doubled from $US35 ($37.63) to $US70 ($75.27) for a 54.4kg sack, and petrol has seen its third price hike in less than two months.


08 April 2008

Peace Through Brute Strength

In Zobaie's world, to show mercy is to show weakness. In a land where men burn other men alive, harsh tactics are a small price to pay for imposing order, he said.


The story of Zobaie and his police force opens a window onto the Iraq that is emerging after five years of war. American ideals that were among the justifications for the 2003 invasion, such as promoting democracy and human rights, are giving way to values drawn from Iraq's traditions and tribal culture, such as respect, fear and brutality.

"We don't have any Thomas Jeffersons here," said Capt. Sean Miller, a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division from Fairfax, Va., who works closely with Zobaie. "What we do have here is generally a group of people who are trying to save a city. It won't fulfill our ideals or what we desire."


Zobaie's harshest critics also acknowledge that Fallujah needs a man like him.

Salman, the imam, said Zobaie controls the city with "a fire fist."

"But to be honest, security is restored under this guy," he said. "We have a saying in Iraq: 'Fever is better than death.' We were dead. Life stopped at 2 p.m. Everybody was afraid of themselves, including me. If he didn't use the force, the security wouldn't be restored. We don't like the weak man."


Geoff Lawton: Effective Water Solutions in Ecological “Badlands”

Geoff Lawton is world renowned for designing effective water solutions in the ecological “badlands”. His practical experience is immense, designing and managing hundreds of complex community projects in such diverse places as Jordan, Mexico, Tanzania, Iraq, Morocco, Vietnam and Kiribati as well as large scale private works in the USA and Australia. His ground-breaking work in the Middle East has seen deserts become living food stores though effective hydrological design.


Watch this bastard re-green a patch of desert in Jordan:


Grains Gone Wild

Grains Gone Wild
Published: April 7, 2008
These days you hear a lot about the world financial crisis. But there’s another world crisis under way — and it’s hurting a lot more people.
I’m talking about the food crisis. Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a families spending.
There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.
How did this happen? The answer is a combination of long-term trends, bad luck — and bad policy.
Let’s start with the things that aren’t anyone’s fault.
First, there’s the march of the meat-eating Chinese — that is, the growing number of people in emerging economies who are, for the first time, rich enough to start eating like Westerners. Since it takes about 700 calories’ worth of animal feed to produce a 100-calorie piece of beef, this change in diet increases the overall demand for grains.
Second, there’s the price of oil. Modern farming is highly energy-intensive: a lot of B.T.U.’s go into producing fertilizer, running tractors and, not least, transporting farm products to consumers. With oil persistently above $100 per barrel, energy costs have become a major factor driving up agricultural costs.
High oil prices, by the way, also have a lot to do with the growth of China and other emerging economies. Directly and indirectly, these rising economic powers are competing with the rest of us for scarce resources, including oil and farmland, driving up prices for raw materials of all sorts.
Third, there has been a run of bad weather in key growing areas. In particular, Australia, normally the world’s second-largest wheat exporter, has been suffering from an epic drought.
O.K., I said that these factors behind the food crisis aren’t anyone’s fault, but that’s not quite true. The rise of China and other emerging economies is the main force driving oil prices, but the invasion of Iraq — which proponents promised would lead to cheap oil — has also reduced oil supplies below what they would have been otherwise.
And bad weather, especially the Australian drought, is probably related to climate change. So politicians and governments that have stood in the way of action on greenhouse gases bear some responsibility for food shortages.
Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels.
The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.”
This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly “good” biofuel policies, like Brazil’s use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.
And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering: all the remaining presidential contenders are terrible on this issue.
One more thing: one reason the food crisis has gotten so severe, so fast, is that major players in the grain market grew complacent.
Governments and private grain dealers used to hold large inventories in normal times, just in case a bad harvest created a sudden shortage. Over the years, however, these precautionary inventories were allowed to shrink, mainly because everyone came to believe that countries suffering crop failures could always import the food they needed.
This left the world food balance highly vulnerable to a crisis affecting many countries at once — in much the same way that the marketing of complex financial securities, which was supposed to diversify away risk, left world financial markets highly vulnerable to a systemwide shock.
What should be done? The most immediate need is more aid to people in distress: the U.N.’s World Food Program put out a desperate appeal for more funds.
We also need a pushback against biofuels, which turn out to have been a terrible mistake.
But it’s not clear how much can be done. Cheap food, like cheap oil, may be a thing of the past.

Kiva: Microfinance

Kiva is the world's first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs in the developing world.


07 April 2008

Maakhir: Breakaway State of Somalia


06 April 2008

The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force

The Economics of Autocracy and Majority Rule: The Invisible Hand and the Use of Force
Working paper
Martin McGuire, Mancur Olson, Jr.
August 1994

Suppose that the leader of a group of roving bandits in an anarchic environment can seize and hold some territory. If the bandit leader becomes a settled ruler with a definite and secure domain. it will pay him to limit the rate of his theft and to provide a peaceful order and other public goods in that domain. In an anarchic environment, there is little incentive for people to invest or produce and. therefore. not much for bandits to steal. But, by choosing a rate of tax-theft that leaves a considerable incentive for his victims to produce and by providing a peaceful order and other public goods, the settled ruler can bring about a great increase in output, and out of this increase obtain more resources for his own purposes than from roving banditry.


IRIS - Development Research

We work to understand and facilitate economic growth and democratic development in poor and transition countries, focusing on the role of institutions — the formal and informal rules by which individuals organize economic, political, and social activity.


East Timor: IDPs Not Returning Home

Four main obstacles prevent the IDPs from going home.

First, many continue to fear further violence from their neighbours and do not trust the security forces to guarantee their safety...

Secondly, the provision of free food and shelter makes life in a camp in some respects more attractive than the alternatives. A further factor that makes IDPs from the countryside reluctant to leave the camps in Dili is that the capital offers many more economic opportunities...

Thirdly, some of the camps are in effect run by individuals and groups that have vested interests in keeping numbers high, either because they control the black market for reselling food aid or because they believe greater numbers give them more political weight. In a few instances, they have intimidated or prevented people from leaving...

Finally, many displaced do not have homes to go back to. Destroyed or damaged houses have not been rebuilt, and others are subject to ownership disputes that cannot be settled under Timor-Leste’s incomplete and inadequate system of land law...


(Lack of) Strategic Coherence in Afghanistan

You have aptly entitled today’s hearing “Strategic Chaos and Taliban Resurgence.” To a considerable degree, the absence of strategic coherence has been a powerful enabler of that resurgence.


The current state of affairs was not inevitable. It resulted from policy choices early on in the international community; light military and political footprints with the co-opting of local and all too frequently corrupt militia leaders rather than international boots on the ground. There was a failure to get UNSC-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) out into the provinces. In 2002, Crisis Group was arguing for a peacekeeping force of 25,000 to 30,000. Instead, there were 4,500 ISAF troops confined to Kabul.


Today the lack of strategic coherence within the international community effort is reflected in separate civilian special representatives of the United Nations, of the European Union and of NATO, with no clear authority one over the other; and in a reluctance on the part of the United States and other major country contributors to be coordinated by any one of them.


Impatience Key to Failure in Afghanistan

Let me give you just one example – the auxiliary police. Eighteen months ago the view of the Afghan government and many internationals was that there weren’t enough police in the South, so what we should do is create an auxiliary police – giving former militia a crash 10 day course in policing, and then letting them loose on the local population. When this scheme was announced, Crisis Group expressed the strong view that this was abandoning all pretence of a professional institution in favour of handing out guns and uniforms to men with ten days training and doubtful command and control. "But we must do something NOW" was the resounding response. Now the programme has been deemed a failure, many of the men (and their uniforms and guns) never seen again. And in its place new ideas for militias and "auxiliaries" and "community defence" are being floated. Crisis Group is once again told there is not time to concentrate on building national institutions. "We must do something NOW". Imagine if that year that had already been lost had been spent training properly field levels leaders in the south and pushing deep reform through the deeply corrupt Ministry of Interior?


Development Executive


Benelli M4 Shotgun


02 April 2008

What 'e Said...

“Those who governed well did not arm, those who were armed well did not set up battle lines, those who set up battle lines well did not fight, those who fought well did not lose, those who lost well did not perish.”

— Zhuge Liang, 3d century