Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Away from blogging for most of June and July.

A few days ago I arrived in "Martignas sur Jalle" a small town close to Bordeaux where I will stay for two weeks. After that I'll be in "Sauveterre de Béarn" an even smaller town close to the Pyrenees. Why? Well, over the last years I've spend a lot of time on fieldwork and preparing for it. However, I've only spent little time on developing my thoughts - in words and equations. So, in upcoming weeks I'll be in isolation; with a white board and very limited internet connection. Blogging will therefore be much less. I'll be back in August!

My staple food for the weeks to come. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fellow Dutchmen: please do solid evaluations.

The randomized control trail (RCT) is the golden standard for impact evaluations but largely unknown in the Netherlands. This bothered me as we are one of the world's biggest donors. Over the last two years I have learned quite a bit about doing evaluations: lots from Macartan, lots from my own two years plus experiences in the Congo, and of course lots from collegues at workshops or via their research papers. So over the last year I wrote four posts (in Dutch) on the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs's website about how to undertake solid evaluations:
  • In the first post I explain the concept of an RCT;

  • the second (including a discussion with a reader) discusses the importance of behavioral measures;

  • Alternatives to the RCT are discussed in the third post;

  • and the the final post gives techniques to get at sensitive information and tips for a solid evaluation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back (then) in the Netherlands.

Since two weeks I'm back in the Netherlands. Two days ago I visited my grandma and we started chatting about the Netherlands decades ago. So interesting! History has always had my interest. For example, when studying economics at Tilburg University I travelled once a week to Utrecht University to take evening courses at their History department. However it was only this week that I noticed how many things that happen now in the Congo and are completely strange to the Netherlands, were not strange in the Netherlands not too long ago.

Fig 1. Geert Mak's "De eeuw van mijn vader"

Our of curiosity (and because my knowledge of Dutch history and Dutch literature is appalling) I am now reading Geert Mak's "De eeuw van mijn vader". This is a book in which Mak discusses - in an autobiographical way - about the century in which his dad lived - so starting at the turn of the previous century (19 to 20th). I've read about 100 of the 523 pages now and am surpised how many things are similar to the Congo at the moment. The level of development: at the end of the 19th century a shower was a cold bucket of water, health conditions were horrible (a third of the children died at birth), there was no electricity and most people washed their laundry in the river. But also how society was organized: people hardly travelled beyond the borders of the village (railways were build after 1880), village committees were very important, and the priest had a central role in society. Of course many of the reasons for these similarities are different, and I know that I'm reading this book through Congo glasses and also that many more things are completely different between Congo now and the Netherlands then. But still. It's incredible how many of the things that I know only from the DRC and are otherwise completely strange to me, were very normal in Netherlands. Even during my grandma's time!

Btw, my granny is awesome. Not only do we send emails back and forth when I'm not in Oudewater, she also handmade Escher pillows
for the whole family. Here is one in my apartment in New York.

Fig 2. Granny's pillow in NYC.

And here is one in Schoorl (the Netherlands):

Fig 3. Awesome cousin Noortje with granny's pillow.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Diceman.

Only few books have made a lasting impression on me. However, I think I just finished one that did: "The Diceman" written by George Cockcroft (alias Luke Rhinehart) in 1971. In brief, Luke Rhinehart is a successful psychiatrist who feels bored and unsuccessful, and begins making life decisions based on the casting of dice. While at times a bit vulgar (rape and sex are very present throughout the book), this is a very impressive book. Rhinehard's new method of live puts in questions the one most of us are living at the moment - one where we are slaves to rules, customs, and often our own grown-into set of habits.

Fig 1. The Diceman

Btw, I recently received an email from Tim Butcher - the author of "Blood River". At the right of this blog one finds my reviews of several books. This included a review on his book: "[Not a good book]". In the email to me he wrote (paraphrased): "Unfortunately you did not like the book, but it's always good to get reviews. Good luck with your future work." That's good sport, and so I was planned to write a more complete review. However, the dice told me not to. :). Also, I also recently finished a new book by Jason Stearns - a PhD collegue at Yale and a real expert on the Congo. Of course, a large, well-structured review about this book has been added to the right of this blog as well.