Rest in Peace Hachalu Hundessa

Hachalu Hundessa, 34, known for political songs that provided support for the ethnic Oromo group’s fight against repression and a soundtrack for antigovernment protests, has been shot dead in Addis Ababa.

The killing has “risked heightening tensions in a nation taking stuttering steps toward establishing a multiparty democracy.” August elections have been “postponed” due to the pandemic.

Hundessa’s songs mobilized millions of Oromos across Ethiopia.

“On Tuesday, news of Mr. Hundessa’s death led to protests in the capital and other parts of Ethiopia, with images and videos on social media showing hundreds congregating at the hospital where his body was taken.

Internet service across the country was shut down at approximately 9 a.m. local time, according to Berhan Taye, an analyst at the nonprofit Access Now. The move, she said, ‘is simply driving confusion and anxiety among Ethiopians and the diaspora’ especially as they seek ‘credible, timely information” at such a time of crisis.'”

Hundessa’s importance:

“Haacaaluu has given sound and voice to the Oromo cause for the past few years. His 2015 track Maalan Jira (‘What existence is mine’), for example, was a kind of an ethnographic take on the Oromo’s uncertain and anomalous place within the Ethiopian state. This powerful expression of the group’s precarious existence quietly, yet profoundly, animated a nationwide movement that erupted months later. Maalan Jira became the soundtrack to the revolution.

It is beautiful.

Sentence to Ponder

Monday’s London Marathon.

“Kipchoge used a 4:26 25th mile to break free of Ethiopians Mosinet Geremew, the 2018 Dubai champ, and Mule Wasihun, last year’s Amsterdam runner-up in 2:04:37, and went on to win his 10th straight major marathon in 2:02:37, lowering his 2016 course record by 28 seconds and running the #2 time in history in the process.”

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How To Transform Sports Television

Some tech savvy person in sports television is going to make millions as a result of reading the following few paragraphs. My decision not to apply for the patents myself is just one more example of my amazing selflessness.

Here’s the problem with televised running, swimming, and cycling races. Let’s take running as our primary example, but remember the same phenomenon applies to swimming and cycling.

The camera zooms in on ten East Africans mid-marathon and their 4:45 per mile pace looks almost effortless. What’s needed is some sort of computer generated avatar of a recreational runner superimposed on the same course to begin appreciating how insanely fast the elite runners are going. With smart televisions of the near future, we should be able to program personal avatars, whether we’re watching running, swimming, or cycling. I’d program my runner to hold 8 minute miles; my swimmer, 1:30 per 100 yards; and my cyclist, 20mph. Once programmed, we can sit back and marvel at how quickly and often we get overtaken.

Case in point. Last week a 22-year-old Ethiopian star, Yomif Kejelcha, broke a 22-year-old indoor world record in the mile, running 3:47:01 at a meet in Boston.

When I’m rested and running with purpose I can hold 7:40 miles for an hour or two. If I set my avatar for a 7:35-7:40/mile pace on the same 400 meter track at the same time as Keljecha, in just four laps, he would pass me for the second time just before crossing the finish line. Twice as fast. I’m no burner, but probably less slow than 85-90% of recreational runners.

Long story short, if you watched Kejelcha run four laps in the time it takes me to run two, you’d have a much, much better appreciation for his freakish speed.

Sentence To Ponder

From The Guardian. The report is from Oxfam, a British-based charitable organization:

“The growing concentration of the world’s wealth has been highlighted by a report showing that the 26 richest billionaires own as many assets as the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.”

Oxfam says between 2017 and 2018 a billionaire was created every two days. And then there’s this. Just 1% of Jeff Bezos’s (pre-divorce) fortune is equivalent to the whole health budget for Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.

Related.

Weekend Assorted Links

1. Everything you think you know about obesity is wrong. So damn substantive, I should probably just stop here. A must read for anyone interested in being a more intelligent, caring human being. Here’s some context:

“About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat.

The emotional costs are incalculable.”

2. This cult comes highly recommended. I count myself a member. The top reader comments are equally interesting.

3. HOW award—headline of the week. With each tweet, Kavanaugh’s chances lessen. Please keep tweeting.

4. Can Ethiopia’s new leader, a political insider, change it from the inside out? Great opening:

“On the morning of his first day of school, when he was 7, Abiy Ahmed heard his mother whispering into his ears.

‘You’re unique, my son,’ he recalled her saying. ‘You will end up in the palace. So when you go to school, bear in mind that one day you’ll be someone which will serve the nation.’

With that preposterous prophesy for a boy growing up in a house without electricity in a tiny Ethiopian village, she kissed him on his head and sent him on his way.”

5. Jon M. Chu, who directed Crazy Rich Asians, shot a short film entirely on an iPhone XMax. Which greatly impressed John Gruber:

“The democratization of professional quality video cameras for filmmaking is one of the great technical achievements of the last two decades. 20 years ago you’d have had to spend thousands of dollars on film to make a short movie that looks this good.”

6. It’s often difficult to pick a major (concentration of study) in college. Here’s a new option that will likely prove popular.

Thursday Assorted Links

1. Today’s higher education case study—The (dreaded) University of Southern California.

2. This is what it’s come to. On the new game show Paid Off, lucky winners put holes in their student debt.

3A. Signs of a thaw for Ethiopia and Eritrea.

3B. The Addis Ababa art scene.

4. Trump tariffs spare clothing industry. How convenient.

5. Bloody Sunday. A preview.

Friday Assorted Links

1. How we talk to our kids about race, racism and identity. After the discussion, one of the participants communicated an important insight that is often lost on people who do not have much experience with people different than them.

“This experience concretized a familiar truth: black identity is not a monolith. Our experiences and stories are as vivid, varied, and complex as our culture and hues.”

2. Does implicit bias training work?

Researchers suggest:

“When companies get in hot water over bias, their initial reaction is often to do some kind of training because it’s something you can outsource and it’s relatively easy to do and has good optics. The studies that look out six months to a year tend to be equally likely to show increased bias after the training as they are to show decreased bias.”

All is not lost though:

“. . . companies can have better success decreasing bias by making sure their workforces are integrated so that people of different racial groups are regularly in contact with one another. “We know that what works best is for workers to be put side by side with people from other groups and have them work together collaboratively as equals. That seems to be the best way to change stereotypes in people’s heads because it causes people not to lump all members of a group together, but to start to individuate.”

3. Fixing Ethiopia Requires More Than a New Prime Minister.

Hilary Matfess describes the The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s  (EPRDF) political hegemony. It’s a blueprint of sorts for wannabe authoritarians the world over.

Her logical conclusion is disheartening:

“The current unrest in Ethiopia is not a phase that will fade with the pronouncement of a new prime minister, but rather a reflection of a system in which modest reform and dissent have been made nearly impossible. Until the government remedies the marginalization of ethnic groups and ceases to perpetrate gross human rights abuses, it will experience protests, potentially escalating beyond the low levels of violence that have characterized the clashes between Oromo protesters and the government thus far. Putting a new face to the leadership of this system will not be enough to stabilize the country—radical democratizing reforms are necessary. Failing this, the country (and its hand-wringing security partners) can expect continued resistance and instability.”

Saturday Assorted Links

1. Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds.

“Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.”

Decidedly not a shithole civilization.

“The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million. . . . But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

‘To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious.'”

Absent the United Fruit Company and the CIA, the Mayans’ ancestors would be a lot better off today.

2. First Do No Harm, Health Care Waste in Washington State.

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3. The shocking thing about D.C.’s schools scandal — and why it has national significance.

“. . . schools were essentially juicing the books to make it seem like they were graduating more students. Scams included phony “credit recovery” programs, failing to count all students, and, as the District just found out, letting kids graduate without the qualifications required for a diploma.”

And on Michelle Rhee, the darling of right wing business mad “reformers”:

“. . . the produce-or-else testing culture that she fostered — tying portions of some evaluations to growth in scores and securing commitments from principals to hit numerical targets — created a climate of fear, in the view of many school employees.

It also coincided with evidence of cheating on annual city tests.

A climate of fear in a school has never been known to produce much of anything useful.”

4. Ethiopia’s regime flirts with letting dissidents speak without locking them up. Incremental progress.

5. Letter of Recommendation: Rodney Dangerfield.

“Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway.”

6. How Building Codes & Taxes Shape Regional Architecture.

“Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it.”

Add that to the ever burgeoning list of things I did not know. I’m sure DAByrnes did though.

“Dutch canal houses are another classic example of how rules and regulations can shape structures. Taxed on their canal frontage rather than height or depth, these buildings grew in tall and thin. In turn, this typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors.”

Think Globally, Yeah Right

I predicted this story about Ethiopia becoming the next China nearly twenty years ago after living there, traveling in other sub-Saharan African countries, and becoming a student of globalization.*

Long story short, the outsourced manufacturing race to the bottom has entered it’s final stage. China’s average manufacturing wage is 3,469 yuan ($560) per month. Pay at Ethiopia’s Huajian shoe factory (18 miles outside of Addis Ababa) ranges from the basic after-tax minimum of $30 a month to about twice that for supervisors.

A paragraph to ponder:

Huajian’s 3,500 workers in Ethiopia produced 2 million pairs of shoes last year. Located in one of the country’s first government-supported industrial zones, the factory began operating in January 2012, only three months after Zhang decided to invest. It became profitable in its first year and now earns $100,000 to $200,000 a month, he said, calling it an insufficient return that will rise as workers become better trained.

Meanwhile, last week, George Mason economist and blogger extraordinaire, Tyler Cowen, wrote in the New York Times about income inequality. The title is the thesis, “Income Inequality is Not Rising Globally. It’s Falling.

Here’s the gist of Cowen’s argument:

We have evolved a political debate where essentially nationalistic concerns have been hiding behind the gentler cloak of egalitarianism. To clear up this confusion, one recommendation would be to preface all discussions of inequality with a reminder that global inequality has been falling and that, in this regard, the world is headed in a fundamentally better direction.

The message from groups like Occupy Wall Street has been that inequality is up and that capitalism is failing us. A more correct and nuanced message is this: Although significant economic problems remain, we have been living in equalizing times for the world — a change that has been largely for the good. That may not make for convincing sloganeering, but it’s the truth.

A common view is that high and rising inequality within nations brings political trouble, maybe through violence or even revolution. So one might argue that a nationalistic perspective is important. But it’s hardly obvious that such predictions of political turmoil are true, especially for aging societies like the United States that are showing falling rates of crime.

I’m positively predisposed to counter-intuitive thinking, but Cowen was hopelessly naive if he thought his NYT readers might concede even some aspects of his argument.

Here’s the comment Cowen’s readers most liked:

You’ve Got to be Kidding

This article is a classic example of a divide and conquer strategy. The gist is that less educated and skilled people in countries like the U.S are suffering but those in other countries are gaining. Hence, the world is equalizing. So, if you complain about the U.S., you are essentially wishing harm on others. In reality, what the “miracle” of capitalism has done is what it always does — it enriches owners of capital and exploits labor. Developing countries are, of course, better off; they started from nothing, and so anything is an improvement. So production is moved to places where people are desperate, and profits rise because of poor wages, no attention to work place safety, no regard for environmental concerns, etc. Yet, we are to celebrate because the workers in the poor countries are no longer earning zero. This logic then absolves companies from any criticism about the horrendous working conditions. After all, global inequality is falling!

The author also glides over the fact that people live in particular societies and their own inequality is most important. It matters for the distribution of political power (Citizens United, anyone?), for health (see, e.g., studies by Richard Wilkinson), for education, for housing and for a host of other things.

Finally, the author predictably criticizes redistribution (what, not unions?) But the real issue is changing the rules of the game so things aren’t rigged for elites. If so, redistribution will be less needed.

The other most highly rated reader responses were similarly critical. Taken together, they illustrate people’s unwillingness to compare themselves to foreign people in distant places. It’s no surprise that economically secure professionals like Cowen and myself choose cosmopolitanism, but for anyone else who lacks economic security, its a luxury they can’t afford.

It’s the same reason the well-to-do, who can afford higher prices elsewhere, brandish “I Don’t Shop at Walmart” bumper stickers. Cowen embraces cosmopolitanism because his university and book publishers and blog sponsors pay him handsomely; and his university provides his health care; and, like me, he has extraordinary job protections as a tenured professor; and he travels the world doing research, lecturing, and teaching.

I don’t begrudge him his professional success, but for him to assume others will embrace cosmopolitanism based upon his logic suggests he’s woefully out-of-touch with those that are struggling to get by.

Cowen might respond to that criticism by insisting that it’s in everyone’s best interests to think more globally, and I’d agree, but it’s going to take far more than abstract New York Times essays to get people to think beyond their household, community, state, and nation.

imgres * Rest assured, normally my predictive skills are nothing special. For example, I was sure Jay-Z and Beyonce would live happily ever after.