Wine ratings/awards are random

Not at all surprised!

clipped from

Wine Ratings Really are Random … No Kidding

Two recent articles in the Journal of Wine Economics by Roger Hodgson and discussed in Leonard Mlodinow’s Wall Street Journal article A Hint of Hype, A Taste of Illusion throw cold water on expert ratings and wine competition awards.

The articles, An Analysis of the Concordance Among 13 U.S. Wine Competitions (abstract, PDF) and An Examination of Judge Reliability at a Major U.S. Wine Competition (abstract, PDF) provide some of the best empirical data about the awarding of medals and the variability of wine judges’ scoring. Based on a fair bit of experience, I can’t say that I am surprised. Most knowledgeable wine people I know pay attention to ratings and medals but don’t treat them as gospel. They believe as I do that the best bottle of wine is the one you drink with friends.

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Climate change, international public opinion and more: links, stories, and comment

Climate change

This was the week for thinking about climate change.  And when not distracted by “climate-gate”, there were some good debates out there.

Not on climate change, per se, but Dan Bodansky’s new book, The Art and Craft of International Environmental Law, looks interesting.

International Public Opinion

Opinio Juris reports that the Council on Foreign Relations has released a report, “Public Opinion on Global Issues”.  Some of the findings are relevant to concerns about climate change:

Perception of Climate Change as a Problem or Threat: On average in 2009, 85 percent of those polled globally said the problem was serious, with 56 percent saying it was very serious. The number of people saying that it is not a problem averaged just 3 percent and was always in the single digits, with the exception of the United States in 2009 when this figure reached 11 percent. (The average 2007 and 2008 numbers were almost exactly the same as those in 2009.)

Other findings challenge the idea of American Exceptionalism:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the digest suggests substantial consistency in the views of Americans and their counterparts abroad regarding the importance of international law, international institutions, and multilateral cooperation to address global challenges. Far from being insular or obsessed with sovereignty, Americans convey support for internationalist principles and a willingness to compromise for effective multilateral cooperation.

A few headlines are particularly striking. Most Americans favor a world order that is multipolar or led by the United Nations, rather than based on U.S. hegemony or a bipolar balance. They believe that all nations must abide by international law even when doing so is at odds with their national interest. A large majority of Americans express support for U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court, even after hearing past U.S. government objections.

Dan Drezner has his own take on a recent Pew Survey on American public opinion about foreign policy.  He finds that Americans are quite “realist” right now.  But Americans are also rather uninformed (he actually calls us “dumb”).

Other stories

Opinio Juris has a link to some stories suggesting Blackwater “assassins” may be posing as aid workers.  This reminds me of when I interned in Congress one summer during college. There was a Senate hearing on whether the CIA should use journalists, priest, Peace Corps Volunteers and the like as spies overseas.  The hearing was stopped quite early on when it was decided that having a public debate about such things is not smart.

The Reuters Africa Blog ponders whether the war is over in Darfur.

Some of Ghana’s football stars are in trouble. Fortunately, it is a minor issue.  But come on guys!  You have to get your acts together for the World Cup!

Minerals and Conflict in Africa

Over the past week, a number of bloggers have pointed out a number of problems with the convenient “minerals = conflict” thesis.  These stories have mostly been inspired by the recent CBS 60 Minutes news segment on “Congo Gold”.

Dan Fahey lays out three criticisms of that story in an African Arguments blog post:

  1. the gold mine that we see is not part of the problem….  and in fact there are many gold mines in Congo that are not part of the problem
  2. it presents an analysis of the Congo conflict that is too simplistic; we should realize that there is more to this conflict than gold
  3. ….  I won’t steal all of Dan’s points, be sure to check out his post

Meanwhile, Texas in Africa pairs the CBS story with the more general story that is out there which links “cell phones/minerals” to rape in the Congo.  “Show me the data”, Texas in Africa demands.  Indeed, solid data is not there.

One common concern that underscores both of these bloggers attention is that often “misinformation” is worse than the “inattention” these problems generally get.  As Africanists, it is easy to bemoan the fact that much of the world has barely noticed the largest war since World War II; that family members and friends believe politics in Zimbabwe is representative of politics everywhere in Africa; and so forth.  So it is easy to get excited about anything that brings attention to Africa.  The problem comes when the stories people finally hear about Africa include incomplete or erroneous information.  In such cases, the consequences (unintended or intended) can be unfortunate.  Stopping the flow of gold from the Congo can cut out legitimate Congolese businessmen and women, Dan Fahey warns; focusing on the minerals used in cell phones might connect American consumers to the conflicts but there are likely better ways to use our resources to stop the conflict in the Congo, Texas in Africa suggests.

So I agree with these bloggers’ concerns for the most part.  That said, I think it would be wrong to swing too far away from acknowledging the important roles resources can play in conflict situations.  Michael Ross has written persuasively on the types of mechanisms that make resources matter for conflict (see, for instance, here).  David Leonard and Scott Strauss’ book, Africa’s Stalled Development, demonstrates that the economies surrounding resources (and foreign aid) can have profound consequences for the development of good governance in Africa.

So let’s not decide that a couple bad news stories means we should ignore the importance of resources in conflict situations, just that we need to be more careful about defining the precise ways in which they matter.  And if you decide that you want to act on the information you hear/watch on the news, then please take the time to do a little research on the issue before getting carried away.

South Korea building homes in Ghana…. why?

Is this the best way to spend $10 billion in Ghana?  Can’t wait to hear more about this.

Thanks to Kevin Arritt and McKinley Tennant for letting me know about this story.

STX Strikes $10 Billion Housing Deal in Ghana

Kang Duk-soo, second from left, STX Group chairman, shakes hands with Robert Abongo, Ghanaian minister of water resources, works and housing, after STX won a $10 billion order from the African government to build 200,000 homes there by 2015. The signing ceremony was held at STX’s headquarters in Seoul, Wednesday. / Courtesy of STX Group

By Kim Yoo-chul

Staff Reporter

STX Group has won a $10 billion order from the Ghanaian government to build 200,000 homes in the African country over the next six years.

The massive project involves construction of homes in major cities in Ghana, including its capital Accra from 2010 to 2015, a spokesman of the mid-sized conglomerate that focuses on the shipbuilding, shipping and construction businesses said.

The official said the two sides also signed a deal to launch a joint venture for the project at a ceremony attended by the group Chairman Kang Duk-Soo and Albert Abongo, Ghana’s housing minister

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Links and Comments

Twitter apparently thinks that Africa = AIDS.

New book, What Works in Development (Editors Jessica Cohen and William Easterly) outlines the debate between those who think randomized evaluation of development projects is a good idea, and those who don’t.

African leaders advise Bono on how to reform U2.

Rwanda has become a member of the Commonwealth, but interestingly seems to be repairing ties with France.

Sustainablog writer essentially uses Robert Paarlberg’s book, Starved for Science, to blame Greenpeace for starvation in Africa. The debate on GMOs in Africa continues!  A comment on the blog post also mentions an interesting article, “Forbidden Fruit: Transgenic Papaya in Thailand” on a similar theme.

The blogosphere and international media are taking up the story of Uganda’s proposed anti-gay bill:  Globe and Mail, The Atlantic, and Reuters, among many.

13 things not to miss in Ghana. I’m not sure if I completely agree with the list.  It leaves out for instance, a trip to Bolgatanga or anywhere in the North of the country, which I think is something one must do to get a full picture of the country.  I would also add the market in Kumasi which is one of the biggest (or the biggest) of its kind in the world.

Executing Gays in Uganda?

A friend and colleague, Nathan Paxton, posted this article on his Facebook page.  It is a very interesting take on how Americans may be influencing policy in an African country.  Fortunately, it doesn’t look like the law has passed their parliament yet.

If Uganda Executes Gays, Will American Christians be Complicit?

A bill currently before the Ugandan Parliament sounds like an absurdist scenario from some liberal nightmare about a theocratic state: Under the proposed law — which appears to have strong public support — criminal penalties on homosexual acts in the East African nation would be made much harsher, and include the death penalty.
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