Sunday, April 29, 2007

Jeremy Grantham: All the World's a Bubble

How high will the Dow go? 15,000? 20,000?

How about 36,000?

While euphoria sweeps stock markets here and worldwide, there are at least a few voices of dissent.

One, unsurprisingly, is legendary value investor Jeremy Grantham -- the man Dick Cheney, plus a lot of other rich people, trusts with his money. Grantham, chairman of Boston firm Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo, has been a voice of caution for years. But he has upped his concerns in his latest letter to shareholders. Grantham says we are now seeing the first worldwide bubble in history covering all asset classes.

Everything is in bubble territory, he says.


Doc Freeze has a new blog!

Check out Doc Freeze's new blog described as a blog about Politics, Poker and other Passions.

I am sure it will be quite entertaining!

World rallies for Darfur action

Protests have taken place around the world to demand intervention to end the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region.

For our part today, my two sons and I met Hilary Clinton who was visiting Reno as representatives of the nonpartisan organization, . She mentioned that "Bono" (of U2) is a great Bush and Tony Blair have also claimed in the past. It must be great when world leaders are proud of the fact that they are your friend!

A Saudi Prince Tied to Bush Is Sounding Off-Key

WASHINGTON, April 28 — No foreign diplomat has been closer or had more access to President Bush, his family and his administration than the magnetic and fabulously wealthy Prince Bandar bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia.

Prince Bandar has mentored Mr. Bush and his father through three wars and the broader campaign against terrorism, reliably delivering — sometimes in the Oval Office — his nation’s support for crucial Middle East initiatives dependent on the regional legitimacy the Saudis could bring, as well as timely warnings of Saudi regional priorities that might put it into apparent conflict with the United States.
Most bitingly, during a speech before Arab heads of state in Riyadh three weeks ago, the king condemned the American invasion of Iraq as “an illegal foreign occupation.” The Bush administration, caught off guard, was infuriated, and administration officials have found Prince Bandar hard to reach since.

Friday, April 27, 2007

China Needs an Einstein. So Do We.

If you look at Einstein’s major theories — special relativity, general relativity and the quantum theory of light — “all three come from taking rebellious imaginative leaps that throw out old conventional wisdom,” Mr. Isaacson said. “Einstein thought that the freest society with the most rebellious thinking would be the most creative. If we are going to have any advantage over China, it is because we nurture rebellious, imaginative free thinkers, rather than try to control expression.”
“By being able to visualize and think imaginatively about science, he was able to see what more academic scientists failed to see, which is that as you try to catch up with a light beam, the waves travel just as fast, but time slows down for you. It was a leap that better-trained scientists could not make because they did not have the visual imagination.”
If we want our kids to learn science, we can’t treat science as this boring or intimidating thing. “We have to remind our kids ... that a math equation or a scientific formula is just a brush stroke the good Lord uses to paint one of the wonders of nature,” Mr. Isaacson said, “and we should look at it as being as beautiful as art or literature or music.”
My favorite Einstein quotation is that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” A society that restricts imagination is unlikely to produce many Einsteins — no matter how many educated people it has. But a society that does not stimulate imagination when it comes to science and math won’t either — no matter how much freedom it has.

Saudis Arrest 172 Militants, Seize Arms

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) -- Police have arrested 172 militants who were plotting to attack Saudi Arabia's oil fields, Saudi state television reported Friday, showing video of explosives, ammunition and firearms found buried in the desert.

U.N. Aid Chief Tours Darfur's Refugee Camps

Attacks on relief workers in Darfur have increased, with 12 aid workers killed last year. Melissa Block talks with NPR's Gwen Thompkins, who visited the Darfur camps for the displaced and health clinics along with U.N. World Food Program Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Benefit Rummage Sale in Reno

Recently, Leanna Zamora, a registered nurse at Saint Mary's has been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor at a young age of 39 years. She is a single mother of three children ( 11 years old, 5 years old, and 22 months) and has been given less than 2 years to live.

So how can you help?
Collect all the things that have been building up in your garage or closet. Anything that can be sold, clothes, furniture, dishes, etc.

Where do you bring them?
L'uva Bella Wine Gallery will be a drop site or
this address below:
30 Deer Valley Ct.
(Galena Country Estates)
Take Mt. Rose Hwy
Right on Telluride
Left on Solitude
Left on Deer Valley Ct.

Donations will be accepted until May 4th!!!
May 5th is the day of the Rummage Sale at the above address.

All money raisef from the Rummage Sale will go to Leanna Zamora's children.
Please help us help this young mother secure her children's future.
Thank you for your kindness.

If you have any troubles bringing your donations to these 2 locations please call 775-772-9311 and make arrangments to have them picked up for you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I Have a Persisting Daydream

From Saudi Eve...

I have a persisting daydream

I walk a Saudi street.. I'm wearing a abaya.. every type of harassment I've ever been subjugated to on a Saudi street (staring, terrifying religious advice, explicit sexual advances..etc.) are instead represented by one action: people pulling on my abaya, one after the other, force depends on how severe the harassment is..

I carry this futuristic beam weapon, I shoot them, they evaporize.
I become larger with each hit I make.. and the abaya gets torn a bit each time.. after a couple of hits, I'm very large (tall as a two story house) and almost naked, I'm left with a two piece ensemble that looks like a belly dancers' costume but black.. yet no one comes near me now.. they are afraid..

after that, I just walk the streets of Saudi.. feminine, and undisturbed.

A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves

I have highlighted the stats but read the article to get a personalized understanding of what these migrants lives. When I was in Saudi Arabia, we had many Filipino, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Jordanian etc..."guest workers." Nearly everyone of these I met was incredibly kind and unselfish, toiling away to send money back home to help their family. In many cases the grandparents raised their grandchildren as the parents were working overseas.
The Filipinos highlighted in this article stood out in their kindness, work ethic, and caring. One of the highlights of my 8 years in Saudi Arabia was developing a deep understanding of the wonderful qualities of the Filipino culture through my many friendships with the nurses st the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital.

About 200 million migrants from different countries are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is as big if not bigger. Were these half-billion or so people to constitute a state — migration nation — it would rank as the world’s third-largest.
Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.
Yet competing with the literature of gain is a parallel literature of loss. About half the world’s migrants are women, many of whom care for children abroad while leaving their own children home.
With about one Filipino worker in seven abroad at any given time, migration is to the Philippines what cars once were to Detroit: its civil religion.
Nearly 10 percent of the country’s 89 million people live abroad.

There are a million O.F.W.’s in Saudi Arabia alone, followed by Japan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. Yet with workers in at least 170 countries, the O.F.W.’s are literally everywhere, including the high seas. About a quarter of the world’s seafarers come from the Philippines. The Greek word for maid is Filipineza.

‘Patient’ Capital for an Africa That Can’t Wait

Amen, Mr. Friedman!

Scenes like this remind you that Africa is neither all tragedy nor all renaissance. It is a diverse continent that’s struggling to find its way in the global economy and has both of these extremes, but is much more in a middle place that looks like that field in Karatu: a wild, unregulated, informal, individual brand of capitalism, which we need to channel into formal companies that can grow and scale up, even with corrupt governance.

Africa needs many things, but most of all it needs capitalists who can start and run legal companies. More Bill Gateses, fewer foundations. People grow out of poverty when they create small businesses that employ their neighbors. Nothing else lasts.


A good example of what happens when you combine patient capital, talent and innovation in Africa is the Kenyan company Advanced Bio-Extracts (ABE), headed by Patrick Henfrey. He and his partners put together a fascinating group of both white and black African farmers and scientists to build the first company in Africa to cultivate the green leafy plant artemisia, often called sweet wormwood, and transform it into pharmaceutical grade artemisinin — a botanical extract that is the key ingredient in a new generation of low-cost, effective malaria treatments commonly known as artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs). Malaria still kills nearly one million people in Africa every year.


Nthenya Mule, Acumen’s Kenya country director, commented to me that the stereotype of Africa is that it is hopeless and just waiting around for the West to come to its rescue. In reality, she added, “there are positive things happening in Africa, but they are not happening overnight, and some are happening quietly. ABE is exemplary. You will not see it as front-page news, but in 18 months they set up a factory with 160 people interfacing with 7,000 farmers and supplying one of the major pharma companies in the world.

Monday, April 23, 2007

CALL IN DAY: Support Targeted Sudan Divestment Legislation for Nevada!

Dear Nevada anti-genocide activists,

Help Nevada lead the charge; over fifteen other states are considering targeted Sudan divestment legislation!

Call in Day on Monday, April 23 2007 from 1- 3pm.

If you are unable to call during the designated time please do so at your earliest convenience.

Take back Nevada's dollars from companies that fund the genocide in Darfur.

* Targeted Sudan divestment legislation already has the support of Nevada Congressman Jon Porter and Senator Harry Reid.
* Ask House Speaker Barbara Buckley to support targeted Sudan divestment legislation. Her support is crucial to passing legislation in the state.
* Ask Senators Randolph Townsend and Steven Horsford to support targeted Sudan divestment legislation. Their support is crucial to passing legislation in the Senate.

Nevada Should Not be Complicit in Genocide

Who To Call

Call Nevada House Speaker Barbara Buckley at 775-684-8537.

You can also e-mail Speaker Buckley:

Call Nevada State Senator Randolph Townsend at 775-684-1450.

You can also e-mail Senator Townsend:

Call Nevada State Senator Steven Horsford at 775-684-1429.

You can also e-mail Senator Horsford:
What to Say: Talking Points

You are a resident of Nevada who cares about ending the genocide in Sudan. Respectfully ask the Nevada legislators to support targeted Sudan divestment legislation. It is important that Nevada divest from foreign companies that contribute to the genocide in Darfur where over 400,000 have died and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003.

Please contact us at if you have any questions.
Join the Campaign

Join the Nevada targeted Sudan divestment campaign as we continue to fight for targeted divestment legislation. Email us at if you would like to be part of this campaign.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Money-driven Medicine

Interesting post from the metacool blog..

I was impressed by this book by Maggie Mahar; the subtitle is The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much. The book has the most coherent, supportable, and fleshed out anti-market story I've seen. It both tries to explain why the current system works as it does, and historically how it evolved from more modest and less expensive ways of doing business. It's not just a rehash of the usual stories about the VA system or France. The discussions of the growth of for-profit hospitals, the increasing specialization of medicine, the problems with pay for performance, and markets for medical devices are all full of interesting tales.

I interpret the basic story as this: the American health care cost spiral comes from suppliers and their entrepreneurial abilities to market expensive and highly specialized services of dubious medical efficacy. Medical care starts off as ambiguous in value and hard to measure in quality. Customers are cowed by doctors and other family members into accepting or even demanding what is offered to them. Third-party payments make the problem worse, and government intervention has stoked rather than checked the basic dynamic. You end up with massive expenses, lots of stupidity, and - because of its expense -- radically incomplete coverage. Every now and then the extra services do pay off, but not frequently enough to boost American stats on health care quality.

Medical suppliers, and not insurance company overhead costs, are the main villain of the piece. The author wishes to put doctors back in charge and liberate them from the need to satisfy patients as customers.

Joshua Bell: Hailed by peers, ignored on street

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joshua Bell is one of the classical music world's iconic figures, but fame didn't stop the Grammy-Award winning violinist's music from falling on deaf ears at a subway stop in Washington.

Bell, 39, received the most coveted prize in classical music -- the Avery Fisher prize -- on Tuesday, two days after The Washington Post revealed that he had failed to draw even a tiny crowd while performing in an anonymous setting.

The boyish-looking Bell swapped his formal concert garb for jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap to play six classical pieces outside a Metro station in a test of perception and public taste conducted by the Post.

Bell says the results after 43 minutes during morning rush hour -- $32.17 and only one of 1,097 people who passed by recognizing him -- were more surprising than being asked to do the stunt in the first place.

"I was quite nervous and it was a strange experience being ignored," Bell, a former child prodigy who attracts a young following and commands ticket prices of $100 or more at his concerts, told Reuters on Wednesday.

Playing a violin handcrafted in 1713 by Antonio Stradivari and reported to cost around $3.5 million, Bell said he expected that rush-hour commuters might not be open to listening to music "or experiencing art."

"I expected that, but it was still almost hurtful sometimes when somebody just walked by when I really did try to play my best," he said. "It was difficult to see."

Here's more about the experiment:

Nothing. Or very little -- $32 in exchange for 43 minutes of music, which is only bad if you're Joshua Bell. And aside from the lack of monetary compensation, very little attention from adults (click thru here for a few must-see videos of Bell playing in context). Who listened? According to the article, only the children, with a few exceptions:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away.

Why the kids? Partly because they know beauty in their hearts and not in their analytic brains. Partly because they're not rushing somewhere like all the adults (even if they're in tow -- young children don't rush anywhere they don't want to go). The kids were listening because that's what kids do. They listen and observe with an intensity that only the most talented and highly-trained professional ethnographers can muster. In the face of such beauty and mastery, how could they not spend these precious moments of life soaking in the music?

After Cancer, A New World View

“I look at the news differently these days -- not as stories I'll need to cover; I'm more removed now. I look at what's happening as just another person who lives on this planet. And it's clear the world has gone mad. ”

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Conan O' Brien Commencement Speech to the Havard Class of 2000

I'd like to thank the Class Marshals for inviting me here today. The last time I was invited to Harvard it cost me $110,000, so you'll forgive me if I'm a bit suspicious. I'd like to announce up front that I have one goal this afternoon: to be half as funny as tomorrow's Commencement Speaker, Moral Philosopher and Economist, Amartya Sen. Must get more laughs than seminal wage/price theoretician.

I've dwelled on my failures today because, as graduates of Harvard, your biggest liability is your need to succeed. Your need to always find yourself on the sweet side of the bell curve. Because success is a lot like a bright, white tuxedo. You feel terrific when you get it, but then you're desperately afraid of getting it dirty, of spoiling it in any way.

I left the cocoon of Harvard, I left the cocoon of Saturday Night Live, I left the cocoon of The Simpsons. And each time it was bruising and tumultuous. And yet, every failure was freeing, and today I'm as nostalgic for the bad as I am for the good.

I'll go now, to make bigger mistakes and to embarrass this fine institution even more. But let me leave you with one last thought: If you can laugh at yourself loud and hard every time you fall, people will think you're drunk.

Sullivan Voters Know a Star When They See One

Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Eric Heiden. Mark Spitz. Sarah Hughes. Bonnie Blair.

These are some of the names on the Sullivan Award, given for the past 76 years to the best American athlete in the traditionally amateur sports.

A new name is now going on that trophy, that of a young woman born in Russia, without bones in her lower legs, a double amputee at 18 months.

Jessica Long of Dundalk, Md., is the first Paralympic athlete to win the Sullivan Award, given by the Amateur Athletic Union rather quietly last Wednesday night in New York.


Long won three gold medals at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, at age 12, and trains against able-bodied swimmers at home, beating most of them. Last year she won nine gold medals in world competition in South Africa. She also swam in a one-mile race across Chesapeake Bay. And for recreation, she climbs rocks.

“She’s basically fearless,” said Julie O’Neill, the manager of the Paralympic swim team, based in Colorado Springs.

Making Them Talk

More on torture and "24"--video from the New Yorker (no subscription required)...

In her article “Whatever It Takes,” Jane Mayer writes about the use of torture in the televison show “24,” and the politics of the show’s executive producer, Joel Surnow. Here Mayer talks about torture and television, with clips from “24.”

Friday, April 13, 2007


Last night I heard a most powerful account of a torture victim, Dianna Ortiz, a nun who suffered unspeakable cruelty in Guatemala. She was a young convent graduate who went to Guatemala to teach Mayan children to read and write and to "be proud of their culture."She was abducted in 1989 after numerous death threats and tortured by Guatemalan police, apparently in collusion with American military personnel. Political considerations aside, her individual account of her degradation was incredibly sad.

As she stated, "I wish each of you could have one minute to look into my soul." During several times in her presentation, she backed away from the podium and sat in a nearby chair weeping for minutes on end. She seemed to be crying from a place deep in her soul that we could not see. She seemed to be crying not only for herself, but for torture victims everywhere, for the "woman who is being raped by a coke bottle being thrust in her vagina, for the man who is being 'waterboarded' in a pool filled with human waste, for the mother who is watching the fingernails and toenails being pulled out of her two and a half-year old baby in front of her."

Her promise to herself while in solitary confinement was that she would tell the world the story of her those who tortured her, and not shutter them away in the inner confines of her mind. She also made the point that 98% of the torture victims she has met have confessed to things they did not do in order to avoid further psychological and physical pain--that the hit show "24" and other Hollywood productions misrepresent the validity of torture in obtaining reliable information. She has started an organization "Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International." The website is I would encourage you to to there and check it out and even contribute...

I will see if she will give me permission to put up the audio of her show on a website. If so I will link to it.
She also has published an account of her torture:Blindfold's Eyes: My Journey From Torture To Truth (Paperback). I will have a review up of this book when I am done reading it. Here is a link to a review from (subscription may be required): "The Blindfold's Eyes" by Dianna Ortiz

Darfur Collides With Olympics, and China Yields

WASHINGTON, April 12 — For the past two years, China has protected the Sudanese government as the United States and Britain have pushed for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Sudan for the violence in Darfur.

But in the past week, strange things have happened. A senior Chinese official, Zhai Jun, traveled to Sudan to push the Sudanese government to accept a United Nations peacekeeping force. Mr. Zhai even went all the way to Darfur and toured three refugee camps, a rare event for a high-ranking official from China, which has extensive business and oil ties to Sudan and generally avoids telling other countries how to conduct their internal affairs.

So what gives? Credit goes to Hollywood — Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg in particular. Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wolfowitz Corruption Push Clashes with Debt Relief

The episode highlighted the debate within the World Bank prompted by the arrival of Paul Wolfowitz. His argument that fighting corruption is a prerequisite for ending poverty is diametrically opposed to the views of many Bank professionals.

"The World Bank is a development institution, not an anti-corruption institution," says Dennis de Tray, who left the bank in 2006 after more than 20 years directing programs from Indonesia to Latin America. "It's not a police force, and it's not a keeper of moral standards. The bank's approach to corruption needs to be seen through a development lens. Corruption is just one of many constraints that developing countries face."

Thinking Thin: A Cognitive Therapy Approach

"Dieters do have willpower," she says. "Most dieters have lost weight before. They've just gained it all back, so their willpower is a little inconsistent." Beck has a lot of tricks to keep willpower strong.

In Medicine, It’s Man vs. Machine

A new system called computer-aided detection, or CAD, can identify the same patterns a doctor can, by referring to a database of known cancer films. And now a third of all second mammogram readings are done by CAD, for $20 each. But the study from the University of California, Davis, showed that a radiologist with CAD was statistically no better than a radiologist alone in finding cancer. Round 1: Doctors.

What would happen to healthcare-related stocks if we all stayed healthy?
Drug stocks alone are worth $1.1 trillion, biotech another $350 billion, and medical devices and equipment some $400 billion. Who would need that stuff if we had fewer heart attacks, strokes and diagnoses of cancer? Good question.

CT scanners, in other words, are keeping up the same pace of innovation as silicon chips have. A 256-slice CT scanner, sheduled to be out later this year, will scan a heart in 4/10ths of second and create a high-definition, three-dimensional image that a cardiologist can visually fly through.

If such a diagnostic tool were used on, say, everyone over the age of 40, it would cut the market for cholesterol-lowering drugs to only the population that truly needs them. (My guess is that the market would shrink by 75 percent.) What do you think that would do to Pfizer and Merck, pharma companies that are already getting slapped around by the stock market?

The scans now cost about $1000 each, so you can see why insurance companies don’t pay for them. It’s cheaper to let nature do the screening. But what if the price of scans were to drop to $300, or even $100. Considering that it costs about $30,000 to patch up a patient who suffers a heart attack, insurance companies may decide it’s a good idea to make scans part of every physical. Round 2: Machines.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Can’t You See What Love Has Done: U2 Fans Give Back

Below, U2 fan expresses a sentiment shared by many of us who have travelled extensively in the third world...

Any U2 fan looking back can see a common thread running through the band’s history. From waving a white flag at Red Rocks to the COEXIST banner at the Vertigo shows, U2 has used the stage as a way to encourage activism from the fans. It is one thing to sign a petition or wear a button at a show – it is something else to commit time and resources to a cause in an effort to improve the lives of others. There are a number of examples of fans giving back – here are a few of their stories.


On the blog from the trip Rob Trigalet wrote, “Everywhere we go, we find such joy and spirit in the people, and it fills me with so much emotion to see how much they are thankful for what they do have, which by our western standards is not much at al
l … I think the thing that strikes me the most is their sense of community with each other and how time and time again we have been told of a village which received a well from AWF / Africare and then suddenly they are sharing it with the next village or parish. There is a spirit in these people that I am coming to envy. There is a beauty in these people that I've not experienced before.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In a Courageous Village, Ballots Bring Bullets

There is a great video that accompanies this piece that shows that people in poor (and Muslim) countries want democracy (and our willing to die for freeedom) contrary to what some Americans might believe...
(subscription required)

President Bush has become a bosom buddy of President Pervez Musharraf and sealed that friendship with $10 billion in military aid, but any American official who praises Pakistan’s “democracy” might want to visit this bullet-scarred village in the Punjab.

Dummerwala held free local elections here last year. But many people voted the “wrong” way, causing the candidate of the local feudal lord to lose. So a day after the election, a small army of gunmen arrived and began rampaging through the houses of the clan members who opposed the lord’s choice.

“When he was shot, Waheed fell down and begged for water,” said his father, Matiullah. “They were surrounding him. But they just laughed and shot at the water tank and destroyed it. Then they ripped the clothes off the women and dragged them around half-naked.”

For the next two hours, the attackers beat the men and abused the women, destroyed homes, and told their victims that the feudal lord had arranged for the police to stay away so he could teach them a lesson.

Indeed, the police did stay away. Even when two of the villagers escaped and ran to the police station, begging the officers to stop the violence, the police delayed moving for three hours.

By the time it was over, a woman was dying, as was Waheed, and many others were wounded.


Husain Haqqani of Boston University calculates that the overt and trackable U.S. aid to General Musharraf’s Pakistan amounted to $9.8 billion — of which 1 percent went for children’s survival and health, and just one-half of 1 percent for democracy promotion (and even that went partly to a commission controlled by General Musharraf).

The big beneficiary of U.S. largesse hasn’t been the Pakistani people, but the Pakistani Army.


Just last week, General Musharraf’s secret police goons roughed up and sexually molested Dr. Amna Buttar, an American doctor of Pakistani origin who heads a human rights organization. Dr. Buttar says that she had been warned by a senior intelligence official not to protest against the government and that she was specifically targeted when she protested anyway.

Architect Claims to Solve Pyramid Secret

PARIS -- A French architect claimed Friday to have uncovered the mystery about how Egypt's Great Pyramid of Khufu was built _ with use of a spiral ramp to hoist huge stone blocks into place.

The construction of the Great Pyramid 4,500 years ago by Khufu, a ruler also known as Cheops, has long befuddled scientists as to how its 3 million stone blocks weighing 2.5 tons each were lifted into place.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Virtuous Reality

How Online Networks Can Boost Good Causes

The Charity Gap

But there is a surprising disconnect between Americans' philanthropic aspirations and their charitable giving. The vast majority of givers believe the bulk of their donations help those less fortunate than themselves. In fact, less than one-third of the money individuals gave to nonprofits in 2005 went to help the economically disadvantaged.
It's just not true, in other words, that the major beneficiaries of charity and philanthropy are the disadvantaged.

The "charity gap" is even wider among the affluent. Wealthy individuals claim, according to a Bank of America Study, that their giving is driven by a "feeling that those who have more should give to those with less." But people who earn more than $1 million per year give only 4% of their donations for basic needs and an additional 19% to other programs geared toward the poor.

These numbers matter. Overall donations by individuals are more than four times that of foundation and corporate philanthropic efforts combined. And they matter most among the wealthiest, since fewer than 10,000 families contribute more than 20% of all donations.

While more research is necessary to understand this charity gap, several explanations seem likely. First, it is certainly easier to give -- and harder to say no -- to those in your own community or among your circle of friends. Neighbors deliver invitations to school auctions; classmates call for university capital campaigns. The homeless shelter in the inner city offers neither the peer pressure of a familiar face nor the opportunity for one's friends to see one's generosity. Giving to organizations close to home also offers more comfort that funds will be used effectively.

A second reason may be that donors do not fully understand where their contributions go. For people with annual incomes below $100,000, religious giving dominates, comprising two-thirds of all donations. While the church food drive may be in donors' minds as they reach into their pockets, less than 20 cents of every dollar given to religious organizations funds programs for the economically disadvantaged. For the wealthiest Americans, education and health care comprise the majority of donations. Yet in education, fewer than nine cents per dollar pays for scholarships; in health, only 10 cents per dollar funds programs targeted to the needy.s matter. Overall donations by individuals are more than four times that of foundation and corporate philanthropic efforts combined. And they matter most among the wealthiest, since fewer than 10,000 families contribute more than 20% of all donations.
The "charity gap" becomes more acute as the scale goes global. The most generous estimate shows that only 8% of U.S. individual donations supports international causes of any kind. Though many organizations including Global Giving and TechnoServe demonstrate that small amounts of money can make an enormous difference in the lives of individuals and communities in poor countries, the world's poorest are virtually ignored by the philanthropic giving of citizens of the world's wealthiest nation.

How to Place Gifts to Charity on Autopilot

The Giving USA Foundation estimates that in 2005, the average household gave 2.2% of its after-tax income to charity. Are you among the inadvertent misers who didn't? Try treating giving like any other monthly bill that you pay automatically via credit card or a direct debit from your bank account.
About 2,500 churches offer ParishPay as an option now, up from 1,600 just a year ago. Tim Dockery, ParishPay's president, says the average family increases its annual contribution by 75% once it starts using the service.
If yours isn't among them -- or there are other causes you wish to support with a regular payment -- there are independent services that can set it up. At, you can schedule multiple recurring payments to just about any school, religious institution or charity, as long as you give more than $10 per contribution to each one.
Meanwhile, American Express offers a similar service for cardholders at Want to work through your bank? Its online bill-pay service usually will let you schedule a monthly check for charity.

When Numbers Get in the Way of Compassion

Suppose I were seeking donations to the charity Save the Children, to help feed poor children in Africa. Which of the following three messages would be most persuasive?

(1) A description and photo of one seven-year-old girl in Mali, named Rokia, who “is desperately poor and faces a threat of hunger or even starvation.”

(2) Four statistics about the food crisis, such as, “More than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.”

(3) A combination of (1) and (2).

Researchers recently tried out all three messages, seeking up to $5 in donations. Message 1 was by far the most effective, yielding an average donation of more than $2. Neither of the other two message averaged more than $1.43 — meaning that whatever psychological effect was created by personalizing the charity ended up negated by the numbers. “The numbers appeared to interfere with people’s feelings of compassion toward the young victim,”

Prof. Slovic’s focus is on the mass deaths of humans, such as in Darfur. He writes that “we need to create laws and institutions that will compel appropriate action when information about genocide becomes known,” because moral outrage won’t suffice. We are, as his Foreign Policy piece is headlined, “numbed by Numbers.”

The Mozambique Miracle

MAPUTO, Mozambique -- In the Hulene quarter of this former Portuguese colonial capital, private minibuses swerve around holes carved in seas of mud. Metal sheets provide shelter for thousands packed in without electricity or sanitation. Illiteracy and HIV rates are shockingly high. The stench and deprivation take the breath away.

Mozambique is one of the world's poorest countries. It's also an African success story. Here, such things are relative.

For all the debates over development strategies, the secret to Mozambique's recovery is simple. "We opened our markets and dropped the centralized economy," says Miquelina Menezes, who chairs the country's association of economists

The payoff is the highest average growth rate, at 8% over the last decade, among the continent's non-oil exporters. GDP per capita is a still tiny $320, but that's compared with $178 in 1992. Since 1997, poverty rates decreased more in rural areas (from 71% to 55%) than in urban (62% to 52%), according to the World Bank. Child mortality has declined to 152 per 1,000 live births from 235. And primary-school enrollment has risen to 71% from 43%. Once a leading recipient of food aid, Mozambique now exports maize, with 5.6% average yearly growth in farming in the last 15 years. Banks, telecom and tourist firms, many from neighboring South Africa, have come in.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

For Girls, It’s Be Yourself, and Be Perfect, Too

This well done article has elicted a number of good responses including a separate column responding to the article by Judith Warner here.
Ms. Warner writes:
These were girls who took multiple Advanced Placement classes while playing multiple sports and musical instruments, winning top prizes, starring in plays, helping the homeless and achieving fluency in one or two foreign languages. More amazing still: despite all this incredible accomplishment, they weren’t guaranteed access to their first-choice colleges.

I felt a bit sick at heart, at first, when I read this.

And then I thought: It’s probably the best thing that could have happened to them.


But I do think that figuring out at 18 – and not at 28 or 38 or 48, when the stakes are so much higher – that achievement for achievement’s sake is basically a zero-sum game is a very good thing. That increasing numbers of college-bound seniors are being forced to come to that realization is perhaps the one upside to today’s all-but-random college admissions game.

That is, if they have the eyes to see it. And some clearly do. I defer here to the words of Kat Jiang, a Newton North senior, who dismissed her precollege experience – and her perfect 2400 SAT score (“I was lucky”) in a video interview that accompanies Rimer’s piece online: “You can be good at a lot of things or bad at a lot of things, and it has virtually no impact on whether or not you are good at life,” she said.

Wish someone had told me that when I was her age.


A lot of success early in life can be a real liability — if you buy into it. Brass rings keep getting suspended higher and higher as you grow older. And when you grab them, they have a way of turning into dust in your hands. Psychologists — from Alice Miller to Madeline Levine — have all kinds of words for this, but the women I know seem to experience it as living life with a gun pointed to their heads. Every day brings a new minefield of incipient failure: the too-tight pants, the peeling wallpaper, the unbrilliant career.

Many, I think, never figure out how to handle the emptiness that comes when the rush of achievement fades away, or the loneliness — the sense of invisibility — when no one is there to hand out yet another “A.”
The fact is: when you are narrowly programmed to achieve, you are like a windup toy with only one movement in its repertoire. You’re fine when you’re wound up; but wind you down, and you grind to a halt.

We could also make the extraordinary article on the Harvard admissions Web site “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation” required reading for all parents, starting when their kids are in preschool.
“Even those who are doing extraordinarily well, the ‘happy warriors’ of today’s ultracompetitive landscape, are in danger of emerging a bit less human as they try to keep up with what may be increasingly unrealistic expectations,” the authors, who include Harvard’s dean of admissions, write. “[T]he only road to real success is to become more fully oneself.”

Even as Africa Hungers, Policy Slows Delivery of U.S. Food Aid

MULONDO, Zambia — Traveling to school in wobbly dugout canoes, Munalula Muhau and her three cousins, 7- and 8-year-olds whose parents had died from AIDS, held onto just one possession: battered tin bowls to receive their daily ration of gruel.

Within weeks, those rations, provided by the United Nations World Food Program, are at risk of running out for them and 500,000 other paupers, including thousands of people wasted by AIDS who are being treated with American-financed drugs that make them hungrier as they grow healthy.

“Not to put too fine a point on it,” said Jeffrey Stringer, an American doctor who runs a nonprofit group treating more than 50,000 Zambians with AIDS, “but it will result in the death of some patients.”

Hoping to forestall such a dire outcome, the World Food Program made an urgent appeal in February for cash donations so it could buy corn from Zambia’s own bountiful harvest, piled in towering stacks in the warehouses of the capital, Lusaka.

But the law in the United States requires that virtually all its donated food be grown in America and shipped at great expense across oceans, mostly on vessels that fly American flags and employ American crews — a process that typically takes four to six months.

For a third year, the Bush administration, which has pushed to make foreign aid more efficient, is trying to change the law to allow the United States to use up to a quarter of the budget of its main food aid program to buy food in developing countries during emergencies. The proposal has run into stiff opposition from a potent alliance of agribusiness, shipping and charitable groups with deep financial stakes in the current food aid system.

Over the past three years, the same four companies and their subsidiaries — Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Bunge and the Cal Western Packaging Corporation — have sold the American government more than half the $2.2. billion in food for Food for Peace, the largest food aid program, and two smaller programs, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Shipping companies were paid $1.3 billion over the same period to move the food aid overseas, the department’s figures show.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

An Army of Housewives Battles TB in Bangladesh

BETGARI, Bangladesh — In the golden haze of dawn, Mohammed Salim Sheikh walked slowly through the paddies, so frail and thin that the lungi wrapped around his waist looked like a clown’s oversize trousers.
Carrying a treatment chart in one hand and a stainless steel water glass in the other, he crossed the threshold of a house. The housewife inside, Zahida Khatun Jharna, rose from her cooking fire, fetched his medication and filled his water glass. Then she ticked off his chart for the day and sent him home.

The routine plays out in countless villages across this country every morning, and it represents a remarkably simple but apparently effective effort to tackle a stubborn and deadly epidemic: tuberculosis, a scourge that kills 1.6 million people worldwide each year.

Lining up the Loan Angels

April 9, 2007 issue - Fighting poverty has along and divisive history, but nothing's shaken up the pundits, wonks and windbags like microfinance. The United Nations declared 2005 the year of microcredit—small loans for the penniless—and last year's Nobel Peace Prize went to Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank, which pioneered such lending. Governments from Brazil to Bosnia have launched massive microloan programs, and commercial banks like ABN AMRO, HSBC and Citicorp are rushing down-market. Some 500 million poor worldwide have reportedly benefited from some $6 billion in microloans, which aficionados want to ramp up to $300 billion. "One day," Yunus predicted, "our grandchildren will go to museums to see what poverty was like."

That was then. Now a backlash is growing.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Under the Influence

Click on this link for last week's "60 minutes" expose on the incredible entanglement between the government and big pharma...

A Republican congressman talks about the lobbyist-induced frenzy to pass the Medicare prescription drug bill in the U.S. House of Representatives in an interview with Steve Kroft. More...

It's a Profit Deal

Interesting discussion follows the article...

Needing relief from medieval churches and cutesy cafes on a trip to Prague a few years back (O.K., and a tax break), I paid a call on the Prague Stock Exchange, tucked in a blocky, Soviet-style building off the main drag.

Nonetheless, I learned more in the next 20 minutes about how the world works than I had in the last 20 years sweating on Wall Street as an analyst and running a hedge fund.


here’s two years of B-school in a nutshell:

* Profits lead to increased living standards.
* Money sloshes around the globe seeking its highest risk-adjusted returns.
* The stock market allocates precious capital to companies it thinks can maximize profits and starves those that it thinks can’t.

In other words, the stock market is democracy’s half-evil, half-angelic henchman, whose tool is more carrot than stick...

A Saudi Desert Fox

April 9, 2007 issue - Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah often has the weary air of a simple man who's lived long enough to see it all, and in many ways he has. He was born more than 80 years ago, into a world of desert warriors where his father had yet to conquer the holy cities of Mecca and Medina or found the nation that Abdullah rules today. No oil flowed from beneath the sands. No Israel existed. The whole of the modern Middle East, for better or worse, has been created in his lifetime.
Yet now, say senior Saudi princes and members of the government, Abdullah has grown so angry and "emotional" about the disasters confronting the region that he's decided to take on a new role. No longer will Saudi Arabia play backup while its ally the United States fronts the band. Abdullah has grown frustrated, almost bitter, with the fecklessness of a divided Arab world. As if taking a line from Plato's Republic—"He who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one worse than himself"—the old king is now trying to lead on virtually every sensitive issue in the Middle East, from an Arab-Israeli peace to Darfur.
This surge of diplomatic initiative has baffled Washington. Bush officials worry whether Abdullah's new activism will ultimately support U.S. policy or undermine it...

Sanctuary for Sex Slaves

An incredibly sad story of human trafficking, which affects an entire family by Nicholas Kristof

Here is a piece that looks at man's capacity for evil: Finding Hope in Knowing the Universal Capacity for Evil

Q. So you disagree with Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart?”

A. That’s not true. Some people can be made into monsters. And the people who abused, and killed her, were.
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