Goosebumps

February 4, 2012

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I couldn’t duck today’s post, so here you are.

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Just-a-doodle

February 3, 2012

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These are my thousand words for the day today.

Resurrecting the EAC

July 26, 2010

East African countries are on the verge of a remarriage of sorts. An uneasy first trial at unity ended up collapsing back in 1977 after only a decade of existence, causing bad blood among the then partner states, and thus explaining the frustratingly slow current reintegration. Starting 2000 however, a revival has been in the works with the last major groundwork before full cooperation being laid down last year (2009) when leaders from old members; Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and new members Rwanda and Burundi met in Arusha, the proposed union’s capital, to ratify the official roadmap.

This was the culmination of gradual efforts cautiously stepped up since that acrimonious breakup. After three decades, July 2010 finally sees the coming to fruition of East Africa as a common market. Citizens of these partner states are now allowed to travel and transact freely across their borders. Earlier on, the beginning of this year saw the coming into effect of the EAC Customs Union protocol. This theoretically removed all taxes levied on intra-regional trade allowing for free movement of goods and services across the region.

A treaty crafted to guide the EAC’s timeline provided for four phases to full integration; first was a Customs Union introduced back in 2005, a Common Market set for July 2010, Monetary Union starting 2012 (with political will, full monetary union is expected by 2015) and then ultimately a Political Federation.

Macroeconomic benefits

This is welcome news. Having seen a fairly successful implementation of the aforementioned first two phases, expected now is the relatively more complicated, but far more crucial Monetary Union part. With proper implentation and management, the benefits from this will be immense. First on the list will be macroeconomic stability. A common currency eliminates susceptibility to sudden fluctuations in valuation thus boosting investor confidence. The cost of exchanging currencies within the region will of course disappear, thereby benefitting firms trading in the region. Cost transparency of goods traded within the community will give consumers competitive prices. Member states with higher inflation rates will stabilize, therefore benefitting by association. Trading in the local stock markets will also go up as barriers blocking partner countries’ firms are eliminated.

There’s security in numbers they say. Working together will give EAC citizens a collectively bigger clout at negotiating with its trading partners. Globalization, being virtually about integration, favours regional economic unions which in turn are actually transitioning into one global village. That is why there are regional and/or strategic economic blocs amalgamating everywhere around the globe. It is a do or die. By necessity, similar-interest-nations coalesce and morph into bigger unions, accruing benefits from the economies of scale.

Furthermore, EAC countries with weaker currency will benefit from lower interest rates and their firms will have easier access to capital. For perspective, a look at European Union points at what to expect with the new EAC. According to Wikipedia, the introduction of the euro (European Union’s common currency) in Europe has most specifically stimulated investment in companies that come from countries that previously had weak currencies. The euro decreased interest rates of most member countries, and in particular those with a weak currency. As a consequence the market value of firms from countries which previously had a weak currency significantly increased. A study found that the introduction of the euro accounted for 22% of the investment rate after 1998 (the euro was introduced on 1 January 1999) in countries that previously had a weak currency. So the prognosis is clear: EAC’s poorer countries are set to gain on this front. Additionally, as the poorest of them in this region are landlocked (i.e. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), they are also set to gain from cheaper and faster transfer of goods to and from the ports in Mombasa and Dar-es-Salaam.

The bloc’s people are their biggest capital. Given the projected decline of China and India as the leading havens of cheap labour, opportunities abound for EAC’s estimated 130 million strong (and mostly young) population, especially in low-end goods manufacture. The region’s proximity to the Indian Ocean cannot be overstated. Trade with commodity-rich landlocked neighbours like Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia is expected to increase extensively. With an estimated combined GDP of $75 billion, the economic union places the community in good position to gain significantly from trade with its African neighbours.

All round prospects are excellent if there will be no policy reversals as has unfortunately been witnessed with Tanzania on a number of previous occasions. Tanzanians are generally thought to fear that the association’s benefits will be minimal for them, thus their reluctance to waive taxes on some goods from partners, especially Kenya. Their worry is that suave and relatively well educated Kenyans will swamp their job market at their citizens’ expense. However, these should be taken as teething problems to be ironed out with time and therefore not the cue to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Although not on the radar at the moment, optimists see an eventual marriage between the East African Community with their South and West African counterparts. This would make for a more hopeful, brighter vision for 2030.

Warning: The link below contains extremely graphic content. It is not for the squeamish!

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=dae_1236854361

To say that I am totally disgusted with the “witch” lynchings that routinely take place in the wider Kisii region of western Kenya would be an understatement. I am ashamed of my community. We’re in the 21st century for christsake! Civilization has no place for arbitrary condemnations such as those being meted out by mobs wielding machetes, clubs, rocks and other crude weapons—without first holding a fair trial. Witch-hunts are almost always based on accusations without hard proof; which is why the vigilante prefer to evade the legal way as they know it wouldn’t accommodate their accusations. But I’m not interested in arguing along legal lines here.

My major concern is the fearful fact that modern, educated, grown humans who should know better actually believe in witchcraft! Sorcery is a myth. Why can’t people understand that there isn’t any mysterious, supernatural power controlling their lives?

The failure to recognize this has led to a great many persecutions and a rise in vigilantism in Kisii against people perceived to be different. Poor, lonely, old and powerless people whose sole crime was oddity at a time when crops failed or milk spoilt have paid the ultimate price. People have been targeted for no reason other than a strange birthmark, living alone, mental illness, cultivation of medicinal herbs, or simply because they are falsely accused, sometimes out of jealousy.

What can be more atrocious than the condoning of murder under whatever guise? It is the height of primitivity to believe that misfortune is directly caused by witchcraft. If the crops failed, someone loses their job or a you or a loved one falls ill, blaming a witch is the “convenient” thing to do. Sadly, this is not a fallacy held only by ignorant peasants but also by the educated (including Christian preachers who actively perpetuate the myth!) amongst the Gusii who often juice up their fantasies with elaborate satanic theories. Indeed the community even has a saying that goes “tiyanya gokwa etaberegeti getondo” loosely translated, it means that nobody dies without a reason (we all fucking die, stupid! It is natural!). The Gusii have this outrageous idea that some people(witches) domesticate wild animals i.e. snakes and hyenas, which they then use as means of teleportation to remote and far off places for their evil work. (If there was any such science we’d be the most advanced society ever, don’t you think?)

Some five centuries ago Europe experienced a similar superstitious uprising. An instructive book was even crafted during that time purporting to prove that witchcraft existed. “Malleus Maleficarum” was meant to be the guide-book for magistrates on the procedures that should be used to find witches out and convict them. Consequently, the manuscript became the handbook for witch-hunters and inquisitors during that dark period. Among other crazy things, it described what were then known as “ordeals”. If you passed the ordeals then you were innocent and if you failed you were guilty. One such ordeal was the “ordeal by cold water”. The long and the short of it was that if a suspect was brought forth, they were tied up and immersed in cold water whereby if they sank, they were innocent and there was to be no punishment but if they floated, they were guilty! Talk of a“catch 22”situation! The Malleus Maleficarum should serve as a horrible warning about what happens when intolerance takes over the society. Sadly that has not been the case.

Like the then Europe, people who are being accused of witchcraft in Kisii now are mostly old women that often take care of children or are out begging for money. Sometimes if a child died in her care, there is always a chance that she would be accused of bewitching the child.

The enlightenment that occurred in Europe starting 400 years ago helped to end the witch-hunts there. It brought empirical reason, skepticism and humanitarianism which helped defeat the superstitions of the earlier age. It gradually occurred to people that there was no empirical evidence that alleged witches were responsible for any calamities and taught that the use of torture to force confessions was inhumane.

What shall it take for us to be enlightened?

There’s a phenomenon sweeping across Africa and the African diaspora–Nigerian movies. These are homemade films in a genre that should aptly be called ‘Romantic Voodoo’ because of their propensity for black magic.

According to Wikipedia, it all started in 1992 when a Nigerian entrepreneur, Kenneth Nnebue, imported a lot of blank video cassettes to Nigeria. In order to get a ready market, he assembled a ragtag cast and they made low budget stories which they recorded on the tapes before selling them. The response was explosive. The rest, as they say, is history.

This straight to VHS movies became increasingly lucrative. By the year 2000, in a classic bandwagon effect, they were now coming out in dozens a week. Nigerian movies, or Nollywood as they came to be widely known have even surpassed Hollywood and Bollywood as the world’s fastest growing movie industry. An average Nigerian film takes less than a week to shoot! A ready employer for a multitude of unemployed, it has become a full fledged industry in itself. The market is readily available throughout Africa because the poor can relate to the simplistic stories. In Nigeria, this industry is reportedly the second biggest employer after agriculture. It churns out over 2,500 pictures a year. Or 50 a week. That’s all very well. Unfortunately, in such a prolific industry with lots of people all in a rush to make a quick buck, quality suffers. Inevitably, most of the films produced are cheesy.

So often we are treated to simplistic, not-well-thought-out plots. Many of them are boring, clichéd and one dimensional. An insult to our intelligence, really. Technically, the lighting, directing, editing, cinematography… are all poorly done. Even if clever writing is not a prerequisite to a good movie, most Nigerian scripts are more often than not, moronic.

I am not exonerating western movies. Not at all. They are equally full of crap. However, they are still way ahead of us…mostly. We all know that Hollywood survives on hype, recycled actors and action packed trailers. But my feeling here is that they already have enough critics. Besides, a good number of them really push the envelope, occasionally giving us memorable stuff. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t spare our own because of the excuse that they are our own. Mediocrity is mediocrity no matter who is responsible.

Just because a good story needs conflict and resolution does not mean you give predictable themes. A good story should not be ‘wimpy’. By that I mean a story that gives us a solution that is too easy. Or a story that points to something that is too obvious. Make it too easy and it becomes hollow and thus fails to produce ‘an experience’. You don’t want a movie that wraps up the story in the first few minutes!

Another issue is that these films are too preachy. They are more evangelical than entertaining. They shouldn’t be. Let the audience learn his own lesson from the film. Don’t tell us what the moral is. That is not good story telling—for adults!

Characterwise, I feel that human ambiguity should be represented. The star should have a few flaws. And the bad guy a few good points. There’s a good reason why Shakespeare is still relevant after all these years—he provided insights into humanity, ambiguity and all. In resolving the conflict, the main character should do it by himself, atleast partly. It is pointless when you invoke the supernatural/god. The theme of the story should be how the character deals with his/her predicament. A story can have several concurrent conflicts for good measure.

In the plot, some things can just be intelligently alluded to. That’s sometimes more powerful than showing or telling all. I believe all men will agree with me that a lady in a mini-skirt looks more sexy to stare at than a stark naked woman. That’s because of what the short skirt alludes to.

Oh, and why do they always have ‘PART 2’ of every movie?

Cable jam

February 19, 2009

Last evening my good friend Drops (Maich) came to my digs to borrow an old Nokia charger that I stopped using sometime last year. The perfectly good charger had been orphaned when I lost its parent, my phone at that time. Since then, it has been uselessly lying there together with a collection of other similarly abandoned electrical and electronic junk waiting for either rescue or disposal. There was no way I was going through the wire mishmash to get it for him so I made him seek himself out by going through the impossible labyrinth for the stuff he wanted. You see, the things are strewn carelessly in one drawer which I’ve designated for just that; junk. The dude must have been desperate enough because he patiently undid the tangles… ending up with the wrong tip several times and starting over again, until he pulled the cable with the correct end from the mess.

Inevitably, some of the wired jumble from the drawer has found its way to that spot below my TV stand where the power multi-plug socket is. Some have traveled a little further. I have cables snaking behind cupboards, beneath tables, underneath beds, carpets, all over. Even my walls have hanging, swinging tendrils of cables reaching for the windows like climbing money plant arms reaching for sunlight. My TV’s aerial strand is particularly notorious for getting in my way all the time especially as I have to keep shifting its position depending on the channel I want to watch. Others are my bed switch and power cables from my bedside lamps. Cables, cables, cables. Insulated wires everywhere. My house is full of them. Needless to say, this has caused me untold exasperation. Identifying the correct cable for the task at hand is like a layman trying to figure out buttons, switches, inlets and outlets when playing on DjDrop’s Vestax music mixer. Or like literally disentangling a single strand of cooked spaghetti without it dismantling it. No end is easily traceable from the other corresponding end.

I’m still unsuccessful in my bid to understand how I came into this predicament. You could say my situation was brought on by my unwillingness to do away with old, obsolete items. In my adult life, I have owned many electrical and electronic items. All these come with long tripping cables, both for power and for interconnectivity. They also come with an estimated lifespan of expected service.

Since everything electrical or electronic comes with wires, it got me thinking; why don’t these engineering geeks come up with one universal cable for all interconnectivity? Atleast in the power department there’s talk of a developing wireless electric conductivity in the pipeline.

It’s encouraging to note that the mobile world big boys and players are thinking of doing exactly that. On 17th February 2009 The World GSM Association gave an indication that they will be coming to my rescue. For our collective convenience (and sanity), operators and handset makers (excluding Apple, surprise, surprise!) agreed to a standard charger by 2012. It is said that chargers generate 51000 tons of waste a year. A mentioned French study says that every 20 months between 48 and 51 million cellphone chargers become obsolete. I have owned quite a number of phones since their introduction and general proliferation. When these have died or outlived their useful lives, the chargers which are surprisingly resilient have often remained intact. Because of my third-world frugal mindset, my first instinct is to preserve. So I keep the chargers in the hope that they will become useful someday in the future. But do they ever become useful again? Not much. That makes me wonder why I still hold on to them.

My drawer is still full of cables waiting to be rescued or disposed of. Since I can’t bring myself to throw them away (am green like that!), I’m inviting my friends over to help me dispose of them conscientiously. Come one, come all!

It’s Evolution, Stupid!

February 12, 2009

It is 200 years to the day since Charles Darwin was born (February 12 th , 1809). His groundbreaking book “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” is almost 150 years old. The theory he propositioned has touched on all fields of knowledge that endeavour to understand life, from its origin to its conduct. It has stayed a hot topic ever since with its proponents intractable and its detractors unyieldingly adamant. That is how they have been for the last century and a half. That is how they look to be in the foreseeable future.

Darwin sought to answer one of the questions that has most baffled man since his known history; how did we come into being? Conceivably, that is how religion came into being. His theory, however, removed the need for divine explanations.

Converse to conventional thought, it is man who created God as an answer to all the questions he could not comprehend. As time went by, repeated probing and observation enlightened humanity. It comes as a surprise when we still have to debate on whether we were created or we evolved. That is even more baffling for the US than the developing world. While most of Western Europe is secular, it boggles the mind how and why America should have over 63 % of the population still believing in creationism. It beggars belief that only 14% percent believe in evolution there. Surely, how can you reconcile such scientific advancement as can be found in the United States with such ignorance?

This does not augur well with evidence. According to research quoted in The Economist, February 7 th 2009, “Gregory Paul, an independent researcher on evolution, and Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist at Pitzer College in California, have argued controversially that a belief in God is inversely correlated with the level of what might be described as the intensity of the struggle for existence. In countries where food is plentiful, health care is universal and housing is accessible, people believe less in God than in those countries where their lives are insecure. A belief in God, and rejection of evolution, they suggest, is most valuable in those societies that are most subject to Darwinian pressures.” That applies everywhere save the US.

In America, the controversy surrounding the theory has inevitably been dragged into schools. The Economist further reports that teaching of evolution has become a part of the nation’s culture wars, manifest most recently in the 2008 presidential campaign, particularly in the attention paid to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s statements in favor of public schools teaching creation science or intelligent design along with evolution. That is retarded!

The evidence that life has evolved through natural selection over a long period is standard for a 21 st century homo sapien. This is a statement of principle, honed through scientific observation, reasoning and experimentation.

It is understandable to want to believe that man has a higher purpose and not just reproductive success… that there is an intelligent designer watching over us and directing the world as a director does the theater stage. But all evidence points otherwise.

On this day, stop trying so hard not to understand and digest the reality that we are here by accident. Just live well as you only have one life to live.

Let’s give kudos to Charles Darwin for helping to enlighten us. If Einstein is the person of the 20 th century, then Darwin sure is the person of the 19 th century.

As the dust surrounding the global financial crisis settles, 19 million houses stand repossessed–in the US alone (with bank losses amounting to a trillion dollars to show for it!). We have witnessed total collapse of an entire country–Iceland due to the crisis. Unemployment rates in the rich world are at an all time high.  Spending and production are low. The overall gloom is nothing like the world has seen since the 1930s. ‘Recession’ is the euphemism used everywhere, but deep down we know better than that. It’s a full scale crisis. A ‘Depression’ it is. Yet no simple solutions can be foreseen.

Frantic efforts by rich-world governments to stay afloat have included lowering of interest rates and provision of fiscal stimulus. Desperate voices are even calling for nationalisation of banks (So much for liberalisation!).

That’s all good. Until you are reminded about the advice given to Asian countries during their financial crisis a decade ago. At an IMF meet in 1997, Malaysia’s then leader Dr Mahathir Mohamed had blamed their situation on speculation and shortselling. He blamed deregulation but was dismissed as ignorant. The IMF chief, then Michel Camdesus, had disputed this and argued that speculation was normal in free markets. The west had instead blamed the crisis on poor management, cronysm and corruption. They prescribed raising of interest rates to counter inflation and attract investment. The unexpected result was a full recession and dampened investor confidence. Contrarywise, when the US, Britain and other rich countries now find themselves in a similar situation, they have banned shortselling of financial stocks. And that with current IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s blessing! While the Asian nations were forbidden from assisting failing companies and banks with claims that that was a waste of money, the same western countries are falling over themselves in offering capital injections as they purchase banks’ toxic asset/loans and guarantees for new unsecured loans!

Talk of double standards!

This was my favourite part of his speech:

“…To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

I hope he follows through.