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Mali Journal

M, my older daughter, is serving with the Peace Corps in Mali. The latest:
We talked to M on her cellphone via Skype Saturday. She is in Nienna, her banking town, for a day before an early departure to Bamako, the capital, for a two-week Peace Corps meeting. My dad, who was on the call, said, “I think I’m more comfortable than you are,” and M responded, “something would be terribly wrong if you weren’t.”

She said she might be working on mobile banking. Both illiteracy and innumeracy plague the mobile banks in Mali. During her time in the capital, she will meet with a former Peace Corp Volunteer who now works with the U.S. Agency for International Development and is an expert in mobile banking.

As M explained it, people in Mali give their money to the elder male in the family. He may bury it in the yard or hide it in the house. If he dies suddenly, or forgets where he put/buried it, or if animals (termites or any other burrowing animals) get to it, the family is instantly impoverished. The people of Mali are willing to have a fee just to “have their money held in a locked room.” This is not microfinance or loans, but just reliable money holding.


Political Briefs

Midnight in Paris

4 stars out of 5
I must be a terrible person, but I can't help myself; I review the box office as well as the movie.Woody Allen, director and writer of this movie, has had decidedly uneven results with 42 films since Bananas in 1971 (grosses ranging from a half-million dollars to $40 million, quality ranging from genius to idiot). Midnight in Paris is near the top on both measures. In its second weekend, it has already become the 16th most popular Woody Allen movie and is only likely to rise higher. Only two of his films this decade grossed more:  Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point (1986's Hannah and Her Sisters tops the list at $40,084,041). And then there is the film itself. Owen Wilson is our Woody clone for this romp. I don't know how you feel, but I still  find it a little odd to hear Woody Allen lines, with Woody Allen readings, coming out of someone else's mouth. But if that's the way Woody wants to direct his actors, who am I to say him nay? Wilson does an amazing job. He wanders the streets of Paris, and every night at midnight when the church bells strike he is transported back to what he views as the golden era: the 1920s. Every actor in the ensemble cast is impressive (even Mrs. French President Carla Bruni), but the only standout to my eye was Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. She lit up the screen every time she was on it. Woody uses many of the same old tropes, but as long as he can still make them funny, why not? Dan Brown and J.K. Rowling write the same novel every time, yet we keep reading them. I laughed, I thought, I was impressed, I could easily watch it again. Not perfect, but really, really, good, and at 100 minutes,  just the right length. This is Woody at his nearly best.

Dad's Grilled Cheese Discovery, Jon Carroll Cat Column, HuffPo passes NY Times, Dan Grobstein File

My dad saw this on paper somewhere: I found the electronic version. Here it is: the $10 million, high-tech grilled cheese sandwich chain.

Jon Carroll Cat Column: What to do with a bored cat

Richard Dalton notes: This is intriguing.  Almost all the online news Web sites show a fairly static usage patterm, except for the Huffington Post, which recently overtook the NY Times.

Dan Grobstein File

Mali Journal

My older daughter, M, is a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. In 10 days, she'll be staying for a week in a town with electricity and Internet--or at least, one that has those things sometimes. She was in her banking town on Sunday, so her mom and I were able to speak to her on a friend's cellphone. For those long periods when she is out of electronic touch, I should probably learn to take better notes during our weekly telephone calls.

By the way, since there is no cellphone reception in N'Tchilla, we have to call her at a "cabine." Silly me, I thought that was a landline. It isn't; its a cellphone in a booth with an antenna attached. And on Saturday, we missed our usual calling date because the cabine was out of power.

Anyway, M is looking forward to the arrival of a couple of long-sleeve shirts she had me order for her, because the black flies come out during the "rainy" season, and they are "worse than the mosquitoes" when it comes to biting. She said temperatures have not dropped very much with the start of the rainy season, although there is now an occasional breeze. She is now certain there is not word for "humid" in Bambara, the most common language in Mali (although the educated class speaks French). There is a word for "rainy season" that implies "hot and muggy" and that's about it.

Much more detail soon.

Fox Fear Factory, Birthright sellout, Briefs

Building the Fox Fear Factory
    Q:    What's the payoff for stage-managing an election, sending about 5,000 American troops to their deaths, and costing the country about $3T?
    A:    At least $20B.
    "When Bush was re-elected, Murdoch and Ailes toasted the victory together in the control room of Fox News, celebrating until three in the morning. The network’s relentless GOP boosterism had not only been good for ratings, it also appeared to have paid dividends for the network’s corporate parent. Acting nakedly in Murdoch’s interests, the FCC blocked satellite-TV provider EchoStar’s $27 billion acquisition of DirecTV in 2002 as being anti-competitive. That cleared the way for News Corp. – which had originally been outbid – to buy control of DirecTV for a mere $6.6 billion."

    "But the clearest demonstration of how Ailes has seamlessly merged both money and message lies in the election of John Kasich, a longtime Fox News contributor who eked out a two-point victory over Democrat Ted Strickland last November to become governor of Ohio. While technically a Republican, Kasich might better be understood as the first candidate of the Fox News Party. “The question is no longer whether Fox News is an arm of the GOP,” says Burns, the network’s former media critic, “but whether it’s becoming the torso instead.” "

"The host of a weekend show called Heartland, Kasich made 42 appearances as a contributor on Fox after he announced his interest in running, frequently guest-hosting on The O’Reilly Factor. He also appeared 16 times as an active candidate, using the network as a platform to make naked fundraising appeals. Most striking of all, News Corp. itself chipped in $1.26 million to the Republican Governors Association, making it one of the largest single contributors to the club Kasich was seeking to join. Murdoch made no bones about why he made such a generous donation to the GOP cause: It was driven, he said, by “my friendship with John Kasich.” Since becoming governor, Kasich has repealed collective-­bargaining rights for 350,000 state workers and killed a stimulus-­funded project to develop high-speed rail for the state."

Selling Your Birthright For A Mess Of Pottage
"The fact of the matter is that those now shrieking about big government debts and deficits have spent the last decade maximizing government spending with unaffordable wars, financial deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, which they knew would cost trillions of dollars. Today, the consequences of their actions, which they were warned about, are the ploy these very same people are using to justify the accelerated demise of welfare programs, and the incremental destruction of the meager social safety net that guarantees Americans won’t starve in their old age."

Kung Fu Panda II

2.5 stars out of 5

A mildly entertaining animated venture, with the virtue of only being 85 minutes long. I did not see it in 3-D, although it was easy to spot the scenes that were added to be impressive in that format. Jack Black turned in a great vocal performance, the supporting case was pretty good (especially Dustin Hoffman's cameo), and the whole thing just ran along tickety-boo. Not great, not awful. Not a stand-out, but not a sit down either. I guess my only advice is not to pay the extra for 3-D. Save that for a story worth telling. Oh, they do beat you over the head with the moral of the story: you can't control what you were, only what you will become. Oops! Spoiler alert. Oh wait, too late...

Letters: Bachmann Takedown, Dan Grobstein File

Richard Dalton found this lovely article: Michele Bachmann's Stance on Evolution Demolished by High School Student

Dan Grobstein File