Thursday, August 31, 2006

Fighting Poverty for Dummies 3

Big picture guy on deck.

Jeff Sachs

Who’s Who? American economist and director of the UN Millenium Development Project. Mentor to Bill Gates and key economic advisor to a bagload of developing countries.

Must Read: The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time and his regular columns on economic development and the environment in Scientific American

What’s the Big Idea? Hard to do his subtle thinking justice in a few paragraphs. While my other Jedi poverty fighters focus slim, Sachs goes wide. Here are some highlights:

Sachs wants to lift the hundreds of millions of people living on less than a dollar a day out of extreme poverty in the next 20 years. He believes it can be done with a serious investment on the part of wealthy countries, a change in unfair international trade policies, and the application of new and powerful economic, environmental and technological tools.

Though he’s a visionary he’s also a pragmatist who breaks down that larger goal into practical and realistic steps.

Sachs observes that most folks think the anti-poverty efforts of the past 50 years have been a waste of time. He rejects that view as nonsense and decisively demonstrates just how effective many development efforts have been and how booming economies around the world—in places like Southeast Asia, India and China, for example—have transformed impoverished nations and delivered hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty in the last 20 years alone.

At the same time, he recognizes that a lot western efforts to do good for the world’s poor don’t cut it because they usually go with a one-size-fits-all approach that doesn’t take local cultures, environmental conditions or political realities seriously. He kicks the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund hard in the ass. In the Gospel According to Jeff, the technically phat and ideologically happy tend to impose intrusive changes that are often too complex and technical, unacceptably socially destructive, and environmentally disastrous.

Sachs has developed a new analytical development tool he calls “clinical economics.” Basically, he carefully breaks down the history of economic development and uses his experience helping developing countries bust out endemic poverty to create what he calls the ‘ladder of development.’ He argues that nations typical advance up the ladder rung by rung, with very specific economic achievements and social changes characterizing each rung. He identifies common obstacles to advancing up each rung too.

Here’s his third term of pregnancy insight. Sachs argues that many countries—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa—are so poor and face so many obstacles to development that they can’t even get on the first rung of the historical economic development ladder. Nations where the vast majority of people live in abject poverty and who face a host of unusual obstacles to development like widespread malaria and a lack of useful farmland, for example, simply can’t ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps.’ They require a carefully calibrated development approach based on practical, situation-appropriate steps backed by an intensive investment on the part of wealthy countries.

Sachs also believes that some aspects of the international economic system and international trade policies are stacked against the poorest countries. He’s no radical—the guy breathes markets—but he calls for many important changes including the end of western tariffs against agricultural imports and subsidies for American farmers because they wreak havoc on poor economies.

He calls for the US and other wealthy countries to give far more for development. Lots more than the miserly 15 cents out of every $100 of GNP the US now gives. Sachs makes a powerful argument that if the US gives what it has already promised but hasn’t followed through on a huge dent could be made in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. Hundreds of millions of poor folks could step up as a result.

Hard to summarize his specific prescriptions for various countries and regions because he insists that each situation has a unique fingerprint, but they include steps like widespread campaigns to distribute anti-malarial mosquito nets to the poorest of the poor, the building of transportation infrastructure in rural areas to increase the access poor farmers have to markets, intensive grass roots investments in widespread primary education, etc. Concrete, straightforward and doable stuff that local folks value and understand.

Sachs argues that ending extreme poverty in the next few decades is not only the right thing to do morally, but it’s the best way for the haves to protect themselves against have not extremism and the terrorist campaigns and wars that blow up when people on the bottom of the pile get sick of it. Like de Soto, he knows you’ve gotta massage the phat and the phrightened if you want your anti-poverty dreams to come true.

Who’s Walking the Talk? Let’s face it, when the do-gooder NGO crowd, the development folks at the UN and the hard core bottom line capitalists like Gates all think this guy’s the man, you gotta believe he’s onto something! Gates is pouring most of his billions (and eventually Warren Buffet’s) into Sachs’ approach, and the UN, NGO’s and many developing governments are listening carefully and shaping some of their approaches accordingly.

My Take: Sachs recognizes that even healthy economies produce harsh unfairness—he makes no claims about ending the sickening inequality in some advanced capitalist societies. And he knows corruption and bad political and local leadership can torpedo the best anti-poverty approaches. He makes no predictions about what will happen. Only what can happen.

But sometimes the right guy shows up at the right time.

I just wish he and Gates would get a second ‘celebrity’ front man so we don’t have to listen to Bono endlessly :^)

Next Time: John Perkins and an Appeal to Christian Conscience.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fighting Poverty for Dummies 2

Rolling on with the magical anti-poverty tour. This time, microlending.

Muhammad Yunus

Who’s Who? Bengali banker and economist and founder of the Grameen Bank

Must Read:
The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank by David Bornstein and Banker to the Poor, Yunus’ autobiography.

What’s the Big Idea? Like de Soto, Yunus recognized the poor needed additional investment capital but couldn’t get it from anyone but underworld Guido and Rocko types who charged ruinous interest rates and would drill your knee caps if you didn’t pay up on time!

He also noticed that rural Bengalis had powerful social and communal bonds, and that women often held those poor rural communities together while many of the men partayed the night away to drown their sorrows. He thought he might be able to leverage those two powerful forces to help insure the repayment of loans to a new kind of bank.

He was drained soul-dry by the ineffective, top down western approaches to development and grew tired of mouthing economic abstractions while he watched his countrymen starve.

As a result he took action and came up with a thoroughly pragmatic and grass-roots approach to throw a knockout blow at poverty: microlending.

He set up a whole new kind of bank--Grameen Bank--to make very small loans to the poorest of the poor with a focus on lending to groups of women bound together by family and community ties. The entry level loans are often no more than 25 or 50 dollars. Just enough to help a poor entrepreneur or farmer take their tiny business or farm up to the next level on the way out of poverty.

Yunus argued that the bank should come to the poor, not the poor to the bank. So Grameen sent teams out to rural villages, offering to lend money to very poor folks based on the following conditions:

** Borrowers must join a ‘borrowing group’ with fellow community members who jointly make decisions about who receives loans and exercise group discipline to insure the repayment of loans on time. If a member of the group isn't repaying a loan, the other group members slap 'em up side the head until they do! :^)Bank representatives (really community organizers in a way) meet consistently with the borrowing groups, teaching and counseling members on investment and on effectively growing income generating activities. They strongly emphasize self reliance and the building of social capital and leadership skills among group members.

** With rare exceptions, the members of the borrowing group are women. This insures higher levels of commitment and takes advantage of feminine persuasion (arm and ear twisting? :^) to help keep their husbands and sons from squandering the loan monies.

** Interest rates are affordable for the poor and at a level that allows Grameen to operate effectively but nothing more. Interest rates aren’t set to produce the kind of big bank profits that would entice phat investors looking for the next juicy kill.

** Loans must be used for income generating activities and housing and never for consumption. Loans must be paid back fully and on time. Defaulted loans disqualify individual borrowers from receiving further loans and eventually jeopardize the entire group’s eligibility. Paying back loans on time creates better and better credit and makes individuals and groups eligible for even greater loans as they continue to incrementally build up their micro-enterprises or farms. The old carrot and stick, you know. In the development world, don't leave home without them ;^)

Grameen’s approach was simple and pragmatic. It was also revolutionary.

It turned out the social collateral (communal self-discipline) of the poor resulted in repayment rates of 95% or above, just as good or better than commercial bank individual middle class loans based on material collateral in the west. Business boomed for Grameen. And scads of poor people were lifted out of poverty in Bangladesh as a result of Grameen’s efforts. Cool!

Who’s Walkin’ the Talk? Grameen showed conclusively that desperately poor people can repay loans as well as individualistic middle class westerners given the right kind of banking institution and social environment. As a result, microlending blew up and became the buzz of the development world. Hundreds of rural and urban versions of the original Grameen beta went on line and now even national governments and large banks are beginning to download the software. Hundreds of millions of poor people have gotten a big leg up in life as a result. That's great news in the big old sea of misery.

My Take: What’s not to like?

Maybe the most powerful tool in the toolbox right now and any group or non-profit can implement it.

Next time: Jeff Sachs and “The End of Poverty”

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Fighting Poverty for Dummies

I’m hoping to do a book in the next two years on the best thinking and best practices for fighting poverty around the world and how Christian folks in particular can get involved.

Wanted to try a six part mini series here in P & P on the same topic, so here goes....

In the first five posts I’ll look in outline at the takes of these Jedi poverty fighters: Hernando de Soto, Muhammad Yunus, Jeff Sachs, John Perkins and Mike Davis. In the last post I’ll look at what Christian types face in thinking about poverty and how everybody can get into the battle.

In spite of all the cynicism making the rounds I can’t think of a more exciting time in the fight against poverty around the world. Better ideas and more people trying ‘em out than ever before.

OK, let’s get with the whirlwind tour....

Hernando de Soto

Who’s Who? Peruvian, neo-liberal (i.e., favors “free market” solutions) economist and director of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy

Must Read: The Other Path and his greatest and most influential work, The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else

What’s the Big Idea? He argues that the vast majority of the world’s poor can't formally own the land they live on, the houses they live in or the micro-businesses they run. That's because they live in developing countries with lousy or non-existent formal property systems. In most of the world gaining formal title (ownership)is very tough at best and getting a mortgage is almost unheard of!

Since they can’t gain title or become formal owners they can't use their land, houses or businesses to get loans. Their informal possessions are worth zilch, nada, and the big zero as collateral.

Banks and lenders won't cough up the bucks to folks without collateral, so the poor get screwed when they go hat in hand to the bank for a loan.

To make matters worse, these developing countries don't have enforceable contract laws that will consistently protect the interests of the lender or the borrower. No way the suits are going to lend to poor people under those conditions.

As a result, the poor are trapped in an informal economy and can't borrow monies to improve their lot in life. Life sucks when you can't borrow the bucks to get ahead.

What’s more, the poor are just a nod of a government official or rich guy's head away from losing even what little they do have because their land, houses and businesses can be taken away from them or bulldozed at a moment’s notice. With no formal and enforceable legal protection everything runs at the whim of The Cronyocracy. Life sucks when you're under the big fat thumb and hatin' it.

Bottom line: The poor get the sh_tty end of the economic stick!

Hernando's most excellent solution to all this general crappiness?

Chuck the current irrational legal systems of developing countries by introducing a rational system of property ownership that protects the poor as well as potential lenders. Make the folks in both rags and suits feel secure so they'll take risks like starting a new microbusiness in the slums or lending money to the unwashed.

Create legal and economic systems that can fairly and accurately assess the marketplace value of the poor's possessions.

Invest major resources in giving formal land, house, and business ownership to the poor. That may mean significant land redistibution in some cases. Educate the poor in how a capitalist economy works and how lending, borrowing and investing can grow their own prosperity and that of the whole community and country. Make sure all the poor have the potential building blocks for entrepreneurship.

Encourage institutional lenders to lend money to the poor and create policies that will make it worth their while to do so.

Sell it to The Cronyocracy by telling them they'll only get phatter through the increased economic growth the changes will bring. In a sense, ask them to trade some of their unfettered and capricious control for the rule of law, greater personal wealth, and a happier and more prosperous citizenry. The fat suits and 5 star generalisimos should welcome a happier and better off lumpenmass as a way of avoiding unsightly populist uprisings, nasty terrorist/guerilla insurgencies, and embarrasing violent revolutions. Or at least that's how the theory goes.

Who’s Walkin’ the Talk? The ILD as well as many other non-profits and national governments are pursuing de Soto’s ideas. Peru was the first test case but now similar programs are being tried all over the developing world with some encouraging results. Some here in the US speak of bringing de Soto to the American inner city but I’m not sure what that means exactly since his ideas are really focused on the developing world. I’m looking forward to finding out what these folks are thinking and doing here at home.

My Take: If you look at what land, home, and business ownership and the ability to borrow money against those possessions have done for economic growth in the US and the west, you can see his basic insight is correct. His real brilliance is recognizing—contrary to common thinking—that the poor do indeed have valuable material assets which can be turned into live capital in the right legal and economic environment. Basically, de Soto wants to bring billions of desperately poor people into the formal economy. Though encouraging, results from his approach have been mixed so far because it’s so hard to transform whole legal systems (The Cronyocracy is the Cronyocracy, after all) and because there are other major obstacles to moving folks out of poverty.

But in my mind he’s clearly got a piece of the bigger anti-poverty puzzle well in hand. I think most any non-profit working among the poor in the developing world could make elements of this approach part of their tool kit.

Whew, OK, HdS in a nutshell! :^)

Next time: Muhammad Yunus and the micro-lending revolution.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Blowing Up the Wing Nuts

We’ve spent 5 years trying to blow up the foreign bad guys in the old timey way.

But I mean the post title in the hip hop sense.

Maybe we’ve been making the religious wing nuts both here and in the Islamic world bigger than they should be.

Paul Campos, a law dog at the University of Colorado and quickly becoming one of my faves, took on the topic recently. Read more

Politics of fear. Spirituality of fear. Sort of blows both here and there.

Bustin' Out of Babylon

You probably remember Katherine Harris.

She’s the The Big Hair and Mascara Lady who served as the Florida Elections Commissioner during the 2000 presidential election. She played a big role in handing Shrub Dubya the Florida election and eventually the presidency on a technical knockout by the Supremes.

She kicked off a big kerfuffle last week during her congressional re-election campaign with some comments she made to a group of Baptists that ended up in print in the Florida Baptist Witness. You can find the gist of ‘em below.

Demos are scrambling to wear their religion on their sleeves this time around and some people are talking about the rise of the new religious left. Who knows, maybe both of 'em will make a difference and help end the Right Wing Babylonian Captivity of the US Church.

Those of us who likey the Christian anarchy and my buds on the Christian left would sure be grateful :^)

But I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna take more than that. Gotta take a closer look at the stuff church goers are packin' between their ears right now.

Lots of people in Florida are running for cover from Harris' remarks, but I think her comments represent what a ginormous number of American church goers feel in their heart of hearts.

Guess the question is whether this is good theology or good politics.

"If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

"If we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women," then "we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's (sic) certainly isn't what God intended."

…"Whenever we legislate sin, and say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don't know better, we are leading them astray and it's wrong . . ."

Asked if the U.S. should be a secular country, Harris said: "I think that our laws, I mean, I look at how the law originated, even from Moses, the 10 Commandments. And I don't believe, that uh . . . That's how all of our laws originated in the United States, period. I think that's the basis of our rule of law."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pluto Backlash Rising

New York (AP)

The ACLU issued a challenge today to the recent decision of the International Astronomical Union to reduce Pluto to “dwarf planet” status.

ACLU lawyers filed briefs with both the IAA and the US Supreme Court to appeal the IAA’s controversial move.

“The IAA decision was clearly prejudicial,” said ACLU spokesman Lexus Atticus Finch.

“The archaic and hostile language speaks for itself. Has any sensitive and concerned person used the term ‘dwarf’ since the days of the Cold War?”

“We believe the phrase ‘The Little Planets That Could’ conserves the dignity of all the planetary bodies in the Kuiper Belt including Pluto and 2003UB313. We’ll do whatever we can to force the IAA to use that title and to restore these cosmic neighbors to the respectable place in the heavens they deserve. Any small step in helping these orbitals toward full planetary equality is worth our every effort.”

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rippin' Off The Pastor?

Sermon on the Mount *all rights reserved

Yeah, two posts on religion back to back. Drown me before I get too deep....

Took part in this fascinating thread over at Out of Ur about pastors “plagiarizing” each other’s sermons.

The big beef was pastors using other pastors’ material without attribution.

Most of the Christian leaders who responded sounded like American trade reps in China demanding the protection of “intellectual property rights.” Nobody likes to feel like your creative stuff is getting ripped off, least of all in a highly individualistic place like the US, so I’ve got some sympathy for the patent pending sermons crowd. And actively pretending your sermon is entirely your creative work when it isn't is obviously weak and cheesy.

But is a strong concern for plagiarism really appropriate among pastors? Should folks be making such a fuss about it in the Christian community?

I mean, let’s face it, from one point of view the Bible is the ultimate open source document and the Christian community the supreme wiki-gathering. The whole thing is kind of one long sermon and story that countless people in countless places have contributed to. Even teasing out who is responsible for what in a flow like that seems hard to do.

Both are the products of a communal tradition where contributing selflessly—and even anonymously if Jesus’ teachings are going to be taken seriously—to the good of the whole is one of the greatest values.

No doubt strict attribution is important in a Ph.D. thesis or a news story, but not sure it makes much sense in The Old Time Wiki-Religion :^)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Confessions of Neo-Conservative Jesus

I’d like to welcome a first time guest, Neo-Conservative Jesus.

Thanks Larry. I appreciate a chance to do the show.

Why the name “Neo-Conservative Jesus?” Why not just Jesus?

Good question Larry.

It’s sort of like the Elvis tribute shows. We pay tribute to “The King” by imitating some of his moves. People like it. I'm not the King but I try to get people to believe I'm the King. Entertains 'em and makes 'em feel good, even if just for a few hours or years.

You said ‘we’ pay tribute to the King.

Oh yeah. A lot of us do Jesus for a living. I get a chance to work with Kansas School Board Jesus quite a bit. And sometimes you get a chance to go old skool with somebody like International Socialist Jesus. And then you’ve got the ancients. Got lunch with Spanish Inquisition Jesus. That was a real thrill.

So you’re a Jesus impersonator?

Well, that’s what some people like to call us (laughs loudly).

But we don’t like to use that term. We’re all professionals. We’ve got a lot of pride in what we do.

Have you ever met, you know, the real Jesus?

No, not really. But I've studied some of his movies.

I can appreciate that. But you mentioned imitating Jesus’ moves. How do you think your version compares with other Jesus takes?

Some of us do it better than others. Pretty much like the Elvis freaks. It’s pretty hard for those guys to get that hip swivel thing and snarled lip down just right. Very similar challenge with Jesus but maybe even tougher. I can't say where I rank but some folks obviously enjoy it.

From reading the trade dailies I know you’ve been doing pretty well recently. How’s it feel to finally break through? It must be sweet.

It’s very gratifying, Larry. Over the past five years only National Rifle Association Jesus has bigger numbers among church goers. Tens of millions worship me every week. It’s great to see the people recognize all the hard work. I’m very grateful. I can remember working small, weird right wing congregations in Texas. I’ve come a long way.

Let's move beyond entertainment for just a second. What’s your take on our post 9/11 foreign policy?

Well, that’s the thing, Larry. I know I'm supposed to have a clear take on all that, but I’m not sure what to think anymore. Don't want to let my worshippers down but I'm not sure what in the hell is going on over there.

How so?

Larry, I'll admit this right here to your nationwide audience. If I have a weakness, it's that sometimes I trust too much.

They said dropping the bunker busters and passing out the bibles to survivors and then setting up the Rotary Clubs would stop all those violent crazy ass towel heads and camel jockeys. Geez, I gave 'em the religious cover that made it all politically possible. Without me its Bill Kristol and a couple of guys ranting in print over at The Weekly Standard

Sounds like you’re having your doubts.

I confess, Larry. I'm not sure we have a clue what we're doing.

Do you remember what Rumsfeld said? "There are things we know that we know. And things we know that we don’t know. And things we don’t know that we don’t know."

I’m starting to think we don’t know what we don’t know. The truth is, maybe we don't know Shi'ite.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Back to School

Andrew is back for his first day of the 8th grade today.

He's heading back to school with some new hope and a new challenge.

Doctors and therapists diagnosed him with Attention Deficit Disorder a few months ago. He’s struggled in school for a number of years even though he’s been categorized as ‘gifted’ both in California and here in Colorado. His success in the classroom hasn’t matched his obvious intellectual giftedness. By the end of the last school year things came to a head and he became visibly depressed and despondent about school.

Though he’s a high energy kid he’s never had the manic characteristics that sometimes accompany ADD. As we learned, the manic stuff has little to do with ADD, but because people incorrectly associate the two many kids—and even many adults—who have this learning disability never get the help they need. And if they’re socially popular and athletically gifted like Andrew, it can further ‘mask’ the issue.

He’s been getting help and therapy this summer and is back to his normally exuberant self. We spent a lot of extra time with him too which was great. He’s confident about his ability to overcome the challenge at school and so are we.

But it’s going to be an uphill struggle for him and for us as we try to stand by him. I think this year will be particularly important and I’m expecting we’re going to have some ups and downs.

So I’d appreciate it if you’d remember him and say a little prayer for him today if you’re so inclined. Thanks!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Googie and the Boogeyman

Architecture is cool.

I’ve always loved the mid-20th century Googie style.

Those are the 50’s and 60’s coffee shops and gas stations and public buildings with outer space themes and an atomic powered, ‘blinded me with science’ Jetson’s look.

Sweet Tomorrowland stuff.

You know. The Space Needle in Seattle. The LAX theme building. Every kind of store and café and movie theater for those of you old enough to remember.

Guess Googie is big right now with young urban hipsters. Most Googie stuff is long gone and the rest is on the endangered species list.

Some of the best and brightest—particularly among the young technophiles--are apparently trying to save what’s left of the Googie architecture in cities all over the country. I’m delighted.

Googie style is big on South Broadway here in Denver where my daughter goes to browse the boho hip shops for clothes.

Fun to see what motivates these folks.

• “There was a kind of innocence to Googie. We thought science and the future held all good things, and it spoke to our aspirations and optimism about the future, something I think people now look ahead to with a sense of fear and dread.”

• “A lot of younger people don’t remember it when it was new, but they’re attracted to its vividness. It’s bold and colorful, with a very strong identity, sculptural, delightful and fun. Commercial architecture has become bland, and they like Googie because it’s so distinctive.”

An enthusiastic hope for the future combined with a thing for the creative and distinctive. Nothing wrong with that in my mind.


It often seems to me that many Americans in their 20’s and 30’s right now are astonishingly conservative. And not just politically. I mean conservative in their whole take on the world.

There’s something more than a little crocked about that.

At the risk of oversimplifying, conservatives believe there really is a boogeyman in the closet.

Liberals doubt the boogeyman is there, but feel confident we can make friends with him if he does show up.

Given how hard life is for most people, conservatism is the default world view for the human race and always has been. Middle aged people—-particularly when they get some possessions to protect—-move downhill toward it like an SUV on a 6% grade with burned out brakes.

But folks under 35 are natural liberals. When they aren’t something is wrong.

Maybe this “nostalgic” interest in Googie is pretty good news :^)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Heads Up

Heard about a next Spring release in post-production I’d like to see: Amazing Grace: The William Wilberforce Story

If you don’t know about Wilberforce, the man probably most responsible for ending slavery, find out why he’s one of my favorite dead white guys.

Looks like a high quality pic. The staff at Walden Media, the folks behind the joint, did Spy Kids, Holes, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, among others.

Walden—with a mission to create inspiring films that adults and kids can explain to each other without having to lie and make stuff up-—gets its operating wad from Phil Anschutz, a Denver bazillionaire who seems to own half the sports teams and businesses in the western U.S. He’s an evangelical Howard Hughes come to Hollywood.

No cheesy end times flicks or two-by-four-to-the-head moralizing though. He seems to get it. Don’t like his politics or some of the half-evolved anti-evolutionary stuff he supports, but if he can make some good flicks I’ll be there with my Fandangos on.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mysteries of the Gym

• Why do women buy expensive and revealing workout suits and then inevitably wrap an old sweatshirt or sweater around their waists, covering themselves all the way down to the back of their knees?

• Why the same old, same old techno or disco beat all the time? How come you never hear bluegrass or a polka at a health club?

• Why are the few men in the step aerobics class always uncoordinated nimrods?

• Why do some people sit on a stationery bike for a half hour talking to a friend and then leave without actually exercising?

• Why don’t gyms ever hire a Mensa type to work at the front desk?

• Why does the guy with the locker right next to yours always show up when you’re getting dressed, thereby forcing both of you into an impromptu game of Twister in order to get your gym clothes on? Why does it always happen when the rest of the locker room is empty? I refer to this regular experience as “The Law of the Locker Room.”

• Why do so many guys have ‘gym bodies’ that are bulky and pretty much useless for any real sport outside the gym?

• In a place meant to make you feel better, why do so many people spend so much time looking at themselves reproachfully in the mirror?

• Why do women—who rarely perspire much—spend so much time spraying the machines with disinfectant and wiping them down carefully after they use them while most men—who sweat a lot—give the machines a quick swipe with an already sweat soaked towel and then move on?

• Why is it always the guy lifting the lightest free weight who makes the loudest ‘Bulgarian weight lifter’ yell?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Culture Matters

According to a study by a coupla profs at Columbia and Berkeley,
U.N. diplomats from countries with cultures of pervasive corruption flaunt New York parking laws far more regularly than diplomats from countries with cultures that frown on corruption.

Examining the years 1997-2002, they found a direct correlation between the number of diplomats that parked with impunity and the level of corruption in their home countries, measured by the Transparency International corruption index.

As an example, diplomats from Sweden had no unpaid parking violations while diplomats from Chad averaged 124 unpaid parking violations.

The authors conclusion?

“Culture, norms, and emotions - in other words, factors other than legal enforcement - play a key role in government officials' corruption decisions . . . understanding these factors should be taken seriously in debates about the causes of corruption and the policy measures to combat it."

I’m obviously not posting to thrash Chadean diplomats. But the study points out something that seems pretty obvious to me: culture matters. Particularly when you’re talking about the effect culture can have on the potential for economic development. Corruption strangles the possibility for uplift in country after country.

Unfortunately, the whole phrase ‘culture matters’ has become associated with a kind of mean spirited, right wing and sometimes racist approach that often seems more concerned with demonstrating the superiority of white westerners and, increasingly, some Asian cultures.

So I understand why so many people genuinely concerned for economic development among the poor here in the US and in the rest of the world shy away from using the phrase or even seriously examining certain elements in various cultures that—in my mind--help keep a whole lotta people trapped in poverty.

Lots of people here in the Rockies are roasting white, Democratic, ex-governor of Colorado Richard Lamm on a spit right now because of his new book, Two Wands, One Nation, and some of his recent comments.

An example:

"Let me offer you, metaphorically, two magic wands that have sweeping powers to change society. With one wand you could wipe out all racism and discrimination from the hearts and minds of white America. The other wand you could wave across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition," Lamm wrote. "I suggest that the best wand for society and for those who live in the ghettos and barrios would be the second wand."

Yes, stupidly put. Obviously a gross and unfair overgeneralization. Sure to make lots of people furious and therefore possibly useless in actually bringing about change. Clearly the wrong messenger.

But still....

People don’t choose their own original culture(s) any more than they choose their eye color. Cultures become what they are through a complicated historical process mostly beyond the control of current individual members of that culture. Jared Diamond made that case powerfully in Guns, Germs and Steel.

And certainly some of the worst elements in every culture get a boost out of abuse at the hands of other temporarily powerful cultures.

As a result, you don't have to blame others needlessly or go off on a jag of moral superiority to acknowledge that aspects of culture can sometimes consign people to poverty.

I think a lot of us repudiate a clumsy and sometimes malicious appropriation of the term ‘culture matters.

How can we take it back and make it our own?

Seems like we’ve got to do it if we're serious about rolling back poverty.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Laughing at the Whirlwind

Mindbleed, an Egyptian blogger I've been reading for about a year, posts on Arab bravado and braggadocio in the face of overwhelming odds.

One of the only things that keeps you hopeful about what's going on in "The Holy Land" is that people can still find ways to laugh about it :^)

Monday, August 14, 2006

Planet Emeritus

Rather than undergo the humiliation of being demoted from a planet to mere "cosmic debris," Pluto has apparently retired from planetary status at today's meeting of the International Astronomical Union

In exchange, the gathered scientists bestowed on Pluto the more respectable title of "Planet Emeritus."

In a press release Pluto insisted he was retiring to spend more time with his family.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Attack of the Wal-Martians

Tim Burton fans will remember how the human race finally stopped the relentless and invincible Martians from overrunning the entire planet in “Mars Attacks.”

They played a Slim Whitman song over and over again. After just a few seconds of exposure to country music the Martians’ heads exploded. Planet earth was saved.

Unfortunately, that same strategy won’t work on Wal-Mart. Country music just attracts even more superstores :^)

I’m not a Wal-Mart hater in the way some of you are, but I know a lot of people who’d like to see the whole empire overthrown and booted right back to Arkansas.

If you’re one of those people, take heart.

Wal-Mart officially announced the end of its operations in Germany.

I’ll pause here to allow any of you who feel so inclined to begin cheering for a minute or two.

What stopped the onslaught?

Basically, they were bleeding red ink.

Why? Well, here’s the Slim Whitman equivalent that may someday save the earth.

Turns out the Wall-Mart execs were cross-culturally clueless. Who would have thought it? :^)

A leading industry analyst described the debacle this way: “They hired an American guy to run the operation in Germany who didn’t speak German. He insisted all his German execs conduct business in English. They got rid of him and then hired an Englishmen to run the show. They never figured out that the Germans hate overly cheery staffers and really hate having staffers hovering at their elbow while they shop. The Germans like to shop on their own and feel like less is more when it comes to emotional expressiveness. Morale inside German Wal-Mart was terrible and customers got turned off by the sales practices. ”

I like the Germans’ style. I sometimes have the urge to slap one of those ridiculous greeters.

Now you hard core anti-globalists know what you’ve got to do.

Up the cross-cultural cluelessness quotient at Sam's club.

Find a way to infiltrate Wal-Mart’s executive structure with as many ex-Southern Baptists missionaries as possible.

Throw in some high ranking members of the current Department of Defense.

Then sit back and watch the Wal-Martians heads start to explode all over the globe :^)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fear the Frap

It might be in the saline solution. In the smoothie. In the coke at the movie.

For the love of God, don't do The Dew!

No more Starbucks. I fear the frap.

The Islamunists are after our precious fluids.

The diabolical genius of it all!

Airports are gridlocked.

Folks are fleeing. Liberal, moderate and gay.

The election's only a few months away.

Fear is power :^)

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Before The Fall

Had some great vacation time with Jan and Andrew during my blogging hiatus.

Got down to Mesa Verde and out to Telluride and spent some time up in Steamboat Springs too. Beautiful earth, fun towns and a whole lot of mountain biking.

Took Andrew on his first mountain bike ride in late May and he’s already knocking off high end intermediate trails. Not bad, particularly since he’s riding a rickety Schwinn hard tail that rattles his teeth with every rut and rock.

The ‘highlight?’ We rode a trail out of Steamboat that ended with a sweet drop down a four wheel drive road. The word was a couple of short uber steep stretches torn up with foot deep and 16 inch wide ruts. Beyond that we could let ‘er rip.

Heavy rains hit the area a week before we got there, but I figured the road would be dry by the time we rolled through. Wrong.

We flew around a corner and hit some 5 inch deep mud.

Andrew ended up in a mini-mud lake and got covered head to toe.

I ended up sliding right into one of those big old ruts. My front wheel dropped in and just stopped dead, throwing me over the handle bars.

I’ve had ‘endos’ before, but I got launched this time. Landed about 5 feet down the road on some rocks and then had the bike land on me. Thank you very much.

Thought I'd broken my thumb or wrist but turned out to be nothing more than a bad bruise. Did slightly fracture a rib. Pretty lucky, though I’m still trying to avoid sneezing or coughing these days.

After the initial jolt we both just busted up. Andrew was looking especially sweet after his "bath."

No serious injury, a cool ‘agony of defeat’ crash, and some good story to tell. What could be better? :^)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Tumblin' Down

Thinkin’ out loud.

Been tracking the The Emerging Church thing.

Could be a good move in the right direction towards religion-less Christianity I hope so.

Lots of folks have wondered whether you can chuck religion and still have ethics and morality. But these days I'm more interested in whether you can chuck religion and still have faith left over.

Who can imagine a life giving faith that isn't obscured by a religious superstructure of assertively ignorant and undeserving authority? Especially right now when religion around the world seems so powerful--and often so dumb and destructive.

But in the long run I’ve got some hope that the religious walls will come tumbling down. And that a better and less oppressive faith might arise from the rubble.

I just wonder whether any powerful spiritual movement ever came out of deconstructing and then reconstructing traditional religion, which is what the Emerging Church seems to be all about.

It all feels pretty bloodless. Sometimes you've gotta have more destruction than deconstruction....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The People's Tek

Took a look at two more recent versions of the people’s tek.

Make no mistake, I'm all for "the people."

But sometimes it takes "the people" a while to figure what to do with newly available technology. And even when they do figure it out the results can be, well, kind of interesting :^)

The video de jour at YouTube as I write?

Lonely Girl: Lazydork is Better Than You

Well, ok. Lazydork probably pumps up more geeks than Luke nuking the Death Star. As for the rest of us, hmmmmmm....:^)

Ran across Spot Runner too.

It’s an LA startup that offers small businesses an affordable way to buy TV ads aimed at local markets.

They use a Blogger tech model. Pre-designed ads (instead of templates) that can be modified for each customer.

Accountants and lawyers and dentists and coffee shops can run their own local tv ads for a $499 set up fee and ten bucks each time the add is shown. Spot Runner sells spots for the local market on ESPN, Bravo, and CNN among others.

It’s pretty cool that a whole lot more small businesses will get air time at affordable prices if Spot Runner survives and prospers.

But do any of us really want to see the results? At least in the short run?

I grew up with local Cal Worthington used car ads in LA with a middle aged fool dressed like Roy Rogers walking a Bengal tiger (“My Dog Spot”) around a used car lot hawking road kill. And later, I had the privilege of local Larry S. Parker ads with a geeky lawyer shouting into the camera about how tough he was combined with interviews with lots of low IQ folks testifying to how Larry saved their butts.

If LazyDork and Cal and Larry are any indication of what Spot Runner may unleash on the world, wow, you've gotta believe this democratic technology thing could really get ugly. And pretty funny.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Another Victory for the Glorious Revolution?

The Senate failed to get the 60 votes required to end debate (prevent a filibuster) on the "trifecta" bill. This legislation (passed last week by the House) would raise the minimum wage, but only by also providing estate tax reform benefiting the wealthiest. The vote was 56-42

The folks at Sojourners who reported this defeat of an increased minimum wage bill considered it a victory. Strange at first glance since the mag is the strongest Christian voice for politics that prioritize the poor. And they lead the way in challenging The Really Very Annoying Glorious Conservative Christian Cultural Revolution.

The "godless" Senate Democrats and a few traitorous Republicans who can still blush wanted to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to a little over $7 an hour.

But they voted against bumping up the base pay for the poor because the conservatives—bolstered by The Glorious—refused to consider raising the wages of working poor people unless the wealthy got a permanent estate tax break too.

So instead of voting on raising the minimum wage rate in a 'stand alone' bill, The Glorious and their friends linked that bump up with a gift to the rich in an "all or nothing" bill. These church goers and their cynical or ideological conservative friends held a basic pay raise for the poorest of the working poor hostage to an estate tax break for the wealthy.

So the folks at Sojourners, in an apparent first in their history, applauded the likely prospect of a filibuster designed to defeat the passage of a minimum wage hike. I think I've seen everything now :^)

The Glorious Conservative Christian Cultural Revolution consistently supports conservative, Republican politicians who’ve locked in these miniscule minimum wage rates for the working poor by repeatedly blocking any increases over the past decade.

The minimum wage for unskilled American labor is $5.15 an hour. Just like it was 10 years ago. That comes out to a little over $4 an hour right now when you adjust for inflation. Reflect on that for a moment. Four dollars an hour.

So what comes next?

Very predictable.

Those Who Can Still Blush will--correctly--point out the long track record of the Glorious and Conservative re the minimum wage. They'll campaign on the issue and rely on the projected moral decency of the public to force a 'stand alone' bill to raise the minimum wage.

The Conservatives and The Glorious will try to punish the "immoral" Democrats along with the “traitorous Republicans” who broke rank on this vote in the ’06 elections. They’ll appeal to the poor by claiming that the Demos and the Traitors blocked a minimum wage increase and appeal to the rich by pointing out that the D’s and T’s blocked their permanent estate tax break. All clothed in Rovespin.

The really bent part? The Glorious pitch may just work.

Over the past 6 years it just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser....

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Generic Cheese Blocks

This piece from The Onion aimed at 'do gooders' in anti-poverty non-profits may strike a little too close to home for a few of us. Just wish they'd mentioned the steady diet of government issued generic cheese blocks. Mmmmmm, that's good eatin'

From time to time I wonder if mom and pop, grass roots non-profits can really make a dent in poverty. And that's from somebody trying to encourage as many new grass-roots approaches as possible.

The current anti-poverty non-profit I work with (and started a number of years back) began very small but now works around the world, so I've seen it from both sides. And some of my friends work in 'mom and pop' ventures in inner cities.

If widespread, systemic economic/social development al la Hernando de Soto is the only way to bring large numbers of people out of poverty, are the idealists working with mini 501c3's just fooling themselves?

Or maybe the grass roots folks have something figured out that the macro types don't get.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Back At It

Thought it was time to get back to posting after a couple of month hiatus. The Floyd Landis thing was just too tempting to pass up :^)

Had some major stuff go down in my life and have been vacating with the family some too. More on those later.

Mostly took the time off to to check out the blogosphere in more depth and rethink what I wanted to do with the blog. More shifts to come but didn't want to put off posting any longer.

You'll notice I've added a lot of links. These were the best written--and in some cases the funniest--sites I ran across. Not always takes I feel fully but in the end you've gotta go with the gifted folks with some passion who put in the effort. Others stuff I included just interested me personally. More new links to come soon.

I'll post more regularly (4-5 times a week rather than 2-3) and look less for discussions in the comments section. I've been trying to hold out for the value of discussion--and I think a lot of the best stuff on the sphere can be found in the comments sections--but this medium, at least right now, won't carry that weight. Do your best on the comments and I'll keep on taking 'em seriously, but because I'll be posting more often than in the past some of those discussions won't get the play they did on Peaks and Pacific version 1.0.

While the posts will still be more thinking than linking, I'll link more to others and even link to my own longer 'article' pieces on another site so folks won't shut due to the length of some of the stuff on P and P. Don't want to put undue pressure on potential readers with small little spans of attention and/or small little texty tek.

I'll do eclectic and personal but focus on satire, politics, religion, culture, sports and science too.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Tour de Testosterone

Paris (AP)

American cyclist Floyd Landis again repudiated allegations Tuesday that his urine samples taken after his heroic stage 17 of the Tour de France contained "abnormal levels of testoterone" due to doping. Landis insisted his superhuman testosterone levels and "muy macho-ness" were "normal for me."

In a press conference Landis said, "Hey, what can I say? I've got the surplus sack. Always have."

Ezekiel Landis, the Tour de France winner's Mennonite father, defended his son's innocence in an interview from the family farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

"Floyd was always gifted. At puberty he started making clanging noises when he walked around in his boxers, if you know what I mean. Kind of interrupted the family devotionals. We finally had to restrict him to the whitey-tighties," said the 60 year old Landis.

Both Landis and the UCI, the global cycling federation, said they had asked the Chatenay-Malabry lab in France to expedite a test on the second half of the Landis urine sample taken after Stage 17. If the 'B' sample produces the same positive result as the 'A' sample, with a testosterone/epitestosterone (T/E) ratio reported to be 11-to-1, almost triple the legal ceiling of 4-to-1, Landis will lose his Tour title, be suspended for two years and be fired by his pro team, Phonak.

When asked by reporters what he would do if the 'B' sample tested positive, Landis was philosophical.

"I guess I'd have to find another line of work," said Landis. "Something that would take advantage of the hormones under the hood."

Quoting Ghengis Khan, Landis hoped to find a job that would allow him to "vanquish my enemies and chase them before me, rob them of their wealth and see those dear to them bathed in tears, and ride their horses and clasp to my bosom their wives and daughters."