Archive for May, 2008

Harnessing mass fraud

May 29th, 2008 — Wordman

The plague of reality television has spawned some unexpected phenomena over its decade-long life. Most interestingly, shows that allowed public voting demonstrated that people had both the desire and the means to organically organize to rig elections on a massive scale. Once again, the internet demonstrates its core competency, connecting strangers in weird ways, in this case through nexus sites like Vote for the Worst.

The question that’s been bugging me this morning: how to harness this ability? Any thoughts?

Inside joke

May 19th, 2008 — Wordman

Only seven people in the world will actually understand this, much less think it is as funny as I do. And only half of them are probably reading this. But hey, my blog, my rules.

In doing some spring cleaning, I came across this scrap of paper in one of the many piles in my office:

Tanador note

Good times.

UPDATE: not long after posting this, I got a “mysterious” text page from one of the seven people saying “There is no rash.” Trust me, that was hilarious.

The black horse

May 9th, 2008 — Wordman

Now that idiot thugs are refusing disaster relief and rice shortage prophesies are being self-fulfilled, it won’t be long until famine starts to rear its head. While many people are busy dying, those that aren’t will be spreading blame around. Blame will fall on bad weather, bad crops, bad luck, even on Al Gore. But the truth will be none of these. While starvation is (obviously) caused by a lack of food, famine—that is, widespread starvation over a large area—is the result of bad government.

As far as food goes, governments fail their people in two ways: by failing to plan for bad times and by bungling (or, all to often, profiting from) crises when some external event triggers a food problem. Usually, famine involves both. In its 2002 coverage of Ethiopia entitled “Bad weather, and bad government”, the Economist said:

Bad weather is rarely enough, on its own, to kill large numbers of people. Famine usually requires bad government, too…. In Ethiopia, the food crisis has been aggravated by the legacy of a senseless border war with neighboring Eritrea between 1998 and 2000. It killed tens of thousands, forced 350,000 to flee their homes, blasted both countries’ infrastructure and prompted foreign donors to freeze a lot of aid. In all, it cost Ethiopia an estimated $2.9 billion—almost a whole year’s output for every farmer in a country where 80 per cent of the population lives on farms. Such a monumental man-made disaster has made it harder for the country to cope with a natural one.

The millions of Chinese that starved from 1958 to 1961 also owe their deaths more to their government’s response to natural disaster than to the disasters themselves, even by that governments own admission. Research into other famines by Amartya Sen reached similar conclusions. Even black swan events, such as fungus unexpectedly killing potatoes needs bad government to become the Irish Potato Famine.

Our modern reaction to famine in other countries is to send relief aid and “keep them in our prayers”. This probably saves a few lives (at least in countries where the government isn’t stealing the aid), but treats the symptom, not the disease. You will continue to see famine in country after country until we change this “we sympathize” tune we sing into an accusation of incompetence against the government causing the problem, even our own (especially our own). Some, for example, are taking the World Bank to task, claiming it created policies that encourage governments to create famine. This is a step in the right direction, but a better step would be to also blame the governments themselves.

Art “Four Horsemen: Famine” by Greyskin666.