Monday, October 12, 2009

Difficult situation for NATO in Afghanistan

I approved the new American strategy consisting of redeploying US forces away from Irak and into Afghanistan, as I don't see the Taliban as worthy of ruling, regardless of the local popular support.
When you think about it, the very poor condition of Afghanistan should make it easy to win a popularity contest with a bunch of religious, backward, murderous zealots: Remove landmines, help agriculture develop, build up infrastructure, promote free education for all children, including girls...
All this should be relatively easy, provided a certain level of safety can be provided.

Unfortunately, after seeing "Dokument utifrån" on Swedish national television (SVT), I fear the NATO coalition is going to fail miserably. I don't know if American forces differ from other NATO coalition members in Afghanistan, but the attitude and tactics of the US army appeared deeply inadequate to me.

First, we get to see how a soldier reports the situation to his commander during a debriefing. The soldier reports that locals are mute when it comes to providing information about Taliban fighters which America forces know must be in the sector. Instead, locals insisted on complaining about goats and trees, or rather the lack thereof. What's got that to do with the US forces? It turns out US forces burned trees and killed goats in an attack the year before. No big issue, certainly... The American commander shook his head, and said "That's what happens when you provide support to terrorists, you lose your goats and trees" (or something in these lines).
This reminds me of the failed tactics used during the Vietnam war.

Apparently, Pachtuns are naturally bent on supporting Talibans, both for cultural and historical reasons. Regardless of their claimed goals, Westerners are seen as invaders, and will be fought and dealt with in the same way all earlier invaders were.

Leaving Afghanistan is in my opinion no option, seeing how the previous regime behaved in September 11, 2001 and before. Staying and using that kind of fruitless tactics is doomed to fail, and will eventually lead to a new Taliban regime anyway. So what should we do?

Friday, October 09, 2009

On charities and microloans...

I have recently discovered Kiva and Myc4. These sites make it possible to lend money to poor people in the world (mostly in developing countries).

Kiva does not allow lenders to make a profit. Instead, repayments are typically reinvested in new loans. Alternatively, a lender can also retrieve the money after as a loan is repaid. Entrepreneurs across Asia, South America and Africa can request loans.

Just like Kiva, MyC4 puts in contact lenders in rich countries and borrowers in poorer parts of the World. Unlike Kiva, MyC4 is still in Beta phase, and it allows lenders to make benefits. MyC4 is also limited to loans targeted at a few African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda).

Compared to other charities, microloans have the advantage of helping local businesses get established. One could say the idea is to "teach a man how to fish, instead of giving away fish", except that the man actually knows a lot more about fishing than I do! Instead, I lend money to the fisherman and trust him to use it in whatever way he finds best, as he probably knows better what he needs.

In exchange for that, I (hopefully) make a benefit. I tend to think that development is more likely to be sustainable when based on transactions than when based on generosity. Generosity is scarce, and tends to follow the media's spotlight, which jumps from one side of the globe to the other, as disasters happen.

Charity still plays an important role. Microloans and business development require a certain degree of entrepreneurial freedom and a stable supporting infrastructure. Where these lack, charities are the only ones capable of filling in the void and helping people survive through the worst.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A cure worse than the disease

My laptop (running Win XP) is suffering a strange illness: it gets very slow, for no known reasons. The process viewer shows the processors are supposed to be idle.

Suspecting a malware, I looked for a free malware detection and removal tool. I went for SpyHunter free. The experience did not go well.

The installer started the scan without asking me, it installed a boot loader (grub4dos) without asking me, and finally rebooted (after asking me, finally...)

The result: a corrupted ntldr I spent most of this Sunday trying to recover.
Interesting facts learned during this process:
1) The recovery DVD I had to create after buying the laptop (an EasyNote from PackardBell) is useless, failing after giving an cryptical error message ("CDrom <> Operating System!!!", got to love the "!!!" at the end...).
2) The reinitialisation procedure which uses the backup partition is worse than useless (it does nothing but reboot, no error message).
3) The Windows XP installation cd I got many years ago through MSDNAA is no longer readable, at least not on my laptop.

As usual, it was Linux that saved the day in the end. I hate this kind of sundays that just go to waste. So little free time, so many interesting projects, so much better to do.