Tag Archives: Kenya
Wednesday Required Reading
- Note to self. Students don’t read syllabi.
- When your co-worker’s salary has two more digits than yours.
- Grace is gone for school leaders. And we’re all worse for it.
- Kenyan students keep setting their schools on fire.
- The worst exceedingly expensive meal ever?
- The role of bonds. Sexy, I know.
If You Love Your Family
I just returned from Pakistan. Well, sorta.
Wikipedia describes Moshin Hamid’s first novel, Moth Smoke as. . .
“. . . the story of a marijuana-smoking ex-banker in post-nuclear-test Lahore who falls in love with his best friend’s wife and becomes a heroin addict. It was published in 2000, and quickly became a cult hit in Pakistan and India. It was also a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award given to the best first novel in the US. . .”
“Moth Smoke had an innovative structure, using multiple voices, second person trial scenes, and essays on such topics as the role of air-conditioning in the lives of its main characters. Pioneering a hip, contemporary approach to English language South Asian fiction, it was considered by some critics to be ‘the most interesting novel that came out of [its] generation of subcontinent (English) writing.”
One subtext of Moth Smoke is Pakistan’s endemic corruption. Corruption in the (dis)United States is relatively subtle and nuanced. I learned this three decades ago when friends, and The Good Wife and I, hired a van and driver to take us from Nairobi, Kenya to one of its national parks. Once outside the city, as we innocently cruised down a two lane highway, our uber-friendly driver got pulled over by Kenyan police. After talking to them awhile, I asked why he was stopped. Smiling, he said, “Speeding.” Cash payments from random drivers for faux “speeding” was how police supplemented their civil servant salaries. Immediately paying the fine was the path of least resistance. Just a part of doing business, like paying a toll to cross a bridge.
In Moth Smoke, Hamid explains how entire nations can become corrupt:
“Some say my dad’s corrupt and I’m his money launderer. Well, it’s true enough. People are robbing the country blind, and if the choice is between being held up at gunpoint or holding the gun, only a madman would choose to hand over his wallet rather than fill it with someone else’s cash. . . .
What’s the alternative? You have to have money these days. The roads are falling apart, so you need a Pajero or a Land Cruiser. The phone lines are erratic, so you need a mobile. The colleges are overrun with fundos* who have no interest in getting an education, so you have to go abroad. And that’s ten lakhs a year, mind you. Thanks to electricity theft there will always be shortages, so you have to have a generator. The police are corrupt and ineffective, so you need private security guards. It goes on and on. People are pulling their pieces out of the pie, and the pie is getting smaller, so if you love your family, you’d better take your piece now, while there’s still some left. That’s what I’m doing. And if anyone isn’t doing it, it’s because they’re locked out of the kitchen.
Guilt isn’t a problem by the way. Once you’ve started, there’s no way to stop, so there’s nothing to be guilty about. As yourself this: If you’re me, what do you do now? Turn yourself in to the police, so some sadistic, bare-chested Neanderthal can beat you to a pulp while you await trial? Publish a full-page apology in the newspapers? Take the Karakoram Highway up to Tibet and become a monk, never to be heard from again? Right: you accept that you can’t change the system, shrug, create lots of little shell companies, and open dollar accounts on sunny islands, far, far away.”
Tuesday Required Reading
1. What if Some Kids Are Better Off at Home? Some will criticize this as an out-of-touch example of privilege, but that would be a mistake. Every educator should reflect on the “silent misery” of which Schroeder writes. More broadly, there’s a “less is more” outline for meaningful educational reform in her stories.
2. Watch Olympian Katie Ledecky swim with full glass of milk on her head. Hard to find a more dominant athlete in any sport. If I tried it there’d be broken glass on the bottom of the pool.
3. I’m Traveling, Even Though I’m Stuck at Home. What happens when Rick Steves is grounded?
“Travel teaches us that there’s more to life than increasing its speed.”
4. Money, Morality and What Religion Has to Do With It.*
“Some of the most interesting variations emerged when divinity and morality were juxtaposed with wealth. As the chart below illustrates, those living in advanced economies were less likely to link morality with divinity than those in emerging or developing economies. For instance, in Kenya — which had a gross domestic product per capita of $4,509 in 2019 — 95% said that belief in God was integral to being moral; in Sweden, where the GDP figure was $55,815, only 9% felt the same.”
I dig Kenya, but I’m siding with Sweden on this one.
5. Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny Explain QAnon. I cycled with Ben and Brandy Sunday evening. I dare anyone to listen to them and then argue the (dis)United States is not in decline. Are we even trying anymore?
6. Extra credit vid on epistemic trust. For the educators among us. And parents. And anyone that seeks to help others. I use “perspective taking” for “mentalizing”.
Thanks to DB and LG for #4 and #6.
Evan Ratliff tells the story of “the decade-long quest to bring down Paul Le Roux—the creator of a powerful Internet-enabled cartel who merged the ruthlessness of a drug lord with the technological savvy of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.”
Paragraph to ponder:
“Some people speculated that his drive was fueled by some submerged pain—his hurt over being adopted, or some other childhood affront for which he was forever exacting revenge on the world. Maybe so. I always suspected that at least a part of the answer dwelled in his life as a programmer. Le Roux had found his place inside code, a universe in which he could bend reality to his will. It seemed to me that he tried to apply the detached logic of software to real life. That’s why the DEA schemes must have appealed to him. ‘Nothing involves emotion for him,’ the former 960 agent put it to me. ‘Everything is a calculation.’ His approach was algorithmic, not moral: Set the program in motion and watch it run.”
Since I’ve watched Breaking Bad and am watching another season of Narcos, I’m kinda an expert on criminality :). Some take-aways.
The poorer the country, the more explicit the corruption tends to be. In my late 20’s, I was in a van in Kenya when our driver was pulled over by a local cop for no reason other than to “make a payment”. The casualness with which he paid the bribe blew my mind. When police and army salaries are super low, it’s relatively easy to co-opt them through regular “payments”. In countries like the Philippines, where most of The Mastermind takes place, when criminals like Le Roux strike it rich—at one point he was making $6m/week—they can bribe local, provincial, and federal police; military officers; lawyers and judges; and key politicians. Then they can really “scale their business up”.
The Mastermind reveals a seriously flawed United States judicial system. As illustrated so poignantly in post 9-11 analysis, inter-agency rivalries are endemic. Not just between the CIA and the FBI, but also between local, state, and federal policing agencies. People with state-wide authority routinely look down on local officials, federal officials look down on everyone. The greater one’s authority, the greater their sense of superiority. Yet, in the end, the Feds made the worst decisions and ensured justice would not be served.
Criminals benefit massively from interagency rivalries because information is treated as a valuable asset that shouldn’t be shared “down” the line with less competent, less trustworthy underlings. And because each agency wants credit for the biggest busts, competitiveness trumps cooperation. Consequently, all the agencies are much less effective than they could be. This persistence of this phenomenon strikes me as a serious failure of modern social science.
If your television viewing sometimes Breaks Bad, you’re down with Narcos, and/or you’re a student of social sciences, I recommend it.
Conventional wisdom is sometimes wrong, but when it comes to mourning, it’s correct. Everyone mourns differently, some inwardly and quietly, others with much more feeling. Some mourn briefly, others for extended lengths of time. There is no right way to mourn, the key is to respect everyone’s individual approach.
At the same time, the recent passing of Kobe Bryant, the other eight victims of the helicopter crash, and also Leila Janah, have me thinking more about death.
Intense grieving for the likes of Kobe and Leila makes perfect sense given their relative youth, 41 and 37 years old respectively. In that same spirit, one of the most sad passings I’ve ever observed was that of a friend’s 7 year-old son. We are understandably most saddened by people who do not get to experience the full arc of life.
And yet, Kobe, Leila, and my friend’s son left the world a better place. Leila, for example, founded a company that . . .
“. . . employs more than 2,900 people in Kenya, Uganda and India, creating data for companies around the world that need to test numerous artificial intelligence products, including self-driving cars and smart hardware. The company has helped more than 50,000 people lift themselves out of poverty and has become one of the largest employers in East Africa. . . .”
And as we’re learning, Kobe’s imprint was also large, most significantly off the court through his parenting, writing, and support for technology startups, young athletes, and women’s professional sports.
My friend’s son’s legacy was less public, but still profound, a lasting impact on his family, classmates, and community. Until cancer appeared in his blood, he was pure joy, a natural peacemaker.
To me, the saddest deaths are those of people who do not leave even some small sliver of the world better off. People whose words and actions didn’t console, inspire kindness, or help others be more humane. Those are the passings we should grieve the most.
Kenyan Marathon Mastery
• I’m disappointed I didn’t get the call to help pace Kipchoge in Austria Friday. I could easily maintain 13.1 miles per hour. . . on a mountain bike.
• I’ve always said I’ll never see a sub 2 hour marathon. Now I have to acknowledge I may. Among other miscalculations, I didn’t account for the technological improvement in shoes.
• Kipchoge is a high character guy who may be on nothing more than oatmeal, his pre-race breakfast. On the other hand, Kosgei’s drastic improvement, coupled with the litany of suspended female Kenyan long distances runners, makes me highly suspicious of her performance in Chicago Sunday. Lots of people assumed Radcliffe, the previous world record holder, was running dirty too.
• Many East African runners grow up poor with limited education making them vulnerable to exploitation by family, friends, national coaches, and managers. The sad underreported story of East African running success is one of sudden unimaginable wealth being squandered in short order. For the sake of his family, I hope Kipchoge can break the cycle of successful Kenyan marathoners mismanaging their money.
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.”
Points to Ponder
• From Jonathan Haidt in the Happiness Hypothesis-Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom: Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.
• From The Atlantic: Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy. The decrease in confidants—that is, in quality social connections—has been dramatic over the past 25 years. In one survey, the mean size of networks of personal confidants decreased from 2.94 people in 1985 to 2.08 in 2004. Similarly, in 1985, only 10 percent of Americans said they had no one with whom to discuss important matters, and 15 percent said they had only one such good friend. By 2004, 25 percent had nobody to talk to, and 20 percent had only one confidant. [strong counter argument]
• From Sports Illustrated: It’s hard to come up with any measure sufficient to characterize the strength of the Kenyan marathon army, but try this: Sixteen American men in history have run faster than 2:10 (a 4:58 per mile pace); 38 Kenyan men did it in October.
Grit follow up. In Monday’s Boston Marathon, the dude on the far left, Michel Butter, from the Nederlands, was hangin with the Kenyans. Pre-race, the Dutch track federation told him if he finished in the top ten they’d put him on the Olympic team. He finished seventh because of training sessions like this one.
Correction from the exceptional The Science of Sport blog: Michel Butter’s requirement was either to run 2:10, or finish in the top 8 with a 2:12 or faster. He ran 2:16:38 for 7th. So he got the place, but missed the time, and hence the Olympic spot. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, because as I mentioned earlier, the elite men were 7.8% slower than last year’s times, and about 5% slower than their typical race times. Butter missed the target time by 5.1% (the 2:12 standard). Bearing this mind, and that Boston is typically a slower course than the flat races of Rotterdam, London, Berlin etc, I would use discretion and pick him anyway…