Ha-Joon Chang, arguably the most important economic thinker around today, has launched an official website. His takedown of free market thinking Bad Samaritans should be read by… well, everyone really.
This from today’s report by the UN Children’s Fund:
“In Iraq the overall number of children receiving primary education has decline between 2004-05 and 2007-08 by 88,164, with no improvement in the percentage of girls enrolled…
This under representation of girls in primary school in Iraq has been known for many years.”
The report goes on to say that 75% of the girls who do start primary school in Iraq drop out before they reach intermediate education. I’ve not got the figures to hand, but that sounds like it might be below even the averages for sub-Sarahan Africa, and the reasons behind the declining figures are truly appalling. UNICEF says that in response to its surveys primary school girls told them they had concerns about:
“Safety, family poverty… teachers who beat them… dirty lavatories and no drinking water.”
The list goes on.
After a little light reading for the weekend? One of ReliefWeb‘s morning mailouts (there are lots of them everyday) has a round up of aid agency and UN reports which are well worth downloading. As usual I’m posting this before I’ve actually read them, but will try and write up a few thoughts on the content later.
Revolution: From Food Aid to Food Assistance - Innovations in Overcoming Hunger Irish Aid Annual Report 2009: Focus on Poverty and Hunger Pearson Peacekeeping Centre: Annual Report 2009-2010: Paths to Peace Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector - Progress Report 2010 - UNAIDS Voting with their feet: A review of refugee participation and the role of UNHCR in country of origin elections and other political processes Human Development Research Papers (HDRPs): Thematic research on key issues and concepts of human development At a Crossroads: Humanitarianism for the Next Decade - Save the Children Gender Justice: Key to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals Status and Prospects for Smallholder Milk Production: A Global Perspective
This morning, as I was getting ready for work, my wife and I were talking about plans for January. We’re going to South Africa for three weeks over Christmas to see family in Johannesburg, and I’m planning to make my way up to Simakakata in Zambia while we’re there to see George and the school and find out how things have changed in the last year and a bit.
The only question was whether I’d try and squeeze it in for a few days before Christmas, or arrange to stay on for an extra week or so after Tamsin and Tabby go home. On the one hand, doing the latter gives me more time to visit Good Hope as well and shoot lots of video for a story I’m putting together, on the other I’m terrified about spending six weeks out of the office. Especially as that time of the year is usually quite busy for freelance journalists, filling in while everyone else takes the holiday off.
As we were talking about it, I got a text from Sonia – perhaps the woman I admire most in the world. I haven’t spoken to Sonia since last May – I’ve only got George’s mobile phone number and she’s not been at school when I’ve called. A simple text, just to let me know her number. I’m not a believer in signs and all that, but the coincidence has made my mind up. I’m calling to change my flights to the later one today.
Only one question remains. I want to make sure that I’m not going back empty handed, so plan on doing some fundraising for LearnAsOne before I go.
So far, three classrooms have been built using bricks made by the community and extra building materials bought with donated cash. It’s been absolutely life changing – Saviour is now top of the class and well on her way to achieving her ambition of becoming a teacher. The government has agreed to send more teachers, and there’s even an unfinished borehole been sunk. In order to improve the quality of teaching and take more children from the community beyond grade six, more classrooms and teachers’ houses are needed. George still needs more help running adult education programs and maintaining his HIV/AIDs health outreach volunteers. The community are desperate to build the school and throwing all their weight behind it – they’ve seen how, in nearby Good Hope, an entire town has built up around the school turning an improverished, disparate community into a developmental success. They want to repeat that in Simakakata, but need just a bit more cash to buy things like windows, roofing timber and desks that they can’t build themselves.
I was trying to think of something simple that I can do – like a sponsored write-at-thon or something – but came to the conclusion that that isn’t really the point. So if anyone any ideas for a good challenge that will raise money for the next vital classroom block at Simakakata, please get in touch…
I’ve been running Ubuntu on most of my PCs for about three years now, and have been far happier with their performance than I ever was under Windows. The only real problem I’ve had is that as part of my job reviewing and evaluating hardware, I tend to use quite a lot of high end and up to date equipment in my main work machine, and Linux drivers are rarely up to scratch before a new piece of kit is released.
It’s understandable that driver teams put their effort into Windows and Mac compatibility, and by definition, the Linux community hasn’t had a new piece of hardware to write drivers for it.
Three things have changed enormously since I started using Ubuntu. First of all, it’s a hell of a lot slicker than it was. With each release, there’s less and less need to use the command line and better applications and control panels for simplifying use. It’s also a lot better at detecting hardware and installing the right drivers without any user input at all. Finally, it’s much, much quicker to boot than it ever was – even on my ridiculous work PC with its four randomly sized and aged hard drives that tripped it regularly before.
I tend to keep everything on my machines as up-to-date as possible, which isn’t always a good idea with Linux. Unless it’s a security hole you’re fixing, it’s much better – in my opinion – to take an ‘if it ain’t broke’ attitude towards upgrades. I do not have that attitude. When I updated my main PC for what must be its fifth or sixth distribution upgrade – to 10.04 – I noticed a few things were starting to go wrong. Graphical glitching began to appear as windows failed to redraw correctly, the machine would crash three or four times a day (it was always rock stable before) and boot times were way down on what they should be.
It took me a while to realise that actually, the problems were beyond repair. The various undocumented hacks I’ve performed on this particular PC since installation to do things like improve boot speed and get PusleAudio working with my Creative X-Fi or install a DirectX-11 class graphics card had been superceded by new drivers and native performance tweaks. Somewhere, several things were conflicting, and the chances of finding them were slim.
So I finally gave up and re-installed the latest beta of Ubuntu – due for release next month – from scratch. Because this is my work critical PC, with four years of accounting details and archives of articles, research and photographs, I took my time. The new installation is on a 128GB solid state drive partitioned into two halves, one for the file system and one for my home folder, while the existing hard drives have been left intact with new simlinks to the old documents folders. All I need to do is wait until I’m confident this new installation is good then clear out the system files from the old disc so that it’s dedicated for data.
I figure that way, if everything goes wrong again reinstalling a new OS will be much easier.
It’s taken me the best part of yesterday afternoon and this afternoon to get it up and running and download most of the apps I use on a daily basis. The only thing left to sort out is installing my photoediting software (Silkypix through Wine, because it’s the only thing other than Bibble - which I can’t afford – that automatically corrects lens distortion for a Panasonic GF1) and finally settling on a video editing workflow.
So why the long post about a relatively mundane piece of computer housekeeping? Long story short – I’m very impressed with Ubuntu 10.10 already. It’s stupidly fast, and all the stuff I’ve lost countless hours trying to fix in the past works out of the box.
The only things I don’t like are the new themes – but then I’ve never come across a Gnome theme I’ve absolutely fallen in love with yet. I refuse to use an OSX clone because, well, it defeats the object. But in all honesty, nothing really comes close to being that elegant does it?
I’m going to put together an ‘open source journalist’s toolkit’ at some point in the near future with of specific apps and workflows that can slash the cost of running your own multimedia editorial studio, but for now, suffice to say I think that Linux has really come of age.I can’t imagine being able to set up and configure a completely clean install of Windows or OSX as quickly.
Some shots from a review I recently did for Stuff.
The World Bank has released an intriguing press release today headlined “Developing countries come to the global economy’s rescue”. It’s to coincide with the publication of a report called “The Day After Tomorrow: A handbook on the future of economic policy in the developing world”.
I’m reading through the 466 page PDF now. The salient points, according to the World Bank, are that developing countries are growing their economies at the rate of 6.1%, while rich countries are relatively stagnant at 2.3%. It puts it down to:
“Faster technological learning, larger middle- classes, more South-South commercial integration, high commodity prices, and healthier balance sheets that will allow borrowing for infrastructure investment.”
An interesting problem presents itself here, as high growth in developing countries usually coincides with all the anti-moneterism things the World Bank doesn’t usually like – high interest rates, high inflation, large state involvement.
The chapter on Latin America, which I’ve skimmed, is particularly telling. It talks a lot about how South America has so far been relatively unscathed by the financial crisis, but puts it down to low interest rates and inflation and savings made during the boom times. I’ve so far not seen a single mention of the closed group ALBA bartering system or other economic initiatives which have arguably helped South America withstand the crisis in the financial markets, but run counter to World Bank policy.
I’ve got a call booked with George at Simakakata school for first thing tomorrow morning. The subject – my impending return to the country. Looking forward to that a lot.
Today was my second visit to see Dr Nasimi, who runs the Afghan and Central Asian Association in New Cross Gate. He’s an interesting individual, he arrived in the UK in the 90s, gained his doctorate in politics and now dedicates his time to a community group for imigrant Afghans – many of whom are refugees and some of whom have entered the country illegally.
The Association helps Afghans living in the UK with translation services and legal advice, as well as helping to create a positive community in a diaspora which is largely ignored and subject to racial stereotyping. On Saturdays, Dr Nasimi runs a supplementary school for child and adult learning from the Deptford Albany centre. He employs a team of volunteers who help with English lessons and homework. Arguably the most important work done at the centre is helping some of the kids who’ve been through hell – dragged around Europe smuggled in the back of lorries and placed in schools where they don’t speak the language – to feel at home. One of his students won a place at university this year, all of them were incredibly lively and, well, enjoying being children when I dropped in a few weeks ago.
Dr Nasimi has been developing some interseting views recently which I’ll be asking him about and getting on film at some point in the future. He’s just got back from a long visit to see family in Afghanistan – and was robbed of $2000 in Uzbekistan, but that’s a different story – and feels that it’s time for Afghan’s living in the UK to start helping with the reconstruction strategy for their country.
Back at the start of the decade long occupation, he says, he felt Afghans living in Europe were being consulted about how the NATO-led occupation should proceed. As time has gone on, though, they’ve been increasingly marginalised. This, he thinks, is a mistake. The ties they have with friends and family, especially in the North, could be invaluable in overcoming prejudices against Western interference in the country. More importantly, he says, they could help make sure that all the billions of dollars of aid money flowing into the country is put to better use than propping up drug cartels and nepotistic, ethically segregated regimes.
It’s a fascinating idea. There are a good couple of hundred thousand Afghans living in the UK. It seems odd that they have no say in the way our country behaves while inside theres.