23 January 2011

The Problem of "Artificial States"

There is now quite a body of literature that points to the problem of so called "artificial states" which lack  "legitimacy", due to the fact that they were arbitrarily and haphazardly drawn up by European colonizers in the latter part of the 19th century (in Africa's case), with very little regard for preexisting human and political geography. Crawford Young, in his book "The African Colonial State in Historical Perspective" describes the impact that African colonialism had in a relatively short period of time in embedding either distorted or completely foreign political structures:

The colonial state in Africa lasted in most instances less than a century-a mere moment in historical time. Yet it totally reordered political space, societal hierarchies and cleavages, and modes of economic production. Its territorial grid-whose final contours congealed only in the dynamics of decolonization-determined the state units that gained sovereignty and came to form the present African polities. The logic of its persistence and reproduction was by the time of independence deeply embedded in its mechanism of internal guidance. 

Pierre Englebert, in his book "State Legitimacy and Development in Africa", explores the idea of "state legitimacy" in the context of Africa. His measure includes vertical legitimacy - the degree to which the state is responsive to the plurality of its citizens, and horizontal legitimacy - the degree to which the boundaries of the state relate to any coherent precolonial logic. He then correlates these measures to measures of good governance and development capacity. He begins his conclusion by saying:
"The historical endogeneity of the state, its congruence with underlying political institutions and norms of political authority-in a word, its legitimacy-is a crucial variable in understanding the choice of policies that rulers of developing countries adopt and the quality of the overall governance they provide. Both, in turn, are important factors contributing to economic development. Deficits of state legitimacy are therefore at the core of the development failure of many African states. 

22 January 2011


I previously left a post titled Monkey Brains, where I showed that human brains want to be in social groups of 150, with a small group of about 12 friends.

Other research has shown that it only takes 6 good friends to be happy. Less than that and the individual's happiness drops off. Too many and the effect is diluted with an overall drop in happiness. Another study proposed 10 close friends as the magic number.

As strange as this might sound, I have too many friends. I think a lot of people struggle, especially moving to a new town, to find a small group of close friends, the kind where you can totally relax with and really connect emotionally. I had such an experience living in Wenatchee, WA for 3 months in 2008, and again in Madras, OR for 3 months in 2009. I experienced the sadness that comes from being alone in small towns that are largely emptied of 20-somethings. In both cases, the only real friends I made came from the Baha'i community, so I can also sympathize with countless studies indicating a marked increase in happiness of church goers. I also saw the depression (among some coworkers) that comes from losing the ability to make new friends later on in life. I think one of the worst end-of-life scenarios is to spent one's final years alone watching television.

20 January 2011

Roots and Seeds

Most places I go, I am asked to speak on the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment program, due to my (relatively) extensive experience with it. I have been an animator since the spring of 2007. And I have never had a successful junior youth group.

This is not to say that I have not had success with the program. I have assisted in its implementation in at least five clusters. But I have never animated a group in the way it was intended, beginning with a group of 11-12 year olds and growing together through the program for three years.

Why? In my adult life, I have never lived in a single place for three years. 

17 January 2011

Xtranormal Baha'is

Xtranormal is the latest greatest method for making your own videos. It's actually really easy, and there's an option for a browser based creation tool. All you have to do is choose a background, characters, and voices, then you type in the dialogue. The robotic voices are convenient to add some comedy to the scenes, and the movements are all easy to embed into the dialogue.

I made this as an exercise. The possibilities are endless.

13 January 2011

Development Blogs

There are a lot of great blogs in international development. I think that Baha'is have a lot to offer to and learn from these discussions and we should be active in engaging (discussion/comments) if not potentially collaborating with the practitioners and academics involved.  As a resource for those interested, I thought it might be useful to provide a list of development blogs that I have enjoyed and followed (with the help of Google Reader), in no particular order. If you know of other good ones, please list them in the comments.
Chandan Sapkota
Chris Blattman
Dani Rodrick
Blood and Milk
David Roodman
Eric Green
From Poverty to Power
Owen Abroad
Africa Can...End Poverty
African Arguments
Aid on the Edge of Chaos
Aid Thoughts
Aid Watch
Barefoot Economics
Developing Jen
Development Horizons
Give a Damn about Poverty?
Greed, Green, and Grains
India Development Blog
Microfinance Blog
On My Way
Waylaid Dialectic
The White African
IPA's Blog
Beyond Profit
Private Sector Development

09 January 2011

First day

My wife and I just had the first meeting of a junior youth group. As with any group, it doesn't exactly fall into the ideal situation. There are 5 starting out, instead of 9 or 10. They are all boys, so no mix of gender. They are very unfocused and don't quite know what's going on.

On the other hand, this is the most ideal junior youth group I've started. For the first time I'm beginning with actual 11 year olds, as opposed to a mix of ages (my first group) or starting with mostly the same age but starting in either 7th grade (second group) or 8th grade (third group). That means for the first time, I could potentially study through all of the available curriculum with them, and it means I can start at an early age where they are still forming habits and attitudes.

As with any group, there are always little moments that make it all worth it. Out of the five, two of them are from Baha'i families, and one of those announced that he had read the section of the first book before coming, even though we didn't start the book on the first night. One of the boys not from a Baha'i family asked, "What if I don't want to come?" and I said, "Then you don't have to come?" The puzzled look on his face was part of his realizing that he's starting to make his own decisions, and if he attends then he'll have to own it.

After discussing the goals of the group and talking about expectations, we asked them to come up for a name for the group. The ideas ranged from, The No Name Group, The Awesome Group, The Group, The Couldn't-Think-of-a-Name Group, The Five Amigos, and much much more...

We did an activity of what I call "drawing telephone", a game where everyone writes a description of some crazy scenario on the top of a stack of stapled paper, then everyone passes the stack and has to draw a picture of the description, then the stacks continue getting passed around, alternating between drawing and describing. At the end everyone was rolling around laughing as their story was converted into some totally different scenario.

We concluded the night by everyone, including me, running around the house whacking each other with foam toys.

08 January 2011

The Second Way

There is a way
to look at the crisis,
and not to cry. To see injustice,
famine, the virus of the blood, and yet stand
straight enough to speak
is difficult, but not impossible: forget your glasses.
Bring instead your weak
myopia, your astigmatic haze,
dulling the vistas of hopelessness until
there is only your nose and one pot of maize,
one school fee, one welcome song, one child
wailing in your arms. This way,
survive, and serve again.

There is only one way
to look at the crisis,
and not to cry.

But if you would cry, get up!
Walk out of that body, prostrated
and voiceless in its shame. Baptize
yourself in its tears and turn your back.
When you see the fires of impossible hope,
jump in! Blaze. Immolate fear in the coals
of your joy. This is the second way.
Then watch: these sparks,
they are heating a nation,
they are lighting the world.

07 January 2011

On Human Resources

When I find myself wishing I could avoid a given core activity for a day, it's not the logistics I dread.  Planning, documenting, forging ahead--these things come naturally to me now.  It's the massive emotional investment in building genuine relationships that exhausts me, introvert that I am. 

The institute process has made me into a fine resource. 

I'm hoping it can make me into a better human, as well.

05 January 2011

New guidance regarding homosexuality

The below letter was recently sent from the US National Spiritual Assembly to the American believers. It quotes from a letter to an individual on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, and directly clarifies what is perhaps the greatest social issue of my generation. It clearly encourages Baha'is to fight against discrimination and work for social justice, while leaving intact the clear moral guidelines around marriage. The prominent reference here is that with regards to homosexuals, "freedom from discrimination" can be actively supported, while "opportunity for civil marriage" would neither be promoted nor opposed.

This letter won't satisfy those looking for a reform of the underlying belief of homosexuality being an aberration. It does not present a technical case that would hold up in court, and it leaves the obvious conclusion that as the Baha'i Faith spreads, the social attitude towards sexuality will also spread with it. But to Baha'is caught in the line of fire between a polarized pro- and anti-gay society, this message seems to authoritatively address several recent issues. The Congressional bill that repealed the exclusion of homosexuals in the US military can be actively supported by Baha'is (in fact, I was going to blog about it as such but got busy), as can any effort to stem the harassment in public schools that leads to an unseemly high suicide rate among homosexual youth. Regarding the California Prop 8 debate raging in court, Baha'is can change the channel.