Monthly Archives: March 2013

GapMinder and Hans Rosling

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Hans Rosling is one of the best known staticians of the modern day, providing daunting visuals of the strides and setbacks of modern global development. His website, GapMinder, is a stunning tool for the comparison of nations over the past 200 years. The charts are play-motion by time, and users can adjust the x and y axes to be a variety of development measurements, including Life Expectancy, GDP per captia, Children per Woman, Murder Rates, HDI, CO2 Emissions, Malaria Rates, Traffic, and the list goes on.

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This is THE BEST visualization of global development trends I have seen, captured in 4 minutes of video of the gapminder data projection.

And this is my favorite Hans Rosling Ted Talk, 10 minutes long, measuring Global Population by Boxes and demonstrating how modernization and poverty rates will shift as population growth changes regionally. Enjoy!

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Zimbabwe Votes for a New Constitution

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Zimbabwe is making its way to vote for a new constitution, and the results should come out this week. In a nation known to have one of the most authoritarian and permanent leaders in Robert Mugabe, this marks an important step in a transition towards greater voting rights. Importantly, a new constitution is “a crucial step toward holding presidential elections this year.” Should the constitution be passed, an election clause would be added, one that voters hope would strictly govern the presidential electoral process.

In 2008 the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had officially gotten the most votes in the first round, but “refused to participate in a runoff after his supporters endured a violent onslaught by Mugabe loyalists.” Eventually a deal was brokered in which Tsvangirai and Mugabe would share the power, but this plan predictably fell through. The transitional government “was supposed to take 18 months, but the process has dragged on for four years.” Now the country is at another crucial point that could drastically change its government. It is easy to look at this vote pessimistically, understanding the power that corrupt leaders maintain in Zimbabwe, and conclude that a new constitution will realistically change little. But there is hope when elections continue to take place and voters continue to support change that it will eventually happen.

Meanwhile, as the votes are counted, Zimbabwe police are defying a high court ruling to release a human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. This demonstrates a clear lack of power by the judicial branch and a lack of accountability and respect for the governmental system by the police force (presumably under the orders of Mugabe). The contrast to justice is apparent.

Fundamentally, “the new Constitution is meant to help resolve some of the festering problems that have kept Zimbabwe, once one of Africa’s most stable and prosperous nations, mired in crisis.” It will be interesting to see what unfolds.

The World’s Children and their Valuables

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Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti traversed the globe to capture young children standing behind their most prized possessions. The goal of the collection is of course to accent the differences in the quantity and quality of toys found among regions of varying culture and wealth. The first photo, featuring Chiwa from Malawi, is undoubtedly my favorite. I have a soft spot for toy dinosaurs.

Here’s the original link.

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Chiwa – Mchinji, Malawi

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Stella – Montecchio, Italy

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Pavel – Kiev, Ukraine

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Arafa & Aisha – Bububu, Zanzibar

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Cun Zi Yi – Chongqing, China

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Bethsaida – Port au Prince, Haiti

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Orly-Brownsville,Texas, USA

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Botlhe – Maun, Botswana

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Watcharapom – Bangkok, Thailand

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Alessia – Castiglion Fiorentino, Italy

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Norden – Massa, Morocco

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Julia – Tirana, Albania

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Keynor – Cahuita, Costa Rica

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Shaira – Mumbai, India

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Tangawizi – Keekorok, Kenya

Kenya’s Questionable Electoral Process

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Uhuru Kenyatta has won. That’s what Kenyan newspapers are ready to print. But the international community is suspicious. Many are claiming voting error on account of a computer bug. Others are pointing out irregularities in voting due to violent outbreaks recorded all over the country.

There had been serious worry about this election due to “ethnic violence that left more than 1,100 people dead after the last election in 2007.” Fortunately, these numbers were drastically reduced this time around. Nonetheless, incidents were reported of “the presence of weapons and hate speech, and insufficient law enforcement,” as well as queue jumping and unnecessarily long lines. In a reportedly fair and free election, it is a shame to see such regular limitations to the democratic process taking place, and it leads to greater questions of if Kenyatta rightfully earned the position. At this time “vote-tallying has been restarted by hand following this and other glitches but Uhuru Kenyatta still has a large lead over Prime Minister Raila Odinga.”

Now the United States is left to decide on a plan of action toward the probable president. Kenyatta in the past “has been charged with heinous crimes, accused of using a vast fortune to bankroll death squads that slaughtered women and children.” For obvious reasons, the U.S. is hesitant to support such a man, despite the desire to validate the democratic process.

The question now: “does the United States put a premium on its commitment to justice and ending impunity — as it has emphasized across the continent — and distance itself from Mr. Kenyatta should he clinch this election? Or would that put at risk all the other strategic American interests vested in Kenya, a vital ally in a volatile region and a crucial hub for everything from billion-dollar health programs and American corporations to spying on agents of Al Qaeda?” There are worries by Kenyan nationals that Kenyatta could obtain a ‘Mugabe factor,’ becoming villainized by the international community for his history.

For now its seems as if the bottom line is that Kenya has had a (largely) successful election. The elected leader may have had a notably criminal past. But at the same time, it may be best to be optimistic towards his forthcoming term, and hope he has Kenya and its people’s ultimate growth and well-being in mind.

U.S. Pledges $60m to Syrian Opposition

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The story of the United States pledging $60 million to the Syrian opposition controversially hit the newspapers last week. Previously it had been only food rations and medical supplies that the U.S. had been assisting the rebels with, and therefore this announcement marked a serious turning point for the United States’ perceived involvement in the conflict.

The problem that many conservatives and those restrained in foreign assistance policy have with this is that the United States is once again taking a position as a global police-power. Dating back to Monroe Doctrine and remaining true to the day, the United States has often taken on the responsibility of international humanitarian, disaster, and conflict problems. Many fear in this particular situation, however, that this pledge is the beginning of even greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian Civil War. “There is speculation that the Obama administration might expand its program of support to the Free Syrian Army to include nonlethal equipment if rebel fighters use the initial assistance effectively and do not allow any to fall into the hands of extremists.” While Bashar al-Assad is unquestionably a corrupt and dangerous leader, the real dispute lies in the rebels that the U.S. and other involved nations may be supporting. There are many rumors that the rebels are deeply infiltrated by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, which would mean support would be clearly against U.S. interests.

It is a tough decision for a powerful nation to make when civil war is raging and people are being killed, and there will always be those who disagree with the actions taken. What is left to see is if the U.S.’s $60m drastically changes the situation in Syria, or if Secretary of State John Kerry will take any further actions. U.S. personnel involvement, by my estimation, is extremely improbable. Nonetheless, there are many critics of Secretary Kerry who believe that he may eventually order such action, (senators included).