Friday, May 18, 2007

Self-improvement articles

I'm a sucker for those "1,000 ways to improve your life" self-help articles, but not because I adopt the instructions en masse. Instead, I find these articles to be real useful ways to inject new approaches and ideas - they really help me think differently about everyday challenges - whether it's how to be more productive at work, or how to use vinegar to clean my dishwasher.

That being said, here's a few of the better articles from the last week or so.....

101 Ways to Cut Expenses

50 Ways To Increase Your Productivity

60+ Improvements to Make To Your Life

“The Irrelevance of the Middle East”

"the long-term importance of the Middle East is roughly proportionate to the share of the world population for which the region accounts–less than 5 percent. The time is long overdue for policymakers and analysts alike to put the many urgent issues that confront the people of the Middle East in the context of dramatic and unprecedented global transformations in process today"

This bit of sanity is from Philip Auerswald via CATO. We could really stand to hear this more often: the Middle East doesn't really matter.

Iran, Iraq, Islamic terrorism, Arab-Israeli tension, and energy politics & economics dominate the headlines everyday, but the reality is that a cold analytical view suggests that diplomatic, development, and economic focus should lie elsewhere.

A big driver for this conclusion is that despite our (oil importers) fear that oil producing states with malintentions could cripple our economies, the sellers are just as intertwined with our fates for economic reasons, irregardless of political considerations.

I'd also use a different approach to arrive at the same conclusion: America's ability to impact the Middle East is an incredibly small part of the answer for the Middle East. Despite best intentions over the last 50 years, it would be difficult to say that our impact is anything but a tiny fraction of the effort put forth. Whether it's the half-trillion dollars spent so far in Iraq, the Marines lost in Lebanon, or the countless fruitless Arab-Israeli peace talks initiated by the US, these efforts haven't shown a good return on effort.

America likes to pursue causes over and above practical economics. For example, we've always believed in the cause of "peace in the Middle East" (nevermind that there's no single definition for what that looks like), despite the high cost experienced to date.

It is appropriate then, to wonder, how would the situation in ___________ look if it had received a quarter of the US attention and effort over the last 50 years. (Try filling in the blank with South American countries first.)

In this scenario - where ___________ takes some of the US attention devoted to the Middle East, would the Middle East be any less stable?

Perhaps, in lieu of chasing causes, we should prioritize US effort on the basis of a measurable metric: "good results per unit of US effort (whether diplomatic, financial, etc.)"

(This approach is directly in line with Bjorn Lomborg's Copenhagen Consensus. Lomborg and his team has prioritized many of the popular social causes by their return on effort, and suggests development efforts concentrate on economic impact. As a result (and an example), Lomborg suggests de-prioritizing global warming, among others.))

Adopting this approach would lead to some surprising realignment in US diplomacy. I suspect that US diplomatic and aid efforts in South America and Africa would have an amazing return (what would the amount spent in one month of the Iraq war buy you in Africa?), and would rise in importance relative to ongoing Middle East initiatives.

In the end, when it comes to the Middle East, I fall back on a pearl of wisdom regarding the Middle East passed along to me many years ago: "If you can understand the Middle East conflicts, somebody explained it to you wrong."

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous