Friday, November 27, 2009

avoiding work on black friday

Been more than a little while since I got on here. Semester has been a bear and I'm back home just trying to catch my breath and steeling myself for actual work later today. In the spirit of the holiday, though, I've been working my way through my google reader, 95 unique posts and articles from around the interwebs, and read the whole thing (I feel like an information glutton). An interesting one that popped up though, from the kind folks at Next American City is a review of the Wolrd Bank's ten year urbanization plan. It's a short column critiquing what seems to be a rehashing of some of the standard policy tropes the Bank loves to pull out, even as they pay service to greater "sustainability" and "pro-poor" development.

Now, I'm actually not a huge World Bank hater, I've worked for them as a sub-contractor and was an office manager at a non-profit that did a lot of work because of them and USAID. But I do know about the history that transnational orgs like World Bank, the IMF, USAID, and others and how harmful they've been. But I know that the Bank also funds and encourages some legitimately awesome projects that are run by great people, which is why the critiques leveled in this column are worrisome. The Bank is a worldwide thought leader and a major funding source of programs throughout the world. And what seems to be happening is that we are putting the cart before the horse on many of these issues of urbanization in developing nations, and even in some developed countries.

I was in Nigeria this past summer and got to see one of the world's famous megacities, Lagos. Let me tell you now, the government in that country should definitely not be encouraging further migration from rural areas to large urban centers like this. Lagos is but one of many startling examples of urbanization run amok due to poor government (including rampant corruption), nearly non-existent planning, lack of infrastructure, and little political power of a citizenry. A lack of housing, power, potable water, and food contrasted with the obscene oil wealth found in wealthier parts of the city show all of the ills of unequal growth. The Bank, and others in the development game, need to be attacking these issues now. There is no doubt that the urbanized population of the world is growing and will continue to grow. All the more reason for governments and aid organizations to push land and political reforms now. There are a lot of innovative programs coming from local groups and major international organizations the world over. From slum mapping projects, water programs, worker co-ops, financing reform, city management improvement, the world is filled with great ideas addressing the needs we have and even those efforts are woefully inadequate.

My point is that if the bank is really keen on further encrouaging urban population growth and migration between urban centers over the next decade and beyond, then they must be focusing on the basics. What good is so-called "sustainable" development if the vast majority of an urban area already lives in unregulated or semi-regulated squalor without access to proper infrastructure or social services? As planners, I feel we sometimes get caught up in the future and its possibilities that we forgot or misinterpret what's actually wrong right now. We all want a gree, equitable future but in order for that to happen we need to be pushing for greater attention on the lowliest in our respective societies. At the end of the day, we should be making sure that people live in safe environments, with stable work, adequate public health, education, and an efficient, fair system of government.

That's work that needs to be done today.

Monday, August 17, 2009

back in action

I know it's been almost a month since an update and i apologize for that.

It's been a hectic time for me. I got back to the good ole US of A on the first of the month and had to hit the ground running. I've moved into a new apartment, was best man at my boy's wedding (beautiful ceremony, by the way, my boy was grinning the entire day), and getting prepared to try and start up school again. On the shittier end of things I've learned that my funding for school has been cut, so I'm responsible for full tuition and all. Of course, when I ask the administration about it, they tell I should've received a bill in the mail over the summer...huge whomp whomp there, you know, considering I was IN FUCKING NIGERIA FOR 2 MONTHS!!! But it's aight. I'm hustling like my life depends on it, and it kinda does. I'm pushing out resumes to any research center or office I can find that could use some kind of assistance, I pray I can get a nibble back.

I'm currently at my boy's house watching soccer and reading random articles online praying that Obama isn't played for a bitch in a few weeks when congress is back in session with this healthcare reform package. For some reason the CBO's website won't let me download any pdfs so I can't read their preliminary reports. I can read the director's letters on his blog found here. The big thing that surprises me is the rough estimate of a net increase of 65 billion dollars to the deficit, once you take rough savings and expense into account. Now the director points out that this is basically a back of the envelope estimate given the fact that the bills are not finalized, but overall, the scheme is relatively affordable. Especially if further spending is curtailed or revenues (ie taxes) are increased. But my main headache involves the bullshit that has accompanied this issue the entire month I've been back. You've had these townhall fiascoes, the dropping of end of life counseling provisions and recent statements by members in the white house that would lead one to believe they're distancing themselves from the much-touted and reviled "public option". In other words, the white house, and democrats, are losing the political game here. Mass media enjoys spouting clear misinformation uncritically in some twisted sense of journalistic objectivity and, once again, sensible policy, let alone justice, are left by the wayside.

I truly worry that the public option will be left behind and that other provisions specifically addressing insurance industry practices will be watered down, and once again the buck will be passed down the road. I kinda just want to bury my head in the sand and wait for may and graduation, but because that can't work, I'm gonna go sling some more resumes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


This one is short and sweet as I am in an internet cafe on borrowed time. Jane, the new MBA, has arrived and she has taken my room at the lodge. I've been moved to Lush Suites Hotel about a 6 minute drive from lodge. It's not bad, considering. I have a working tv with 5 working channels, including CNN and MTVbase and consistent power. On the other hand, the hot water heater in my room doesn't work, the wireless internet they said they had is, of course, not functioning, thus why I'm in an internet cafe down the block. They also forgot to give me a towel which made showering a bit tricky, but I have the towels I packed so I guess that's a plus...Don't know, I think I'm just getting tired of the really spectacularly shitty service that seems to be the norm in this country. Like I've discussed with my teammates, I have little to be upset about if folk would just be straight up. Don't tell me you have wireless when it's been inoperable for three days. Don't tell me you have hot water when you don't. And, please, don't charge me a premium price non-existent amenities. I know the internet thing is not the hotel's fault, but it becomes more tiresome the closer I get to home...

So, a lot of my work is ending...I got our files organized into a semi-organized hierarchy, although I'm still lacking random stuff from varied team memebers but I figure once I'm gone, they can just add them to the existing structure. On a more exciting end, I may be speaking to a group of planning students at UniCal about my experiences working in Nigeria. One of the profs I work with invited me, assuming they call of their strike before I leave, of course. And I have my first official duty! I get to attend the public presentation of the economic impact study of this past year's christmas carnival celebration. It's slated to be a rip-roaring 4 hour event where there will be guest speakers talking about the christmas festival and economic impacts...why this has to be a 4 hour event I don't know. I also don't know why there are like 3 guest speakers, an entry procession, and opening and closing prayer, but I guess if you're gonna do it, then do it big. So, being the "academic liaison" it is my solmn duty to attend this thing as an official representative of the project. I plan on comitting ritual seppuku at the beginning of the second hour in protest for attempting to make a grand public event out the publishing of an annual economic impact study.

Although, I do hope the strike gets called off so I can talk with the students. I'm really curious to hear what future planners have to think about Nigeria. I mean, all I can offer is my own frustration and belief in Nigeria's potential. But, honestly, it seems like everyone from other countries always say that. I'm tired of hearing people, foreign and Nigerian, blowing smoke up everyone's collective ass. The government here, at nearly all levels, suffers from endemic corruption that prevents basic services from reaching the people, does not address the issues of poverty, educational attainment, and myriads of other social measures that they are trying to address. It's time for the model to change.

All of which is very easy for me to say, considering I'm leaving in ten days and don't have to work within the system with all of its attending bullshit and political games. Sigh...it's just a hell of a position to be in. I want to talk with those folk and hear them and try and offer what little I can without coming off as being condescending or colonial. Although, I doubt the profs will be off strike by the time I'm gone, so the point is probably moot. Anyways, I'm out. my time is about up here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Of Fish Farms and Urine

Aus and I got invited to Auqa Vista Resort and Farm last night in Calabar South. It is run by Mfon Essang and Dr. Umoh, one of our premier stakeholder members. Aus and Jess have both been telling me about Aqua Vista since I landed in CRS. Mfon treated us to dinner, a little tour, and a lot of conversation last night. It was a lot of fun. The resort is a combination resort/restaurant/fish farm/tour operator. Calabar, like most of CRS, is pretty much a huge tributary. The Calabar river is the major water source, but with the ocean less than an hour away, the entire area is a hodge podge of rain forest to the north, saltwater marshes and mangroves around Calabar, and coast farther south. Aqua Vista was built on an old salt water marsh and the constructucted a series of rivulets around the resort that carry the tidal water that flows through the area. As a result, the offer boat tours all the way to the ocean when the tide is in, which is actually quite amazing when you consider the river is nearly half an hour away by boat, and the ocean nearly an hour or so by water. Unfortunately, when the tide is out, the river dries up entirely leaving a thick, ugly black mud that smells a bit. To solve this, they are a digging a channel that will connect with a smaller river that will keep the water level constant, regardless of the tide.

In addition to their own river system, the resort has five fish growing ponds. Each pond is maybe by 10x15 yards and seem to be no more than 4 or 5 feet deep. Unsurprisingly, they grow primarily Tilapia. As readers of the blog probably know, I have a bit of a minor obsession with aquaculture and fish farming so I was geeking out while talking to Mfon. In addition to Tilapia, they grow two other species and are experimenting with a local fish. I can't remember the name as it was something long and fairly unpronounceable in Efik, but Mfon told me it is well muscled and an active fish that enjoys jumping. The operation is not big enough but they do have plans to exapnd the farm into a full scale commerical farm in the future in addition to building more lodgings along their river route all the way to the sea.

Dinner was a spicy grilled Tilapia from the farm, covered in slice onion and tomato, along with some french fries, ketchup, and a hot sauce. It was one of the tastiest meals I've had in a long, long time. While eating, Dr. Umoh arrived and joined us and we had a pretty fruitful discussion. Aus and Dr. Umoh and Mfon mainly talked shop for most of the time but the conversation soon expanded to general plans for the resort and about Nigeria, in general. I mentioned how when they expand they could very easily supply many of the restaurants and hotels with exceptionally fresh fish and employ a decent number of local people. I also talked about possibly exploiting the silt from the bottom of their ponds and selling it or using it as a fertilizer if they were to ever to look into cultivating their own crops.

The discussion proved enlightening on quite a few topics. It convinced me all the more that this country requires intense institutional reform if it were to ever really live up to its awesome potential. Mfon and the Dr were explaining to me how it is impossible to get long term financing and how banks will charge, on average, between 22 and 25% on short term loans of 2-3 years. Thus making it impossible to to do any kind of big projects, needlessly slowing down development. Combine that with the endemic corruption that makes doing business unnecessarily costly and the lack of infrastructure, due to a mixture of incompetence, lack of funding, and corruption and you have the perfect recipe for getting nothing done. I mentioned how it was our hope and goal that after we are gone that CRQ will act as an organizing agent of private business owners that will eventually help to push through some reform with the weight of their influence...or that's the hope. Whatever happens, organzing is key.

On an unrelated note, ran into a neat little post on ecogeek about this chemist at Ohio University who has figured out a way to get hydrogen from urine using a quarter of the electricity it takes to remove hydrogen from water. I love seeing little things like this. It's a combination of imagination, basic research, and applicability to current problems that makes this solution, to me at least, extremely elegant. makes me wish I had the head for such things, like playing with urine all damn day...anyways, I pray folk have a decent day. back home in 2 weeks...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

lagos, work, and chinese renewables

Lot of random stuff on my mind and some housecleaning and updating to do...so here it goes.

Flew back from Lagos sunday night. Jess and I had a 4:45 flight but because of traffic our driver didn't pick us up until 3:10. As I mentioned earlier it takes 2 hours to get ANYWHERE in Lagos so Jess and I were sure we would miss check in and the flight. Our driver drove like the proverbial bat out of hell...not sure how many people he cut off or how he managed to lay on the horn for an hour straight, but he got us to the airport at 4:05, just in time for jess and I to make check in and board. We gave him and N8,000 tip for the weekend and for getting us to the airport.

While the trip was pleasant overall, I don't really ever plan on spending a lot of time in Lagos again. The nightlife was cool, but there are only so many smoky lounges playing loud dancehall before you've seen a decent bit of what that particular scene has to offer. But the traffic, the overwhelming poverty, the high prices, the filth in the streets...it's, quite honestly, a depressing place to be. It felt good to be back in Cross River State.

Progress on the professor workshop and stakeholder workshop/discussion is going at a decent clip. Aus came to me yesterday asking about plans for the workshop and I gave him a very rough sketch of what we have planned. A 4-6 hour conference talking about the structure of our proposed DMO etc...and that I figured we could have a 2 hour session in the morning, lunch, then a 2 or 3 hour session in the afternoon with time for additional discussion. Well, he informs me that we can't provide lunch because it is not in the budget so he suggested blocking out lunch time and telling people to go get food and then split up and have them come back in the later day. I tried to explain that I didn't think it was fair to the participants nor very polite, really, but he continued to tell me we don't have budgeting room and he has to submit the budget on wednesday so to make something happen. Well, I discussed it with Jess this morning who kindly informed me that she's the one who actually writes up the budget and that because the workshop is next month, our monthly wire has yet to be determined. So it is all very possible to budget for a lunch, especially considering the total price for it would be around 250 dollars or so. So, I don't know what to make of it...but I'm more than a bit upset. Little shit like this just makes my working day unnecessarily tedious. So, I'm not gonna worry about Aus and just do what I was gonna do.

Also, half of my proposed work is now officially shelved. I've been working on organizing the mounds of documents we have into a logical document and folder tree, eventually to be used in a web portal where our stakeholders can go and find necessary information. The ultimate goal is to use the info in this portal to make a website where travel agents and customers could order tourist packages and the like. Well, the original document portal idea has been shelved by our boss due to connectivity issues in the country. So, my jobs now entail getting this workshop finalized and data entry...I've only got 2 and a half weeks left in country, but I am starting to feel increasingly useless. And, honestly, I have more than enough stuff back in the states to worry about that I hate feeling like I'm spinning my wheels, but it is what it is. I'll finish what I can.

Onto happier things...like trade disputes and renewable energy!! Like any good planner, I'm big into thinking about energy and how to better use renewables. The times has an article looking at the Chinese starting to maneuver itself as a leader in renewable energy. Now, overall, I think this is a good thing. China is, along with the US, a global leader in carbon emissions, primarily from their use of massive, dirty coal-powered power plants. So, any serious consideration of renewables is fantastic news, environmentally. But what pisses me off is that, once again, China is playing dirty pool. They were allowed into the WTO in 2001 but they have yet to sign key provisions regarding government provision. Because many of the leading energy companies submitting bids for the increased investment in renewables in the country are, in fact, government owned, they've gotten blatant deferential treatment, so much so that zero foreign companies won any bids to produce wind turbines on large projects. Of course, the government came up with a mutltitude of reasons to reject these bids, but I find it hard to believe that many European wind companies, that have been in business for decades and have gone out of their way to build plants in China in order to do business there, were totally incapable of meeting the bid requirements set by the government.

I'm not an ardent free trader, but being a student of neoclassical economics, this strikes me as not just unfair but poor policy. For one, Chinese wind turbine quality, as noted in the article, is not that great compared to foreign made turbines, because they spend so much time being repaired. In addition, the national policy to encourage utilities to use renewable power does not have a requirement for power generation, so all utilities have to do is put up some shitty wind turbines, give the estimated amount of power they should be producing and then continue on as they always have. So, it's a double blow for the use of renewables.

On the other end, I really wonder when other countries will finally stand up to China. Actions like this require they be kicked out of the WTO or the WTO should demand they respect all of the rules that every other member does. Either that, or countries should follow suit. In the long run, everyone so aggressively protecting their own industries will start to lose out, or so economic theory claims. Either way, the result will be higher prices for energy all around. I don't have a major issue with China being out for China. What do I have issue with is China claiming to be a member of these large institutions like the WTO and then deliberately subverting them by ignoring the rules and making it hard for legitimte business to be conducted. If you want to only have it be domestic, fine, but stop lying to these foreign firms so you can grab technology and then bounce. Also, I need foreign firms to stop doing business there. They know the Chinese play dirty. They always have. But the savings on labor and the potential size of the market are too valuable to ignore. China has played this game very well for the past 30 years and I don't see them changing, but it really irks me that they always have to be so hamfisted and blatantly dishonest, and it pisses me off that foreign companies continue to do business there because it's cheaper, even though many of them screwed in the long run. I don't want to advocate for a trade war, especially in the midst of a global recession, but at some point eithe the US or the EU is going to have to take a hard line on these practices.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fela Kuti and fury

We stopped by the Africa Shrine today. The Africa Shrine is the performing space that Fela Kuti built back in the 70s. Kuti was an ardent political activist in a time when Nigeria was ruled by a military junta as well as being an aredent supporter of pan-africanism. He is one of the huge cultural heroes of Nigeria and of pan-africanists as a whole. The shrine was interesting and dissapointing. It is an open air space with a corrugated tin roof that looks like it could seat a few hundred people, with a large stage at one end and a bar and elevated seating on the opposite end of the space. There are portraits of Fela and other performers who have come to the shrine and a bunch of signs with little aphorisms and proverbs that celebrate African unity and warning against AIDS. I would have gotten some nice pictures but the people who hang out at the shrine are not the type who would take kindly to being photographed. Everyone in there was smoking incredibly strong marijuana and there was a steady stream of people who came through, would buy a spliff or dime bag, drink a beer and then leave after an hour or two. It's a bit sad to see a spot of such cultural importance that is falling apart, a den for small time dealers, and filthy. It is what it is, I guess. Ak was able to get a set of 8 discs, part of the 40 disc Kuti discography and a tshirt, so the trip was not a total wash and it was an educational experience.

The trip back was a bit more traumatic for me. I now understand a little more why people would blow themselves up and kill everyone in the sight of the excess and callousness of the ruling elite. We drove through the suburb where we are staying, a monument to artchitectural gaudiness and excess, contrasted with a poverty that is absolute and heartbreaking. But today was the first time I was able to view much more of the neighborhood in the full glare of sunlight. There are homes here that are 20 room mansions, with plaster friezes desgined to look like european chateaus that have adjoining plots where squatters live in squat shacks, standing water, and surrounded by trash. The contradiction is surreal and heartbreaking. But I have seen poverty before. Back home and now in three different countries. I have driven and walked through slums. Seen one and two room shacks that house multiple families. Deprivation and want no longer really surprise me, they mainly engender sympathy and the desire to try and do something about it. But today was truly the first time I have ever felt fury. I use the word deliberately. It was not anger or disgust, but a mixture of the two that was greater than the sum of its parts. It was at once cold and white hot...such poverty, such clear want, amidst such extravagance and empty excess...I felt that I wanted to shatter the large windows, smash the plaster angels and cherubs that adorn the walls, and burn the very foundations of these homes and the people within them.

We're going out again tonight. I shall try and have a good time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lagos- part 1

Flew out yesterday afternoon in a rainstorm, flight was bumpy beyond belief. Doesn't seem to matter how often I fly, I always believe I'm gonna look up from my book right as our plan hits a mountain and see a wall of flame, steel, and body parts flying at me before an intense searing pain and then merciful silence...well, now that the pleasant stuff is out of the way. Lagos is one of the world's "megacities" with a population in the tens of millions, it is a massive sprawling beast of humanity. And that's really the first thing you feel when you step out of the airport here, that this place is packed to the gills. The trip from the airport to our hotel should take about a half hour, door to door, but it averages 2 hours. I have never in my life experienced traffic of the level that they have here. At 8 oclock at night there was still rush hour traffic from Victoria Island, one of the higehr end business and residential centers that connect to the rest of Lagos mainland. We were dirving against the grain and it still took us nearly 20 minutes to cross the brdige from the mainland to the island, while for those leaving the island just crossing the bridge can take up to two hours. Clearly, transportation is an issue. Also, unfortunately, the infrastructure here is only slightly better than what you find throughout the rest of the country, with miles of dark streetlights, pothole-ridden holes and people constantly panhandling and begging by the side of the road.

We're staying in a nice suburb of sorts on Victoria Island which is a mixture of really high end condos and smaller hotels. It looks like something you would find in southern Florida. Of course, all of the properties are ringed by 10 feet cement walls, topped by razor wire or crushed glass, that front dirt roads filled with standing water. And it's this neighborhood that so effectively illustrates the paradox of a lot of Nigeria...there is a lot of money that moves through this country, but corruption has literally bled the country dry. Here this is a wealthy suburb area, with large houses, boutique hotels, and an endless array of luxury trucks driving about, but people still run power by gens, the water is not drinkable, and the side roads aren't paved or even well drained. Everything is about flamboyance, and getting yours. And this attitude is evident in most of what you see. You have shiny corporate offices on main thoroughfares that are essentially undriveable either because the potholes are 2 feet deep or the traffic is so bad that driving to the office takes 2-4 hours depending on where you start. Or you have a country that is one of the world's leading oil produccers but because some old men control the industry, Nigeria is also an importer of all refined petroleum products. The people of nigeria go through about 15 million gallons of diesel a day, primarily for automobile and generator use, and yet Nigeria doesn't produce a million of gallons of diesel or petroleum a month...

All that aside, this city is wild. Jess's friend Ak took us to this spot called the Sol Lounge, a small-ish lounge in the city packed with folk, loud music, and expensive drinks. It was pretty fun. Now, as most of you know, I have little to no fashion sense, and I packed for three days, so my choice for clothes is already extremely limited, so I was looking slightly less scruffy than usual. Once again, I was the worst dressed person in the room. Everyone was out in the nines, dropping 5 and 10 thousand Naira on drinks like it was going out of style. There were a lot of really attractive younger women with much older men. Ak informed us that about 95% of the men there were married and not there with their wives...Fun spot.

Heading to one of the larger malls today, maybe check out a museum or two. I'll update when I can.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

jobs addendum

Alright, thanks to Benton and Christine I was able to find that damnable dept of labor report looking at the effectiveness of the "Adults" and "Displaced Worker" programs of the Workforce Investment Act. A study cited by the nytimes article I commented on the other day. The basic conclusion of the report, looking at the Displaced Worker retraining programs do indeed show little to no positive gain, in aggregate, although there are differences in effectiveness among states.

What annoys me about the article though is that it looks at job retraining programs within a vaccuum and assumes that policymakers advance jobs retraining as the only option, especially without "job creation" legislation. It's a ridiculous and inaccurate notion, especially considering that the article uses the stimulus package additional funding for job retraining as a line of attack against retraining programs. The entire goal of the stimulus package is to help create jobs.

But my main beef with the article and, to a lesser extent, the authors of the study is that I don't think they're necessarily addressing the right issue. Yes we should get an idea of whether job retraining programs are working especially for displaced workers, who are generally older, better educated and white, in other words, middle class. And, by definition, displaced workers permanently lose their old jobs. That's an entire sub-section of work that no longer exists. So, the question is modified when looking at retraining effectiveness. The question is now modified when looking at these class of workers. The first conccern is getting displaced workers back into work. The second concern is in getting these workers back into a job that was the equivalent of their former job. So getting folk a good job. The study, and the article, don't address that question at all. And honestly, it's one of the ass backwards aspects of labor policy. Due to the loss of a huge chunk of our manufacturing sector, a good portion of the population that was making good money no longer is and there are not many jobs available to replace those jobs.

It is not just the fact that displaced workers are losing jobs, it's the fact that even with retraining tere aren't enough jobs, especially in the current recession, that could adequately absorb these people with their experience and training, anyway. The result? People either leave training early, get any old job they can regardless of how much it pays, or they wait. It's the combination permanently losing jobs and a lack of jobs being created that dampen much of the potential effectiveness of training.

The article is very right about one thing, though. Training can't work without job creation. It's for that reason we need to get to work on a national industry plan, increased stimules spending, and trying to work on properly placeing and educating people into positions that are available and make good money.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

bit of this, bit of that

Just got back from getting a shampoo and my hair replaited, all for 800 Naira, that's like 7 dollars...so a pretty sweet deal. The past two days have been a combination of busy and mindnumbingly boring. Jess and I are heading out to Lagos on Friday, so we've been scrambling to get a decent price on tickets. We finally were able to book them online through the airline, but that required us going to the airport to pick up a special airport issued debit card, going to a bank to load the amount of the ticket on the debit card, then going back to the office to book the tickets online using said special debit card. It's about the most ass backwards way of going about it, but we saved nearly 200 dollars total so that's a plus.

On the incredibly mindnumbing end of things, I have to redo one of my primary tasks for amy assignment, organzing the "work files" of the project thus far. I did about 95% of that work my first two weeks here, organizing the files into what I thought was a pretty logical document tree, only to have my immediate superior come to me yesterday with a brand new document skeleton and say he wants lit like this...after some tense discussion he got his way. I have little energy to discuss anything with someone who's always confident that what they want is the right thing. So, after explaining to him that simply making a document tree is not the same as organzing a webpage, he agreed to a couple of minor changes but kep the majority of the tree. So, I'm currently rearranging the 2 gigs worth of documents and shit we have in the files. And that, of course, does not include the other documents on other computers dealing with the most recent aspects of the project....bout ready to slam my head into a brick wall for a few hours.

Also, the rainy season is well and truly here. Internet was killed yesterday throughout most of the city due to the storms. Cause the infrastructure here is so bad most of the internet here is done through satellite and the storm helped kill a lot of connection. On the bright side, the tourism bureau finally has consistent power! Truly, I have come to appreciate the little things. Consistent power, clean water, and food that won't make you vomit. Do you ever need anything more?

Monday, July 6, 2009

stuff keeps happening

When I can get internet I like to update myself on the news, and given that I spent most of last week in an information blackhole this weekend was particularly exciting. Palin's resignation and rumored indictment of embezzlement, Obama's trip to Russia and other events just continue to happen. It's exciting in a way to catch up on all of it, but I'm spoiled by the instant access to info that I normally get in the states. Lot of stuff going on, though.

First, the Palin thing. This seems to be some kind of republican political free-fall year. If I didn't have such faith in the venality and hypocrisy of many within the GOP I would think that it was part of some grand plan on their part...I am glad she's stepping down and I hope these rumored indictments come down and she's found guilty. It's a shitty way to view a fellow human being but she's everything that's wrong with our political system. The woman is a walking caricature of the American Grotesque. The uneducated and proud of it, gun loving, hypocritical, jingoistic American that people in other countries like to tout as the norm. Her downfall will give hopefully gives brief respite from her on the national stage and maybe the citizens of Alaska can get someone less awful in their statehouse.

Another interesting little article I found earlier today was an article in the new york times questioning the effectiveness of job retraining programs. I am starting to understand more why natural and physical scientists hate the vast majority of science reporting done today. The article's main thrust is that jobs retraining is basically gambling. It makes one or two decent qualifications, mainly that retraining can't work without job growth, a no brainer and that's something that the stimulus plan is trying to address, and that shorter retraining programs often don't pay off because they don't give their participants truly essential, new skills. The second part is a more specific and legitimate critique but I feel the main thrust of the article was a bit off. There are very few if any states that only push jon retraining as the answer. Even in Michigan, where the article focuses on, while retraining is in high demand the state is trying to encourage job growth in other industries and, as I mentioned earlier, the stimulus plan should help to stimulate job growth over the next year. Also, as an aside, the article mentions a dept of labor study looking at retraining but does not provide a link or reference, bad show nytimes, you can do better. I'm gonna find this report and take a look at it. But as someone studying development, I feel they give job training a short shrift and focusing only on Michigan as an example certainly skews the data. So, to my all biologists, chemists, and pharmacologists that have their studies mangled by the media, I feel you.

Supposed to be heading to Lagos at some point later this week. I'm excited. Jess and I are staying at one of her former classmate's apartment, he kindly offered to put us up and take us around. So, I'm gonna see what kind of debauchery and fun the big city can offer. Also, I had to take my hair out, currently trying to find a spot that'll give me a good shampoo and replait...wish me luck...


Realized I did what I criticized the times for. Here is the link to the jobs training article if you can't find it: Job Retraining May Fall Short of High Hopes

Also, cannot find the damn report they mention. the dept of labor's website is a piece of shite


Palin is apparently not being investigated for a rumored embezzlement scheme, according to the FBI in Alaska. Makes her move all the more perplexing now.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

it's the little things...

Sorry I have been ghost for a little bit, and forgive the following rant.

The tourism bureau is officially FUBAR. We've had no power at all this week. The bureau, as I earlier mentioned, had their gen break down and they've not been able to get a replacement. But they're also connectd to the city power grid, managed by NEPA, the national power company. Of course, NEPA doesn't know how to run their fucking grid, part of the reason why anyone with remotely consistent power runs everything off of gens here. As a result, I've been without power and internet during the day for most of the week, shooting off business emails in the 15-30 minute time spans when NEPA decides to give us power. It makes work stressful. Thank god this week has been relatively rainy and cool, otherwise staying in the office would be totally unbearable.

So, without power at the office we've moved to the Metropolitan hotel to use their power and steal their internet. Of course, the Metro's internet connection seems to invariably fail around noon each day, so I end up with about as much internet access as I would get if I would stay in the office anyway. So, I've spent most of my days sitting on a couch in this hotel lobby waiting for someone to throw me some work and drinking obscenely priced cokes.

To add insult to injury, I had to drop over N2000, nearly 20 dollars on a shitty breakfast at the Metropolitan this morning because the lodge had no fuel to make breakfast this morning. Of course, no one informed us so I took my malaria meds as I normally do, expecting food at my normal breakfast. So, no breakfast, and a belly full of malaria medication that makes me incredibly nauseated if I don't follow with some food...Needless to say, it's been a shitty week, capped off by a shittier morning.

All of which brings me to my actual point, it's the little things that count. I am perfectly willing to work in an area with little to no power and little to no internet access. That's something one can prepare for and adjust for. What I cannot take is having power and internet and then having it taken away and have no one seem to care at all. And that is probably something that is the most frustrating of working here. You read the newspapers, watch the news, listen to the politicians and you would think nothing at all was wrong with Nigeria. Sure, the country is relatively poor and the economy not great but they're making adjustments, everything else is fine. When you mention the lack of power, the expensive prices for everything, lack of internet and the like and people wanna look at you like your crazy. On what planet do these leaders live on? Most people working here and who own businesses see that Nigeria can't grow with its haphazard infrastructure system but the elites seem to either be delusional, dishonest, ignorant or some combination of all three. I mean, we're staying in government lodgings, pretty nice digs really, and we can't get breakfast? We can't get power during the day? And we're favored guests of the governor? A little honesty would be appreciated.


In my former post I didn't mean to imply that people in poverty can't be noble or possess an incredible amount of dignity. What I meant was that there is no inherent good in being impoverished just as there is no inherent good to being wealthy, and to imply that helping people increase their material comfort is dooming them to crass materialistic lifestyle that is worst than impoverished and "content" is anathema to me. I can't get down with someone who celebrates someone else's poverty while still living high off the hog. At best, the person is blind to their hypocrisy, at worst they're cynical manipulators looking to further cement their own dominance over the poor or disadvantaged. Either way, it's not a good look.

Also, the thrilla in manila was replayed yesterday at this spot where I get goat pepper soup. Frazier really is an incredibly underrated boxer and it's tragic that Ali's legacy and charisma has overshadowed his own. Great fight, though. If you like such things, I reccomend you look at it. Two masters of their styles going at it. It's even more intense when you have a feeling for the political and social context that dominated commentary before the fight. Great stuff.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

going on

The rainy season has come in force. Most days are spent under clouds, the sky pouring forth for 6-9 hours, and then it becomes unbearably hot and humid. We had a power failure last night in the middle of the night. It made sleep nigh but impossible for an hour or two. On a more positive note, though, I am getting a mosquito net finally. No more swatting and scratching throughout the night, not to mention minimizing possible exposure to malaria.

Work is accelerating. We are constantly reminded that we're only here for a year and we have to be fully operational by november in order to get packages sold and set for february. I am spending most of my time still doing basic data entry, but it is vital because these varied databases are lists of service providers that we're trying to have on our website, so I can't slack off too much. But it is still mindnumbing work on the best of days. I've also got to get ready for Dr. Smith's arrival and getting her coordinated with my profs to set up a workshop looking at tourism, development etc..for a few hours in mid-August.

I had my first decent goat in this city yesterday. Aus took me to the old residence, a museum/conservation site, and we got some goat pepper soup for lunch. The goat was relatively tender and flavorful and the pepper broth was out of this world. I could barely finish it it was so hot. I must figure out how to make this stuff at some point. Unfortunately, waiting for our ride back to the office we got followed by a little beggar child. Cute kid, broke my heart to see him as he was, but I had no small money left on me and I wasn't about to hand him a thousand naira note. He continued to follow us after we got our ride and walked alongside the truck as it was pulling into traffic. His persistence was heartbreaking to me. Little shit like that reminds me why some of the stuff we're doing here is important and can do some good but it also reminds me of the enormity of the situation. I don't want to leave here too jaded and I also don't want to leave here having romanticized my experience.

I see little nobility in poverty and I'm not one of those people that has an issue with trying to increase peoples' access to material wealth, whether that be adequate access to food, water, healthcare, or even being able to get a tv or get connected to the internet. I don't buy into the notion that you ruin people through development, turning people from an "innocent" philosophy and outlook to one of empty materialism, as if worrying about the size of a tv is somehow worse than not being to feed one's self. Excessive materialism comes from an immense level of egotism, not from being to feed one's self or to enjoy some of the better things in life. Personally, I find many arguments to the contrary to be nothing more than a mutation of the idea of the "noble savage", polluted by our modern ways. It doesn't seem to matter to much if these people can properly feed and clothe themselves...but I guess that's just because I'm an empty materialist. I've also got issues with a philosophy that demands that other people be content with their poverty without striving for something more because it may pollute them, it parallels too closely with the "pie in the sky" arguments used by segregationists to keep blacks, and poor whites, from organizing.

Poverty holds no nobility for me. Neither does wealth. One can be an asshole whether you're rich or poor. Forgive the rambling nature of this post, it's just an issue that has tugged at me and continually comes up in varied forms in different conversations.

I pray everyone is well. Keep commenting.

Friday, June 26, 2009

you never know...

I meant to write on having my first positive experience with suya last night. We went to a different spot and it turned out to be rather tasty, but I awoke to the news that MJ had died and I didn't have the mood for it.

Nothing I can write here will be that unique or different from the millions of words that have and will be written over the next few days. To put it simply, MJ was and is a legend. He is, beyond argument, the greatest, in terms of popularity and influence, artist that has ever been, and probably ever will be. This morning, it's been our normal stream of varied people stopping by our office and all of them have mentioned Michael and how sad it all is. The radio hear in Calabar is blasting "Billie Jean", "Beat It", and other of his hits while mourning his death. There are not many artists that will receive a near universal, global coverage and have billions of people acutely feel the loss. When we lost Heath Ledger, the surprise and anguish were real and vast, but he could not come close to the depth and breadth of feeling that our loss has. And that is because MJ was unique.

I'm currently sitting at my desk listening to Thriller on repeat, because I was too stupid to put my other albums on my machine, and I am vainly trying to download some tracks from varied sites but my internet here can't even handle the downlaoding of a 5mb sound file, so I am left with his greatest album only, hardly a loss, but depressing nonetheless.

While James Brown and George Clinton may be the most sampled of musicians, it is fair to argue that Michael Jackson is the most covered and emulated artist in the history of music. To borrow a phrase, til the other side, Mike.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I've got some new duties, that primarily entail the oh-so-exciting work of data entry. But I'm also helping out with the grant apps. So, I'm going through a stack of applications, rejecting the blatantly half-assed ones and passing all the others. Because the apps are so short and not that specific it's pretty hard to discern who are the real serious players, so we're gonna have to take a shotgun approach and have a lot of firms just give us proposals. This will be a lot of work on their end and on our end because we have to read them all. Unfortunately, it's our only real recourse.

Power at the tourism bureau has been incredibly spotty this week. We lost power and internet for the last 3 hours of the day yesterday and we lost power for three hours on Monday. Not sure what the deal is, but it makes work all but impossible for a lot of our duties this week which require a lot of email correspondence. But we persevere and try and stay on schedule. I've got my first staff coordination meeting later today and I hope I can impress upon the group the potential strength in exploiting the expertise of the professors I've been working with. Folk seem really hesitant to include them because they aren't business owners and they don't want them to dominate. Those are legit concerns but I feel we can communicate those issues with the profs and they'll be sympathetic. In the meantime, we're ignoring a big resource. We shall see.

Also, on a totally unrelated note, I am not nearly stylish enough for this country. Everyone here with a decent job is forever decked out in something that is fashionable. My standard scruffy grad student style of a tshirt, loose jeans and flip flops gets as many looks as my hair. At some point, I'm gonna have to step my game up. I gotta make a note of that when I get home.

Anyways, back to my apps.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

love it when things work out sometime...

I am currently at the office working on rearranging some files for sharepoint and waiting for any possible emails from the home office or my profs. To waste time in between organizing folders I am perusing the news when I came on this article CBO Estimates Cost of Climate Change Bill in the washington post that warmed my heart. It kills me that in the wake of economic recession and because we've had some uncharacteristically cold winters the past two years that climate change skeptics continue to dominate potential policy and really stand in the way of meaningful policy interventions. The latest trope parroted by foes of the proposed cap and trade bill love to say that it would be economically harmful for families around the country. Well, a report from the CBO says that jut ain't so, estimating average yearly costs of $175 for the average household in 2020 and actually saying that the bottom ten percent would see a $40 savings from the bill. Of course, the repubs are responding by claiming the report does not take into account the millions of jobs that will be lost due to higher energy prices. This is of course total bullshit and doesn't follow the literature they claim to cite. They cited a report by an MIT professor and even the professor said they severely distorted his numbers, he concluded the average cots would be a little more than 300 dollars, not the 3000 dolars that Boehner and his colleagues have been pushing.

But I was mainly pleased because I love seeing good analysis combined with an explicit crititque of the overheated, wrongheaded, business-centric rhetoric that so many on the right put out in place of, you know, actual policy analaysis. So forgive me, while I take up some space on this humble blog to celebrate a victory for the geeks and wonks.

But I also want to take some space to rant a bit more. The thing that bothers me so much about the business and economic arguments pushed by many republicans is that they are not just naked appeals to industry interest but within it is the explicit assumption that global climate change is not real and that it does not provide a threat in the medium or long term. Not only does it fly in the face of the majority of the scientific community that study such things but it's also unbearably short sighted. Climate change is real and unless the companies have forecasted that they can make greater profits cleaning up the impending disasters that will befall us if we don't do something then I don't understand their position, other than not wanting to dish out money now. That's not an entirely unreasonable position but I think it puts them in a disadvantaged spot to survive the next few decades. Also, it only reinforces the necessity of a strong government response on the national and international levels. Planners most often get the shittiest end of the stick when it comes to policy work and implementation because they usually have to deal with local problems directly. They are the ones trying to deal with reconstruction of New Orleans after Katrina, they are the ones trying to figure out how to deal with water issues in the west, pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, they're the ones that have to solve problems that could be prevented or lessened if the federal or even their state governments had more seriously taken already well known risks into account.

Anyways, I'm done. I'm trying to download the CBO report analysis (it's not that big but with my internet connection a 16 page report takes nearly 20 minutes to download on a slow day like today) and get a better read that isn't summarized by the newspaper. If you're at all interested just head to the cbo website, it's on the front page.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

weekend work

I am currently in lobby of the metropolitan hotel in downtown calabar shamelessly stealing their lobby wifi. Don't worry, I plan on compensating them by buying some criminally overpriced drink in their bar for their happy hour and then walking back to the lodge.

It's been an interesting weekend. I just returned from a semi-emergency meeting with one of my coworkers, meeting with some of the big time stakeholders here in calabar. We had to to defuse a situation concerning a grant program we're running and assure everyone we're not going to give grants to companies that don't care about Calabar or Cross River State. Afterwards, two of our hostesses treated us to lunch at their hotel.

It was a fascinating bit of conversation. Both of the ladies are expats, they married their Nigerian husbands when they were in school, one is an Armenian by way of Romania, and the other is a German lady. They run an event and hotel management firm and also dabble in interior decorating. They've been here in Calabar going on thirty years. To an extent, their's is a positive tale that speaks to the tremendous change and growth that can be found in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. They were here when it would take 2 weeks just to get a telegram back home and 6 hours to place a phone call. But they are equally frustrated at the backwardness of the government and the loss thay Cross River has suffered concerning tourism. Before the tourism bureau became entirely ass backward it actually worked well with the private sector and the governor, Gov. Duke, liked working with the private sector as equals. Some good things were happening, but with Duke gone and the bureau ashambles, life has been hell for business owners. The tourism bureau decided to compete directly with business, slapping a 5% tourism levy on the business, ostensibly for "training", and then using that money and the assets that the bureau and the business owners originally worked on together and made its own packages and tried to steer guests to their own state-owned hotels. It was a betrayal of the worst sort and was entirely sudden. We're feeling the effects of it now and not much can be done until government can their shit straightened out.

I enjoyed their conversation btu it also was more than a bit disconcerting. There are so many issues here that I wonder how much good our little project can do in the face of the lack of proper infrastructure, proper upkeep of tourim assets, and the shoddy frontline customer service. Not to mention a venal, incompetent tourism bureau. It's truly frustrating, but baby steps must be made. I have faith that our program has a good start and my only concern is to try and make sure that it works. The other problems can't prevent us from trying to do something.

Ms. Anoush, the Armenian raised in Romania, gave Jess and I a ride to and from the lodge and talked a bit. She asked me if I had tried to trace my roots at all since I'd been here. I confessed to her that I hadn;t looked and that, honestly, it would be next to impossible. The efforts of slavers to erase any possible history was very effective. Not to mention, why worry about catalogouing the extensive background of what you saw a relatively common commodity? But still, the question stung a little bit. It's not something I've thought about too much since I've been here because I thought the effort would be futile. Records are not great. But it is true, though. There is a good chance, a chance as any I guess, that I have some ancestors from there and it is fascianting to walk around and, like Richard Pryor and Jamie Foxx, see people who look just like people back home. This area of the country has some pretty distinct tribes and ethnic groups, so there are some semi-common phenotypes but Calabar also has a lot of other Africans and others from abroad so you get a good mix. It stung me a bit. It's just one of those things that sweeps over from time to time, I guess. All I know is America. And what family I have. We can go back a bit into slavery, but not much farther. It's a bit despairing to not have an idea of an ancestral homeland, at least one that isn't Kentucky.

I don't know. I'm surrounded by black people and not of them. But there's a warmth and openness, most folk are just curious to see a person with my hair. And as I said, somedays, I just think I'm walking through DC, just seeing folk I haven't seen before. I miss home, I guess. But, more importantly, I miss and regret the fact that that history ws STOLEN from me and for the vast majority of African-Americans. I try not to get too angry but I still believe, and will die believing, that America has a lot to atone for that it never will. It can't get my history back. It can't undo the effects of slavery and it's having a ahrd enough time trying to let go of its virulently racist strains, although, even there, much of it is institutionalized and will take a while to weed out. I know even greater change is coming. But it's astoundingly depressing to be aware of some things we won't ever get back.

I'm out. Daddy, I pray you have a happy father's day. You and mom and everyone else are always in my thoughts. To everyone else, if you have them, say thanks to your dads.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

my damn bathroom

The past couple of days have been interesting, to say the least. I finally have water back in my apartment after I lost both water and my toilet broke late last week. A plumber came through and fixed the problems with the water flow and my toilet, but ended up leaving a load of mud, rust and standing water on the floor. Needless to say, I wasn't able to make use of my bathroom for most of the weekend. I mopped up what I could and put in a request with the lodge staff for a more thorough cleaning, which I got on Monday. But, while I was at work on Monday, my shower sprang a leak and my bathroom was reflooded with about 2.5 inches of standing water. The staff came in and pumped the water out, but in the process, I lost water connection. I got water back this morning, but I was running late so I've yet to shower since sunday...feeling a little crunchy.

In addition, internet connection in the office has been shameful. This post has taken over an hour and a half to make because the internet connection would drop whenever I would try to sign in. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to send an email because of signal dropping, and that doesn't include lost time due to continually trying to open up email messages, so my average read and response time for a single email varies between 10 and 25 minutes. I'm ready to smash my head against a desk. But in between waiting for my email to load up I've been working on rearranging and coordinating all of our project files, which is my primary duty right now...that's about as exciting as it sounds. I spend hours going through semi-disorganized folders that are either organized by organization it involves, chronology, or just some broad theme. There's a lot of crosslisting and old files that are rough drafts of later drafts. It's quite tedious, but it needs to get done.

One a brighter side, I had an excellent chicken pepper soup last night at this hole in the wall spot on a dirt road somewhere in neighborhood in Calabar. It reminded me of an old fashioned uke joint with a bunch of picnic tables screened off from the street with 3 overhead fans whirring slowly and an old tv blaring Nigerian music videos. The soup nearly blew the top of my head off, it was very spicy but delicious and the rice they served with it helped to cut into the rice a bit. My only complaint was the chicken was surprisingly chewy for a soup but overall an awesome meal. The best I've had since I've been in country, I think. I'm still trying to find some decent goat, but I am quickly losing hope.

Had a great conversation with Alvin and Aus last night where Alvin relayed much of his career and just spoke about development. Alvin's been all over the world, from Russia to Iraq to Jamaica, the man has done work. I find myself gaining more respect for him and for many of his ideas. He's correct in his critique of the general approach many development orgs and some ngos take where they do not approach development with the mindset of business people. As the saying goes,"The business of business is business". Too often development firms come in and don't really work to truly arm business with the ability to sustain themselves after they're gone because they won't work on building a sector, so much as individual businesses. It's kind of an "give people some training, some modern technology and subsidies for two years then let them go". One's goal should be to ultimately liberate folk from needing these subsisdies and being able to be successful and competitive on their own merit, cause that's the only way they're going to get by. He pointed to a lot of successes where good ngos went in with precisely that mentality and worked with folk on all levels to eventually do for self. It's a tricky business, I am learning every day some more ins and outs.

We shall see. I have hope we'll be able to do some good and make sure folk can continue on after we're gone.


I was looking at one of my favorite blogs that doesn't require a lot of bandwith orcinus at dneiwert.blogspot.com and he linked to an article in salon looking at the rising presence of white supremacists in the army and the fact that the military is turning a blindeye to it. I found it interesting considering the recent spate of right wing violence and it once again points to a very worrisome set of conditions that threatens to blow everything up. I have less fear, with each year, that there will be some massive racial civil war, but I am increasingly afraid in a concerted terrorist campaign of "lone wolves" fed by the right wing media hate machine, supported by the many right wing organizations that exist today, and trained by likeminded individuals with extensive combat experience and training. This is the singular domestic terrorism threat we face today and it's only gonna get worse before it gets better. What angers me though, is that no one except for a few lefty-sounding journalists seem to care. Must we wait for another McVeigh to come along before we take it seriously?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Got an expanded scope of work this morning. I'll be going through most of the major files we have, around 700 individual files in about 30 or 40 folders and try make some order of them and help to sketch out an architecture that the files will follow when we finally get our websites up and running, so trying to just put everything in order...In addition, I'm supposed to be attached to some of the local sourcing work for when our grants start coming in so I may get my feet dirty, visiting some farms and the like. So, there is lot to do.

Had a semi-heated debate over science and math education with Aus in the office this morning. I mentioned how summer vacation, even though it's fun, helps to hurt a lot of kids in terms of retaining their schooling, and that we need to do a better job encouraging the pursuit of and the teaching of mathematics and science. For some reason, Aus my opinion on summer vacation inimical to the American lifestyle and then said that we were still a leading country in terms of creativity and entrepneurship. When I mentioned that a large portion of new entrepeneurs, especially in the technology fields are first generation immigrants who came here as students and that many high-profile people in engineering and technology, including folk like Bill Gates and orgs like the National Science Foundation and others, all decry a severe shortage of qualified engieers, scientists, and physicians, he blithely dismissed it and said we can always bring in more people and we are still creative. When I then mentioned that a few studies have shown that a good portion of kids lose a lot of what they learn over the summer (something that makes intuitive sense but does have empirical backing), he replied that kids learn other things during the summer and we shouldn't "imprison" them in the classroom and that the summer offers other opportunity for many kids and we shouldn't worry about it, and that the studies didn't take into account what kids did learn over the summer. This was the last straw for me because I can tolerate a lot of argument and debate but when you start blithely dismissing data that shows that kids are losing ground over the summer and then den the veracity of that becuase it doesn't take into account potential non-academic learning a kid has over the summer, I just get pissed. Not to mention, that doesn't include the millions of kids whose parents can't afford or are unaware of programs which they can place their kids into. He recognized this but countered saying we just need more summer programs and should incentivize better teachers, which does nothing to address my original point on encouraging better domestic science education and more time in school for kids so they don't lose what ground they made the previous year.

Just a frustrating experience. Also, if you haven't gotten as to where I stand on the issue, we should shorten the traditional summer vacation or lengthen the standard school day in addition to encouraging the study of math and science. Too many kids are turned off of the subjects early on due to poor teaching and when kids get to college they often meet professors and departments that are too preoccupied with weeding potential scientists and engineers out rather than encouraging kids to truly pursue these subjects...we're only shooting ourselves in the foot and we won't be able to import our way out of it. Better education for all.

weekend meanderings

Had a fairly chill weekend. I spent most of saturday reading, relearning how to use exponents, and I went to the market with Jessica and Blessing to go grab some stuff for Jessica's party. The market was pretty cool. It's like what you see in th emovies sometimes where there are stalls packed on top of each oher selling all manner of goods and there is only space for traffic to go one way even though you try and make it work both ways. We picked up some stuff from there and left smelling of fruit and slightly decaying fish. The rest of the day was spent reading and hanging out with Aus in his room discussing something that didn't matter and watching thebig lebowski on repeat. Quite amusing.

Sunday was a day of reading also. Around 3:30 I went with Mr. Essien to go and pick up the cake and food for Jessica's party for later that day. The South Africa-Iraq soccer match was on at the chicken place where it took us a half hour to get food we ordered on saturday. Note: I like south africa's fast style but they play like some bitches, they're the first to call foul when a defender is remotely near to them but have no hesitation in crunching an opposing player or actually playing hard on the ball when they're in a position to score, so I was rooting for the Iraqis. The game ended 0-0 and we finally got our food and went to this bakery/hotel/restaurant off Asari Esoh Layout where we waited yet another half hour to get a cake that was ordered on Friday. Timeliness and punctuality aren't strong suits here...The party ended up being pretty cool, though. Jessica and Blessing spent the afternoon in the kitchen making Tex-Mex, Jessica's from Arizona. She made a pretty awesome guacomole and a nice salsa and we had Nigerian food from the chicken join for those who didn't like. I got to try Hocrhada for the first time, a milky, sweet rice drink, mixed with cinnamon from Mexico. Not bad stuff. Alvin got Jessica a band he heard outside the pool of his hotel. The band was good, but they're leader was a rather poor saxophone player making it hard to listen to for long. But overall a pleasant evening.

I finished "American Prometheus" and "Anatomy of Fascism", both of which left me deeply affected. The trial of Oppenheimer that stripped of him his security clearance really was a watershed moment that irretrievably sent America down a quite dangerous path and changed the relation of scientists to their work that exists even to this day. The book stressed that the revocation of clearance, due to his political and philosophical positions not only legitimized our primary cold war strategy of arms building and massive retaliation, which would only guarantee that the only things left on earth if we ever went to war with USSR would be some giant species of cockroach, but also tied the fates of scientists to private labs that were primarily funded by government (read: military) research and stressed that they had no right whatsoever to lend their opinions on the use of their creations, placing them in the role of simple engineers and technical advisors. This is still true to this day and has done more to encourage ass backwards policy, and has given scientists a shield to deny the true moral and philosophical questions that go into the research they perform. Oppenheimer, and other scientists in the early 50s, pushed hard for openness between the USSR and the US regarding their weapons stockpiles and nuclear technology and to come together to control both access to uranium and the technology. If we had taken those suggestions seriously, it is conceivable we would not have the massive problems we have with North Korea and Iran today concerning their use of the bomb.

The separation of scientists' views on their creations also has encouraged some existential questions within science, especially the social sciences. Planners have a pretty intense debate over what it is we actually do and what we stand for. As planners, we are literally social engineers. Is it appropriate to try and place ourselves in the role of a neutral "technician" or should we push towards a normative view of planning? Should planners advocate strongly for positions that we believe to be appropriate, or do we let policy and its implications be dictated from above, or below? How often are morality and philosophy even mentioned in science and engineering classrooms (I include the social sciences here)? It is a a shame and moral tragedy that these questions are not brought up more. I often wonder how engineers and others feel when they're working on a project that will be used to more efficiently kill people and how they have absolutely no right, in many cases, to even comment on what they believe the result of that use has been. Oppenheimer and others who worked on the atomic bomb are a unique case, in that the power they unloaded on the world is literally great enough to destroy every last thing on the surface of this planet, but that makes their treatment all the more horrifying and depressing. We could do a lot better if we allowed for a bit of ethics and thought before we continue to gladly go down the road of happy-go-lucky militarism...

PS- On an entirely separate note, Carl Friedrich Gauss, badass...if you don't know, look him up.

Friday, June 12, 2009

crazy times

Got a little side assignment down here...so, I'm supposed to be working with a group of professors from university of calabar here. The big plan is to try and develop a series of parallel institutions, both private and academic sectors, to eventually put some pressure on the government as well as act as a group of learned advisers and consultants. Not much they can do without any real resources, political will, and a sense of hopelessness that comes from years of witnessing government's benign neglect. So, now I'm tasked to try and get this group up and running to an extent, in addition to some other duties I am waiting on.

On a lighter note, we finally got someone in to look at our plumbing. Even though we're living in government lodgings I get no hot water, my toilet doesn't work, and the water pressure coming out of my shower is about non-existent. So, I pray this guy will be able to get my stuff working. Also, a corner of my bed collapsed...it's just a continuous run of comic mishaps here in Calabar.

I heard about that old, crazy anti-semit and racist shooting the holocaust museum this morning. This makes around 8 high-profile right wing attacks on immigrants, jews, and/or abortion providers since the election of Obama. These are worrisome times. Some of my better friends know that I am constantly harping on the potential dangers of populist right wing violence and often tire of me talking about it. But we are seeing the beginning of something here, something that is terrifying. I pray we can nip a lot of this in the bud. We have a lot of explosive elements here. Two unpopular wars abroad that daily bring home jaded, vulnerable veterans with a load of ocmbat experience. Classic fodder for right wing elements. A horrific economic situation that can be partially blamed on financial and economic elites. The election of a popular president, but one who also engenders a lot of unease and vitriol from many in the media and in private. And a sense of political impotence. Congress continues to act and talk big but their seems to be little happeneing, even though the opposite is true, if you read the newspapers, watch the news, or listen to the radio, you would think nothing has happened. Perceived government impotence, economic hardship, disillusioned warriors returning home, these are all of the ingredients that can add up to a long, hot, summer of right wing resurgent violence. Right now it has been a series of supposed "lone wolf" attacks but these groups are organizing and the internet makes even lone wolfers instant martyrs around the world. I fear the worst.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nigeria- Week 1

I am currently in the lobby of the hotel Metropolitan in downtown Calabar in Cross River State in Nigeria. I don't know how long or how often I'll be able to blog as my office at the state tourism bureau only gets 2 hours (sometimes) of rationed time per day and the internet connection is beyond woeful so this will not be regular by any means, but I'm willing to give it a go.

My first few days here have been a bit of a crash course in doing business in Nigeria and in a lot of countries in West Africa, unfortunately. Government here is quite frustrating, but the current state governor and the new president seem to be trying to make some legitimate reforms. But there is a lot of inertia and there are many, many people who depend on government's inability to function to properly.

But this program, though, has potential to get some decent work done, I think. It is a new model that is a hybrid of some other development approaches, but we are literally just beginning a very specific process. Our approach doesn't address issues with the regional or national government, infrastructure or even medium term planning for the state, but it is a beginning.

Something I am excited about is that I will be meeting with some planning and geography professors and grad students tomorrow. Alvin, my program director, and I will be talking with them. We hope to be able to harness some of that expertise to build up a parallel structure that will assist our businesses and the tourism industry in general with their technical expertise. We are a bit wary, as one or two have exhibited some behavior that indicates some rather large egos and control issues, but what PhD doesn't suffer from that? I'm hoping we can work with them, as they are too vital a resource to not exploit and they are necessary if we're serious about trying to get this prospective "cluster" up and running.

On a more personal note, I am becoming addicted to tea. Just regular english black tea but I get it each morning and evening at breakfast and dinner. I will have to continue drinking it when I get back home.