Saturday, November 28, 2009


I just finished the book "Flatland"; written in 1884 by Edwin A. Abbott. The narrator - himself a square - lives in a two-dimensional world called Flatland. His wife, like all women in Flatland, is a line. The more sides one has the higher one is in the hierarchy. Indeed, the circle is the highest class. In an amazing way the book not only guides one through the implications of life in two dimensions, it introduces the reader to perceiving dimensions.

The narrator, for example, visits Lineland (a one-dimensional word) and while he is a square he is perceived solely as a point because people in a one-dimensional world like Lineland only have north/ south; this in contrast to north/south, and left/right in Flatland, and in contrast to north/south, left/right, and up/down in Spaceland.

Similarly when a sphere from Spaceland (a three-dimensional world) visits Flatland he is perceived as a circle. Indeed, what people from Flatline understand is solely a single plane cutting through the sphere:

People in Flatland (Lineland) just can't perceive the idea of there being more than two dimensions (one dimension). Is there a fourth dimension out there that we as people living in Spaceland just can't perceive?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bono, and Thanksgiving.

A few days ago a great and funny article was posted on William Easterly's blog "Aidwatchers" under the header "African leaders advise Bono on reform of U2". Please click here to read it.

Also, today it is Thanksgiving. Indeed, the day that all the Americans have to eat turkey, have to shop on Friday, and everybody has a holiday. Not for graduate students, they think (I got this from a Facebook post of a collegue in the Economics Department): "sweet, Thanksgiving, four days when I can get some research done without being bothered with other things." It is so true.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Gentlemen Of Bacongo.

"A new photo book by Daniele Tamagni explores the phenomenon of sapeurs, a clique of extraordinarily dressed dandies from the Congo. In the midst of war and abject poverty, these men dress in tailored suits, silk ties, and immaculate footwear."

I saw similar pictures about a year ago in IS (the Dutch government's international cooperation magazine), but Chris Blattman recently posted the following link on his blog. Incredible!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

European Union.

While it of course depends on the setting one is in, I feel more European than I feel Dutch. I am a big fan of the European project. Last Thursday, without much fighting among the 27 European Heads of State, the first President and Foreign Minister of the EU were chosen. Together with Pierce (Irish) and John (British) I drank a beer to celebrate this, and to reflect on the quite historic fact that we now share the same President.

I would like the President and the Foreign Minister of the EU to be powerful and charismatic; two people that should bring the European project forward (like Jacques Delorse) and sell it to the people on street (like nobody yet). Unfortunately, I don't see the Belgium Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy and UK Eurocommisioner for Foreign Trade Catherine Ashton do that. I really hope they prove me wrong.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Voix des Kivus.

A lot of research on conflict suffers because of poor quality data. Researchers often rely on events data collected by media and official organizations or on recall based questions in surveys. In addition, development organizations - especially those in Eastern Congo - often have a lack of good quality information, which inhibits them to respond to events in a timely and effective manner. We are now running a pilot in Eastern Congo – called Voix des Kivus – to see whether it is feasible to collect systematic data on conflict events through a system in which large numbers of phone holders in remote areas (conditional on phone coverage) register conflict events on behalf of their communities in real time through an automated SMS system. A few days ago a five minute presentation that I gave at the October 16-18 International Conference on Conflict Mapping in Cleveland came out:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Weapons to the FARDC.

As ReliefWeb notes here MONUC recently handed over weapons and ammunitions to the DRC Armed Forces (FARDC), which were recovered during the different phases of disarmament and demobilisation of combatants in Ituri. On November 12 they even had a ceremony at the MONUC Bangladeshi contingent camp in Ndromo. So giving weapons and ammunition to the FARDC is a good thing?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lake Kivu, the CIA and collapsing governments.

This December (2009) and January (2010) I will head back to Eastern Congo; I can't wait. Unfortunately, if it is not the fighting it is other things that will keep my mom worried: here a recent story by the New York Times on mazuku; "evil wind" in Swahili. That is, a story about the bubbles of carbon dioxide above and around Lake Kivu that are the product of large reservoirs of methane and carbon dioxide inside the lake.

A few days ago I quickly wanted some general information on the DR Congo. I visited the CIA World Factbook. These guys recently updated their website and each country now has nice dropdown menus - "introduction", "geography", etc. - with the option to expand or collapse these menus if one hovers over them. When hovering with the mouse-pointer over "Government" (try it here) the website gives the option to:

Expand/ Collapse Government

A bit scary knowing we are talking about the CIA and the Democratic Republic of Congo. ;)