Archive | August, 2010

links to rock the boat

22 Aug

“Ground Zero Mosque” If you’re like me, you’re a little tired of the discussion on the Cordoba House Islamic community center in NY. But it appears that there are lots of folks out there who are not tired yet, and are still pretty fired up about this. The Economist’s column on this from a few weeks ago is still the best argument I’ve read to date:

But something about America—the fact that it is a nation of immigrants, perhaps, or its greater religiosity, or the separation of church and state, or the opportunities to rise—still seems to make it an easier place than Europe for Muslims to feel accepted and at home.

It was in part to preserve this feeling that George Bush repeated like a scratched gramophone record that Americans were at war with the terrorists who had attacked them on 9/11, not at war with Islam. Barack Obama has followed suit: the White House national security strategy published in May says that one way to guard against radicalisation at home is to stress that “diversity is part of our strength—not a source of division or insecurity.” This is hardly rocket science. America is plainly safer if its Muslims feel part of “us” and not, like Mohammad Sidique Khan, part of “them”. And that means reminding Americans of the difference—a real one, by the way, not one fabricated for the purposes of political correctness—between Islam, a religion with a billion adherents, and al-Qaeda, a terrorist outfit that claims to speak in Islam’s name but has absolutely no right or mandate to do so. Why would any responsible American politician want to erase that vital distinction?

Read it in its entirety here. I give a loud amen to Jon Stewart’s reaction as well.

Immigration Bill Easterly posted this quote on his blog:

Why should the Palatine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together establish their Language and Manners to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion.

This is Benjamin Franklin writing about German immigrants to Pennsylvania in 1751. Hmm…

Pakistan Floods and Donor Fatigue The death toll due to the floods in Pakistan is still rising. So why aren’t we talking about it? The Christian Science Monitor gives their take on donor fatigue here. Thanks again to for this information:

Ideas on where and how to give:

  • One reader wrote in about perceptions that there are no Pakistani NGOs participating in the relief efforts, or that all of them are inherently corrupt. She countered that organizations such as the Edhi Foundation and Islamic Relief (which is an international NGO but has worked in Pakistan for many years) have solid reputations in Pakistan and abroad and have been effective in the past in getting aid to where it is most needed.
  • Hillary Clinton announced last week that Americans can text the word “SWAT” to the number 50555 to donate $10 to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to provide tents, clothing, food, clean water and medicine to Pakistan.
  • The Global Giving website has a list and description of their partner organizations working on flood relief.
  • BRAC is the largest non-profit based in the developing world (it was launched in Bangladesh in 1972) and it is accepting donations through its US-based branch.
  • Tonic and Interaction both have lists of organizations accepting donations for flood relief.



22 Aug

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I rise in the morning between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
– E.B. White

Glamorous Geocoding!

14 Aug

A few months ago a couple of classmates and I got wrangled into spending a day at the World Bank. I can’t remember exactly what we were told we would be doing – but I remember that it was going to be something about geocoding and that free food was involved. I may have been expecting a short talk on the work the World Bank was doing with geocoding, with light refreshments. Oh, and for some reason they told us to bring our laptops.

Whatever I was expecting was way off base. After sitting down in a room crammed with undergraduate and graduate students, listening to a short pep talk from a German Senior Governance Specialist on the potential of impact of geocoding aid projects, we were given some coffee, split into groups, and given lists of World Bank projects. And then we were told: break out your laptops, split up the countries where projects are taking place, start weeding through digital World Bank documents to find the projects’ locations, compile this information into an Excel spreadsheet, and keep doing this until all the projects can be accounted for.

Come again? It turned out we had actually been duped into doing free work for the World Bank. Maybe students from the other schools who were there went into this knowing what they were getting themselves into, but our GW delegation did not. Needless to say, I was a little miffed by it all, and the food wasn’t that exciting.

I ended up geocoding projects in the DR Congo. This was slightly challenging not only because we had to go through a number of documents to find the projects’ location (which was slow going on my ol’ iBook), but also because nobody seems to know how many provinces the DRC officially has. After working for about five hours, my friend and I skipped out to go work on a school project instead. The second we got out of the building, we burst out, “How did we get sucked into doing THAT?”

Fast forward, a few months later, to today, when I read this on one of the development blogs I follow regularly:

A team of researchers from Development Gateway and AidData have worked with the World Bank to add detailed subnational geographical information to all of the Bank’s active projects in the Africa and Latin America region. This isn’t just pins in a map showing the country where the money is spent: they have looked through the project documentation to find out as far as possible the geographic coordinates of the actual locations where aid the activities take place. (read the entire blog entry here).

With this video:

It’s great to know my unpaid labor went to some good use, less exciting to know that the World Bank didn’t think knowing the actual location of its thousands of projects was something worth even paying its employees to do. I say, Kudos to whoever thought of asking a bunch of overeager and hungry students to do it. Pure genius! And why wasn’t I interviewed for this video?!

But more seriously, a question I had after our pep talk from Bjorn-Soren, and still have now, is: why wasn’t the World Bank keeping track of its projects’ locations all along? Unfortunately, many development donors, both large institutions and NGOs, don’t track where they are working, or what they are doing there. This makes accountability very difficult. It also makes it hard to track results: if a donor has been funding anti-malaria projects in a country, but isn’t seeing a decrease in the national rate of malaria-related deaths, it could be easy to say that the project is failing. But what if it turns out that the project was only being carried out in the two largest cities in the country, which already have low rates of malaria, and isn’t even reaching areas with the highest rates? Geocoding aid also carries the potential for greater cooperation amongst donors, if they can find out who is already doing what and where. And most importantly in my mind: it could let recipients (both governments and individuals) in developing countries, find out about projects taking place in their communities. Don’t be shocked – there are plenty of stories of people having no idea that a development project is being carried out near them.

I’m glad that this dirty work is being done, even if it means luring starving grad students with the promise of a ham sandwich with chips to do it. I really am. But my reaction isn’t “Kudos to you, World Bank!”, but “It’s about time!”