Category: PolicyMic

Millennials Bringing Their Parents to Job Interviews Is Now a Thing. Please Stop Doing This.



(Via PolicyMic)

I love my parents. I am a millennial. Under no normal circumstances would I ever bring my parents to a job interview, a company social, or a “Bring Your Parents to Work Day.”

That last sentence should be a non sequitur, but as Anita Hofschneider’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal (titled “Should You Bring Mom and Dad to the Office?”) outlined, it’s a thing that happens in real life.

The answer to this question is no. No, you should not bring your mom and dad to the office. Or the job interview.

Evidently, helicopter parents — the ones that you’ll find hovering over their kids — are extending their reach all the way to the cubicle, where millennials are attempting to be taken seriously by their bosses and co-workers.

Some parents attend job interviews. Like a parent-teacher conference.

It’s happening at the individual and organizational level. Hofschneider profiles one millennial who has brought his mother to multiple company events, “including the company’s annual meeting for employees and their families.” (I think the event was called “Motherboy XXX.”)

Google held a “Take Your Parents to Work Day,” which brought 2,000 parents to its Mountain View campus (though I would guess some of that is a Google Effect and wouldn’t happen at, say, Walmart). LinkedIn, also in Silicon Valley, is planning to hold a similar event in November.

What’s going on?

Hofschneider gets part of the explanation from Michael Van Grinsven, the field-growth and development director at Northwestern Mutual. He says that regularly inviting parents to the office for open houses has “become best practice.” (No word on who made that decision for corporate America.)

It gets worse. The article looks at one study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which found, inexplicably, that

“6% of recent college graduates surveyed in the U.S. wanted their parents to receive a copy of their offer letters…The study also found that just 2% of young employees in the U.S. want their parents to receive a copy of their performance review.”

Two percent of young employees want an Adult Report Card sent home to mommy and daddy (likely because if they bring it to Chuck-E-Cheese they can get four tokens for every “Meets Expectations” on the review).

But the most painful and incomprehensible statistic comes near the end of the article:

“A 2012 survey of more than 500 college graduates by Adecco, a human-resources organization, found that 8% of them had a parent accompany them to a job interview, and 3% had the parent sit in on the interview.”

One in 12 millennials had a parent accompany them to a job interview. Of those, almost half had the parent physically sit with them while the interview was being conducted. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.37%, so let’s hope this is all one statistical anomaly and that those 15 Americans are the only ones in America that would allow this.

Listen, millennials: Don’t. Ever. Do. This.

I guess being 25 puts me at the older end of the millennial spectrum, so maybe my curmudgeon years are simply beginning a few decades early. But helicopter parents hovering over the cubicle seems terrible to me.

Fresh out of high school, community college, or university, you look young and inexperienced. You are young and inexperienced. You will need to prove yourself as a competent, capable co-worker and employee who is able to independently succeed. Will heavily involving your mother and/or father in your internship or entry-level job really assist you in proving your competence, or will it make you look young and incompetent? Does bringing your mother around the office (or, God forbid, the interview) make you look independent-minded or reliant on others?

Just as important: Do you think your parents would rather micro-manage your internship, or enjoy watching their son or daughter independently learn, grow, and succeed? Some will want to continue to be helicopter parents, sure, but I’m guessing (hoping, really) most will likely want to see all of their hard work, dedication, and love pay off. And that involves letting go, at least a little.

Want to tell your dad about your day at work? Great! He’ll love to hear from you. Hoping to text your mom about a problem you’re having with your boss? She’ll probably love helping you through your issues.

Thinking about inviting your parents to your office to meet your boss? Think again. Please. If not for your reputation, then for the rest of us.

Egyptian Police Detained a Stork Suspected of Being a Spy. Is That As Crazy as it Sounds?

(Via PolicyMic)

Late last week, an Egyptian man captured a stork wearing a curious electronic contraption and, worried it could be a surveillance device, brought it to the police. Eventually, everyone concluded that the contraption was a harmless wildlife tracker, and the stork is sitting in a cell as it waits for authorities to approve its release.

The internet thought this whole situation was funny, with most write-ups lamely tending towards the punny (as in: “In a case that ruffled feathers…”). Typically, the man’s vigilance and the stork’s subsequent detention have been attributed to an increased state of confusion, terror, and suspicion in the recently tumultuous country.

But while the reaction may seem, on its face, a bit much, the Egyptians aren’t overly scared, stupid, or ignorant (as some of the reactions on social media inevitably claimed) to view animals as possible infiltrators.

While it sounds like the plot from a bad movie, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction: There’s a long, storied history of militaries and spy agencies turning animals into listening devices, message carriers, and bomb sniffers.

Here are four of my favorite successful and not-so-successful attempts to create spies out of animals:

1. Pigeons Of War

4, animals, who, might, actually, be, spying, on, you,

Via: Wikipedia

Like many birds, pigeons have a remarkable sense of direction. They can be put in a sensory-deprivation box at home, flown (unconscious) to another location, and find their way back.

Germany, Iraq, America, and other countries have exploited this talent for military purposes, using pigeons to collect audio and video, send messages during disruptions in radio signals, and more.

During World War II, a pigeon — the aptly-named G.I. Joe — saved over 1,000 British soldiers and Italian citizens by traveling 20 miles in 20 minutes (from a place it had never been before) to bring a message to the British to not bomb an Italian city the Allied forces had just taken. (You can listen to a great Radiolab segment about G.I. Joe here)

The British have an award for animal acts of valor, the Dickin Medal. It’s given to animals for “displaying conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty.” To date more pigeons have received the medal than all other animals combined.

(If you’re interested, you can read biographies of all 32 pigeons awarded the medal here. Seriously.)

2. DARPA is Trying to Bug…Bugs

You’ve probably said “Boy, I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that!” recently.

This is a thing that may actually be possible in the near future.

DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the United States Department of Defense — otherwise known as the organization most likely to lead to a Terminator-like scenario — has been researching the ability to remotely control flying insects for years, for surveillance purposes.

The insects would become, in essence, “buggable bugs.” Applications for this type of technology aren’t difficult to dream up, with the simplest being the “fly on the wall” scenario.

A bit more speculatively, it’s not implausible to think that they could also also be used as vectors for small amounts of chemical or biological agents capable of surreptitiously causing injury or death to individual people.

3. “Acoustic Kitty”: A Cold War-Era Program, Not a Hipster Band

4, animals, who, might, actually, be, spying, on, you,

In the 1960s, the Central Intelligence Agency, in the midst of the Cold War, wanted to eavesdrop on the likes of Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, and other foreign leaders, but had trouble doing so.

So they tried to turn a cat into an animal tape recorder.

A (somewhat unethical) veterinarian implanted a microphone and a transmitter into a cat’s head for the CIA, which hoped that it could be trained to sit near a group of people and capture a conversation.

The cat’s field test was less than successful. Rather than sit next to the targets, it ran into the street and was run over by a car. The program was deemed a failure and scrapped not long after.

4. Bomb-Sniffing Dolphins (Sort Of)

4, animals, who, might, actually, be, spying, on, you,


Finally, you’ve probably heard how smart dolphins are thought to be. The American Navy has, too.

Since the 1950s, it has attempted to train dolphins to use sonar to find underwater mines and to act as sentries, with some apparent success.

That Plastic Bag You Carry Your Groceries In Could Prevent Newborn Hypothermia, a New Study Shows

(Via SciDevNet, my first article for the publication. I don’t really like the way it was edited, but it gets the point across well enough. The version I originally wrote, and like better, is up at PolicyMic and ThinkAfricaPress)

Plastic bags ‘can keep newborns alive’

[KAMPALA] Ordinary plastic bags — such as those used for foods — can prevent premature and low birth-weight babies from developing hypothermia, a trial conducted in Zambia has shown.

Infants placed in food-grade polythene bags after birth were substantially less likely to suffer from low body temperature, which is particularly dangerous for low birth-weight newborns and can lead to increased risk of infection, respiratory distress, failure to thrive and in extreme cases, death.

In developed countries, polythene bags are often used to keep highly premature newborns warm immediately after birth, but only for a few minutes before they are placed in an incubator.

The researchers, at the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka, investigated whether this would work for longer durations with moderately preterm infants — between 26 and 36 weeks’ gestational age — in clinics that lack resources, such as incubators.

More than 100 newborns were randomised into two groups, with some placed in polythene bags immediately after birth and others receiving standard care. One hour after birth, the infants in the bags were 79 per cent more likely to have normal body temperature than the control group — 59 per cent and 33 per cent respectively, an absolute increase of 26 per cent.

Waldemar Carlo, study co-author, tells SciDev.Net that “all babies have a large surface area to body mass and are predisposed to hypothermia, and premature babies are even more predisposed”.

Without heat-generating mechanisms, infants cannot recoup the heat they lose. Placing a newborn in a wrap or suit is thought to act as a barrier to evaporative heat loss, keeping the baby warm.

Lisa Umphrey, a paediatrician with Médecins Sans Frontières who has worked in Uganda, says the study “suggests that the practice has importance in under-resourced settings given the high rates of neonatal morbidity and mortality in these clinical settings. This is a topic that deserves much more discussion and investigation.”

As a first-line of defence against hypothermia, food-grade plastic bags had a significant effect but even babies put in the bags had a 41 per cent chance of being too cold one hour after birth.

Other low-cost solutions, such as Embrace BabyWrap, may help keep babies warm longer. The product uses a warming pad placed inside a baby wrap — the pad can be heated with hot water if electricity is intermittent or unavailable.

This is also available at the University Teaching Hospital, according to Carlo, who adds it may be one “long-term solution for some patients”.

Ultimately, though, when it comes to cost, there is nothing as inexpensive as plastic bags for hypothermia, he says. “These are food bags we just throw away.”

Link to abstract in Pediatrics

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa desk.

Guess Which Continent Has 14 of the 15 Most Optimistic Countries?

(Via PolicyMic)

This kid is optimistic, but mostly because of the bubbles. Kids. Love. Bubbles.

This kid is optimistic, but mostly because of the bubbles. Kids. Love. Bubbles.

Are you optimistic about your future?

Do you think that, in five years, your life will be better than it is now?

If you live in sub-Saharan Africa, your answer is probably a strong “YES,” according to a recent Gallup poll. It is, by far, the most optimistic region in the world: in countries like Burkina Faso, Comoros, and Niger, nearly all citizens are looking forward to a better future.

But the conclusion the polling company draws about why this is stands on trite, stale notions of Africa (as a single entity) being nothing more than a place of unremitting war, poverty, and suffering.

It’s a remarkably uninformed and improper statement from the venerable organization, and it should be changed to reflect the reality: the recent pasts of these countries gives them reason to be optimistic about their futures, too.

The poll looked at respondents’ answers to the Cantril Self-Anchoring Scale, which works like this:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top.

The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.

On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present)

On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

More or less: how’s your life now and how do you expect it to be in five years? If the future is rated higher than today, a person is optimistic; lower than today, pessimistic.

The common characteristic of 14 of the top 15? Geography:


Excluding Turkmenistan, they’re all in sub-Saharan Africa.

What’s going on here? Gallup offers two explanations.

First, because the scale is relative, if a person indicates that right now they’re “at the top of their ladder,” by definition they can’t be more optimistic about the future. Unfortunately, there’s not enough free, publically-available data to get a sense for how much this affects the results.

Gallup completely misses the mark in its second explanation:

 “Some of the most optimistic countries are those with the lowest current life ratings — reflecting the belief that their current situations are poor and can only get better. Optimism may be more widespread in these countries simply because people cannot imagine that their lives could get any worse.” (emphasis mine)

That claim doesn’t hold up to even the barest scrutiny. It’s destructive and pernicious to view sub-Saharan African countries as little more than places where life can’t get worse.

Three simple anecdotes should help show why:

I suspect Rwandans, Congolese, and Ugandans can pretty easily imagine their lives being worse than they are today.

Getting past simple anecdotes, though, let’s use Gallup’s own publicly-available data to see if they’re making a data-driven explanation, or defaulting to lazy tropes:


Above are the mean Cantril scores for almost all of the most optimistic countries (Comoros’ data was tough to find), with the BRICs for comparison. Some of the African countries which just can’t possibly get any worse are, on average, currently more satisfied than India, China, and South Africa.

Do you think Gallup would argue that Indians and Chinese believe their lives couldn’t get any worse?

Let’s take it one step further, and look at the recent past for these countries, using economic growth and maternal mortality as general indicators of improvement:

g3 g4




Most of the optimistic countries have seen high economic growth and improvements in health in recent years. In other words: life’s already better than it was, and there’s every reason to think it’s going to be even better in five years.

These countries are optimistic because the recent past gives them reason to feel good about the future.

If Greece was growing at 7% annually, it’d be optimistic, too. It’s not, and it isn’t; 38% of Greeks believe their lives will be worse in five years, actually.

To be sure, absolute per capita GDP is incredibly low in many of these countries, and too many mothers will not live to see their children grow up all across the region. We all hope that the future will be better than the present.

But it’s not because “things can’t get worse,” a false statement that leads to readers having an extremely distorted view of sub-Saharan Africa.









(UPDATE: It’s a Parody Account….I’m an Idiot) Zimbabwe’s Election: The 11 Strangest Tweets From Mugabe’s Ruling Party

UPDATE: A number of people have taken to Twitter and the PolicyMic commenting section to let me know how dumb I am, and they’re right: when writing this piece, I found a number of “Official” ZANU-PF Twitter accounts (none of which were “Twitter-Official”), and went with the account that had the most followers, thinking it was most likely to be the real official account. This was way too simplistic.  

I also reasoned that asking a potentially fake Twitter account it is was the real account wasn’t useful. But obviously I should have done more research, and I didn’t, and that’s wholly my mistake. Had I spent more than a minute Googling, I would have quickly found enough doubt cast about the account to justify not writing the piece.

So, I’m taking down the fake tweets, but leaving the links to news articles about Zimbabwe, Mugabe, and the elections, because, as one commenter put it:

“These things happen, and of course it does not invalidate the real critiques of Mugabe and ZANU-PF which you have pointed out. This twitter account is meant to poke fun at much of the things we all despise about the governance situation in Zimbabwe by reiterating exaggerated versions of ZANU-PF propaganda.”

Plus, I need to eat some humble pie for falling for a parody account on Twitter and not doing enough actual research to warrant writing an article. The public shaming will help me remember to double-and-triple-check on future articles. 

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, is up for re-election. Millions of Zimbabweans are heading to the polls Wednesday to vote, either for him or his political rival Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

As head of the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Mugabe, who is 89 years old, has been in power since Zimbabwe’s internationally recognized independence in 1980, ostensibly “winning” multiple elections since then (some of which were generally regarded as being rigged).

If he loses, Mugabe says he will step down. There’s evidence of voter roll-rigging, and observers are concerned about possible post-election violence. So far, voting seems calm and relatively orderly, without the violence that occurred last round, in 2008.

It’s a serious election with serious implications for a country that has faced multiple human rights abuses, the near-complete collapse of its public health system, and  remarkable economic decline while Mugabe has been in office. Here is a bit of (disjointed) background:

  • 2008’s pre-election violence saw Tsvangirai drop out weeks before the vote due to violence against his supporters.
  • In 2008, citizens were forced to vote, in a futile attempt to make the one-person contest seem legitimate.
  • Mugabe’s clear and consistent condemnation of homosexuality, and Tsvangirai’s support of gay rights. From the article: “Mugabe, who has ranted about homosexuality for years, has previously branded gays ‘worse than dogs.’”
  • Tsvangirai reversed his previous condemnation of homosexuality, claiming that he would support gay rights if elected president. Here’s what he said to the BBC: “It’s a very controversial subject in my part of the world. My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody,” he told Newsnight‘s Gavin Esler.”To me, it’s a human right,” he said.

Five Ways to Reduce Extreme Poverty

(Via PolicyMic… ignore the overdone title and the demeaning headline picture there – they’re out of my control, and I’ve asked that they be changed/removed…)

Extreme poverty is a messy, complex topic that often creates more heat than light.

Below are five ways that have been shown to reduce extreme poverty. They’re far from an exhaustive list (the only mention of food is a “growing the pie” reference, which doesn’t touch on food security, malnutrition, etc.), so throw your ideas in the comments.

From micro to macro:

1. Give a Child a $0.20 Pill That Boosts Her Income by 20% — A Decade Later


An educated is vital for a number of reasons – economic growth being just one of many – but kids often miss school in developing countries. How should you help?

Send a check to Innovations for Poverty Action, and earmark it for school-based deworming.

From Dean Karlan’s fantastic book More Than Good Intentions:

“Crunching the numbers, an additional year of school enrollment from Progresa comes out to about $1,000 a head. Generating an extra year of school attendance with the uniform-giveaway program costs roughly $100 per student. An additional year of attendance from deworming costs $3.50. Yes, you read that right…Follow-up surveys with participants from Kremer and Miguel’s original deworming study found that, a decade later, students who had been assigned to the early treatment groups… were working 13% more hours and earning 20 to 29% more income than their late-treatment Peers. Those are big, long-lasting gains from a few twenty-cent pills.” (emphasis mine)

 That’s a pretty fantastic ROI. Donate to IPA or the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, GiveWell’s #3-ranked charity, if you’re interested.

2. Give Poor People Money – No Strings Attached

Usipa Farming - one way to invest one's unconditional cash transfer

Usipa Farming – one way to invest one’s unconditional cash transfer

Why are people poor? Partly, the evidence indicates, because they’re poor.

Without access to cheap capital in order to build businesses or invest in education, many find their small businesses stunted, their skills stagnated; it’s a “Micro-Poverty Trap.”

So, how do you get cheap capital to those who need it? Just hand it over.

Chris Blattman, a professor of Political Science and International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, recently released a study which showed that giving money – unconditionally – can lead to a sizable return on investment.

To make it as simple as possible: giving money to the poor helped them become less poor.

Would this work in all cases? Maybe not; whether the results of Blattman’s study have external validity (i.e., they can be reproduced elsewhere) is an open question, and, as he discussed in an interview with Annie Lowrey of The New York Times, scaling a program like this is an entirely different challenge.

But, as Blattman wrote at his blog, cash transfers “probably suck less than most of the other things we are doing.”

Want to unconditionally transfer money to the poor? Check out GiveDirectly, GiveWell’s #2-ranked charity.

3. Give a Microgrant to a Community – But Let Them Do All the Work

(via SparkMicrogrants)

(via SparkMicrogrants)

Empirical evidence aside, maybe that last suggestion makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, and you don’t want to donate unconditionally to an individual.

Give to an entire community, then – but let them do all of the work. The theory behind giving grants for community-led development (CLD) isn’t all that different than for individual cash transfers: communities aren’t held back by a lack of initiative, but by a lack of capital with which to invest in themselves.

Enter an NGO like Spark Microgrants, which offers a few thousand dollars to a community for its development, but otherwise mostly stays out of the decision-making, planning, and execution. It’s up to the community.

Sound like something you think will work? Donate here.

(Full Disclosure: my roommate is a Program Director for Spark, and I’m a friend of the founder, Sasha Fisher – who, incidentally, is up for a DoSomething Award)

4. Relax Immigration Restrictions


The Great Immigration Debate of 2013 raging in Congress is myopically focused on America (which isn’t unreasonable) at the expense of not seeing the global picture.

To wit (using Uganda and America as examples of a developing country and a wealthy country, respectively):

1. An educated, hard-working Ugandan has a better chance of making a lot of money in America than at home in Uganda.

2. A dollar goes further in Uganda than in America.

3. Recognizing #1 and #1, once in America, she sends back some of her earnings to her family in Uganda. A lot of her earnings, actually — over $400 billion went from expatriates living in wealthy countries back home to developing countries in 2012, according to the World Bank.

Sending money back home is known as a remittance. Once the money gets there, it’s used for a variety of purposes, as the chart above shows.

Remittances don’t only help with immediate-term consumption, education, and health expenditures. In the long-term, they’re associated with increased economic growth, which helps to pull people out of extreme poverty (see below).

By loosening burdensome immigration restrictions and allowing more foreigners to live and work in their countries, wealthier countries can play a critical (but passive) role in reducing poverty abroad.

(NB: I don’t mean to argue that the Ugandan woman has a right to live and work in America, merely that it could be a very positive thing for all involved parties from an economic growth perspective.)

5. Grow the Economy — The Least Innovative, Most Important Way to Reduce Extreme Poverty

the, 5, most, innovative, ideas, for, tackling, world, poverty,

If you’re poor, how do you stop being poor? By making more money.

That’s like saying the easiest way to lose weight is to eat less. It’s theoretically simple but practically difficult. Still, it’s the most effective way to pull people out of poverty.

A recent article in from The Economist sums it up:

“In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years…

In 1990-2010 the driving force behind the reduction of worldwide poverty was growth. Over the past decade, developing countries have boosted their GDP about 6% a year—1.5 points more than in 1960-90. This happened despite the worst worldwide economic crisis since the 1930s. The three regions with the largest numbers of poor people all registered strong gains in GDP after the recession: at 8% a year in East Asia; 7% in South Asia; 5% in Africa. As a rough guide, every 1% increase in GDP per head reduces poverty by around 1.7%.”

(NB2: Yes, it’s possible for a country to grow dramatically but unequally. The article discusses that as well)

Five Things You Probably Don’t Know About Homosexuality in (Some Parts of) Africa

(Via PolicyMic)

President Obama is in the midst of a long-overdue trip to the continent of Africa. Starting in Dakar, Senegal, he’ll next travel to South Africa before finishing up in Tanzania. Because of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the issue of gay equality has suddenly been thrust front and center.

Take the example of Senegal, where homosexuality is a criminal offense. In a joint press conference with President Obama, President Macky Sall said, “We are not ready to decriminalize homosexuality” but that fact “does not mean we’re all homophobic…we are tolerant.”

Differing views on the definiton of “tolerance” aside, here are five things you probably don’t know about homosexuality in (certain parts of) Africa.

1. All African Countries Are Not Alike
five, things, you, don’t, know, about, homosexuality, in, (certain, parts, of), africa,

Hopefully you already knew that, but it’s worth reminding those who still refer to Africa more as a single, homogeneous country than as the extremely heterogeneous continent that it is. Containing 54 – 56 countries (depending on whether you count the Western Sahel and Somaliland as countries) and over one billion people, Africa is home to hundreds of active languages, remarkable ethnic diversity, and unbelievable geographic diversity.

No one lumps together the United States, Canada, Mexico, and all of Europe together as one entity. Let’s not do it to the African continent either.

2. In 38 African Countries, It’s a Criminal Offense to be Gay
five, things, you, don’t, know, about, homosexuality, in, (certain, parts, of), africa,

In two-thirds of African countries, it’s a crime to be gay, according to a timely report from Amnesty International.

The penalties vary by country. In South Sudan, “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” can land you in jail for 10 years, while in Burundi, you’d just be subject to a fine of 100,000 francs (about $70). In Nigeria, a bill currently being debated would hold “accomplices” who assist gay couples liable, too, with a sentence of up to five years in prison.

Uganda (where I am now, incidentally) has one of the most anti-gay governments in Africa. In 2009 (and again in 2012), a bill was introduced that “would impose the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’, and would impose life imprisonment for the ‘offence of homosexuality’, for attempting to commit ‘aggravated homosexuality’ and for entering into a same-sex marriage.” (In case you’re curious, “aggravated homosexuality” is being caught three times in same-sex sexual conduct or having same-sex sexual contact while HIV-positive.) The bill has not passed, but not for lack of trying.

As the Amnesty International report outlines, other areas under Sharia law — Mauritania and parts of Nigeria, Sudan, and Somalia — also have the death penalty in place.

3. The First Country in the World to Prohibit Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation is in Africa
five, things, you, don’t, know, about, homosexuality, in, (certain, parts, of), africa,

Via: Queerty

South Africa banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in 1996 — the first country in the world to do so in its constitution — and passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage in 2006. It was the fifth country in the world to do so, and the first in Africa.

Also, it’s instructive to note that South Africa has allowed gays to openly serve in the militarysince 1998 — a few months after DOMA was signed into law by President Clinton.

4. In Uganda and Nigeria, Boomers Are More Likely to Accept Homosexuality Than Millennials
five, things, you, don’t, know, about, homosexuality, in, (certain, parts, of), africa,

We’re used to seeing attitudes on homosexuality soften over time in Western nations, with our generation being typically more accepting of homosexuality than our parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

According to the Pew Research Center’s June 2013 “The Global Divide on Homosexuality,” which surveyed 39 countries around the world, that’s far from uniform.

Two in Africa, Uganda and Nigeria, have Boomer generations that are more accepting of homosexuality than their Millennial generations. The chart includes all of the countries in Africa surveyed in the report with adequate data, and it isn’t missing anything. Nigeria’s millennial population was surveyed at 0% accepting of homosexuality*.

*The survey’s margin of error in Nigeria and Uganda was, respectively, 4.0% and 4.3%, so don’t take these figures as gospel. They’re meant more for illustration.

5. Anti-Gay Attitudes In Much of Africa Came (In Part) From Its Colonial Occupiers

Again, from the Amnesty International report, which quotes Dr. Basile Ndijo, a senior academic at the University of Douala in Cameroon:

“From a historical perspective, prior to colonialism, which fundamentally changed the sexual imagination and practices in Africa, most African traditional societies were characterized by their sexual tolerance and openness. Contrary to received ideas, what Western colonialization brought into African colonies was homophobia and not homosexuality, which was part of a variety of social practices. The colonial administration only extended through anti-sodomy laws the moralistic view of the church, which perceived same-sex relationships as an expression of cultural primitivism and then encouraged African natives to move towards the so-called modern sexuality; that is, exclusive heterosexuality.”

Monocausal explanations are boring and usually wrong, and this shouldn’t be construed as one. Many other factors come into play, and it’s a complicated topic. Still, it seems fair to say that Western influence is part of the reason why anti-gay attitudes are so prevalent in much of  the African continent

This also is not meant to excuse intolerance — merely to provide some historical context to present-day concerns.

Four Million Reasons Why Yesterday’s Senate Vote to Continue Our Food Aid Policy is an Awful Idea

(Cross-posted at PolicyMic)

In a rare show of bipartisanship, last night the U.S. Senate voted 66-27 to approve a “Farm Bill” that leaves food aid policy stuck in the 1950s. It’s a decision that will unnecessarily keep an estimated four million people from receiving American food aid while harmfully distorting local markets.



The omnibus “Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013,” passed 66 to 27, with support from Republicans and Democrats. The majority of its 10-year, $955 billion cost is spent on food stamps, but $1.4 billion is allocated to food aid; under the bill, food aid policy would be basically unchanged, leaving a sclerotic, inefficient system intact.

It didn’t have to be this way. President Obama’s 2014 Budget substantially altered American food aid policy, bringing it more in line with every other donor country in the world; it would have allowed 45% of emergency funds ($330 million) and $250 million of non-emergency funds to be used more efficiently, given as cash or vouchers in local markets.

Instead, except for a $60 million provision to buy food in local markets, the old, “Food for Peace” program is still in place: the United States government buys up surplus crops from American farmers, then donates it to NGOs to sell in developing countries –  a process known as “monetization.” A report by the Government Accountability Office estimated that monetization alone costs U.S. taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year in waste.

Changes to the program – namely, ending both the Food for Peace program and monetization – would have substantially increased the number of beneficiaries reached, and begun to unravel the market-distorting effects of American crops being sold in local markets.

Right now, about 50 million people benefit from American food aid; for the same cost to American taxpayers, an estimated four million additional people would benefit under President Obama’s plan, according to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. The Center for Global Development believes that to be a conservative estimate, and persuasively makes the case that the real number is between four million and ten million.

Harder to measure, but arguably more harmful, is the effect that outside supply has on the local market. I discuss this more in-depth elsewhere, but suffice it to say that air-dropping staple crops into an established market will reduce the price of the local supply, which has a negative effect on the subsistence farmers who rely on their sales to feed, clothe, and educate their families.

None of this has been contested by the bipartisan opposition which formed once President Obama’s plan was rumored and subsequently announced. Instead, it argues that American farmers and shipping companies would be negatively affected by the proposed changed, and harkens back to President Eisenhower’s original goals for the program:

“When President Eisenhower signed into law legislation authorizing the program, he explained that the purpose was to ‘lay the foundation for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands’,”

Notice who comes first in that explanation.

Members of the House, such as Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Gerald Connolly (D-VA), are a bit more honest about their opposition to modernizing the program:

“Ms. Norton’s spokesman said she “thinks the president’s policy is correct,” but signed the letter as a courtesy to Mr. Cummings and because of a collateral concern that food stamps might be affected. Mr. Connolly, too, said that Mr. Obama’s plan would make sense in “an ideal world,” but that political realities are such that foreign aid cannot get funding unless domestic U.S. constituencies also benefit.”

It’s “just politics,” in other words. Unfortunately, “just politics” is keeping a sclerotic, inefficient, and harmful system in place that fails to assist millions of people and succeeds in distorting local markets.

American Food Aid Policy is Inefficient and Broken. Here’s Who is Keeping it That Way

Update: Cross-posted at PolicyMic

This post was originally supposed to go up two weeks ago, but it didn’t get posted timely and I… forgot about it. But! It’s still good background for next week’s vote.



America’s food aid is a broken, wasteful system that could feed millions more people at zero cost to you. President Obama wants to change this outdated, broken policy, and made plans to do so in his 2014 Budget, but a cadre of anxious congressmen and lobbying groups is doing everything it can to obfuscate the issue and stymie meaningful progress.

It’s a situation that calls first for disbelief, then confusion, and finally, outrage. Not only does this system take money from your pocket to pay off shipping companies and Big Agriculture, but it does unnecessary harm to the communities it claims to assist. It’s a tragic case of rent-seeking getting in the way of – and actively suppressing – humanitarian aims.

The concept of food aid is simple: wealthy countries want to help feed chronically malnourished populations, wherever they live in the world. All of these donor countries – excluding America – simply provide cash to programs that purchase food directly from local farmers, which is then sold through local markets. It’s a solution that provides two main benefits: getting food to those that need it and can’t afford it; and creating a customer for local farmers to sell to. From the perspective of donor countries, it’s a cheap and efficient process.

Most donor countries, that is. Rather than provide cash, America currently provides “in-kind” goods, in the form of crops from the nation’s farmers. Which would be fine, if the chronically-underfed populations languished in Topeka, Kanas, or Mobridge, South Dakota. But they don’t. They live in Mbale, Uganda, or Hanoi, Vietnam – thousands of miles away.

And so those crops are bought from American farmers by the U.S. government, then sold abroad through non-government organizations, in a process called “monetization;” proceeds from the sales go towards their development programs. Of course, to get from America across the ocean, goods need to be shipped, and the law mandates this be done on U.S. flagged ships (which often are actually under subsidiaries of foreign companies, like the Danish Maersk).

It is one thing to waste American taxpayers’ money, and that should make you angry, certainly. But the system also makes the population it purports to help worse off as a whole.

How? Imagine that you’re a Senegalese farmer who has just finished the long, hard task of harvesting maize or cassava from your land, using your bare hands and a hoe. You’re about to bring it to the market to sell the spoils of your toil – which you expect to use to feed your family and purchase the seeds and fertilizer to make next year’s harvest even larger.

Right as you get to the market, storm clouds brew, the wind howls, and a mixture of maize and cassava begins to pour from the sky. Your potential buyers have no need for your product anymore – they can just pick it up from the ground. Your product is worthless. If you sell anything at all, it’ll be for a drastically lower price; to use the jargon of economics, an exogenous supply shock occurred – it’s raining staple crops! – but the demand stayed constant, so the price plummets.

You don’t care about the language of economics, though; you’re more concerned with how you’re going to feed your family for the next year.

That’s a bit sensationalized. But only a bit! Every crate of American soybeans, wheat, or corn sold significantly distorts the market where it comes ashore, pitting local farmers’ products against cheap American goods. It’s no contest. The farmer loses big.

If the American way was the only way to help under-nourished populations get the food they need to grow and develop, that may be a trade-off worth making. But it’s not, of course – just look to every other donor country for proof.

The food aid reforms touted by the Obama administration are simple: begin stopping this nonsense, by allowing 45% of the $1.4 billion requested to be given as cash or vouchers to be used in local markets; to ease in the change in, 55% would still be restricted to American farmers and U.S.-flagged ships. Monetization would end, which the Government Accountability Office estimates will save 25 cents on each dollar spent on food aid.

Food should get where it’s needed sooner, too; some studies estimate up to 14 weeks faster. And most importantly, each marginal dollar of food aid will go further, meaning that more men, women, and children will cease to go hungry – to the tune of four million, according to USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

As John Norris notes at Foreign Policy, when the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all agree on an issue, something is up. Either the issue is so trite as to be meaningless, or it’s so stupefyingly obvious that a change is necessary that it barely warrants discussion. Hopefully it’s clear by now that American food aid policy is the latter.

To be sure, there are legitimate concerns about the best way to provide food aid to those in need; for example, is it wiser to give cash or vouchers to those in need?. And that’s a discussion that’s worth having. But no one – save rent-seeking Big Agriculture and weak Senators – is arguing for the status quo in American food aid policy.

That’s because current food aid is bad food aid that arguably does more harm than good, and inarguably is less efficient than it should be. If our Congress stands up to Big Agriculture and Big Shipping, millions more people may go to bed with a full stomach. It’s time to fix American food aid.



Don’t Join Wall Street to Save The World – It’s Not Worth The Cost



(Via PolicyMic)

Dylan Matthews’ Washington Post piece on high-earning millennials’ charitable giving patterns is fascinating and incredibly well written – you should read it right now. It highlights a palpable tension that infects the thoughts and conversations of many millennials: how do we do the most good?

I’ve had the familiar debate over and over again, with myself, friends, and family, and I don’t think there’s a clear answer. But I want to challenge the implicit assumption that simply giving as much money as possible is the best route for passionate, intelligent millennials to contribute; I think that their minds and their skills are often more valuable for organizations than their cash, and that what they’re giving up may not be worth the cost. Don’t join Wall Street to save the world.

Matthews’ article centers on Jason Trigg, a 25-year old hedge fund analyst who made a conscious decision to work in that high-paying sector with the goal of making as much money as possible – so that he can give “half of a high finance salary” to the Against Malaria Foundation. In doing so, he believes he is able to “‘ … make more of a difference'” than a Peace Corps volunteer. Similarly minded individuals are interviewed throughout, and the nascent, en vogue charity-rating organizations and NGOs GiveWellGiving What We Can, and GiveDirectly are discussed, too.

The article is partly philosophical, drawing on Peter Singers’ utilitarian “save a life if you can” thought experiment, but we can leave that aside for this post, and assume that many millennials share a passion and commitment to give back.

In the most obvious sense, what the profiled individuals are doing is commendable, and to have more of our generation contributing similarly would be a wonderful thing. Trigg and the others seem to care deeply about the causes they support and are very interested in maximizing their ability to “do good.”

But in another sense: what a waste! Time, passion, and intelligence go into a hedge fund, a (rather large) burlap sack full of money comes out, and a portion of that money goes to an important charitable organization.

Is there a way for Trigg to be more valuable to the organizations he donates to? Couldn’t AMF, and myriad other organizations, use his intelligence and passion directly? As a member of their team, it’s possible that he’d be worth substantially more to them – and the world – than $20,000. Maybe he creates an algorithm that solves a thorny issue AMF has faced, or works on a computer model that somehow reduces the cost to save a child’s life by 20%. Who knows – but that’s precisely the point.

That’s a bit simplistic, I realize. Many who work for a hedge fund, Goldman Sachs, or Google do so because they love their job, and not everyone who wants to “do good” can work for AMF or another NGO.

Even if they could, as Matthews notes, it’s an open question as to whether they’d just be better off giving money unconditionally, as in the GiveDirectly model; recent research by Chris Blattman showed that unconditional cash transfers are an effective way to boost economic growth and make the lives of the poor better. If individuals don’t have skills that could be useful for organizations like AMF, giving as much money as they can may be the best route.

But that’s a big if, and Trigg still has decided to donate to AMF, a preference that indicates he values “typical” NGO work. It still seems to me that with a few modest tweaks to the system, skilled workers like Trigg would find it a better solution to “give directly” to AMF and others by working – directly – with them.

One such (admittedly unlikely) tweak would be for hedge funds and other high-paying corporations to “sponsor” individuals to work at AMF and other NGOs – but rather than sponsor the role, as in a typical fellowship, they sponsored the donation. In effect, they’d pay the psychic cost for people like Trigg being unable to donate tens of thousands of dollars.

Another route would look similar to the Thiel Fellowship or MacArthur Genius Grant, where individuals are given money to pursue a cause that’s seen to be in the public good. Call it the Hedge Fund Sabbatical, where hedge funds could contribute to a fund that pays for their employees to take a year to work at a non-profit they’re aligned with.

A final, more conventional route would be for Trigg and others to make a public pledge (perhaps using Dean Karlan’s StickK online commitment website) to raise a set amount of money from friends and family, so that they can work in the NGO space without feeling guilty about being unable to donate; their friends and family would cover that psychic cost.

None of this is meant to disparage the choices of anyone profiled in the piece, or to question their commitment to choosing a life that puts others at center. But I think it’s worth questioning the premise that the best way for a passionate, intelligent person to give back is by extracting money out of for-profit corporations.

Don’t join Wall Street to save the world. What you’ll give up – time, intelligence, and passion – may not be worth the cost.