Archive | July, 2006

Measuring Global Happiness

Smiley Face With a Question Mark
How do you measure global happiness?

If you go by Marcellus, who tells Horatio “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” then you would have never guessed that Danes are the happiest people on Earth. That’s according to Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

He is not alone in trying to quantify “happiness.” The New Economics Foundation, in Britain, has relied on the professor’s “happy life years” variable among others to create the “Happy Planet Index.” High levels of consumption appears to be inversely related to the index, while island life makes the planet happier.

It is odd that Vanuatu, which is about to disappear, ranked No. 1 on the index.

Smiley Face With a Question Mark
How do you measure global happiness?

If you go by Marcellus, who tells Horatio “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” then you would have never guessed that Danes are the happiest people on Earth. That’s according to Professor Ruut Veenhoven at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

He is not alone in trying to quantify “happiness.” The New Economics Foundation, in Britain, has relied on the professor’s “happy life years” variable among others to create the “Happy Planet Index.” High levels of consumption appears to be inversely related to the index, while island life makes the planet happier.

It is odd that Vanuatu, which is about to disappear, ranked No. 1 on the index.
The Foundation did a poor job in explaining the highly subjective variables — life satisfaction, happy life years and ecological footprint.

Generally, ‘self-appointed world leaders’ (a.k.a. G-8) ranked lower in the index due to high consumption levels, while Central America had the highest average score for a region. The index does not actually measure “happiness” as much as it claims to measure the ratio between consumption and available resources on the planet.

We should all strive for a sustainable planet, but it should not be based on an unbelievable index that makes little sense. Perhaps the Foundation could have devised a more believable indicator and called it a “sustainability index.”

For the scientific reasons behind HPI’s failure, I defer to Dr. Craig Depken, economy professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, who explains “that while it is possible to be happy with less, it is far easier to be happy with more.”

Calculate your personal Happy Planet Index. You will see why the index is unbelievable. After having taken the personal HPI survey, I would like to tell NEF:

  • I refuse to ride my bicycle 30 miles a day, to and from downtown, and risk being hit by a moving vehicle. This is not geographically small U.K.
  • I don’t eat Big Mac very often. But when I crave it, I will have one. I love vegetables. Did you know bananas are radioactive?
  • I will not walk or ride a bicycle or use otherwise non-polluting vehicle or swim across shark-infested seas to travel from one continent to another.

Why U.S. Counterterrorism Efforts Are Misguided

Tennessee Mule Day a Bin Laden Target
Tennessee believes Osama bin Laden will attack the Mule Day Parade. Indiana thinks its popcorn factory is a target.

To fight the “war on terrorism,” the U.S. Air Force has given away US$450,000 to a group of scientists to study blogs. Early conclusions are startling:

Blog entries have a different structure. They are typically short and are about something external to the blog posting itself, such as a news event. It’s not uncommon for a blogger to simply state, “I can’t believe this happened,” and then link to a news story.

I can’t believe this happened!.

There is more. The Homeland Security Department counts a petting zoo, a poker club, a popcorn factory and car dealerships as potential terrorist targets. See the complete list below.

A while back, the Homeland Security Department asked the 50 states and territories to submit critical assets that could be potential terrorist targets. The inspector general at D.H.S. called the following submissions “out of place.”

  • 4 Cs Fuel and Lube
  • A Restaurant
  • A Travel Stop
  • A state Community College
  • A state Right to Life Committee
  • A university Insect Zoo
  • American Legion
  • American Society of Young Musicians (Beverly Hills, California)
  • Amish Country Popcorn (Berne, Indiana)
  • Anti-Cruelty Society (Chicago, Illinois)
  • Apple and Pork Festival (Clinton, Illinois)
  • Association for the Jewish Blind
  • Assyrian American Association (Modesto, California)
  • Auto Shop
  • Bakery & Cookie Shop
  • Bass Pro Shop
  • Beach at End of a Street
  • Bean Fest
  • Bourbon Festival
  • Brewery
  • Car Dealerships
  • Casket Company
  • Center for Veterinary Medicine
  • DPW Landfill
  • Donut Shop
  • Elevator Company
  • Frontier Fun Park (Fairbury, Nebraska)
  • Groundhog Zoo
  • Heritage Groups
  • High Stakes Bingo
  • Historical Bok Sanctuary (Lake Wales, Florida)
  • Ice Cream Parlor
  • Inn
  • Jay’s Sporting Goods (Clare, Michigan)
  • Kangaroo Conservation Center (Dawsonville, Georgia)
  • Kennel Club and Poker Room
  • Mail Boxes Etc
  • Mall at Sears
  • Mule Day Parade (Columbia, Tennessee)
  • Muzzle Shoot Enterprise
  • Nestle Purina Pet food Plant
  • Night clubs
  • Nix’s Check Cashing
  • Old MacDonald’s petting zoo
  • Order of Elks National Memorial
  • Parcel Shop
  • Pepper and Herb Company
  • Pepsi Bottlers
  • Petting Zoo
  • Property Owners Associations
  • Psychiatry Behavioral Center
  • Rolls Royce Plant
  • Sears Auto Center
  • Several Wal-Marts
  • Sports Club
  • Sweetwater Flea Market (Sweetwater, Tennessee)
  • Tackle Shop
  • Theological Seminary
  • Trees of Mystery
  • UPS Store
  • Veterinary Clinic
  • Wine and Coffee Co.
  • YMCA Center
  • Yacht Repair Business

Indiana, which may be going for either a publicity stunt or a stupidity award, has submitted 8,591 “assets,” more than any other state. Why Al-Qa’ida or a similar terrorist group would strike a popcorn factory is unclear. Even stranger is the Mule Day Parade in Columbia, Tennessee. At least the parade has now made international news.

As for the “beach at the end of a street,” whichever state was responsible for this submission should know that it is a target as attractive as “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”


Kofi Annan: ‘A Bit Envious of FIFA’

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wishes the whole world could unite around diseases, poverty and human rights like it did around the 2006 World Cup.

In a frank interview with Spiegel on wide-ranging subjects, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he is “a bit envious of FIFA” because the whole world united around the soccer ball and paid attention to the World Cup.

He wishes the whole world could unite and tackle diseases, poverty and humans rights and stop the genocide in Darfur. Iraq has been a huge lesson learned for the Americans, Mr. Annan notes. He predicts the U.S. Congress will be reluctant to approve a similar war so haphazardly in the future.

Mr. Annan says he is a football referee but without the yellow and red cards.
The secretary-general’s term expires at the end of this year when he will have served 44 years in the United Nations. He has been a tireless advocate for human rights and sustainable development, but his tenure has been marked by seismic changes in the world body.

The U.N. has become even more theatrical since Nikita Khrushchev’s shoe-banging incident. It has become a stage for the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez to spew propaganda and hatred. It has become a helpless toy for the rich which gets to play only if they allow it.

The world has changed, too. Germany will join the Security Council sooner or later, Mr. Annan tells Spiegel. But uniting 192 member states, who have a tough time agreeing on anything, is a challenge, he admits.

This week, he is trying to correct a mistake that led to the hasty withdrawal of Israeli forces and to the vacuum filled by the Hezbollah militia. Mr. Annan is arguing for a bigger, stronger U.N. force to guard the southern borders until the Lebanese military is strong enough to secure its territory from Hezbollah.

This new force, he hopes, would actually have the power to enforce a cease-fire and create stability. But who would give the U.N. such power to keep the peace?


Israel Caught With Its Pants Down

Israel Defense Forces Air Strike Against Hezbollah Targets in Lebanon
It’s time for Israel to eliminate Hezbollah since no one else, including the U.N. and the U.S., is willing to do it. (Photo:Courtesy Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military let its guard down, giving Hezbollah and Hamas the perfect opportunity to test the country’s resolve and relieve mounting pressures on Iran and Syria. Even more embarrassing was the intelligence failure that led to the bombing of I.D.F. corvette “Ahi Hanit.”

The United Nations and chief negotiators for the Middle East have failed the people in the region by forcing Israel’s evacuation from Southern Lebanon and Gaza without filling the void left by the withdrawal.

It is time for Israel to destroy Hezbollah and remove that leverage from Iran and for the U.N. to ensure the Lebanese army has full control over its territory. That might give Iran’s paranoid mullahs something to think about.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his aides were reportedly close to a deal with Hamas to return kidnapped I.D.F. Corporal Gilad Shalit. According to Mr. Mubarak, Syria forced Hamas to scuttle that deal.

Syria has provided rear base support to many Palestinian groups during the Cold War and used them as a pressure switch against Israel. In the latest flare-up, Syria appears to have received Iran’s Fajr (Fajar) 3 missiles with a range of 45 kilometers, copied and modified them and shipped them recently to Hezbollah for use against Israel.

This revelation suggests that Iran and Syria have been planning a diversionary tactic for months while Israel has been asleep under the inexperienced, Moroccan-born Defense Minister Amir Peretz (Labour) and under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Kadima), a conservative firebrand who is also somewhat new to national politics, not to mention national defense.

Commentators in the Israeli media have been openly questioning how the I.D.F. could let Hezbollah and Hamas kidnap three of its reserve soldiers when they were well aware of the threat.

Even more troubling is the intelligence failure that led to the destruction of an Egyptian freighter and Israel’s Saar-5 corvette “Ahi Hanit.” The ship’s anti-missile system was reportedly switched off while operating within visible range of Lebanese shores. A fire caused by the missile led to the death of three sailors.

The radar-guided missile was identified as a version of Chinese-made C-802, which China used to sell to Iran. After the U.S. made it difficult to transfer the missile, Iran turned to North Korea for help.

Israel is unlikely to risk a war against Iran’s formidable military. But it should bring Hezbollah to its knees in order to send Iran a strong message that its Cold War-era war by proxy belongs in the trash bin.

But dozens of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] soldiers reportedly fighting alongside Hezbollah, and even manning some of the missile batteries, could come under Israeli fire. If Hezbollah does transfer the two I.D.F. soldiers to Iran, as suggested by Israeli intelligence, then the latest conflict could overshadow the region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been trying to turn Israel’s retaliatory strike as a war against Islam. So did Tehran Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani. But Saudi Arabia, in a statement issued through the official Saudi Press Agency, blamed Hezbollah for starting this conflict that could consume all Arab nations in the region, suggesting clearly that Riyadh does not support Tehran’s position of turning this into anything bigger.

So far, the U.N. has declined requests to consider deploying a monitoring force again. If the U.N., Lebanon and Syria will not take responsibility for Hezbollah, then someone else should eliminate this professional militia whose sole job is to attack Israel.

The only predictable aspect of this latest conflict is that both Tehran and Damascus are behaving as they have for decades. They should not, however, count on support from their neighbors. All they have done so far is to highlight their duplicitous policies that encourage missile proliferation and conflicts.


South African “Taxi War”

It’s not a case of road rage. It is a real war that claimed the lives of thousands of real, innocent people. It involved hit men, Molotov cocktails, assault rifles and corrupt fat cats vying for routes.

This violent war resulted from poor or lack of oversight of the taxi industry as well as corrupt government officials. Yet two reports review how the taxi industry has helped alleviate poverty for some black South Africans even as violence continued. That may all come to an end soon.
It’s not a case of road rage. It is a real war that claimed the lives of thousands of real, innocent people. It involved hit men, Molotov cocktails, assault rifles and corrupt fat cats vying for routes.

This violent war resulted from poor or lack of oversight of the taxi industry as well as corrupt government officials. Yet two reports review how the taxi industry has helped alleviate poverty for some black South Africans even as violence continued. That may all come to an end soon.
Taxing Alternatives: Poverty Alleviation and the South African Taxi/Minibus Industry” argues that driving regular and 16-seat minibus taxis has been a great source of income for many drivers. Yet the government’s poorly conceived Taxi Recapitalization Programme [TRP] will do little to stop the turf battles. In fact, author Karol Boudreaux argues, T.R.P. will increase fares, put small entrepreneurs out of business and prolong the taxi war.

The World Bank’s Urban Transport Thematic Group has surveyed the taxi industry’s impact on the national economy. And there is an economic theory behind the taxi markets!

The most detailed account South Africa’s taxi war comes from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. The 2001 study blames rapid deregulation, political destabilization, corruption, mafia-like taxi associations and a weak criminal justice system for the violence.

Analyst Colleen McCaul’s “No Easy Ride: The Rise and Future of the Black Taxi Industry” (126 pages, South African Institute of Race Relations) remains one of the few books that explores the violent taxi industry in depth.

The future of the South African taxi industry looks very murky. Transportation Ministry spokesman Collen Msibi claimed commitment and tons of money being thrown at public transportation might be able to handle the World Cup traffic.

But is it sufficient to overcome the post-apartheid culture of violence?

The South African Broadcasting Corporation [SABC] puts the “Crime/Justice” category at the top of its country news section.

Look at these recent headlines:


Dilapidated S. Africa Not Ready for World Cup

Logo of South Africa FIFA World Cup 2010
Can South Africa pull off the 2010 World Cup without a hitch? Even locals have doubts.

South Africa’s aging or nonexistent infrastructure, corruption and violence, not to mention “taxi wars” and “highway stoning,” make the country a questionable choice to host the 2010 World Cup.

One Web site, whose publisher has received death threats, is warning tourists off his country by highlighting violent crimes. And even some public officials are questioning how and whether investment in the tournament will benefit the poor.
Neil Watson of Crime Expo SA has taken upon himself to expose the country’s violent crimes even at the risk of his own welfare. Graphic details of rape, murder and other heinous crimes are displayed openly.

Mr. Watson says he launched the campaign to jolt the South African leadership so it might take serious steps to clamp down on crime. One key goal is “a decline in international tourists.”

Statistics by the South African Police Service [SAPS] reflect the need for major action. In the fiscal year ending in March 2005, there were 18,793 murders. That translates to 40.3 murders per 100,000 residents, making South Africa one of the murder capitals of the world.

The eighth United Nations survey of crimes covering 2001 and 2002 shows South Africa had a murder rate of 47.53 in 2002. El Salvador came in second with 31.54. The United States had a murder rate of 5.62. (Colombia did not submit its data.)

For the 2004-2005 period, the SAPS data also showed:

Crime Reported Cases
Murder: 18,793
Rape: 55,114
Attempted Murder: 24,516
Assault: 517,226
Robbery 217,614
Kidnapping and Abduction: 6,498
Carjacking and Truck Hijacking: 13,364
Burglary: 332,212
Arson: 8,184

With these kinds of numbers, Mr. Watson is right to launch an international awareness campaign and to highlight the weak and ineffective criminal justice system. Yet Young Adam “Addy” Barnes seemed disgusted by Mr. Watson’s shock campaign and launched a different one, titled “the unbroken barometer.”

Mr. Barnes is clearly proud to be a South African and acknowledges the crime problem, but he promotes positive dialogues over an anti-tourism campaign. He is not alone in opposing the Crime Expo SA site. Government officials and promoters of tourism and investment have also taken a dim view of the soon-to-be very gory Web site.

Corruption linked to preparations for 2010 has already made headlines. Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal province has spent 200,000 Rand (US$28,000) to send four officials to watch Germany handle the World Cup. KwaZulu-Natal itself has spent 320,000 Rand (US$45,000) to send a dozen officials. In contrast, Cape Town spent a modest 80,000 Rand (US$11,000) to send a 90-member delegation on a fact-finding trip to Germany.

Behind that conservative spending is Cape Town’s new mayor, Helen Zille. She is enthusiastic about hosting the tournament in her city. Yet she remains openly cautious about ‘diverting funds away from housing and social projects.’

There is some good news about social projects. South Africa is well on its way to eliminate the “bucket toilet system” and bring basic fresh water to all residents. Another variable to consider is FIFA. The football federation’s stringent rules on money-making sponsorship deals could potentially rob local entrepreneurs of valuable opportunities and hand lucrative business to international conglomerates.


Getting around town and the country will be a major headache and often unsafe. Gautrain, an ambitious project to build high-speed rails for bullet train, will not be finished by 2010. Tourists will be left with unsafe and sometimes violent trains that are overcrowded.

South African highways are famous for stoning. Bricks and other objects strike unsuspecting drivers are high speeds. Federal and provincial officials appear unable, for some reason, to jointly tackle the deadly problem.

Many residential neighborhoods are unsafe as well. In Cape Town suburbs last weekend, gangs armed with AK-47 assault rifles hijacked at least four cars (Benz, BMW, Renault and Golf) from their driveways as the owners were leaving for work. The cars were later abandoned nearby.

Taxis? Ride them at your own risk. No, cab drivers are not out for you. They are out for each other. Fierce turf battles among rival taxi companies involved hit men and assault rifles. At least 2,000 people died in the taxi wars, and thousands more were injured. Most of the victims were innocent bystanders.

In the end, post-Apartheid South Africa is worth visiting. It’s almost like any other world class tourist destination except for the enormously high rates of crime, death, destruction and HIV infection. The beaches? They look beautiful in photos.


Failed States Index 2006 Shows Countries At Risk

Graphic for Failed States Index 2006
Failed States Index 2006 shows which countries are at risk of going belly-up.

Sudan topped the second annual Failed States Index [FSI], published by The Fund for Peace and the Foreign Policy journal. Zimbabwe, however, saw the steepest slide in the index.

We’ve established that we like development statistics that are easy to read and understand. F.S.I. 2006 is not as visually appealing, but its 12 indicators provide another standardized way at interpreting how states evolve or devolve.
The Index uses the following 12 indicators:

  1. Mounting Demographic Pressures
  2. Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs
  3. Legacy of Vengeance Seeking Group Grievance
  4. Chronic and Sustained Human Flight
  5. Uneven Economic Development along Group Lines
  6. Sharp and/or Severe Economic Decline
  7. Criminalization or Delegitimization of the State
  8. Progressive Deterioration of Public Services
  9. Widespread Violation of Human Rights
  10. Security Apparatus as “State within a State”
  11. Rise of Factionalized Elites
  12. Intervention of Other States or External Actors
Wonder why some of these states are failing? Wonder no more. A photo essay by Jan Banning shows police, city and state officials working for little or no money around the world. The best example? A Liberian county governor had no money for an office, which locals built with their own money. They ran out of cash to build windows or a door.

Scores of 1 to 10 in each category are tallied to quantify the degree of failure experienced by a country. The 146 countries in the index are then grouped by score ranges, dividing them into “critical,” “in danger,” “borderline” and “sustainable” or “stable.”

Sudan (112.3 points) has been wrecked by a seemingly intractable conflict in the Darfur region. The Democratic Republic of Congo (110.1) ranked second. Côte d’Ivoire and Iraq came in third and fourth, respectively, and are also no surprises.

Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Nigeria and China skidded by 10 or more points, while stability increased in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The United States scored 34.5 points and did not make the cut for the “stable” or “sustainable” group of countries. Neither did Britain, Germany or France, which all ranked in “borderline.”

The most stable countries? Finland, Sweden and Norway.


Libya’s Gadhafi Finds New Enemy

Photo of Col. Moammar Gadhafi kicking a football.

Colonel Moammar Gadhafi, who recently lost his job as the anti-U.S. terrorism supporter, has found a new enemy. In a scathing letter, he defines FIFA as the symbol of everything that is wrong with this world.

Times have changed since the colonel was the go-to man for many extremist groups, from disenchanted students to sophisticated terrorists. The U.S. has officially set up shop in Tripoli. Britain is offering a mutual defense pact. And Chinese-made Maples (automobiles) have arrived.
For a man whose life has been consumed by fighting the West, proliferating weapons and training and supporting terrorists, the worst possible headline would be ‘Peace Breaks Out.’ When peace did break out, he found himself without an enemy.

So what does the Revolutionary Leader have against the world football federation?

In his rant titled “FIFA: Modify It or Cancel It,” Col. Gadhafi calls the entity “an exploiting economic embezzling venture.” FIFA is a “project for corruption and spoiling, money laundering … [and] passport forging.”

FIFA “has increased the international racism tendency and the extreme right,” he writes. It poses a “material and moral danger” to the world and should be overhauled or “canceled.”

The colonel’s charges are not new. FIFA has facilitated Europe’s buying of South American and African players. It has also outright opposed a proposal to host the next World Cup in Libya and Tunisia. (That is probably the real reason he dove off the deep end.)

Hosting the World Cup in Libya would have been a great boost to its image — a celebration to mark the end of its isolation. But FIFA has its own problems to deal with. And so does Libya.

Luring foreign investment and facilitating tourism should be at the top of its list.

In fact, I’m still waiting for my visa and invitation to Libya. I would love to see it before excessive development ruins its ancient charm.


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