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post Computer and the Brain

October 17th, 2008

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 23:50

 Why you should listen to him:

Kwabena Boahen is the principal investigator at the Brains in Silicon lab at Stanford. He writes of himself:

Being a scientist at heart, I want to understand how cognition arises from neuronal properties. Being an engineer by training, I am using silicon integrated circuits to emulate the way neurons compute, linking the seemingly disparate fields of electronics and computer science with neurobiology and medicine.

My group’s contributions to the field of neuromorphic engineering include a silicon retina that could be used to give the blind sight and a self-organizing chip that emulates the way the developing brain wires itself up. Our work is widely recognized, with over sixty publications, including a cover story in the May 2005 issue of Scientific American.My current research interest is building a simulation platform that will enable the cortex’s inner workings to be modeled in detail. While progress has been made linking neuronal properties to brain rhythms, the task of scaling up these models to link neuronal properties to cognition still remains. Making the supercomputer-performance required affordable is the goal of our Neurogrid project. It is at the vanguard of a profound shift in computing, away from the sequential, step-by-step Von Neumann machine towards a parallel, interconnected architecture more like the brain.

Source: TedTalks

post An African Activist

October 17th, 2008

Filed under: Video Forums — Lissan Magazine @ 23:30

 Why you should listen to her:

Ory Okolloh is a blogger and open-government activist. She runs Mzalendo, a pioneering civic website that tracks the performance of Kenya’s Parliament and its Parliamentarians. With a vote tracker, articles and opinion pieces, the site connects Kenyans to their leaders and opens the lid on this powerful and once-secretive body. (This is a Parliament that finally agreed to have its procedings televised in August 2008.)

Okolloh’s own blog is called Kenyan Pundit, and it tracks her work with Mzalendo and her other efforts as part of the rebuilding of Kenya, following the post-election violence in late 2007 (she collected a powerful series of diaries of the violence, dozens of essays from Kenyans and others — well worth a read).Okolloh is part of a wave of young Africans who are using the power of blogging, SMS and web-enabled openness to push their countries forward and help Africans to truly connect. Tools like Ushahidi help to link a people whose tribal differences, as Okolloh points out again and again, are often cynically exploited by a small group of leaders. Only by connecting Africans can this cycle be broken.

“We feel that Kenyans not only have “a right to know” but also need to take a more active role in determining their country’s role — this is our effort to do more than just complain about how things are not working in Kenya.”

from “What Is Mzalendo?”

Source: TedTalks

post Jerome Lobo

October 16th, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 12:07

The Project Gutenberg eBook
“A Voyage to Abyssinia”, by Jerome Lobo
Edited by Henry Morley, Translated by Samuel Johnson

Introduction

Jerome Lobo was born in Lisbon in the year 1593.  He entered the Order of the Jesuits at the age of sixteen.  After passing through the studies by which Jesuits were trained for missionary work, which included special attention to the arts of speaking and writing, Father Lobo was sent as a missionary to India at the age of twenty-eight, in the year 1621.  He reached Goa, as his book tells, in 1622, and was in 1624, at the age of thirty-one, told off as one of the missionaries to be employed in the conversion of the Abyssinians.  They were to be converted, from a form of Christianity peculiar to themselves, to orthodox Catholicism.  The Abyssinian Emperor Segued was protector of the enterprise.

Father Lobo was nine years in Abyssinia, from the age of thirty-one to the age of forty, and this was the adventurous time of his life.  The death of the Emperor Segued put an end to the protection that had given the devoted missionaries, in the midst of dangers, a precarious hold upon their work.  When he and his comrades fell into the hands of the Turks at Massowah, his vigour of body and mind, his readiness of resource, and his fidelity, marked him out as the one to be sent to the headquarters in India to secure the payment of a ransom for his companions.  He obtained the ransom, and desired also to obtain from the Portuguese Viceroy in India armed force to maintain the missionaries in the position they had so far won.  But the Civil power was deaf to his pleading.  He removed the appeal to Lisbon, and after narrowly escaping on the way from a shipwreck, and after having been captured by pirates, he reached Lisbon, and sought still to obtain means of overawing the force hostile to the work of the Jesuits in Abyssinia.  The Princess Margaret gave friendly hearing, but sent him on to persuade, if he could, the King of Spain; and failing at Madrid, he went to Rome and tried the Pope.  He was chosen to go to the Pope, said the Patriarch Alfonso Mendez, because, of all the brethren at Goa, the ‘Pater Hieronymus Lupus’ (Lobo translated into Wolf) was the most ingenious and learned in all sciences, with a mind most generous in its desire to conquer difficulties, dexterous in management of business, and found most able to make himself agreeable to those with whom there was business to be done.  The vigour with which he held by his purpose of endeavouring in every possible way to bring the Christianity of Abyssinia within the pale of the Catholic Church is in accordance with the character that makes the centre of the story of this book.  Whimsical touches arise out of this strength of character and readiness of resource, as when he tells of the taste of the Abyssinians for raw cow’s flesh, with a sauce high in royal Abyssinian favour, made of the cow’s gall and contents of its entrails, of which, when he was pressed to partake, he could only excuse himself and his brethren by suggesting that it was too good for such humble missionaries.  Out of distinguished respect for it, they refrained from putting it into their mouths.

Good Father Lobo gave up the desire of his heart, when it was proved unattainable, and returned to India six years after the breaking up of his work in Abyssinia, at the age of forty-seven.  He came to be head of the Provincials of the Jesuit settlement at Goa, and after about ten more years of active duty in the East returned in 1658 to Lisbon, when he died in the religious house of St. Roque in 1678, at the age of eighty-five.  A comrade of Father Lobo’s, Baltazar Tellez, said that Lobo had travelled thirty-eight thousand leagues with no other object before him but the winning of more souls to God.  His years in Abyssinia stood out prominently to his mind among all the years of his long life, and he wrote an account of them in Portuguese, of which the manuscript is at Lisbon in the monastery of St. Roque, where he closed his life.

Of that manuscript, then and still unprinted (though use was made of it by Baltazar Tellez in his History of ‘Ethiopia-Coimbra,’ 1660), the Abbe Legrand, Prior of Neuville-les-Dames, and of Prevessin, published a translation into French.  The Abbe Legrand had been to Lisbon as Secretary to the Abbe d’Estrees, Ambassador from France to Portugal.  The negotiations were so long continued that M. Legrand was detained five years in Lisbon, and employed the time in researches among documents illustrating the Portuguese possessions in India and the East.  He obtained many memoirs of great interest, and published from one of them an account of Ceylon; but of all the manuscripts he found none interested him so much as that of Father Lobo.  His translation was augmented with illustrative dissertations, letters, and a memoir on the circumstances of the death of M. du Roule.  It filled two volumes, or 636 pages of forty lines.  This was published in 1728.  It was on the 31st of October, 1728, that Samuel Johnson, aged nineteen, went to Pembroke College, Oxford, and Legrand’s ‘Voyage Historique d’Abissinie du R. P. Jerome Lobo, de la Compagnie de Jesus, Traduit du Portugais, continue et augmente de plusieurs Dissertations, Lettres et Memoires,’ was one of the new books read by Johnson during his short period of college life.  In 1735, when Johnson’s age was twenty-six, and the world seemed to have shut against him every door of hope, Johnson stayed for six months at Birmingham with his old schoolfellow Hector, who was aiming at medical practice, and who lodged at the house of a bookseller.  Johnson spoke with interest of Father Lobo, whose book he had read at Pembroke College.  Mr. Warren, the bookseller, thought it would be worth while to print a translation.  Hector joined in urging Johnson to undertake it, for a payment of five guineas.  Although nearly brought to a stop midway by hypochondriac despondency, a little suggestion that the printers also were stopped, and if they had not their work had not their pay, caused Johnson to go on to the end.  Legrand’s book was reduced to a fifth of its size by the omission of all that overlaid Father Lobo’s personal account of his adventures; and Johnson began work as a writer with this translation, first published at Birmingham in 1735.

H. M.

——————–

If you are interested in reading the online version of the book “Journey to Abyssinia” by Father Jerome Lobo and if you want to know more on his 9 years stay (1624 - 1633) in Ethiopia, please klick on the link below:

A VOYAGE TO ABYSSINIA
by Father Jerome Lobo.

Translated from the French by
Samuel Johnson
Cassell & Company, Limited:
London, Paris, New York & Melbourne 1887.

post The Price of Success

October 12th, 2008

Filed under: Economy — Lissan Magazine @ 21:54

Ethiopia is growing fast, but inflation is biting
From the Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire

Double-digit growth has its downsides, in the form of inflation of 40%-plus and foreign currency reserves that cover no more than six weeks of imports.

Since 2004 the Ethiopian economy has enjoyed double-digit growth rates, but this success has come at the cost of rapid inflation and a steep fall in foreign currency reserves. Surging coffee prices have played a major role in spurring accelerated growth, while inflation is being largely driven by the steep rise in world food and oil prices.

One adverse consequence has been the 33% appreciation of the real exchange rate, which threatens the country’s export drive (although it does have the beneficial effect of slowing inflation). This real exchange rate appreciation has taken place despite a 30% fall in the nominal exchange rate, meaning that the Birr has not fallen anywhere near rapidly enough to accommodate the widening gap between inflation in Ethiopia and its main trading partners.

According to the IMF’s latest report on the economy, growth will slow over the next five years, reflecting the combination of high inflation (which will have to be tackled by tightening fiscal and monetary policy), the infrastructural deficit (which will constrain production) and declining competitiveness, caused by real exchange rate appreciation. The Fund says that “front-loaded” fiscal and monetary tightening could bring inflation back to single-digit levels within two years, but because inflationary expectations have taken hold, slowing inflation could take longer, forcing the government into even tougher contractionary policies that threaten to curb GDP expansion.
Conflicting goals

Because the public sector plays such a dominant role in the Ethiopian economy, bringing down inflation will involve reduced borrowing and investment by the state at just the time when the government has embarked upon an ambitious infrastructural investment programme. Five new hydropower plants and a wind-power facility are being built; between them these will expand the country’s installed generation capacity from the current 660 megawatts to some 3,600 mw by 2012. Ethiopian Airlines is planning the purchase of ten new Dreamliner aircraft to be delivered over the next four years, and these costly schemes will have to be funded by a combination of domestic and offshore borrowing. To reduce inflation to single digits, however, the government will have to cut its public-sector borrowing by some 2.5% of GDP, and increased infrastructural investment—funded from borrowing—is simply incompatible with a tighter fiscal and monetary stance. This means that there is a very good chance that inflation will remain high and consequently that the real exchange rate will continue to appreciate, thereby undermining exports and increasing import demand.

Inflation reached a historic high of 40% in May. Ethiopian inflation has in the past been driven by drought, but not on this occasion, since the country has enjoyed four successive years of bumper harvests. Rather, inflation is being driven by fuel prices, currency devaluation, the spillover from the construction boom and (during 2008 in particular), rapidly rising food prices.

Money supply is also playing a role: having accelerated since 2005, money-supply growth has pushed above 40% early this year. There is an additional, technical problem, in the form of rising velocity of circulation. In other words, people are withdrawing cash from the banks and from savings and spending it, partly because they expect prices to continue to escalate (inflationary expectations), but also because real interest rates are negative so that money in the bank loses its value.
Exports threatened by inflation

Competitiveness is a worry too, because while the exchange rate has devalued by some 22% since 2004, reflecting much higher inflation in Ethiopia than the global average, the real exchange rate is strengthening, rising by one-quarter in the past four years. One consequence is that Ethiopia’s current-account deficit is now very large, at around 20% of GDP.

Exports continue to boom, despite the loss of competitiveness. Since 2004 Ethiopia’s share of the global coffee market has increased by 50%, albeit from a low base (ie, from 0.6% to 0.9%). Export shares for its other main products—flowers and oilseeds—have also increased, with horticulture’s global market share rising by 0.5%.

Aside from exchange rates, three factors are critical to Ethiopian competitiveness: wage levels, the state of infrastructure and the ease of doing business. In terms of wages Ethiopia is reckoned to be the most cost-effective country on the continent, with a manual worker earning US$60 a month as against US$190 in China. Indian investors have moved into the flower sector because land costs are much lower than in their home market, wages are one-third of Indian levels, freight costs are lower and there are no import taxes. In 2007 Ethiopian flower exports increased by 133%, while exports of oilseeds, leather goods and live animals rose by 20-30%.

In terms of the World Bank’s Doing Business indicators, Ethiopia is near the top of the African league table, behind only Botswana, Kenya and South Africa. Despite this and despite the country’s impressive export performance, it seems clear that competitiveness is under threat from high inflation and an appreciating real exchange rate.

In part this reflects economic fundamentals—very rapid import growth caused by strong output expansion. As growth slows in the next few years import growth will decline, but this may well be insufficient to counter overvaluation of the exchange rate. It is therefore likely that the Birr will continue to depreciate over the next two to three years.

source: economist.com

post Put to starve in Norway

October 12th, 2008

Filed under: Immigration Stories — Lissan Magazine @ 21:08

Ethiopian refugees “put to starve” in Norway

afrol News, 4 October - New legislation that cuts all social aid for rejected asylum seekers has left refugees starving and freezing on the streets of Oslo (Norway). As five rejected refugees from Ethiopia have had to escape hunger in Norway by turning to Sweden, the UN’s refugee agency and the Norwegian Church now protest against the “inhumane” legislation in one of the world’s richest countries.

- It is wrong to deny anyone food, today said the UNHCR representative in Scandinavia, based in the Swedish captial Stockholm. The UN spokesman, Mons Nyberg, said his agency had received five Ethiopian refugees that had seen their asylum applications rejected by Norwegian authorities. After this rejection, the five were thrown out of the refugee reception centre and denied financial support or wotk permits.

Authorities in Addis Ababa, on the other hand, reject reciving exiled that do not return out of free will, thus blocking their sending back to Ethiopia. The five refugees, as a result, have lived on the street in Oslo for six months, without any means, without a possiblity to leave the country and barred from having legal incomes.

As a result, the refugees were close to starvation and facing deadly risks as the northern winter is approaching, according to reports from the Norwegian state broadcaster NRK. The five Ethiopians escaped their harsh destiny by fleeing to neighbouring Sweden, where the UNHCR received them and a local priest gave them temporal accomodation in a Stockholm church.

Mr Nyberg today protested the harsh treatment of rejected asylum seekers in Norway. According to international law, every human being has the right to food and a bed, the UNHCR spokesman said, adding that it was the first time ever he had heard of such a harsh treatment against rejected asylum seekers.

The legislation providing for a total cut of services for rejected asylum seekers was approved this year by the right-wing majority in the Norwegian parliament. It has been met by strong protests by the socialist opposition, the Norwegian (Lutheran) Church and several municipalities, rejecting its implementation. According to the Church, the legislation is “putting lives at risk.”

Ethiopians constitute a realtively small group of asylum seekers in Norway. Norwegian authorities in general hold that Ethiopians have no good case when seeking asylum on a political basis.

Source:
afrol News

post The Financial Crisis & Africa

October 9th, 2008

Filed under: Economy — Lissan Magazine @ 22:53

Financial Market Turmoil and Africa
by Shanta Devarajan
Chief Economist of the Africa Region at the World Bank

My colleagues and I are trying to think through the implications for Africa of the recent turmoil in global financial markets. Here are four propositions.

1. African banking systems are unlikely to experience the turbulence of the U.S. banking system.  African banks retain loans they originate on their balance sheets, the interbank market is small, and the market for securitized or derivative instruments is either small or nonexistent.  Even though some African countries’ banking systems have significant foreign ownership, the parent banks are typically not in the U.S.  Furthermore, the foreign ownership share in the largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa, is less than five percent (compared with a developing-country average of 40 percent).

2. A cutback in foreign capital inflows could seriously affect growth and poverty reduction in Africa.  Over the past five years, Africa has seen a substantial surge in foreign capital inflows—foreign direct investment, portfolio investment, and loans.  A slowdown or reversal of these flows could dampen securities prices in some countries; the stock markets in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa fell last week.  Most countries were using these inflows to finance much-needed infrastructure investment, which may have to be postponed.  If the cutback spreads to official development assistance (such as the $40 billion over the next five years that has been promised by the U.S. for HIV/AIDS), the lives of hundreds of millions of Africans, including the two million on AIDS treatment, may be threatened.

3. If the financial market turmoil leads to a recession in the U.S. and elsewhere, commodity prices will likely fall.  Food, oil and mineral prices have already begun to fall, although they are still higher than they were in 2006-7.  This is good news for importers of these commodities.  Even for oil exporters, many of whom have been using a reference price of about $70-80 a barrel in their budgets (and saving the rest), a drop in the price of oil will not be as damaging as it was in past episodes.

4. Of greater concern in Africa is the resurgence of inflation and macroeconomic imbalances in some countries.   Ethiopia’s inflation rate is 61 percent, Kenya’s 28 percent, Ghana’s 18 percent and South Africa’s 13.6 percent.  Ethiopia’s trade deficit is 30 percent of GDP, Ghana’s current account deficit is 13 percent of GDP, and South Africa’s 8.2 percent of GDP.  Although unrelated to the financial market crisis in the U.S. (but closely related to the food and fuel price increases of earlier this year), these developments will require early and decisive actions to avoid the situation getting worse.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions on these propositions.
Shanta Devarajan

post Tsion’s Life

October 2nd, 2008

Filed under: Literature Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 14:36

New children’s book teaches Ethiopian American children about their first country.

Stacy and Paul Bellward (Minnesota) adopted their oldest daughter 4 years ago from Ethiopia. Ethiopian adoption is growing…fast. Last year alone, 1,255 children came to the US.
“When we adopted, we promised we would teach our daughter about Ethiopia, we didn’t know how much we would fall in love with it too.”

tsion.jpg

After adopting, the Bellward’s searched for resources to learn more about Ethiopia and specifically children’s books that would teach their daughter about the land she was from. “There were virtually no books about Ethiopia, especially for children. We knew we could to something about that,” says Stacy Bellward.

In Ethiopian Voices: Tsions Life (July 31, 2008, www.amharickids.com) stellar photographs combined with first person and narrative text show personality and emotion while teaching about Ethiopian culture and even some Amharic words. It could be a children’s coffee table book, but with basic facts such as: coffee was discovered in Ethiopia and there is a huge castle in the Ethiopian mountains.

“Tsion’s Life is a project from the heart that was born from our adoptive experience but brings Ethiopia, its people and culture to families, classrooms and libraries in an engaging way,” says author Stacy Bellward.

Please call if you would like more information to do a book review or you wish to interview Paul or Stacy Bellward, meet their gorgeous girls and talk about Ethiopian adoption and how it has changed their lives.

For much more information about our family and Stacy’s books: www.amharickids.com.
Or contact Stacy Bellward:
stacy@amharickids.com, 612-636-7878

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Amharic Kids
7201 88th Ave. N
Brooklyn Park, MN 55445
612-636-7878
info@amharickids.com

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