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.

The Politics of Travel

The North Korean dictatorship now sees tourists on cruises as the best way to generate some foreign currency with which they can keep buying western luxury goods for themselves. Fifty-four pictures here.

Do the mostly Chinese tourists have no conscience? Don’t they realize they’re propping up the most heinous dictatorship in the world?

Easy to rip them I suppose, harder to reflect on the ways our travels sometimes negatively impact the people and cultures we visit.

When teaching and living in Ethiopia, I took what I thought at the time was an excellent picture that captured the harsh reality of poverty in the developing world. It was of two young girls who had hiked up to the top of the hills north of the capital city, Addis Ababa, with a huge thicket of wood branches on their tiny arched backs. Technically it was National Geo-like, and even more impressive after the excellent matting and framing job. After having it hanging in our home for quite a few years, the haunting, absent look on the girls’ faces started to trouble me. Despite being someone who values my privacy, I hadn’t asked for their permission. I raised my camera with my fancy zoom lens, pointed it right at them, and snapped.

There was no reciprocity in our interaction, no balance. I’ve since taken it down and use it as a discussion starter when teaching about cultural globalization.

I have other similarly unflattering travel stories. We don’t like to think about, let alone tell those stories though, opting instead for innocuous ones as if our travels are apolitical.

Our travel negatively impacts the physical environment; our physical presence inevitably changes the cultural environment; and our loding, dining, and recreational decision making tends to create distant economic winners and local losers.

To mitigate our negative impact, maybe we should travel less often, over shorter distances. And when we do travel far afield, we should strive to do so as global citizens, not amoral global tourists like the damn Chinese on the North Korean cruises.

Ethiopia’s Epic Underachievement

I was cycling indoors at home recently while watching a tape of the just completed LA Marathon. Like the movie Groundhog Day, Ethiopians moved to the front of the both the men’s and women’s races. Ethiopia’s Bizunesh Deba, looking freakishly fresh, sat on American rookie Amy Hastings for the first 18+ miles at which point she slowly put 150-200 meters into her for victory in 2:26:34. Deba, 23, has won seven of the nine marathons she’s entered. Someone is mismanaging her, but I digress.

In the men’s race 26 year-old Ethiopian marathon rookie Markos Geneti ran a 1:02+ half and blew away the field coasting home in a course record 2:06:35. He’s a preeminent short and middle distance runner, but the marathon is where the money is in track and field these days. From now on, he’ll get six figures to show up at races.

The LA Times reported that Geneti plans to invest his $125,000 in earnings in a school in Addis Adaba (correct spelling, “Ababa”).

I was intrigued by Amy Hastings grittiness and guts. When she fell off Deba she crawled back into touch, fell off again, and got back in touch, before fading right before the finish. It was an incredible debut. Afterwards, I read an interview with her from before the race that included this question: One of the appeals of elite-level running is that the people, by and large, are smart, nice, insightful, introspective, all those good things. In addition to the fact that you obviously love the sensation of running, I would think that the kind of people that you meet in running, the kind of people you’ve been teammates with, the kind of people you’re rivals with, have been a big part of the appeal, isn’t it?

This got me thinking about what else we may be able to generalize about elite marathoners. To the interviewers list I’ll add: self confidence, intense competitiveness, extraordinary self-discipline, resilience, optimism, and off the charts toughness.

If I were to write about every elite Ethiopian runner, you’d have to set aside the next hour. It’s Kenya, Ethiopia, then all the other countries of the world combined. I like Geneti and Deba in London (assuming Deba starts spreading out her races better).

And when I taught at a private international school in Addis Ababa, my best students were Ethiopian public school students who won scholarships to our school and went to Harvard and other elite universities after graduating. These athletes and these students accomplishments beg the question, how does a country with Geneti and Deba and Nebiyeleul Tilahoun type of human resources continue to struggle to meet people’s basic needs?

The short answer is poor governance. No doubt Meles Zenawi celebrates “his” runners accomplishments and uses them to bolster his own image among his people. Here’s his story.

I hope Ethiopia’s runners, young students, and other citizens find inspiration from the Middle Eastern protestors to help close the Great Rift Valley that exists between their impressive human potential and bitter day-to-day realities. And I hope upon hope that Meles Zenawi is living in exile when Geneti and Deba walk into the opening ceremonies in London in the summer of 2012. Assuming, that is, they make the team.