A Striking Footnote

After reading Rory Stewart’s book The Places in Between (Harcourt, 2004) in two marathon sessions I find myself returning to contemplate one particularly striking footnote (pp. 246-248). The book almost exclusively offers perspective on the individuals he meets and the Afghan culture. This footnote was notable for its discussion and criticism of current foreign intervention in Afghanistan, though he may as well be talking about any developing nation in which you might find US, EU or UN troops:
“Critics have accused this new breed of administrators of neocolonialism. But in fact their approach is not that of a nineteenth-century colonial officer. Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative, but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing. They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single alien nation. They invested in teaching administrators and military officers the local language. They established effective departments of state, trained a local elite, and continued the countless academic studies of their subjects through institutes and museums, royal geographical societies, and royal botanical gardens. They balanced the local budget and generated fiscal revenue because if they didn’t their home government would rarely bail them out. If they failed to govern fairly, the population would mutiny.
Postconflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism. Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention. Their policy fails but no one notices. There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility.
Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organization long enough to be adequately assessed. The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neocolonialists have no such performance criteria. In fact their very uselessness benefits them. By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation, and oppression.
Perhaps it is because no one requires more than a charming illusion of action in the developing world. If the policy makers know little about the Afghans, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan.”

Tuck Business & Society Conference

Last week, amidst the coldest weather I’ve endured since Haerbin (-23 degrees!) Tuck hosted speakers from across the U.S. for its leading graduate student-run annual conference on sustainability and responsible business.

Thanks to our panel managers’ keen eyes for talent, and the moderation of our professors-in-residence, discussions were kept “pithy, provocative, and particular” – not to mention humorous.

But, while most panelists yeah-sayed in reply to this year’s theme (“Is Capitalism Sustainable?”) what really struck me were two recurring points raised throughout the conference:

1) Capitalism fails to effectively deal with externalities and long term horizons; and – perhaps more importantly

2) People value consumption, not efficiency.

Either one of these notions is a discussion unto itself but the second point is of specific interest and – having worked for a company that promotes efficiency – concern. As our GEM (General Accounting for Managers) professor instructs us that ‘pushing out the PPF’ (Production Possibilities Frontier – aka “the hill of happiness”) is always better I can’t help but wonder: is it?

Every time technological advances have increased energy efficiency, for example, increased consumption has pushed energy use back out to its original level or beyond. But can we continually increase our consumption without consequence?

I think, quite clearly, the answer is no. So where do we go from here?

Double Secret Probation Rope Swing

Once upon a time, when the local river wasn’t frozen over, a few brave (read: foolish) Tuckies trekked into the woods and goaded each other to dangerous heights on a rickety platform…

What to Believe?

On the heels of the CNN reported ‘Cardboard-in-Beijing-Buns’ story, a new headline appears:

China reporter held over cardboard-in-buns story

So, is Beijing pulling a cover-up here, or is the story really fabricated? And, since this is a time of “intense international scrutiny” for China regarding food-related scandals will this reporter be unduly executed… I mean punished?

A Water Crisis You Say?

According to a the Harvard Business Review (Scorched Earth, June 2007):

“International standards define a serious water shortage as the availability of 2,000 cubic meters or less of water per capita per year; 1,000 cubic meters per year is considered the minimum for existence. Currently in Northern China – which stretches from Shanghai to Beijing and contains nearly 40% of China’s total population – the average amount of available water is only 1,100 cubic meters per capita per year, and the water table for the entire region is dropping precipitously.”

I have an idea that might help: stop hosing down the damn trees!

It’s been humid and pouring rain for the last few weeks and yet… someone on city council feels that spraying high powered jets of water into the air is a good idea. Please allow this photo and video to elaborate on a particularly wasteful, sonically atrocious, likely toxic and generally ludicrous Shanghainese activity.

We assume it’s a pesticide dispersal system of sorts. The same truck has been patrolling up and down the French Concession neighborhood for several days warning off pedestrians with fairground tunes and leaving a soaked path of mystery in its wake.

Start the Presses – China’s Internet Less Bad (before 2010 no less)

Perhaps there’s a visiting dignitary, a shift in national policy, an intense WTO wrangling session in process or maybe someone in the Great Firewall is just playing for trix… whatever the cause, Wikipedia works today and that makes it a good day.

Better yet, the wordpress.com blogging platform also works, allowing me to bring you this exciting news from my sorely neglected internet home, which has sat in digital jail for most of the last two years. Huzzah.

And, in keeping with the theme of good triumphing over the annoying, Germany has chosen not to allow Tom Cruise to film at one of its military bases on the basis of his being a Scientologist. So says the NYTimes: “The German government has long been at odds with Scientology, which it does not regard as a religion but as a dangerous sect.” (okay, okay, this is old hat and may yet be resolved… but leave me my dreams)

In other news, China continues to make outlandish claims that it will solve all the mysteries of operating a harmonious society by 2010. If I had a dollar for every goal to be accomplished by that date…

One Number to Rule them All… now by Google

Just a quick note… the super cool site GrandCentral.com, a lust-worthy online centralized phone forwarding service (and so much more…), has just been acquired by Google.

Being back in the US, I was finally able to procure myself a much wanted account (you can’t register from an overseas IP) but while I love the features I have so far been hesitant to pass on the number due to a worry that, while cool, the site wouldn’t be around long.

Worry no more. It’s not convenient to change your telephone number but switching to, or at least phasing in, GrandCentral is now worth the hassle for all it’s amazing features and its new Google-backed future reliability.

Among it’s awesome abilities: simultaneous or scheduled ring-through to your home, cell or work phones; online accessible voicemail that will notify you by text message or email; personalized incoming ring tones for your callers; ability to listen in on voice messages as they are recorded or even take the call in the middle if you want; and, not to mention, one phone number… forever… for all phones.

Oh yes, and it’s free!