Wednesday, August 30, 2006

International Holler Brown (IHB)

As part of our ongoing artistic dialogue with William, The Elkridge Hollerer is pleased to announce a new color:

International Holler Brown (IHB)

RGB157, 163, 0
HSV62°, 100%, 64%
CMYK0.037, 0.000, 1.000, 0.361

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ahmadinejad v Bush debate

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has challenged President Bush to a live TV debate on world affairs. Champion of liberty that he and the rest of the Iranian political authorities are, Ahmedinejad has requested that "The debate should go uncensored in order for the American people to be able to listen to what we say and they should not restrict the American people from hearing the truth." As for what the Iranian people get to hear (or see or do)... well, let's not get too fussed over that.

I would like to be more snarky and have more of a laugh over this, but my cringe reflex is just too strong. The thought of the President representing "the West" in a debate...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Me and Jacques Chirac are like [this]

France has decided to send 1,600 more troops to Lebanon. From the article:

President Jacques Chirac said France decided to dispatch many more troops after winning assurances from the United Nations that the troops would be able to defend themselves fully if they came under attack and could use force to protect civilians [, and trenchant observations in The Elkridge Hollerer led them to re-evaluate the full consequences of their decisions].

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

You try to be nice about France...

... you don't make the cheap and easy jokes, you try to think of it as a nation that is a strong, well-intentioned, member of the international community (if sometimes at odds with your personal preferences/biases). And then they go and do something really embarassing, like offer a whopping 200 troops for the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Look, I understand not wanting to get drawn into a no-win situation without rules of engagement, but if memory serves, is France not a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council that drafted resolution 1701, calling for the peacekeeping force? Did they not realize during the debate that, when just about everyone was expecting France to take a leading role in any UN force, they meant sending more than a couple busloads of troops? It's either a humiliating step by France, or as well-connected commentators (including Sperati) have speculated, the French know something big and they're not telling (which doesn't exactly bolster the whole "well-intentioned member of the international community" image).

Saturday, August 19, 2006

43 hours in Lagos

43 hours may not seem like much time to spend on-site for one's first visit to Africa, and that's only because it isn't. In rough order of making them, my observations follow. I caveat this with the hopefully obvious disclaimer that this is not intended to be my characterization of Lagos, never mind of a broader region. It's just that several people were interested that I was going to Nigeria, so I thought I'd share what I did see.

Looking out the plane window as we landed, all I could see was small, somewhat ramshackle shacks, with the occasional tropical tree sticking up amongst them. I know, what a sheltered, rich, American reaction: "Hey, there are poor people in Nigeria." But I didn't expect my first sight of the country to be such a stock photo for "developing country". (On the flight out, I saw that these shacks extended for miles in all directions. Many had no roofs.)

Nigerians aren't real keen on forming lines. (Actually, I first noticed this when were boarding our plane in New York.) Faithful readers recall that, on occasion, I have noticed the inefficient habit of people crowding the baggage claim carousel. At the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, this is elevated to an art form as people push their baggage carts right up to the carousel. At its best, the carts are jammed in so tightly that people can't even reach the belt to grab their bags.

Driving in Lagos is for locals. Lane markings are optional - I mean the very existence of the markings, as well as the observance of same - and shoulders are for passing. Horns are for saying, "I'm passing you (on the shoulder). Please move into another 'lane'." (Did I mention that Nigerians aren't keen on forming lines?) That said, being on the receiving end of a horn is undoubtedly preferable to being on the receiving end of the nightstick brandished for miles out the passenger window of an SUV marked "American Consulate Security". People walk between cars, sometimes to cross the street, but more often to sell pre-paid phone cards or bottles of water and juice. We passed a four-vehicle head-to-tail accident on the left of the road. Standing on and next to the jersey barrier between the wreck and oncoming traffic were at least twice as many bystanders as could have been in the cars.

For miles of the drive from the airport, on both sides of the road, as far as one could see, were more run-down buildings of a couple stories and shacks. Based on the painted signs, some nearest the road were stores. There was a stretch of several churches quite near one another. None had walls; they looked like just the roofs of small warehouses, with a set of pews and an identifying sign. But the majority of the buildings seemed to be homes. Many were made of cinder blocks; some had been nailed together out of scrap; tin roofs were by far the most common. I have to say that it was one of the most discouraging things I've ever seen with respect to development. Some people find that they are very discouraged by statistics; the sheer number of poor, sick, etc in the world leaves them feeling helpless. Numbers have never made me feel that way as did moving past thousands and thousands of people living in poverty. And unlike many poor parts of US cities, this was not a neighborhood that had fallen in bad times and decay; this was a vast suburb that had never been anything other than what it was. I wondered how anyone - especially an outsider - could affect any change on or with this huge expanse of people. (Lest you think I've given up, please note these were my feelings at the time. I suppose they still are my feelings, but I have a deeper belief in doing the best I can to better the world with the opportunities I can find.)

I've never seen such a concentration of radio towers. Five to ten stories high, they are everywhere. Tanko, who drove me around, says they are radio stations and cell phone towers. This was later supported by someone's comment that there is a new initiative to get the three or four cell-phone operators in Lagos to start sharing towers, as opposed to each building their own. Parts of the city looked like old pictures of Texas and Oklahoma, during the 1920s oil boom.

Land-line telephones are for chumps. At the airport and the hotel, when I asked for a public phone, the person at information handed me their cell phone.

Beyond sharing their cell phones, everyone I met in Lagos was friendly. (Admittedly, this included one Ghanaian and two Canadians.) Even the woman who let me check in late for my flight back home was nice, in her brusque, put-upon way.

Experiencing at least five power outages in the first 24 hours, I concluded that someone ought to build some improved electrical generation and distribution capacity. (As luck would have it, that's the project I was there to help. And see, I told you I hadn't given up.)

Where there's smoke, there's fire. And there's smoke everywhere in Lagos. You can smell it in the mornings and evenings, primarily from people burning their garbage. You can see it, too, a low haze. It reminded me of Grandad's stories of working in Pittsburgh, back when the smoke from the steel mills made it tough to see across the street downtown. It's not that bad, but I like Grandad's stories.

There are lots of ads for Christianity in Lagos. A good 10% of the billboards advertise a church or revival event. Many cars and vans announce the driver's faith and/or the name of their church on the back glass or trunk. The message on Tanko's cell phone screen reads, "JESUS LV ME".

I would like to know what was previously housed in the offices where we met. All the windows had heavy iron grates over them, and more interestingly, there were numerous reinforced steel doors within, as if at any moment all of Accounting or Corporate Services was going to be put on lockdown. But then perhaps all the offices, ex-pat apartments, and government buildings around made for a rough neighborhood. The deputy governor's residence, just down the street, was a lovely villa, with a surrounding wall topped by steel mesh and razor wire suitable for your local minimum-security penitentiary.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

OK Go video

Continuing to pad the Hollerer by posting videos, I present the latest Internet fad, the OK Go treadmill video:

I don't feel too too bad about this lazy blogging, as I saw OK Go open for They Might Be Giants several years ago. I really liked their set, a good bit more than I liked their CD that I bought or any of their stuff that I've heard on the radio. But I dig this video; apparently there is a strong visual element to my enjoyment of OK Go.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

OPM recruiting

The Office of Personnel Management has all the federal job openings available online. They put the ROCK in bureaucracy.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Why you shouldn't study economics

Some national cable TV trade association has been running ads in the Metro saying, "Cable provides hundreds of thousands of solid, stable jobs." The signs show a young man dressed like a cable guy, holding his twin toddlers in his arms.

To whom is this ad directed? Consumers? It seems unlikely. One would think that an appeal to consumers would focus on hundreds of thousands of entertaining, informative shows on cable. No, the people who care about solid, stable jobs (beyond their own) are politicians and regulators beholden to them.

And why are those jobs so solid and stable? Because cable is the king of entertainment, rolling in revenue from an audience delighted with the provided service? Maybe, but why advertise that? That would just be gloating (and a little obscure gloating, at that). But perhaps, just perhaps, cable jobs are so solid and stable because competition is throttled, such that dissatisifed consumers have no real alternative to the official-lobbying incumbent. And in that case, wouldn't the message of the ad read, "Dear public official, please keep using your power to transfer money from the public at large to the fraction of the population in the cable industry"?

You shouldn't study economics because, if you do, you can be irritated, day after day, by a picture of a dad with his cute kids.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Quality commentary

Don't know if you saw last Sunday's Doonesbury on flag-burning, but I thought it was a great piece of commentary. Not so absurd as to be pure satire, but also light enough to avoid being preachy or offensive (so I conclude, but perhaps because I'm sympathetic with the point). I could do with a lot more of this and a lot less of the shrieking heads bellowing from the extremes of the political spectrum.