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Notes from Amartya Sen’s chat on Global Justice @LSEpublicevents last week

Sen was great. Like a mischievous imp, but in 77yr-old Harvard professor form. Lots of jokes about ties. Indeed, just lots of jokes.

And the following thoughts, which he offered simply as ‘thoughts’ on global justice, rather than any defined argument. He and the audience often referred to his most recent work: ‘The Idea of Justice

  • Global justice faces a problem in an unwillingness to look beyond borders
  • A challenge to global justice is in the two conflicting understandings of justice: (1) Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau & Kant’s understanding of justice as an ideal; relating to nations, institutions (a state of ‘just-ness’ which is arrived at)  (2) Adam Smith, Wollstonecraft and Sen’s understanding of justice as a comparative thing; something that you could rank
  • Smith criticised early British Empire as not taking account of the interests of non-Brits and used the Greek infanticide example to show that understandings of justice change over time 
  • Thomas Nagel said that global justice may be a chimera
  • Democracy as public reasoning is an important idea (propounded by JS Mill and Walter Bagehot), but that justice and democracy aren’t completely interdependent
  • There always has to be a reason, so there is never a total absence of thought/argument [though the space can be confined, and you can’t force people to engage?]  
  • On global warming, China and India must forget the past (of the West causing climate change), and help solve the problem; but this requires more balance in the (global?) reasoning process: COP15 showed a failure of reasoning. Good argument takes time!
  • The removal of injustice is the key. Less concerned with what justice is. We can identify a perfect state, but that doesn’t help solve the problems of the imperfect or unjust. 
  • A definition of justice is unnecessary: we won’t agree, and it won’t help.
  • The global ‘public reasoning space’ [I made that up] is improving. Networks like Al-Jazeera have increased the number of voices. [missed an obvious point to sing the praises of the internet here?]
  • Jesus Christ asked ‘Who is the neighbour?’ – it was the Good Samaritan. We need to start defining neighbourliness beyond locality. With globalisation, we have relations with people all over the world: ‘the boundaries of justice are ever wider’.
  • UN is great, but has its limits, such as funding. Doesn’t really have a role in ‘justice’, but its work on gender and human development all contributes.
  • Center for Disease Control in the US (CDC) is an amazing thing – not it’s purpose, but it does have an impact on injustice. 

For reviews of the Idea of Justice, there’s a short Times article and Guardian article.

For more on Sen, he wrote a mini-autobiography for the Nobel website in 1998. The sort of humane, brilliant, witty chap you want to be when you grow up.

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Thinking Uncategorized

A few notes on digital collaborative health inspired by @cshirky @LSEpublicevents

A quick note of Clay Shirky’s lecture on Cognitive Surplus can be found at DavePress

This is just a point about one of Shirky’s key examples, patientslikeme, cos it’s amazing.

As he pointed out, it completely throws open what we assumed about medical data. And particularly mental health. 

US citizens are voluntarily publishing vast amounts of data about their medical conditionsThe site then aggregates the data, creating some funky charts (e.g. charts of average dosage per drug), and, it claims, revolutionising medical research, treatment and understanding for both suppliers and users.

Plenty will worry about people self-medicating; one comment says

 “PatientsLikeMe is the main reason that I concluded I had been mis-diagnosed depressive, instead of bipolar, and just recently decided to try new medication.” 

Presumably that would worry a lot of doctors – but it’s unstoppable. The medical profession is going to have to change…but how? Will sites like this increase the average knowledge of medicine, enable peer-to-peer practitioning, or simply indulge hypochondriacs? Will a clinician’s role be in moderating sites like these? 

But for champions of transparency and open data, it’s almost a holy grail: people are volunteering what would have been considered their most private data. The strictest rules apply to its release by organisations, so patientslikeme gets the individuals to ‘open’ it. They don’t seem to have to try that hard to convince:  http://www.patientslikeme.com/about/openness

we believe sharing your healthcare experiences and outcomes is good. Why? Because when patients share real-world data, collaboration on a global scale becomes possible…

 

Currently, most healthcare data is inaccessible due to privacy regulations or proprietary tactics. As a result, research is slowed, and the development of breakthrough treatments takes decades. Patients also can’t get the information they need to make important treatment decisions. 

 

Furthermore, we believe data belongs to you the patient to share with other patients, caregivers, physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and anyone else that can help make patients’ lives better. Will you add to our collective knowledge… and help change the course of healthcare? 

Never mind an online encyclopaedia. Collaborative healthcare is coming to a laptop near you.
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Nuggets from @nesta_uk & @the_young_fdn work on how public services can foster innovation

  I’ve been looking at the Young Foundation & Nesta’s Open Book of Social Innovation over the weekend – super interesting. Here’s a quick précis:

Premise: We’ve got a problem…

“The classic tools of government policy on the one hand, and market solutions on the other, have proved grossly inadequate

“The silos of government departments are poorly suited to tackling complex problems which cut across sectors and nation states. Civil society lacks the capital, skills and resources to take promising ideas to scale.”

“The prospective cost of dealing with these issues threatens to swamp public budgets, and in the case of climate change, or healthcare in the US, private budgets as well.”

Solution: Social innovation, leading to…

 “an emerging social economy…Its key features include:

 

•  The intensive use of distributed networks to sustain and manage relationships, helped by broadband, mobile and other means of communication.

•  Blurred boundaries between production and consumption. 

•  An emphasis on collaboration and on repeated interactions, care and maintenance rather than one-off consumption. 

•  A strong role for values and missions.

They point to the growth of “global infrastructure, social-networking tools” and an “increased focus on the individual and relationships rather than systems and structures”, as distinctive characteristics of the social economy. 

“The role of the consumer changes from a passive to an active player: to a producer in their own right.”

Role of public sector in making innovation happen:

“Innovation in the public sector always risks being a marginal add-on – small scale in terms of funds, commitment of people and political capital.” 

That’s sad.

But happily, NESTA and the Young Foundation have some suggestions for improvement. I’ve copied in the most interesting below and added links:

– have a dedicated innovation fund, like the NHS’s £200m fund
– voluntary taxes – no, honestly, apparently the Mayor of Bogota asked, and 63,000 gave! Awesome.
– community pledgebanks (perhaps with matched public funding?)

And of particular interest for civil servants:

– Tithes of working time for self-directed projects (Google’s 20% is often mentioned (and it’s important to recognise self-directed products), but is it still their policy?)
– Secondments into ‘skunkworks‘ projects: basically given a free role, unhampered by bureaucracy (imagine the competition for these jobs!)

And my favourite:

– “‘A-teams’ of young civil servants commissioned to develop innovative solutions” – but also from universities, private sector etc in this South Aus example

Top stuff – take a look at the full book, it’s full of ideas, not just for public services, but grant-making organisations and private and informal sectors.
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Adventuring Uncategorized

The view from a German pub in London for #Ger vs #Aus … #worldcup

This is at Zeitgeist, on Black Prince Road in Lambeth. These were outside the pub. There was a lot of noise coming from inside…something about Frankfurt…

Awesome!

These dudes couldn't get in…
#ger vs #aus

#ger vs #aus

These dudes were on the other side of the road…
#ger vs #aus

She'd brought a mini-TV!
#ger vs #aus

One nil Germany!
#ger vs #aus

Und so weiter…
 
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Mapumental – great digitalmashup where-to-live maps from the brilliant @mysociety and @4ip

Way back in 2007, when mammoths roamed the earth and iPhones were just being invented, the brilliant e-democ/society people at mySociety developed a time-travel map. This was a map that could send you back in time. No. Not really.
 
It was a commute-time map, centred on the place you were trying to commute to, that would snazzily show the length of commutes from different spots on the map. The cooler colours indicate the longer commute. It’s hard to express in words, so here’s a picture: 
 
Unknownname
 
It was great, except that (presumably) because it was all quite hard work and involved mounds of (expensive?) data, they only made a few prototypes, such as the one based on the idea that you wanted to commute to the DfT. Not that many people do.
 
[some years pass]
 
4iP, the digital innovation arm of publicly-funded Channel4, has developed Mapumental. It’s the same idea, but you can put in any destination postcode! And then play with sliders for acceptable length of commute! And average house prices! There’s even a ‘scenicness’ slider, which really does cut your options. It’s a lot of fun, and actually very useful for working out where to live, if ultimately rather depressing for most central London postcodes.
 
0unknownname
 
Mash in the data from Gumtree rental adverts too, and it would be perfect!
 
Sign up for a log-in at http://mapumental.channel4.com/
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‘We don’t know how to end global poverty and that’s a good thing’: notes and thoughts on LSE lecture from @billeasterly

"Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you going to the poverty lecture, the Old Theatre is completely full up. Please follow the signs to the new theatre for a videolink."

There are superstar academics. And then there's Bill Easterly. He's scruffy, he trips over long words. But he's very witty. And he's in his element with an audience of LSE development students, nervous charity workers and academics, mostly keen to hear him take on traditional aid narratives. I'd call him anti-establishment, but everybody knows he speaks several truths.

A quick round up:

His argument

1. We don't know how to end global poverty actually translates as 'we don't know what creates economic growth'. All the answers of the 60s (go plan!), 80s (loose all your price controls! Let free markets ring!), 90s (erm, it's a sort of mish-mash, long live Good Governance!), 00s (security!): none of them have been proven to generate growth. The data from sub-Saharan Africa is often seriously flawed anyway.

1a. And who's the 'we' – rich Western people? So even if we knew how, we'd have to impose it in an authoritarian manner.

2. So stop prescribing things. Benevolent dictators are not cool. It's a fluke! There's no evidence that planning works.

3. But it is okay to take a normative approach and say that our Western liberal way is the right way. Jefferson just stated his values, he didn't run 4m regression analyses to come with them. And there is a bit of evidence that suggests that respect for individual rights and the rule of law leads to growth. And check out America, we did okay for ourselves.

Critique

So he writes off prescriptive approaches, then prescribes something. It's as though he comes, blinking, out of the economists' cave where they try to model everything, into the real world, but then dives back in.

No, to be fair, he's arguing that if you free people from prescriptions then they'll make their own way to growth. There's no one answer save for the answer that gives millions of small solutions. John Bird of the Big Issue is on hand to point out that 'millions of small solutions' overlap, are inefficient etc. But that'll sort itself out.

Perhaps this is revolutionary for a development economist, but it's pretty obvious to most people. Not all developmenty people are economists. They haven't all argued that growth is the holy grail. NGOs lined up to decry the IMF's structural adjustment plans, which weren't great. The anthropologists, sociologists, even lawyers, scientists and political policy people, recognise that localism is key. Context is king. The efforts of the academic economists to find the key to growth are like alchemy. But he's right that a lot of global financial institution money tends to chase fads.

And i'm pretty sure that there are some universals: like security.  If a gunman is going to steal your earnings, it'll make development difficult. Not sure your average Somalian benefits from an absence of outside engagement.

The data thing – if we can't get accurate economic data, can't we run clever sampling surveys of quality of life?

The general gist of his argument takes me back to that question you get into when you're really deep in Development Studies – is an increase in wealth something we should actually aim for? Is development a good thing? Are '[insert name of poor community]' people actually happy with their lot? (the old poverty-glamour fun)…the point is: it doesn't matter. It's not 'our' place to say. It's for every economically poor individual to decide. And guess what most of the global poor would say…

Prof. Easterly writes regularly at www.aidwatch.org and posts even more regularly @billeasterly

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Mankind is Ruined: a piece of DR Congo in North London (Ruined, @AlmeidaTheatre until 5 June)

You don't expect much from the Almeida Theatre at first sight. Its doors onto Upper St in Islington are shabby and unappealing. Directions pinned to the door send you an age further up the street. Eventually the real theatre entrance is revealed, all glass and concrete in smooth modern blocks of grey, with a stylish bar-restaurant.

Entering the theatre ten minutes before the start of the play, you're instantly in the Congo – a soundtrack plays the chirping of crickets and a gentle rainfall, the set is a corrugated iron shed on the stage of a muddy clearing, which runs to the front row's feet. Vines and lianas drape from the ceiling; trees rise up the side of the stage.

Great theatre should knock you out of your small world view and transport you somewhere far more difficult. But this play goes further. At the end of 'Ruined', you want the ground to open and swallow you up.  

Cast of Ruined at the Almeida Theatre London

It's about the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo: the breakdown in the rule of law, the anarchy of young men with guns and the horrific consequences of the crimes they commit. It's set in an anonymous village near Kisangani, in Eastern Congo, near the lucrative (for a few) mining areas.

It's about the enormous, grotesque tragedy of the Congo played on an intense localised context. We never leave this rotating set of the corrugated shed, the (whore)house of 'Mama Nadi' – we just see the bar, the girls' room, and an outside view. And that's how it gets you. It reduces a suffering on such an unthinkably awful, incomprehensibly large scale down to a few people in front of our eyes. Perhaps its a shame that we need that. Or perhaps just human.

The first half is slow to start. There's a clever first scene in which the salesman brings goods to Mama, then talks about the 'other things in the truck' and the horrible truth is revealed: it's two girls, brought to Mama to become prostitutes. Except that one isn't. One cannot do that work, since she is 'ruined': taken with a bayonet somewhere in the bush by armed militia. 

The full extent of this isn't fully grasped in the early stages; the play largely runs through sitcom-style jokes, perhaps to ease us in gently, and there's impressive live music – the girl who is 'ruined' has to earn money this way. But gradually, as the scenes from whorehouse continue, we see the nights at Mama's and the play becomes increasingly uncomfortable. 

But its after the interval that the play explodes into life. Suddenly it's more real, as the war draws closer and closer to what Mama would call her 'haven' from it all, and the women's stories are told. Though Mama tries to defend her hard-nosed business attitude to running the house ('While two birds fight over a kernel, a third bird swoops down and carries it off…who do you think the third bird is?') she slowly reveals more of her character, every moment becoming more absorbing. At the time a final secret is a revealed, the audience seem to have stopped breathing.

It is an appalling play; nauseating, devastating, but brilliant. I haven't stopped thinking about it. The lead actress who plays Mama, Jenny Jules, gives an encapsulating performance. She barely smiles as she takes the applause at the end of the play, her eyes wet with tears. I'm not quite sure if we should be applauding. This must be exhausting for the cast. 

And then everybody leaves. They pile into the bar or outside for a cigarette; and go about their wealthy, secure lives. 

Ruinedwww.almeida.co.uk

Better written reviews from Time Out and the Guardian.