Sunday, December 11, 2005

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Let's Get It Together

One thing I've got to get it together about is photos. I like posting them here, but I'm not doing a very good job of following the rules. I got this photo from the accumulated pictures in the Funky Music Tribe over at One of the things I like about the photo is it looks like these guys(anyone know who they are?) are "of a certain age," shall we say. Being from an era of "Don't trust anyone over thirty" it's an ironic pleasure to still be interested in what the Rock idols of yore are doing these days. Apparently (because I'd never shell out the money to find out) Mick Jagger still dances and prances incessantly on stage. Some of us have slowed down a bit. I'm glad most of us still love to dance.

"When We're Sixty-Four" doesn't seem so impossibly distant now turning fifty as it did low those many years ago when we first heard it. Music still makes me want to move. I've been experimenting lately with moving more slowly. How to find those few moments of grace which those hips don't quite shake like they used to?

When I was a kid growing up in South Carolina, there was a building off the frontage road near our house, The Ghana Club. It was a black club out in the middle of nowhere then and many took it to be quite sinister. I was intriqued to see what would come up on a search for it. The Jazz saxophonist Lenny Price listed it as one of the venues he's played. Then there were some court records regarding a homocide there in 1999. Maybe that put it out of business. Sometimes before falling asleep at night I would imagine I was hearing the music being played there. Probably I was remembering Sweet Soul music I'd heard on the radio. But my memories of those dreamy moments, half awake, are of being a "fly on the wall" at the Ghana club. I think I saw that combo playing once.

Louis Menand
in a recent The New Yorker reviewed Philip Tetlock's book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?. Surprize! The short answer is it isn't very good at all. Hardly an expert on anything myself, my predictions have been off the mark. Back in the Seventies, I thought this oil civilization had just about reached its apex and it was all down hill from there. The thoughts of that scared the bejebus out of me. I haven't done anything the "right" way, and besides my native laziness, a part of that has been a bad bet on my political prediction years ago.

Tetlock is a psychologist and social scientist for whom apparently, quite unlike me, the understanding of statistics sunk in. His study of political prediction was long-term, lasting over twenty years. Some forecasters do better than others:
Low scorers look like hedgehogs: thinkers who “know one big thing,” aggressively extend the explanatory reach of that one big thing into new domains, display bristly impatience with those who “do not get it,” and express considerable confidence that they are already pretty proficient forecasters, at least in the long term. High scorers look like foxes: thinkers who know many small things (tricks of their trade), are skeptical of grand schemes, see explanation and prediction not as deductive exercises but rather as exercises in flexible “ad hocery” that require stitching together diverse sources of information, and are rather diffident about their own forecasting prowess.
Of course that nobody likes to be wrong, and most certainly don't like it being pointed out they're wrong, tend to make our predictive observations even worse. Can I admit to being a "hedgehog?" I'm not sure, but I still think we're up the creek with this oil civilization. And I'm still worried about it.

Something I find intersting about ideas for Africans to improve their situations, is that many of the strategies seem like a good fit here too. Time Dollars, for example, are a way to make the networks of social obligation a little larger and more flexible. Microcredit is also something that would seem to have some applicability here. As well as my favorite, Susu, a kind of money pool or guarenteed lottery popular in Africa and in many imigrant communities in America.

Did you know this is The International Year of Microcredit? Who gets to declare these sorts of things anyway? Well the year is almost past and it's escaped my notice so far. There's still time of course. I came across a good Diary at The Daily Kos regarding Kiva, an organization I've mentioned before. I recomend the diary because it places Kiva's microlending as a tool among many in the toolbox.

I have deliberately not imagined a computer for Nathan as a loan, but rather a gift. Rules provide that microcredit only be offered through accredited microlending institutions. You'll note that's the case in Kiva's program. However Kiva depends on a network on the ground in where they opperate to provide training and support to increase the likelihood that the microcredit loans will support viable businesses. The gift to Nathan is an investment in his development as a community leader. Already he is learning Quickbooks to faciliate AWISH-Uganda's exsiting programs, and such accounting skills will serve him well in his endeavors with his BSLA programs. I hope he can also make a little money to supplement his low income.

As we are getting older, many of us are paying more attention to investments--at least those of you who have done approximately the "right" thing. Investments are a kind of prediction about the future. Mostly we focus on the anticipated returns. Supporting a microcredit loan at Kiva will not accure any interest, and an account at Oikiocredit provides a low rate of return (2%). Nevertheless they're both rather "safe" investments in terms of the good outcomes they're likely to provide. Certainly not a place to sink a huge portion of retirement savings, still worthy of consideration for a small portion of ones investment portfolio.

Over the years many of us as friends have talked about the idea of building intentional communities; let's face it, with ourselves in mind. Dave Pollard has written extensively about the subject; here's one example and you can use his handy search box for more articles if you're interested. My sense about our discussions is they never really get off the ground because we all treasure our autonomy too much. From our Hippy days, and even historical research, we know communes have a checkered history. Nevertheless, some of the schemes for development in poor countries provide a model for baby-steps we could take in this direction. In a fox-like manner small investments in our social security could make sense.

I'm particularly interested in Time Dollar ideas because the focus is on time in service rather than money. This Bazungu Buck proposition still hasn't taken off, but perhaps it's planted a seed. Prediting future profits is hardly ever a "slam dunk." We might be wise foxes to consider our view of investsments from a broader perspective, not only as our investments relate to the developing world, but to our our future well-being as friends.

Let's get it together like the band says.

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