You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.

Eric Weiner went on a quest around the globe to figure it out and wrote a book about it:

The Geography of Bliss – One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

Watch him discuss his experiences with Will Wilkinson from the Cato Institute at, and listen to him talk to Diane Rehm or Rick Steves.

So where’s the happiest place on earth? Well, it depends on you after all.


Yes, it does! Well, obviously, money alone won’t do the trick. We need friends and family, health and security, work and leisure time, freedom and respect, trust and meaning. But material wellbeing is of great importance, as this impressing study by Angus Deaton shows:

Income, aging, health and wellbeing around the world:
Evidence from the Gallup World Poll

Do not miss the world map of life satisfaction and the graphs showing some major correlations at the end of the study (from page 40)!!

“During 2006, the Gallup Organization conducted a World Poll that used an identical questionnaire for national samples of adults from 132 countries. I analyze the data on life satisfaction (happiness) and on health satisfaction and look at their relationships with national income, age, and life-expectancy. Average happiness is strongly related to per capita national income; each doubling of income is associated with a near one point increase in life satisfaction on a scale from 0 to 10. Unlike most previous findings, the effect holds across the range of international incomes; if anything, it is slightly stronger among rich countries.” (Abstract)

“The very strong international relationship between per capita GDP and life satisfaction suggests that, on average, people have a good idea of how income, or the lack of it, affects their lives. It is simply not true that the people of India are as satisfied with their lives as the people of France, let alone Denmark, nor is it true that people in sub-Saharan Africa, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Cambodia, are as happy as people in India. Beyond that, the misery of many of the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union seems plausible enough, as does the special misery of the elderly in those countries.” (p.32)

Do you care about the “Millenium Development Goals” and the global fight against poverty? Do you care about Darfur and the global fight against genocide? Then you should also care about this terrible fact:

Eric Reeves in The New Republic : Millennium Development Grotesquery

“Incredibly, the regime committing genocide in Darfur is now meant to be in charge of a critical U.N. poverty- and disease-eradication program.

The largest and most influential group of developing nations has added an ill-considered and wholly gratuitous burden to the challenges of the Millenium Development Goals: they have selected the Sudan government, which continues to perpetrate genocide in Darfur in front of the eyes of the world, to be their chair in the coming year. The “Group of 77,” as it’s known, made this extraordinary decision at the very moment the General Assembly and the U.N. Secretariat were highlighting a number of discouraging shortfalls in MDG progress. The Group of 77 now has 130 members (77 was the number at its inception in 1964), including virtually every African nation. Since it was the African countries’ turn to pick the chair of the organization, and since the selection of Sudan was supported by China, the outcome–however outrageous–is hardly surprising. Strong support from the member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference helped ensured Khartoum’s diplomatic victory. The selection of the National Islamic Front regime as chair is no mere symbolic exercise, though the symbolism of the choice is intensely dispiriting. For it comes at a time when the head of the regime faces a likely arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court—for crimes against humanity and for genocide in Darfur.”

Don’t miss the informative essay by Richard Dust on Darfur in the same issue of The New Republic :

The Truth Will Not Set You Free

“Everything we know about Darfur, and everything we’re not doing about it”

And watch Hillel Neuer from UN Watch confront the regime and its supporters at the UN:

Denying Darfur

“Sudan and its friends — Syria, Saudi Arabia, China — deny the atrocities in Darfur, and attack the members of the mission on Darfur as headed by Jody Williams. UN Watch confronts Sudan and its allies.”

Watch a video of a panel discussion on the topic: “Protecting the Legacy of Freedom: The Ideas of the Enlightenment in the 21st Century”, organised by the Australian Centre for Independent Studies, and be ready to question some deeply held beliefs:

The Big Ideas Forum, featuring Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Arthur Herman, Frank Furedi, James Spiegelman and Jonathan Le Cocq

“Somali-born writer, activist and feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali is best known for her explosive 2007 memoir, “Infidel”, which recounts a repressed and brutal childhood in a Muslim family, including being genitally mutilated by her devout grandmother. Having publicly lambasted both Islam and the prophet Mohammed, she has been the target of numerous death threats…
Dr. Arthur Herman is an historian and author. He has recently come to notoriety with a series of public statements and op-ed pieces arguing that climate change is a myth propagated by zealots, and will be proven by history to be as ideologically driven as eugenics was in the first half of the 20th Century…
Professor Frank Furedi is a sociologist. He has written extensively on the sociology of risk, and more recently has turned his attention to an idea that we’re living in a fear-soaked, overly cautious society, in which the state is over-regulating emotions such as fear and happiness…”

Watch this short documentary by Journeyman Pictures on what it means to be young, poor and shelterless in Kenya:

Kenya Kids

“It’s estimated there are more than 120,000 homeless children in Nairobi. But where grand schemes have failed, local projects are having an impact. Henry works for AMARF, encouraging street children to go to school. “I tell them I used to live the life they’re living now. Then I changed”. As a former street kids, he has an instant connection with the children he meets.”

Watch this shocking documentary on the still dire situation of the so called “Untouchables” – or “Dalits” as they wish to be called – and their desperate struggle against the caste system, India’s traditional form of apartheid:

International Dalit Solidarity NetworkI’m dalit, How are you ?

Listen to a debate on this question at Macquarie University in Sydney:

On Capitalism and the Soul

“Is capitalism moral, immoral, or just plain amoral? Some societies have tried to do away with it. But more often than not it’s all ended badly. Capitalism works. Its capacity to adapt and grow has enabled millions to live with material comfort hitherto only dreamed of.
According to a recent poll, 75 per cent of Australians are delighted with their material lives. It seems that McMansions, plasma TVs and SUVs make us happy. But is it just affluenza at play? Critics say that the economic model has spawned a generation of hyper consumers who have substituted goods and services for real relationships, civic trust, and eco-humility. In short, capitalism is bad for the soul.”

And don’t miss this great essay by Professor Peter Saunders, which appeared in Policy Magazine :

Why Capitalism Is Good For The SoulCapitalism provides the conditions for creating worthwhile lives

John Lee, author of Will China Fail?The Limits and Contradictions of Market Socialism, argues in The Australian that the tainted milk scandal is part of a much bigger problem for Chinese civil society:

Deadly hand of officials in China

“While China has been decentralising and officials have multiplied, it is not building institutions that encourage public accountability. It’s hard to build rule of law when the party controls the courts, tribunals and law enforcement. It’s hard to have transparency when the party controls the media. It’s hard to make local officials accountable when Beijing relies on them to maintain the CCP’s hold on power in far-flung places.
Moreover, if you think China is well on its way to becoming a private-enterprise, free market economy, think again. The state remains a significant player in the Chinese economy. State businesses receive more than 70per cent of the country’s capital. The state owns more than 60per cent of the country’s fixed assets.”

Whenever anything goes wrong, people worry about the foundations of our civilisation. Every terror attack is the end of our democracy, every recession the end of capitalism.

In this wonderful take on the current crisis comedian Louis CK reminds us of the fact that we are doing fairly well:

Louis CK at Late Night with Conan O’Brien – “Everything’s amazing, nobody’s happy”

Watch or listen to this Cato Policy Forum on The State of Freedom in Africa featuring Tony Leon, former leader of the opposition in South Africa, and Andrew Mwenda, Managing Director of The Independent, Uganda.

“Africa is more democratic than ever before and elections more frequent, but poll results are often predetermined and much of the region remains in the hands of autocratic governments. How free are Africans in countries that have seen some degree of political or economic liberalization? Tony Leon, a longtime member and opposition leader in the South African Parliament who criticized first the National Party apartheid government and then the African National Congress government, will assess African states’ progress on the road to political, economic, and civil liberty. Ugandan journalist and political activist Andrew Mwenda will discuss ways in which Africans are fighting for their freedoms.”

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about how much radical islamists are influenced by national socialist ideologies like antisemitism and conspiracy thinking. And some similarities are striking. But if you listen to what they are really saying, you will see that they are just as close or maybe even closer to socialist totalitarianism, even though they hate the socialists for their atheism.

The Middle East Media Research Institute has a very interesting video clip of the Egyptian cleric Zaghloul Al-Naggar in which he talks about what he believes to be the downfall of the capitalist system of usury and oppression and his conception of an islamic economy:

Zaghloul Al-Naggar Predicts the Annihilation of America and Calls on Nations to Adopt Islamic Economy

Yes, it is hilarious! But don’t forget that he is very serious about it. People like him are a threat to economic development and political liberalisation in the Arab world.

Why are so many people in the developing world still moving to the city when so many of them end up in slums and squatter areas?
It took Stewart Brand 3 minutes to explain his very unromantic answer to this puzzling question to the Ted audience:

Why squatter cities are a good thing

Well, I am sure they will. But at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner they celebrated two great American traditions: they poked fun at themselves and showed their respect for the political opponent. And they both did a great job. Enjoy!

The Best Political Event of the Season

WOZA stands for “Women of Zimbabwe Arise!”, a name that needs no explanation. The women of WOZA fight for democracy, prosperity and human rights. And the only weapons they use are words, songs and flowers.

Watch Footprint of Roses, a touching play written by Elaine Desmond which highlights the plight of WOZA and is presented here by Amnesty International :

Footprint of RosesIntroduction / Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Also watch Zaiba Malik from Al Jazeera’s Everywoman talk to Jenni Williams, the brave founder of WOZA, and some members, and this short video on WOZA and the People`s Charter.

Read Celia W. Dugger’s portrait of Jenni Williams in the International Herald Tribune : A ‘cheeky little devil’ leads rights fight in Zimbabwe, and Marry Theroux’ tribute to her courage for the Independent Institute : Church Women Greatest Threat to Mugabe?

“Like her predecessors William Wilberforce bringing an end to the British slave trade, the Reverend Martin Luther King ending Jim Crow laws and leading the fight for civil rights, and Archbishop Demond Tutu ending apartheid in South Africa and leading the transformative Truth and Reconciliation movement in its aftermath, as well as countless others, Jenni Williams is an inspiring reminder that a single voice, powered by the truth of God’s love for all His creation, can be a force beyond nature.”

There are two reasons why Americans shouldn’t expect too much from their next president:

1. One man can’t solve America’s problems. The president can’t save America from economic hardships. And he can’t save America from terrorism. Only Americans can. And if they are looking for a savior, they will get disappointed very soon.

2. The more you expect from your president, the more power you will have to give to him. But too much power in the hands of one man is a very dangerous thing, no matter how nice or smart he is or seems to be. And one thing you should never ever expect from anyone is to limit or check their own power.

Watch Gene Healy, author of The Cult of the Presidency: America’s Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power, discuss “excesses of executive power that presidents of both parties have enjoyed and the willingness of both Congress and the American people to give a president more power than the constitution allows” on C-Span:

Gene Healy on “The Cult of the Presidency”

Zimbabwean bloggers share their fears and hopes with the BBC:

Zimbabwe bloggers doubt Mbeki clout

“Not one country will make a stand against Mugabe, by not doing anything, the free world is virtually recognising Mugabe and his cabinet” – Debvu, The Bearded ManDemocracy in Zimbabwe Now!

“Mugabe is predictable – he’ll simply take whatever he wants. The rest of the world and Africa are predictable – they’ll simply let him! It is a real pity Mugabe is not white – he would have been stopped long ago” – Ants, This is Zimbabwe

“The rest of the world is now concerned with the forthcoming global recession and has forgotten the poor people of Zimbabwe” Luanshya Blue, This is Zimbabwe

But is anyone listening?

Watch Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, and Dalia Mogahed, author of Who Speaks For Islam? – What a Billion Muslims Really Think, debate this question at the 2008 Aspen Ideas Festival:

Who Speaks for Islam?

Charles Lynch is a former medical marijuana dispensary owner from California. He was and is a respected member of his community and was always trying to help his patients in a very responsible and professional manner. Now, believe it or not, but for this he could go to jail for five years.

The Friends of Charles Lynch are doing their best to inform the american public. On October 6th they held a rally in front of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles in support of him. You can watch a short video of the rally and some more videos on the case on their website.

So far, neither McCain or Obama have spoken out on how the war on drugs has gotten way out of control.

This year’s Blog Action Day focuses on poverty. You will find more posts than anyone can read and more videos than anyone can watch on their main website.

This is Zimbabwe has also contributed a couple of interesting articles on poverty in Zimbabwe. This one for example deals with a terrible dilemma, which no one should ever be faced with: ‘If I share with hungry neighbours, what will happen to my family?’

Restoration Of Human Rights Zimbabwe (ROHR) is a very young organisation. Last week they took to the streets of Harare to protest police brutality and poverty. And they promised to be back soon…

This is Zimbabwe reports: ROHR protested in Harare on Friday

Listen to two of the ROHR-activists talk about their vision for change on Zim Alive Radio

AllAfrica has published two different answers to this question. Both of them are well worth reading.

Peter Pham – Africa: McCain’s Vision for Freedom, Peace and Prosperity

Witney W. Schneidman – Africa: Obama’s Three Objectives for Continent

What’s the safest way to torture people without violating the rule of law? Well, you let someone do it for you. It’s the same thing of course. But there may be some people out there who don’t get it.

Human Rights Watch launched a new report on the latest U.S. extraordinary rendition cases in Africa:

“Why Am I Still Here?” – The 2007 Horn of Africa Renditions and the Fate of Those Still Missing

Also check out their report on renditions to Jordan: Double Jeopardy and of course Amnesty’s work on the subject.

Watch the shocking, but sober CBC-documentary: CIA Mystery Flights and this New America Foundation special event.

Sub-Saharan Africa still is the poorest and most wartorn region on the planet. But in recent years many of its countries’ economies have finally been catching up a little with the rest of the world. And they are very likely to continue to do so, even in the midst of a global crisis.

The Economist : Opportunity Knocks

“Despite the litany of problems, the 48 countries of sub-Saharan Africa are, by several measures, enjoying a period of unparalleled economic success. And despite the turmoil in the world’s financial markets, international investors still think they can make money there.
In 1990-94 annual GDP growth was a weak 0.9%; since then, growth has averaged closer to 5%. Before this autumn’s financial meltdown, the IMF was predicting GDP growth of 6.6% this year; now it is predicting only a slightly lower rate. Annual GDP growth per person was 1.1% in the late 1990s; from 2004 to 2006 it was around 4%. In 1990 47% of Africans lived in poverty; in 2004 41% did and, if present trends continue, only 37% will by 2015.

UCLA economists calculate – Meg Sullivan for the UCLA Newsroom

“‘Why the Great Depression lasted so long has always been a great mystery, and because we never really knew the reason, we have always worried whether we would have another 10- to 15-year economic slump,’ said Ohanian, vice chair of UCLA’s Department of Economics. ‘We found that a relapse isn’t likely unless lawmakers gum up a recovery with ill-conceived stimulus policies.'”

New Deal Policies and the Persistence of the Great Depression: A General Equilibrium Analysis

– Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian

Why did Beijing try to tell the Nobel Committee whom not to give this year’s Nobel Peace Price to?

Here’s the official explanation:

“‘Everyone knows what kind of person Hu Jia is, he is a criminal that was convicted and sentenced to prison by the state judiciary of inciting the subversion of state power,’ foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. ‘If they award the peace prize to such a person, it would be rude interference in China’s internal affairs as well as our independent judiciary.'”

So, who is this “criminal”, who is so dangerously subverting state power?

Read about him and his wife Zeng Jinyan on the Hujia & Jinyan’s Spirit Blog or in The Independent: Hu Jia: China’s enemy within

And don’t miss their movie Prisoners in Freedom City:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Watch Economist Eleni Gabre-Madhin talk about the future of her home country Ethiopia and rural Africa in general at the TED-Talks:

Building a commodities market in Ethiopia

Freedom House has talked to ordinary Cubans from all around the island about how they have been affected by the latest changes:

Change in Cuba: How Citizens View Their Country’s Future

“This report is based on in-depth interviews conducted in April 2008 with nearly 180 Cubans in five provinces. These interviews sought to assess how Cubans are coping with the recent transfer of presidential power and subsequent dynamics on the island.

The study indicates that recent reforms in Cuba have done little to improve the lives of ordinary citizens. Cubans still struggle to survive day to day-to feed their families and to find adequate housing. Moreover, recent reforms announced by Raul Castro have generated little enthusiasm or hope for structural change in Cuba.”

Watch Don Cheadle (“Hotel Rwanda”) and John Prendergast (International Crisis Group) talk to Charlie Rose about their book Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond:

A conversation about Darfur with Don Cheadle and John Prendergast