Thursday, December 30, 2010

Microlending Abuse

Microfinance has apparently been good for many people, but for others it has been a disaster.

More than 70 people committed suicide in the state from March 1 to Nov. 19 to escape payments or end the agonies their debt had triggered, according to the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, a government agency that compiled the data on the microfinance-related deaths from police and press reports.

This quote was a bit of a jaw-dropper.
“If you can’t profit off the poor, it means that no companies will service the poor -- and then they will be worse off than earlier.”

I get the sentiment, but it's still seems a cruel thing.

Here is a recent paper arguing that the best way to help many poor people is international migration.
In addition to estimating per-capita income gains of 30-40%, we find that participating in [New Zealand's seasonal migration program] leads to greater subjective well-being, more durable asset purchases, housing improvements, and in Tonga, a large increase in secondary schooling. Moreover, as a recent evaluation by New Zealand’s labor department found, these gains came with minimal displacement of native workers, and overstay rates of less than 1%.

This is very interesting and I hope more groups exploring the poverty problem take a look at it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Problem With Talking Heads

Not the band, the sort you find on your TV. Ta-Nahesi Coates hits the nail on the head.

So for instance, making this specific to me, let's say I go on television and say "We can salute the bravery of the Confederate Army, while deploring their aims." This is a fairly conventional point which relies on relatively established mores. They are, in this case, 1.) Slavery was bad 2.) The men who died at Gettysburg, Antietam, and Vicksburg on both sides, were brave. Or some such. Moreover it makes me sound fair-minded in my willingness to allow for a kind of moral out for all sides, regardless of their sympathies.

But let's say I go on television and say, "Confederate bravery is neither unique, nor in and of itself, praise-worthy. Mohammad Atta was brave. The kamikazes were brave. But bravery in service of evil should never be commemorated." This is a problem. Even in writing it, I've had to take up more space then the previous assertion. Likely, I could edit it down to a sentence or two. But I leave it this way to show how much space and time it takes me to make the more contentious point, one that challenges our accepted thinking, (the 9/11 bombers were brave) and leaves no room for an honorable retreat. Pushing the point further, I could, as was done the other night, simply call the firing on Fort Sumter a terrorist attack. This is almost certainly untrue, but it incites our visceral disgust for terrorism and thus leaves the point of commemorating implicit.

He's not the first to make this point and for all the complaining about the problem, I'm almost (but not quite) surprised that the format has lasted this long. I can't stand 99% of the programs that have a couple of heads shouting banal talking points back and forth. It educates no one and only worsens our discourse. Unfortunately, most people are looking for reinforcement of already formed opinion and not honest, challenging debate.

One thing I've tried to instill in my daughters is a willingness to question one's own beliefs, to always be accepting of new ideas, to test them, to mull them over. If some new fact or circumstance causes a person to rethink some notion they have held and to change their mind, that should be respected and not ridiculed. This can be disconcerting at times, but in my mind the rewards outweigh the drawbacks.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Catcalling Isn't Cool. Really.

A woman goes off on men who catcall.

Am I saying men should never talk to women in public? No, not at all.

There’s a huge difference between harassing a woman and trying to start a conversation. Here are some tips: talk to her, not at her. Treat her with respect: be aware of her personal space, ask her how she’s doing or what she’s reading instead of commenting on her body parts, look at her face instead of her chest. If she ignores you, drops eye contact, or walks away, back off. It wasn’t rude of you to approach her, but she’s not being rude if she doesn’t want to keep talking to you, especially if you initiated conversation while she was running an errand, waiting for the bus, or on her computer at a coffee shop.

Let’s say you’re not interested in having an actual conversation, but just want to let a woman know she’s beautiful. Go ahead, it’s a free country; just do it respectfully. Don’t be threatening, don’t make animal sounds, don’t follow her. Most women I know wouldn’t be offended if someone told her she was looking great or had gorgeous hair or a beautiful smile. But don’t expect the woman in question to feel the same way, and don’t act aggressive if she rejects your advances.

It seems somewhat amazing to me that men would still do stuff like this, but clearly it happens. The author talks about a lack of respect for women and that is clearly a big part of it, but I wonder how much of it is motivated by fear, as well. Men are intimidated by beautiful women. Whistling at a women walking by or making lewd comments is easier than approaching her and talking to her which could lead to rejection. No man likes that. By keeping the woman at a distance the man allows himself to fantasize that she finds him just as attractive and that he has a chance if he "really wanted to talk to her."

Not that this makes this kind of activity okay. I don't have any sons to teach to respect women, but I do have two daughters which means I need to teach them how to handle this sort of crap because unfortunately it seems inevitable that they will have to deal with it.

Elie Wiesel is a "Holocaust Winner"

According to Fox News if you can believe it.

Stuff like this is typically seen by a few people beforehand. How is it that this could get by all of them?