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Archive for November, 2010

A Thank You Note

This past weekend I took part in something that’s been a dream of mine for a few years – I was interviewed for the Rhodes scholarship.  The deliberation by the committee took over four hours, which a few hours more than what last year’s decision took, so it must have been a really close call.  In the end though, the cards didn’t work out for me (read about the recipient, Aneil, here); I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t heartbroken, but fortunately those feelings were immediately overshadowed by the fact that my laptop melted about an hour after I found out, and I was suddenly more panicked about my lost grad school applications.

Anyways, the laptop has now been replaced, and I had some time over the past couple of days to think about it, and it was a fun ride.  All five of the candidates essentially want the same thing for the world, and in the end, the decision doesn’t affect how much fun I’ve had getting here, or make it any less worthwhile.

Then I realized that I did very little work to get to this point.  There are those people like Dorothy who stayed up with me until 3 am while I wrote countless drafts of applications, Janet, who has put up with so many of my panicked phone calls and bussed out to Yaletown when I said I wouldn’t bother applying anymore, Becky and Chen for pushing me into a research program which changed my life and my outlook, for the profs who continue to write references for me time after time.  Jon and Donna from high school.  Ms. Wang, who told me about UBC.  Mr. Gauche, who made Jack London and Mark Twain accessible to an awkward math geek. My parents, who are now fighting their instincts to believe that I can make something of myself (even though we all know they are secretly freaking out on the inside, haha).

I wouldn’t be here without everyone who hangs out at Paul’s and puts up with my constant sapping of Coke Zero, the internet, and couch space, and even for Christa and Naomi for lending me belts because I thought I had nothing to wear for the interview.  Jessie for her undying loyalty, and for showing me that you can be in Sauder and be a huge geek 🙂

I would not be here if Gary Hewitt didn’t help find a way for me to pass the government and business course when I accidentally showed up to the final exam after it was over.  Time after time, people have made concessions to help me.  I don’t think I can really take credit for anything.

Lastly, there’s a lot of people who have been inspirational.  I’m a believer in talk being cheap; a lot of these people who silently mill about their daily business, with a vision in mind, and work tirelessly to make this vision a reality, regardless of the credit they may receive or the opportunity for bragging rights.  There are the people who do things that I couldn’t imagine accomplishing.

We are all the product of the collective expectations of our neighbours.  My neighbours just happened to have high expectations of themselves and of me, and a high tolerance for my excessive neediness.

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Signal

“It was the signal. Like a babboon’s red ass.”

– MT, in reference to Lewinsky’s thong flash directed at President Clinton that set off the Lewinskygate affair.  In reference to my mentioning that I am already 22, the same age as Ms. Lewinsky at the time, and have not yet done anything quite so ambitious yet.

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If you want to ship something to England, give yourself lots of cushion time. Can you get it there in two days? No. You can’t.

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I study at my neighbour’s place a lot. There is an unlimited supply of Coke zero, and a big tv. I am addicted to both. He’s watching a blog right now, and they mentioned something that I had never heard of before to measure a female perspective in movies, called the Bechdel Test.

The test says that a movie should have:
1) Two women
2) Who talk to each other
3) About something other than a man
4) Bonus points if they are named.

Let’s think about all the movies I have seen in the last year. I think the only one that passes is The Devil Wears Prada.  And Toy Story 3 for that minor scene where Jessie and Barbie are talking about being dumped.  Does that even count? It is also ironic that a show with a high female/male ratio can sometimes fail the test (think: The Bachelor).

This also explains my obsession with the Gilmore Girls when I was younger.  Lots of nerdy girls there :D.

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My project supervisor, Peter Nemetz is good buddies with an agricultural economist from Harvard (actually, so is Rick, it’s kind of like some kind of awesome nerdy economics reunion). Dr. Timmer gave a lecture on Saturday on the future of local and global food security. He mentioned the point I have said earlier, which relates to the actual efficiency of a local food movement.

Remember my rant against the One Hundred Mile Diet?  Well, last year I got superambitious about taking it down through some grand-scale research that never actually came int fruition (but it will!!! Next term . . .) And it started with a few slides and some readings that Nemetz sent me.  There is talk in some marketing circles about labeling produce with “food miles” which would tell you the exact distance of food from farm to your plate, the idea being that if you are the environmentally pretentious conscious type you can choose lower food mile edibles and spare the environment some greenhouse gas.  Well, Timmer is about the third economist I know to call this idea *factually misguided*.  That’s what some people use to describe Scientology.

The resources food requires involves an entire life cycle approach that includes the amount of resources it takes to plant, grow, process and then transport the food.  The cycle doesn’t just start at transportation.  There’s a study from Lincoln University that’s been around for a while and highlights the issue; food grown in certain climates for local markets could take more resources to grow than food that is grown further away.  The 100 Mile Diet book itself acknowledged this study, but I don’t recall it providing a convincing retort.

The only way to reduce total emissions from food would be to choose local foods, and choose seasonal foods, foods that do not take resources to be grown on local lands.  For people living in cold weather climates (my Ontario classmates) that means a lot of turnips for a very long time.  What the 100 Mile Diet has done has spawned a generation of people who insist on buying local produce, but also insist on being able to eat tomatoes all year round.  These would be tomatoes that need to be grown in electricity guzzling greenhouses, rather than outside in the sunny California climate.  In a sense, you can’t have your tomatoes and eat them too.  Well, you can, but this won’t save the planet anytime soon.

On an unrelated note, I am scared for the Koreas.

Further readings

Saunders, C., Barber, A., and G. Taylor.  2006.  Food miles – comparative energy/emissions performance of New Zealand’s agriculture industry.  Lincoln University, Agribusiness and Economics Research Unit research report , no 285.

http://hdl.handle.net/10182/125

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So my big plan to have a two part post on China in Africa fell apart, not because I’m lazy, but because there’s too much stuff to jam into part 2. So I’m going to just keep writing until I see fit 🙂

I don’t exactly whole-heartedly endorse Dr. Dambisa Moyo.  I covet her educational background, and I want to be an economist (a real one) one day, but that’s about it.  When she gave a talk two weeks ago on how aid is failing Africa, I had to get to the bottom of her argument.  After all, half an hour of talking wouldn’t do any person justice, not Einstein, not Ghandi, not Jesus.  I want to find out what she thinks about China’s record of governance and whether or not governance gets in the way of economic growth.  So, now we have her book.

Dead Aid.  And Moi.

Sorry Dr. Moyo, I libraried your book so you aren't getting any $$ from moi!

So I’m scouring it for references to governance, and here’s a gist of what she has to say, summarized into a few bullet points

  • Good governance provides a slew of benefits to a country.  It encourages the distribution of  public goods, enforces property rights, creates an atmosphere where contracts can be expected to be enforced, and in general does support the functioning of democracy
  • Aid given to a country with poor governance will not see an improvement in governance. In some cases, it might reduce it.
  • The only way to legitimately improve economic growth in an LDC is to put democracy on the back burner and the solution is not multi-party democracy, but a “benevolent dictator to push through the reforms required to get an economy moving.”

Dr. Moyo acknowledges that this benevolent dictator is kind of more “dictator” than “benevolent.”  A benevolent dictator is like a sasquatch; illusive (and predominantly residing in the minds of imaginative people?).  She then lists some examples of SE Asian countries that have achieved economic growth by crushing democracy and includes Chile as another example.

Dr. Moyo then acknowledges that Chile may not have been the best place to live under Pinochet but hey, at least they achieved economic growth.  And now they are a democracy “thanks to the economic success.”

I’m not quite sure how I feel about the assertion that economic success leads to democratization, and whether or not this will happen in every case.  If it did, then would it be worth it, knowing what Chile went through?  We can’t even be sure that Pinochet was a “benevolent dictator,” so how would this be a prime example?

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The more I sit in on my conservation biology class, the more I appreciate the rationality of my former botanist prof, Ray Turkington. He said that even though he was personally saddened by the loss of forests in southern China, he understood that sometimes it is hard to judge or condemn people with no better options.

Conservation class is absolutely full of people with lofty Utopian goals. It’s completely ridiculous. Someone suggested yesterday that complexity was the cause of human downfall, and followed that with the Luddite notion that we all reject technology and return to things like drawing water from wells and living without electricity.

Today, the class was looking at the bushmeat trade, which is the harvest and trade of large mammals in the tropics of West/Central Africa, Central America, and Asia. It most often refers to the hunting of large apes and monkeys in tropical areas of Africa for commercial sale. The sale of bushmeat exists because of increased access through logging roads and also because of the demand for it.

Someone asked “isn’t it illegal?”

Does it matter if it is legal or not in a country that may be dealing with civil war, poverty, corruption, or a drug or other crime network that is out of control, and there are no resources to monitor or enforce a ban on bushmeat? Does it matter if the rule of law has no legitimacy?

Someone asked what other options there were, and Mark actually responded “They could grow soybeans I guess.” I was livid. I don’t know if he was being serious or not, but the thought of growing soybeans for subsistence levels of protein vs. the income generation that happens through bushmeat collection are not equivalent. Often it isn’t the communities that live in the area that are adding the increase in harvesting pressure, but outsiders who now can get to these trouble spots because of the roads. What about the fact that you can’t feasibly grow soybeans in a tropical forest, unless you want to clear the land, which would affect the monkeys anyways? The problem with this conservation class seems to be that there’s a lot of condemning of people going on, without recognition of the fact that it is very very difficult to come up with viable solutions. Otherwise, we would have already implemented them.

This class is so infuriating.

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