(A)live from Bogotá

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As we recover from this depression, are we the next 'Greatest Generation'?

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. encouraged his students to make awful things happen to their characters to show the reader what they’re made of. But this recession—and it will be bad—is not enough to prove our greatness.

First, this will be nothing compared to the Great Depression. Unemployment in some areas reached forty percent and many people were unemployed for nearly a decade—breadlines and soup kitchens marked New York City and malnutrition was a serious concern. But more than that, my grandparent’s generation earned their greatness not simply by becoming wealthy again—but by leaving their depression-afflicted towns to fight in an enormous war and emerging in a world free of fascism as the singular super-power. They unlocked the power of nuclear chain reactions, rebuilt Europe and Japan, and—within a decade—saw the yokes of colonialism collapse. Sure, this was not entirely their doing. They watched historical trends come to fruition. But it was a time of greatness. It’s difficult to fathom the permanent and far-reaching consequences of their lives.

The point is greatness requires more than returning to 3% GDP growth. It is unlikely we will earn our greatness by expanding our geopolitical dominance. We have to offer permanent solutions to big problems and turn pages of history. I can think of a few goals that might enable us to earn our greatness.

First, and perhaps this is obvious, is to make it our national business to pioneer great technological progress. There was a time when the brightest minds and organizations of a generation worked to cure polio or put men on the moon. Now, they trade derivatives. I’ll be the first to argue that trading derivatives has social value up to a point, but only up to a point and maybe this depression will help us draw that line and reconsider the social norm of following all the other bright boys to Wall Street. There are great technological problems to be solved and it will take great-big subsidies, leadership, and creativity to solve them. Alternative energies, disease, climate change, global transportation are proper challenges for us to assert our greatness in a way that has a lasting impact around the world.

Second, our generation is well positioned to earn its greatness bolstering international law. I am weakly optimistic that this will have renewed importance under the Obama administration and as the US finds long-term solutions to our situation in Iraq. The first step to bolstering international law would be obeying it. And the first step there would be closing Guantanamo, which seems like it’s going to happen. The US can hope to reclaim the moral high ground and strengthening international organizations—thinking beyond the pathetic shape of the UN or the IMF—would be an accomplishment we can point to in 60 years.

But I think the most important work Americans can do while we endure this depression is reflect on our lifestyles. We are the wealthiest nation around and we spend it living in great big houses in the suburbs, driving big pieces of steel that weigh thirty times our body weight to run quotidian errands. We support a medieval monarchy to afford this situation but even so it’s not easy to sustain what is probably the greatest misuse of resources in history. This model is being mimicked in the suburbs of Beijing today Bombay tomorrow and Brazzaville the day after that. It isn’t working and we need to admit it. Fixing this problem will require more than a miracle technology. We need to restructure the way we live and accomplish things.

All signs point to major government works under this administration both because we need them and because we need a massive stimulus package. Jason Furman says it will be on the scale of Eisenhower’s interstate highway project. But please, let’s not build more roads.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner announced plans to nationalize Argentina's private pension funds. Speculation that the move was imminent sent the country's stocks down 11%. The government said the takeover of the private system aimed to protect investors from losses due to the global market turmoil. Economists speculate that the true motive is to provide the government with about $5 billion in annual pension contributions that it needs to plug a gap in financing next year and avert a debt default.

Yahoo announced another restructuring effort that seeks to cut annual expenses by $400 million, including plans to cut at least 10% of its work force. The Internet giant reported a 64% drop in quarterly profit and revenue that was flat from a year earlier, as the company continues to struggle with slowing demand for online ads and stiffer competition.

The McCain campaign is ceasing campaign activities in three states it heretofore thought it could win: New Mexico, Colorado, and Iowa. The Campaign is re-doubling efforts in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Recent polls show McCain leading only in Florida (where early voting starts today) . Polls suggest Senators McCain and Obama are tied in Ohio. The re-organization makes Nevada's five electoral votes crucial to McCain's strategy. It is unprecedented for a Presidential candidate to announce he will surrender a battle-ground state. That the Republican candidate planned a capaign in traditional battle-ground states only to find that the usual suspects were hard to contest might reflect the reality that this election fractures the electorate in unusual dimensions--or that he simply isn't going to win... or doesn't have enough money.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If I understand Walnuts here, this is his recovery plan to help the economy in a time when the economy has, at least, a liquidity crisis that, today, required the Treasury to inject cash into the market to the tune of 250 taxpayer dollars. Walnuts, committed to making up for the untimeliness of this bailout (see below: timing, not a profound lack of regulation, is to blame), wants to allow America's 100mm seniors to pull their cash out of the market and spend it! (presumably on Chevrolets and Metamucil, because taxpayers are going to pick up their mortgage tabs) amid a liquidity crisis whose tardy solution (for which Walnuts voted) is to put astronomical amounts of cash INTO the market--and to spend billions more protecting banks from dangerous runs (exactly the sort of thing that this plan positively encourages). I mean, Jesus Christ, I would have expected such a counter-productive, nihilistic, populist, and profoundly misguided economic proposal from Sarah Palin, but this is John McCain. I will say, it's very maverick.

This is a bald-faced appeal to the basest denominator of scared old people who want to put their cash under their pillows or in completely unproductive resources like gold or depreciating assets like their health (as the government won't be paying for that)--that and gambling. He will amend the tax code to incentivize their runs on banks, requiring young people to bail those banks out so that the world doesn't stop moving and they don't have to cancel The Price is Right… meanwhile every neurotic old person in Florida will sleep with (and, physically on) the comfort of their secure, liquid life savings and the reality that they will die before they pay the cost of the financial ruin begotten by their reckless consumption. Meanwhile, you and I know that, no matter what genius entrepreneurship we engage in in the future, its fruits will be taxed away to payback the cost of our grandparents terrorizing assault on liquidity in America. Wasn't it enough that we thanklessly and without consultation committed to paying for senior's social security? Now this?

I am beginning to wonder whether it is within the charter of the Treasury--and perhaps positively required of it under the bailout plan--that Paulson censor McCain from advocating such prodigious nonsense in public.

To quote the IHT:
In a plan in which most of the benefits would go to older voters, McCain proposed that people 59 and up who withdraw money from IRAs or 401(k) retirement plans in 2008 and 2009 pay a tax rate of 10 percent on the money rather than their higher normal rates. That part of the plan would cost $36 billion, based on the McCain campaign's internal estimates.
"So much of this decline in our markets and value destruction was due to the failure of Congress and the Administration to come out with a timely rescue package," -J McCain
"Investors are always responsible for their investment decisions, but the hard-earned savings of Americans should not be penalized by the erratic behavior of politicians." - J McCain
- I think the targeted voter is senior citizen Dick Fuld, demanding that he not be penalized for banking on a federal bailout.
This plan is "targeted at people who have been hurt by the recent financial crisis — seniors, savers, workers, people who are trying to get to college." - Douglas Holtz-Eakin
McCain also reiterated his plan for the Treasury Department to buy troubled mortgages at face value and give qualified homeowners government-guaranteed, low-interest mortgages based on their residences' reduced value. McCain first said lenders would pay the difference, but subsequently his campaign said taxpayers would.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
- T.S. Eliot
"The Hollow Men" (1925)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Milton Friedman Institute, Censorship, University of Chicago: A Rant

"Following Friedman’s lead, the design and evaluation of economic policy requires analyses that respect the incentives of individuals and the essential role of markets in allocating goods and services. As Friedman and others continually demonstrated, design of public policy without regard to market alternatives has adverse social consequences."

-Proposal to establish the Milton Friedman Institute with private funds at a private university in a free country, The University of Chicago, 2008

Consider, for instance, the following passage in the Proposal to Establish the Milton Friedman Institute, which construes a certain orthodoxy as the starting point for any discussion:
"Following Friedman’s lead, the design and evaluation of economic policy requires analyses that respect the incentives of individuals and the essential role of markets in allocating goods and services. As Friedman and others continually demonstrated, design of public policy without regard to market alternatives has adverse social consequences."

- 102 would-be censors in a petition to limit free scholarship in the name of equity and balance, The University of Chicago, 2008
For the full text of their letter see Naomi Klein's Blog:

I am left to assume that the favored starting point for discussion is the alternative, which would either NOT "respect the incentives of individuals and the essential role of markets in allocating goods and services" or perhaps that which would encourage us to "design public policy without regard to market alternatives." It's not that I don't see where they are coming from, I do. But I think this certain orthodoxy is tollerant. This certain orthodoxy merely asks us to "respect the incentives of individuals and the role of market" rather than ignore them. It says incentives and markets matter. And, in fact, I think everyone who signed this letter agrees with that. I think this is not their objection. It is rather a facade to demonize the most important social scientist of the century.

But, as Milton Friedman would argue, you must assume your oppenent is making his argument with only the best intentions. Anything else is pointless. So I'll take them at their word: they disagree with this "certain orthodoxy." And I will give them that it is an orthodoxy, and this insitute will strictly study policy scholarship that considers markets and incentives in its approach.

An orthodoxy that asks us to considers a couple of forces is a weak fucking orthodoxy: the only alternative to considering is ignoring. The only plausable alternative the undersigned might advocate--to ignore markets and incentives--is insane! It would even be insane not to take a side on the issue. It is insnae in the very dangerous way that it is insane not to believe in human nature. As the orthodox neo-conservative Amartya Sen put it "saying you don't believe in markets is, in fact, an insane statment. It's rather like saying you don't believe in conversation between people."

So to be clear, the question is: we can create an institution that, they agree (indeed fear) will attract tens of million of private dollars to fund scholarship of the "orthodoxy" that refuses to exclude markets and institutions from consideration.
They mean to deamonize it becuase this is, apparently, presumptuous and offensive, particularly in the global south. I imagine when they say (in their letter) that they "are forced to defend the university's reputation" that this is happening at high society cocktail parties in communist nations. I ask them only to imagine what those cocktail parties are like for those of us who affiliate with the University of Chicago and indeed approve of Milton Friedman's brand of scholarship. The girls don't always like it. But if someone refuses to take seriously your scholarship because of the University's affiliation with a great economist, I hardly believe it is your university that has the problem.But they go so far as to beg the university not to accept millions of dollars to fund world-class scholarship so that they can be spared the humilation of admitting that they teach at the University of Chicago!

Let us be clear, this is censorship and it is being taken seriously by the likes of 100 faculty members at one of the greatest universities in the world.

The undersigned include over 100 staff or faculty members from all departments, and include professors I rather respect, most notably Professor Emeilo Kouri, who I respect as a historian and social scientist and who disappoints me by joining a movement to improve the world by censoring scholarship.

The list predictably also includes Susan Gzesh, who professionally relies on her faculty seat at a first-rate institution to distinguish herself as a critic of that institution. In her spare time she dabbles in the analytically hollow creed of Human Rights, which, as an academic "discipline" provides an uninsightful description of the present without getting bogged down in the details of moral, legal, or rights theory. Her website suggests she is also interested in economic developmet, which makes more alarming her cry to censor economic research on public policy. She awaits an appointment in a democratic administration that finds itself short on hacks with a prowess for primitive criticism without regard to alternative constructions of the world. Unfortunately for Professor Gzesh, Professor Obama has won the nomination.

Monday, September 24, 2007


Posted nine months later:

My roommate and i had a long conversation about the subprime 'crisis', how it is misunderstood, and why that misunderstanding enables politicians to pass stupid laws. It demonstrates exactly why Milton Friedman and Thomas Jefferson advocated public education: there are negative externalities associated with uneducated voters.

So first, most people don't understand what the hell this subprime thing is or why it's messing with our economy. I can offer what I believe to be a concise and basically accurate explanation.

First, an brief note on interest rates: An interest rate is a price, it's the price of borrowing money. If a lot of people want to save money, the interest rate will be low. If a lot of people want to borrow money, it will be high. "The interest rate" is usually the return to saving money without risk. When it is low, people are encouraged to invest in risky, productive investments like business ventures and the stock market. when it is high, this is not encouraged. So when the economy is not so hot, and the central bank wants to encourage investments, they lower the risk-free interest rate. It's a floor: any productive investment has to offer higher returns than the risk-free interest rate.

in 2001 the US Economy went a bit sour, the central bank began to lower interest rates. In the summer of 2004, the interest rate was nearly zero and it had been there for nearly a year. It was very cheap to borrow money.

If it's cheap to borrow money, people will borrow a lot of it. A low interest rate encourages, among other things, people to buy not and pay later. The most relevant place this happens is with houses: most people borrow money in the form of mortgages to buy a house.

With everyone buying houses on credit, the price of houses went up.

Two things were pointing toward enabling even poor people with bad credit to buy houses they wouldn't otherwise buy: (1) it was cheap to borrow money to pay now and buy later and (2) housing prices were climbing, so what looked like a bad loan on a bank's books today was probably going to look a little better tomorrow.

But this wasn't enough: we have had low interest rates before, we have had housing bubbles before, but subprime crisies are more rare than that. There was another element: now more than ever financial markets securitize EVERYTHING. In particular, mortgages.

When I say markets securitize mortgages, I mean the originators who interact with a homeowner and sell them a mortgage do not care if that person is actually able to pay the mortgage in the future. They simply care that it looks like they can pay that mortgage so they can sell the rights to the procedes from that mortgage in the form of a bond. For example a mortgage broker like New Century will take 1000 mortgages that look the same in terms of their risk, will create a bond that pays whatever the homeowners pay of their mortgage, and sell it to wall-street.

This is not bad in-and-of itself: this allows people to have access to cheaper mortgages. To see how this lowers the price of selling mortgages, imagine the local mortgage broker who sells mortgages in Albuquerque. If people pay their mortgage, he does well. but if people don't, he is broke. He is exposed to a lot of risks: if the local job-market fails, if there is a regional borrowing crisis, if the local housing market goes bad, his clients may not pay their mortgage.

It's valuable to him to sell the uncertain future payments for a certain dollar today. And he can sell it to someone who can hedge local risks and even housing market risks away, meaning they own enough securities that certainly some will go bad but certainly all won't. Both parties win. If the local mortgage broker doesn't have to worry about a collapse in the local housing market, he can lend more and cheaper.

Somewhere in New York some hedge fund, insurance company, or bank bought a bond, or a contract that pays money if people pay their mortgages. They saw that the return was high and didn't belive it was that risky, in part because bond rating agencies rated these bonds fairly well. Then, somewhat suddenly, people became unable to pay mortgages and it wasn't the people who sold them the mortgage who felt the heat: instead hedge funds, insurances companies, and banks had bonds that were not paying. Many were in big trouble.

This conflict of interest between the homeowner and the mortgage broker is largely the culprit for the debacle: because mortgage brokers securitize their mortgages into bonds that are sold to other people, it is not as importat to them that homeowners can pay. They are simply concerned with the appearance of good credit: many orinators of mortgages helped people file improperly, udnerstating their tax burden, suggesting that housing prices would rise when there was no reason to believe so, and creating new riskier products. Some of these new products were particularly problematic. the most famous subprime mortgage is a 2/28: a mortgage with an interest rate that is fixed for the first two years and which then becomes adjustable and pegged to some index like LIBOR or the Fed funds rate. If someone bought a house in 2004 with such a product, the interest rate at the time was most certainly approximately zero. After two years and 14 interest-rate hikes by the fed, that monthly payment was sure to increase.

Other products that mortgage brokers sold offered homeowners to pay only the interest on their house, so that they never bought any equity in the house. Imagine a case like this one that was in the Wall Street Journal: three years ago (at the height of the housing bubble) a family with a combined income of $90,000/year is told they can actually afford a house priced at $600,000. They will pay only interest on the house for the first three years and after that their payments will increase to slowly pay off the house.

There are (A LOT) of problems here. First, part of the reason someone might suggest this family is credit worthy is that they believe the value of the house will increase so the debt/collateral ratio will be more attractive with time. This would not be true for most houses sold three years ago. Second, three years ago, interest rates were almost zero. It was all to easy for the mortgage broker to say 'you can buy it for a monthly payment of X' where 'X' is some reasonable number. Something can also be said for the psychology of people to believe that in three years they will figure things out and they can pay their mortgage off.

Today, this family is forced to pay (1) much higher interest on their house and (2) start to buy the equity on the house (as in, actually begin to own it). For them, this is totally impossible not for some tragic reason that the economy is bad or they can't get a loan. It is impossible because a family that earns $90,000/year can't afford a house that costs seven times that.

But the tragedy is that, the house was worth $600,000 when they took out their mortgage and bought it, but as the housing market collapsed, so did the value. So they have a $600,000 debt (since they haven't paid any equity yet) and a house that is now worth $400,000. Even if they sell their house, they can't get away from that! (not to mention the problem of finding a new place to live). This is the problem of a housing bubble. And these creative mortgage products which were implemented by mortgage brokers who didn't care if people could actually pay have left some people in dire situations.

There is an obvious solution to this problem which many talking heads have advocated (most famously Jim Cramer): lowering the interest rate. Lowering the interest rates makes mortgages cheaper for banks and thus cheaper for homeowners meaning they are more likely to pay their mortgage, which makes the mortgage-backed bonds in the hands of to hedge funds, insurance companies, and banks wor

Really low interest rates enabled even poor people with bad credit to buy houses.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I Hate Africa Today

What follows is an e-mail I wrote while I was in a very bad mood. Be warned, it is very whiny.

'm near the airport. not at the airport, near it, because can't get into the airport until 3 am, that's when people from my airline, Quatar Airways, start work again. I've been here since 3PM, when i was actually in the airport, trying to get on my 5pm flight to Doha. Unfortunately for me, the computer was down. I had an e-ticket. If you've ever been to an airport or are at least familiar with the notion of flying, you know what an e-ticket is. otherwise you can probably guess. it's a ticket that is electronic. e-ticket. it means no paper. when you need paper, it's called a ticket. no e.

I had an e-ticket, so I wasn't worried when my bag containing a paper itinerary was stolen. I printed the exact piece of paper again. no big deal, e-ticket. that was the fucking point.

unfortunately, here at Jomo Kenyata International Airport, the largest airport on this continent which God has most certainly forsaken today, the computer is down. You might expect there is more than one computer, and in fact i saw many. But instead of solve the problem of the computer, the airline printed a list of names that were allowed on the flight, everyone else was told go to home. Within four minutes of being at the airport decisively told that I would not be leaving. I was not told when I would be leaving, nor did anyone seem to believe me that something was wrong in my name was not of the microsoft word document that had been printed. They rather seemed quite glad that my problem was easy to solve: no searching on a computer, not arguing. They had a list. I wasn't on it. It was all very simple, so why was I

I said, you don't understand it's an e-ticket. I speak to a manager who is busy tearing pieces of paper at right angles and gluing them to other pieces of paper. Not a particularly reassuring task.. I explain my situation, Mark listens, he asks for my passport, and then looks at the list. He says I'm not on the flight. The only ONLY ONLY way he had to see if anyone could get on that flight was a list of names printed in Microsoft Word. I wasn't on it. that was decisive. No computer, nothing.

I thought he was sort of a prick, but i realize his favor is probably sort of critical to getting out of Nairobi. I ask him when the computer will work. He shrugs. I ask him if he can call someone. He says the office in Nairobi is closed today.

I asked when I could get to Doha, he said he didn't know, and that I needed a ticket. He said i couldn't prove I had a ticket, which would require my proving that I was on a list i'm not on. I asked him where the names on the list came from, he said he didn't know, and that I needed a ticket.I reminded him of the e-ticket. He said it was still a ticket, and I should know that. I feel a bit condescending, and ask him what the term 'e-ticket' means to him.

He gets sort of angry and asks the paper part had gone. I said it was stolen. He has the audacity to ask for a police report. had the patience not to punch him in the face. Of course I didn't have a police report! I was in Africa.Because I was really very angry, I told him that police in Africa are good for fuck all, and that there was no reason to file a police report. HE says without the police report he shouldn't believe me. HE says I am probably just making this all up
and that I haven't bought at ticket at all!! I told him to wait there and I would come back with a police report in ten minutes from Nairobi. He admitted that the police report didn't matter.

I asked, again, what to do. now he says I should go to town (Nairobi). I asked him if the office in town was open on a Sunday, as I thought he said it was closed and that's why he wouldn't call. he said i was right.. I asked why he told me to go to town, he said the office would open tomorrow. I reminded him that the flight leaves in an hour. .

I asked if the telephone worked, and if maybe someone else in Quatar Airways also had a telephone that worked in Doha or Cairo or New York or someplace where someone might even have a working computer. he said the phone worked. I told him to call, he said that wasn't good
enough because it's not usually done. Then he said it was expensive. I told him my airfare was also pretty expensive.

I told him i thought it should be done, and he asked why I was so insistent. I told him i didn't care to go spend another fucking day in Nairobi. He told me I was "Making excuses." I asked him if he thought I came to the airport without a ticket and thought making up a story would be a good way to get out of Africa; if I had spent a thousand dollars to come to Africa and not really had a plan to leave. He said he thought I was lying to him. That's when I told him to fuck off. My demonstration of maturity proved unfortunate, because he left
the room.

By now it was 4:30. I've been arguing with him for an hour and a half, and he still won't pick up a phone to call someone else in his GLOBAL AIRLINE. I sit in his office, fuming. I go to the public phone to call my travel agent in San Francisco. The phone doesn't work. the internet doesn't work. I'm at the larget airport in Africa, after all. I actually wanted to fight Mark right then.

It's now 5:01, my flight is the only flight in all of Nairobi that has left on time. I walk around the airport, I find mark. I decide that I could probably beat him up, but that it would not end in my getting on a flight soon. With very little bearings left, I keep my eye on the prize: leaving. After shouting for five minutes in which i said somethings I would later regret ('people like you are why i hate this fucking city, you are not doing anything helpful' and 'do your job and pick up the phone') we go to the office. I don't feel very mature anymore. He takes me to an office where five bored bureaucrats are playing with scissors and glue and ticket stubs. We are going to use
the phone, i think.

After telling me that the call was expensive, and me telling him that my ticket was expensive, he calls Doha. Immediately, they tell him i have a ticket. He looks kind of disappointed, but tells he that I do have a ticket. I tell him i already fucking know that. then they tell him that he should put me on the next flight out, he tells me this, I ask when it is, he says it's on TUESDAY. it's SUNDAY. I tell him that wont work. he tells me the flight which leaves at 4am is full.
I ask mark for the phone. While he is thinking about giving me the phone, I grab it. I talk to a nice woman in Doha. And once, hers is the most helpful voice in Africa. five minutes later I had a first class flight to Bangkok. It was so easy it was frustrating. my flight had left 30 minutes earlier. I had 11 hours of waiting in a parking lot ahead of me.

My flight leaves at 6 am. it's now 9 pm. It's not worth the 40 dollars to go do nothing in Nairobi. I've been drinking whiskey and cursing Africa with a UN worker at the bar down the street for the last two hours. I can't get in to the airport until 2 AM. I am going to spend the rest of the night drinking, since it's costing a whole ten shillings a minute to use the internet.

In the taxi to the airport, I had been sort of sad to leave Africa but now I can't wait. Something happens when you are traveling where you blame entire nations or continents for problems caused by a few people. I don't think Mark was the only reason i'm not sitting on an
airplane right now, after all, nothing else in the airport worked. But it's probably not all of Africa's fault. It would have been stupid not to expect traveling in Africa to be complicated and tiring on the patience, but I was really looking forward to leaving. I hate this
place right now, and i want to go to Thailand. I'm going to go walk around the parking lot.

Kilimanjaro: Glorified Hill

I am currently in Arusha, the most over-touristed city in Tanzania. As you may know, I came to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, what I expected to be an over-glorified snow-capped hill in Africa. iTo my surprise and to my lungs dismay, it's actually a real mountain standing almost 20,000 ft. Tall. when you are six kilometers above the ocean, the air is both cold and oxygen-poor. Because we are fearless American travelers, my sister and I were not deterred by mere facts. We pressed up the mountain in only four days. Becuase we are from the mountains of New Mexico, we have exception anatomies which enable us to breathe the airs of the stratosphere. And because we have been hardened by the fierce winters of Chicago, we did not
complain about he bitter cold, even when we could not move our hands. We met Swedish Mountaineers who suffered frostbite days after the climb, but the only thing we found objectionable about our circumstances was the bitterly cold water we brought up the mountain.

On the third day of our climb, we reached Kibo Hut, the final base camp before summiting. We were advised to go to sleep at six PM, which despite our greatest efforts, was impossible. We woke up at Ten PM in the Arctic tundra, drank a cup of tea and started to climb. At three
we were at 18000 feet, where I first thought about vomiting. At four we were at 18500 feet, where I realized that I was going to vomit. By Six AM we had climbed five thousand feet to see the Sun Rise over the curvature of the earth, visible from Uhuru Peak. And it was not until I was coming down from the mountain, at 8:00, with Acute Mountain Sickness, which I would compare to the worst hangover you can imagine, that I actually vomited. And then I felt much better. So I have been to and vomited at 6000 Meters.

Really, in all seriousness, from the top of the mountain I could see that the earth is most certainly round. I could see down the Great Rift Valley to the Serengetti. While I am told they are receding, the glaciers on the top were bigger than I know how to describe. If one was not careful, you could fall hundreds of meters in the crevasses of the Ice. The Volcanic crater was enormous, as I guess I should have expected of the tallest standing volcano on Earth.

Now, you might wonder why, I, and individual of indestructible constitution, fell ill while others did not: It was in the name of Science. I was doing an EXPERIMENT. While everyone else who attempts to climb Kilimanjaro takes altitude medicine (Diamox), I joined the control group. So I can now confirm, though with a large confidence interval, Diamox works. If you don't take it, you will vomit after prolonged exposure to altitudes above 19,500 feet.

Coming down was a whole other story. I still had the worlds worst hangover (unique to the Diamox control group), and now I had to walk 15 miles with a big ass bag on my back down an enormous, icy hill.

I made it back, and I have restored feeling in all parts of my body. It was an incredible climb, and now I'm going to zanzibar, where I will sit on the beach of hte Indian Ocean for a few days. I think, after that, if I can afford it, I'm going to Rwanda.

Oh, and I had wacky dreams on top of the mountain. Here are some shoutouts:

John Saxton: in the dream that was by far the most debased from reality, I dreamed that I was at your WEDDING! Not only was I there, Jordan and I were trying to break up the wedding. They say that dreams on Mt. Kilimanjaro show you the truth, so if you know what's good for you, you will not marry that Asian girl you thought was cute at Jimmy's when we were playing Erotic Photo Hunt with Eric.

Bonnie Doyle: I haven't seen you in YEARS, but I had a dream that you and I were arguing with each other on television in Atlanta, and then somehow ended up in New Hampshire where your sister was baking chocolate cake. I don't think I've ever met your sister, but I did REALLY want chocolate cake. The dream reminded me that you promised to reveal your spies after I graduate..

Arrival in Nairobi, Kenya

I'm alive... in Nairobi. It's a big city, we spent the morning
looking for vegetarian food (poor Anisha has come to a place where
mocking vegetarianism is a national sport). Nairobi is big and...
well big. And as it turns out, if you're white like me, everyone you
meet can sell you a Safari! Anyway, we have a hotel for the day, we
are going to take a bus to Mombasa (which goes through the Tsavo
(home of man-eating lions)) and then make our way along the coast to
the Lamu Archipelago).

We were in Kenya for five minutes before we saw a Giraffe. I
was looking out the taxi window thinking "huh, Kenya kind looks like
New Mexico" and then the driver pointed to the tree that was moving
and eating another tree and said "do you know what that is?".

Oh, and Dad, you'll be glad to know: In our five hour layover in
Paris, Anisha and I irresponsibly took a train into the city (which
takes an hour) saw Notre Dame and then returned to the Airport. I have
photos, I've been to Paris, now i don't have to go back. check.

The flight was interesting, we flew over Karthoum, Darfur,
Lybia and all kinds of other places to which we can't travel. And as
a good show of African humor, the only films playing on the Kenya
Airways flight were "Blood Diamond," "Hotel Rwanda," and "Last King of Scotland". I
don't think "You're Going To Die When the Plane Lands" is out on DVD

We are fine. Don't worry. Africa is cool! more later.