Peru day 2: cuteness overload

Day 2 in Peru started slowly. I spent the early parts of the day eating a lot and walking, trying out a bit of running. I ran 50m and felt like I was about to have a heart attack. Never again. I’ll stick to walking.

It occurred to me as I wandered that the mountains don’t seem so tall without some sort of low reference point. The small mountains I am looking at are already 3000m above sea level, but I think it will be hard to supervised that until we’re much higher up and can see further.

Once Kristin’s conference was finished done we went back from Pisac to Cusco – from where we will go on the Inca trail on Friday morning. On the way I experienced the first vehicle I have been in that didn’t take a disconcerting racing line through corners (wide in advance, tight at the apex). Looking down a sheer cliff is enough excitement without dodging traffic on the wing side of the road.

In the evening we joined some Quakers who had also been at the conference for dinner. Being Quakers they found a place that series local organic produce. Many had locally grown alpaca steaks. I don’t think I’m ready to eat a fluffy cute alpaca yet, but I’ll give it a try at some point.

Speaking of cute, everywhere we went there were unbelievably cute children. They have turned this cuteness into a money earner by charging money to pose for photos. Generally they have a rabbit or a baby alpaca to double down on the cuteness overload.

Where children aren’t carrying bunnies, they are having water fights. One lucky kid in Pisac had a water pistol, while the rest are just chucking buckets of water at each other, readily supplied by the adults. They would be drenching each other if they were actually strong enough to throw the water. It is fun to watch.

In a piece of very good news, my big rucksack rejoined me last night after being stranded in Lima. Happily I’d packed stuff into my carry on, but it was a relief to be reunited with my walking gear.

Today in Cusco, at the start of day 3, we’re going to do some proper touristy stuff, and grab some high calorie food for the Inca trail tomorrow. I won’t have internet until Monday, so this will be my last post for a while.

I am looking forward to it, despite the forecast of rain.

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Peru day 1: unexpected golden retrievers

I’ve been in Peru for just over 24 hours, and it has been full of firsts and personal milestones. I’ve never been so fast south, I’ve never been to Peru (or anywhere in South America), and I’ve never been at the ground at high altitude.

Getting here took…. a while. 17 hours worth of whiles. Less painful than I thought they’d be, but not hugely eventful. My main muzzy reflections:

  • Madrid airport is comically oversized. The bus ride to another terminal felt like it took less time than the night bus home from central London.
  • The plane’s definition of blockbuster and miner differ somewhat. Mad Max I get, ‘aloha’ I don’t, nor:
    • Pawn sacrifice
    • Ricki and the flash
    • Sleeping with other people
    • The end of the tour
    • Digging for fire
    • Mistress America

Flying into Peru was unsurprisingly spectacular. The first hint came with the daylight when I suddenly realised that I want looking at a distant cloud bank, but rather snow capped mountains.

Coming in over the Andes, I realised I have never been simultaneously so high in the air and so close to the ground. Particularly flying from Lima to Cusco, the ground rises up faster than the plane, until we’re swooping between cliffs and along valleys. It felt oddly thrilling.

I couldn’t help but be surprised at the colours of the landscape as we rise too. Browns and the white of ice, against rough black stone. Those I expected, but not the musky greens that seem to be more prevalent the higher you go. Almost the reverse of Norway, where the greenery abruptly halts at a certain altitude.

Lima is much less green. It crawls along hills and hides in little valleys. Buildings pump out smoke like cloud machines, with the city wreathed in mist. It’s not all that romantic when you see just how many industrial buildings are pumping out smoke.

Straight off the plane in Cusco I met Kristin, who had been here for over a week already. Happily she was able. 

Last night I stayed in Pisac, just 30 minutes from Cusco. With jet lag and altitude I was pretty drained, I haven’t been up to much other than rating and wandering. That is enough here. I will end up overusing the word stunning.

Agriculture and geology both fascinate me as I eat breakfast (my kind of thing, simple scrambled eggs on toast). You can see the stepped fields, forestry, eucalyptus trees (I think), some grazing. But I don’t think my Spanish is yet up to the task of along about the economics, primary products and labour requirements of the whole system.

Once my Spanish is up to scratch I’ll try my best asking about a few other things too. How common are landslides? Why I’d your WiFi better than mine in London? Why are there so many golden retrievers? Do people really easy alpacas?

There are way more healthy looking retrievers than I expected. So far 3 more than I expected. I have seen 3 retrievers. Why retrievers?

For now I’m going to go wander along the valley, while Kristin finishes her conference. We’re going to Cusco to see the sights, whatever they may be. This time I think I’ll have enough brain power left to drink in the sights on the breathtaking drive there.


Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

The Greferendum has left me certain of just one thing

I can’t say I have a strong opinion on whether Greece should have voted Yes or No in the referendum. It seems like both outcomes lead to uncertainty, and both have major downsides.

One thing I can say for certain though: we shouldn’t be celebrating this as a serious victory for democracy.

When the Council of Europe thinks Greece hasn’t met it’s fairly mild guidelines, I don’t think we should be using them as a case study for how to do direct democracy. I don’t think we’d accept less than two weeks of decision making in a referendum in the UK, and I don’t think we should hail it as a victory just because we agree with the results.

Less than two weeks to campaign, unbalanced coverage, and no opportunity for observation. None of that sounds like a strong democracy to me.

Perhaps the practical need to make a decision quickly outweighed the needs of a fair democracy – but if that’s the case, why was this referendum held at all? For me it just leaves a sour taste.

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Immigration: unequivocally good?

Michael Clemens from the Centre for Global Development on immigration [emphasis mine]:

The research we have shows that immigration has had a positive effect on economic growth in Europe overall. This remains true in economists’ most sophisticated forecasts for the future. Christian Lutz and Ingo Wolter forecast a positive effect of immigration on German economic growth. Katerina Lisenkova and Miguel Sanchez forecast a positive effect of immigration on UK economic growth. And so on.

I would go as far as to say that this is a consensus opinion among economists. That is saying a lot, because economists are known for putting caveats on everything. But all the serious evidence we have points to large gains in overall economic activity from reduced barriers to labor mobility. Ninety-six percent of American labor economists agree that the economic benefits of US immigration exceed the losses.

That is essentially unanimity. While a handful of economists make vague claims of economic harm from immigration, they generally have not done any peer-reviewed economic research to support that claim, and their views should be regarded as political opinions rather than reflecting economic expertise.

Of course, speed matters. There are many reasons to expect the impact of a million immigrants to depend on whether they arrive over three years or over 20 years. This is largely absent from public debate, which tends to focus instead on absolutes like “stop them all” or “let them all in immediately.”

A more nuanced debate would begin from the solid consensus of serious economic research that there are large overall economic benefits, and discuss how to transition in order to capture those benefits. Economic development in poor countries is associated with more emigration—not less—for the same reasons that you’re more likely to see people from an outlying neighborhood living and working in an upscale part of your town-center when that outlying neighborhood gets richer. One of the great policy challenges of the 21st century is how to build policies that translate mobility into economic benefit, rather than building naval blockades and mass-detention camps.

More of interest from Michael in Vice

I have recently been struggling to come up with a single policy/movement that would have a greater impact than opening borders (even gradually).


Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Is it the responsibility of citizens to vote?

As the election draws near a common phrase has been cropping up on my Facebook feed: “it is the responsibility of citizens to vote”. And that phrase makes me uncomfortable.

Until recently I couldn’t articulate why, but the recent debate in US politics on compulsory voting gave me some clarity. It is simply because the correct phrase should be “it is the responsibility of citizens to use their vote responsibly”. An irresponsible vote is not one that strengthens democracy or improve a country’s ability to govern.

Voting responsibly doesn’t mean that people should vote for who I want them to (whenever I decide who that is anyway), or that I think protest votes don’t have a place in politics. It simply means it is the responsibility of a voter to consider their choices carefully – not to tick a box without thought.

Compulsory voting discussions gave clarity to me here because they are the enemy of responsible voting. Even when there is a “none of the above option” it encourages lazy voting. Why not tick a party box if you have to turn up anyway? Might as well tick something, even if you haven’t considered the options much.

Voting should be a conscious choice, with a deliberate thought behind your decision to change the place you live on through politics.

Countries like Australia are not better democracies because of compulsory voting – they are worse. And even in non-compulsory world we need to be careful of what we are asking citizens to do on polling day, and the somewhat lazy rhetoric we use to get people out to vote (nit-picker that I am).

That said, get out there and vote on 7th May, just think about it first!

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

What are the black spider memos?

The Guardian have started doing great short explainer videos for some of their long-running coverage. This one on the Prince Charles black spider memos is a great example. Campaigners are increasingly producing short video-explainers, but I think the clarity of the Guardian videos is something to learn from.

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

Are police cameras such an obvious win?

Recently read this interesting article from Bloomberg on the perils of police cameras. They seem like such an easy and obvious win in response to incidents like Ferguson, but Bloomberg make a strong argument for why it isn’t quite so simple.

On recruitment and effective policing:

Police cameras are also prone to intentional abuse. With mysterious frequency, they seem to accidentally get switched off or malfunctionat critical moments. One obvious remedy is to require that cops always keep them on. But that can be counterproductive. Witnesses and victims may be less forthcoming on camera. Attracting competent officers could become harder if their every interaction is recorded. Crucially, officers may simply avoid engaging certain communities, or avoid areas where confrontations are likely, if they know they’re being filmed.

On privacy:

equipping police with cameras and audio recorders means that they’re constantly conducting surveillance on innocent civilians — and potentially storing it all. Police frequently enter private homes and encounter people in medical emergencies who may not want to be filmed. Some officers may be tempted to record people on the basis of race or religion. And some departments have asserted that the public has no right to see such footage.

Having recently read The Circle, this particular that seems particularly resonant to me – do we really want the police to surveil us constantly?

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

The leadership debates fail to impress

Amongst the top qualities and abilities I want the leader of my country are:

  • ability to negotiate
  • ability to manage and work with others
  • ability to strategise

Being a strong public debater doesn’t seem to me to directly be a strong qualification for governing.

In that respect I’m not convinced the leadership debates in the way they are formatted will give us any useful information about who we should vote for. Instead they will mislead us into believing personality and polemical speeches are things we should care about most.

They aren’t.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be testing the parties and their leadership, but the importance attached to the leadership debates is bizarre.

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone

A new hope

After some years away from blogging regularly I have decided to get back into it. My livejournal is (thankfully) long gone, my blogspot is beyond saving, and my tumblr is stuck in limbo after an account error.

So back to my main website I return.

My plan is to blog once a week (though I will likely fail at this). Initially I’m keeping it simple, but as I get back into it I may blog more often, share more of the digital tools I use on a daily basis.

Book reviews

I read quite a lot of books. Practically anything that is recommended to me I will read. I have recently asked people at CARE to recommend some of their favourite books, and will start to review those here.

Best of the blogosphere and Twitter

I follow maybe 100 blogs, not including the people on Twitter, and I am going to start highlighting what I think are likely to be seminal or thought-changing (what the current book I am reading would obnoxiously call a ‘paradigm shift’) blogs, videos and ideas.

In particular the blogs I follow tend to focus on:

  • Economics
  • International development
  • Campaigning
  • Online communities

Tools and creations

As a Digital Officer at CARE International UK I regularly change the tools I use, my methods of working, and I am constantly troubleshooting obscure problems.

I’ll be posting some the useful tools, odd creations, and hard-won fixes and workarounds for digital tools I use. For the moment that will likely be experiences from using Engaging Networks, Sprout Social and Google Analytics as I am using those most frequently.

The caveats

All opinions on this blog are my own and I often make mistakes. If I post anything that looks wrong to you, let me know on

Pass it on...Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditEmail this to someone