For much of the past two years Claire and I have called Champaign-Urbana, Illinois home (with a remarkable once-in-a-lifetime 7-month stint in Kenya included). This has been a remarkable time. As I worked on my M.S. degree in Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois I’ve been privileged to be a part of a study examining the economic impacts of agroforestry, while also taking courses on development and environmental economics and getting to meet some terrific researchers at the nexus of economic development, sustainable agriculture, and environmental studies.

My graduating class of MS and PhD students at Illinois. Congratulations!


Let me just put in a brief plug for my department and field of study before I move on to what’s next. The Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics (ACE) at the University of Illinois focuses on applying economics to an array of practical problems, from understanding the causes of food waste, to predicting the effects of climate change on agriculture. The work done here is pretty concrete stuff. Applied economists take the conceptual tools provided by economic theory and use them to analyze real-world policies and problems. This is typical of agricultural and applied economics programs in land-grant institutions across the country–though I’d like to think Illinois has a lot going for its department in particular. This type of program often coexists with a “pure” economics department which focuses more on advancing the frontiers of economic theory and its ability to produce insights on human behavior. This not to say that researchers in economics departments don’t do applied work, but the land-grant mission of applied economics departments housed in agricultural institutions like the College of ACES at the University of Illinois makes applied work a natural fit. Other institutions which house similar departments include Cornell, UC Berkely, UC Davis, and Minnesota. I’m grateful to my professors here at Illinois, in particular my advisor, Kathy Baylis, whose work on on forests, agriculture, trade, poverty, and biodiversity is an inspiring example of the many applications of policy-focused economic analysis.

Now graduation is approaching! So what’s next?


To my immense gratitude, I get to continue studying applied economics! I’ve been accepted to Duke University’s PhD Program in Environmental Policy. This turns out to be very much in line with the type of program I’ve described above. Duke is not a land-grant institution (it’s a private university, rather than a public institution founded through a federal grant of western land like the University of Illinois), but its Sanford School of Public Policy sees itself as advancing a very similar mission. So my program was formed to train economists to tackle policy questions related to humanity’s impact on the environment. The researchers I’ll work with and learn from examine a multitude of issues including the effectiveness of protected forest areas, the value of improved cookstoves in developing countries, and the trade-offs involved in hydro-electic dam construction. I can’t wait to get started this fall.

Meanwhile Claire has been accepted to the School of Government at the University of North Carolina, where she’ll be working toward a Masters degree in Public Administration. Known as an “M.B.A. for non-profits” the M.P.A. program will prepare her to work in government or the non-profit social sector. She hopes to learn more about management, fund-raising, and H.R. while connecting with the the people and organizations providing resettlement services to refugees with the hope of serving that community after graduating.

So Durham, N.C. here we come! Yes, we’re aware we stand on opposite sides of the greatest basketball rivalry of all time. But hopefully it will only make our marriage stronger :-).  To all our friends in the Southeast: see you soon! And a huge thank you and goodbye to our friends and community here in Illinois. We’ll miss you!



For the last two and a half months Claire and I have been living and working in Kitale, a town in Trans Nzoia county, Western Kenya, home to the Kenya headquarters of  Vi Agroforestry.

Vi is an organization founded and supported by a Swedish magazine of the same name. It was founded in the 80’s when a Swedish journalist named Sten Lundgren traveled to Kenya and, struck by the specter of encroaching desertification, wrote an impassioned editorial imploring his countrymen to cease “drowning” each other in flowers and instead “give them a forest!” To no one’s surprise more than Sten’s, donations for trees started flooding in and  Vi Agroforestry (called in Swedish Vi Skogen) began.

First in the arid region of West Pokot–where a forest still grows on land at the boundary between the mutually hostile Turkana and Pokot tribes–Vi’s first employees, a Swedish volunteer and a young Kenyan named William Makokha (who still oversees seed production), began planting trees.

William Makokha in the forest he helped to plant in West Pokot, Kenya.


It didn’t take long for Vi’s operation to shift from outright reforestation–with its attendant challenge of land availability–to agroforestry i.e. trees on farms. It was also clear that opportunity lay more in well-watered Trans Nzoia than in West Pokot. Trans Nzoia had been one of the areas designated as “white highlands” during the colonial period, meaning the land was designated for settlement by white British colonists. When independence came, much of the land was redistributed to Kenyans, drawing in farmers eager for land from all over the country. These new settlers found themselves in a landscape denuded by the large-scale agriculture practiced by the colonists.

When Vi was beginning, Trans Nzoia was still relatively deforested, so as the young organization expanded its operations it built tree nurseries around the county and began distributing trees to farmers eager to grow timber and firewood on plots reclaimed from the colonialists’ mono-crop plantations.

As Vi moved toward empowering farmers instead of planting trees on its own, they came in contact with the World Agroforestry Centre (also known as the International Centre for Research in Agroforestry, or ICRAF–an acronym which sticks even to the new name). The impact evaluation I’m working on is an ICRAF project, and Claire’s work is to trace  Vi’s technical knowledge back to its source in scientific research–including ICRAF’s work. So the narrative above comes from oral histories she has collected over the past few months.

Since its early days, Vi has done some remarkable things: they contributed significantly to reforestation in Trans Nzoia, participated in the field-testing of a number of innovative agroforestry practices, developed Kenya’s first carbon credit trading program, and expanded their operations into Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

In addition to providing agricultural advisory services to farmer groups throughout their focal areas, Vi’s headquarters serves as a demonstration area for agroforestry techniques, a tree nursery, and an arboretum dedicated to species indigenous to East Africa.

Tree seedling in the Vi nursery, shaded by trees dedicated to past directors and funders of the organization.


As if that weren’t enough they also maintain a garden called the Grove of Peace dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Estonia disaster–a 1994 shipwreck which claimed the lives of 900 people in the Baltic Sea. This garden is the most striking parts of the Vi campus. It is open to the public, and people stroll in throughout the day to walk, eat lunch, pray, and even sing hymns.

Benches in the Grove of Peace, often occupied by Kitale residents on their lunch break.


A cow wanders through a trellis in the Grove of Peace. Her milk goes into the morning chai for Vi staff.


Claire and I spent the better part of the summer on the back porch of the Vi office, looking down over the peace garden and the arboretum, guarding our lunch from the De Brazza’s monkeys and trying to catch a glimpse of the more reclusive Colobus. It was a wonderful time.

A De Brazza’s monkey scaling the office gutter. These guys  bang on the porch roof in frustration if we get between them and the scraps in the trash can.


The Colobus monkeys are harder to spot. They can leap incredible distances, white fringe flying behind them. Just once they came close enough for Claire to get photos.


So that’s where we’ve been for the last little while! Claire and I have now moved to Nairobi to be close to the ICRAF office as we write our reports. But we’ll make it back to Vi in Kitale several times before we leave Kenya. We are so grateful to our colleagues there for being so welcoming, and we are glad to get to continue working together as we finish our respective projects.


Fair warning: this post is off the nerd deep end.I’m going to describe how to use the Notepad++ text editor and the Stata package texdoc to edit Stata and LaTex code from within the same document. So this post will assume a basic level of interest in and knowledge of Stata and LaTex. Here goes!

During my coursework at UIUC I got acquainted with R and was particularly taken with the Knitr package for writing reproducible reports.

Brief discursus on why this matters: reproducible research is a growing preoccupation in the social sciences, especially with recent high-profile spats about p-hacking and reproducibility in the psychology literature. Reproducibility actually encompasses a number of questions, the most obvious being, “if I did the same experiment over again, would I get the same result?” But even before you get to attempting to re-run an experiment (which in economics is tricky, since we don’t exactly work in labs…) there is a lower bar to pass: “if I ran the same code on the same data would I get the same result?” That might seem like an obvious and easy test, but there are a number of documented cases where papers submitted to peer-review journals have failed it. So there is a push within economics to publish the code used in the statistical analysis along with the data and the analysis itself.

Reproducible documents make that task a lot easier. Using a tool like Knitr, you can write a report or paper, including snippets of R so that the code can be edited along with the analysis rather than copying and pasting tables back and forth. This eliminates some possibilities for errors and keeps you from including old tables when the model or the data changes. It also simplifies and organizes the task of providing code and data, because everything is all in one place. Most importantly for the lazy grad student in all of us: it saves a lot of time. Moving to RStudio with Knitr saved me considerable time, because each table was automatically regenerated inside my document any time the code changed.

Which brings me to my major beef with Stata: where’s the equivalent of Knitr? Enter texdoc. This is a Stata package that allows you to write LaTex (the markdown language used to format papers for publication) and Stata code within the same document. This means you can write a report, format it, and run the Stata analysis all in one place, no copying and pasting needed. So…

What You Need:

  1. texdoc and sjlatex Stata packages
  2. Notepad++ text editor
  3. A distribution of LaTex (I used MikTex v. 2.9)

Step 1: Install texdoc and sjlatex

First, to get Stata to allow LaTex code inside your .do files, install texdoc by typing ssc install texdoc into the Stata command line. Then consult the texdoc help file and this paper by Ben Jann for how to include LaTex code inside your .do files.

Next, in order to get LaTex to properly read your Stata output, install sjlatex. Instructions are available here for installing sjlatex and getting your installation of MikTex to find it.

Note: the file “stata.sty” included in the sjlatex package is essential for telling MikTex how to format Stata output. I’m sure there is a more elegant way to do this, but I had to put that file into my LaTex project’s working directory, i.e. the folder where the LaTex pdf files are generated, in order to get MikTex to recognize it.

Now play around with writing LaTex and Stata code, placing LaTex code inside /*tex and tex*/ tags. This will allow you to write a document complete with a LaTex header, sections of text, and a bibliography, while spitting out your Stata output from within the same file.


As you can see above, my LaTex header is treated as a comment (shout-out to Mani at UIUC for his primer on LaTex). So Stata ignores the LaTex, then produces a separate .tex file which you can run MikTex on to produce the final formatted document.

End of story?

Unfortunately no. If you try this out for yourself, you’ll find a few flaws in the workflow, mainly stemming from the limitations of Stata’s native .do file editor. It is just not set up for writing an entire document. It doesn’t have spell-check, it doesn’t wrap text (so a paragraph is one long line), and it will definitely not help you with your LaTex syntax.

So it’s time to ante up and use a real text editor to work with the .texdoc files you’ll be writing with this package. There are two very good options for this task: SublimeText and Notepad++. You can check out how to use SublimeText with Stata here, but I’ll be focusing on Notepad++ because I have a bias for open-source tools, and I already had it installed when I was working this out.

Step 2: Configure Notepad++ to work with Stata

Install Notepad++, then follow the instructions here to install Freidrich Huebler’s extension rundolines. This will allow you to write Stata code in Notepad++ then execute it in Stata.

Note: This requires some fussing with the code in the programs Huebler provides. Make sure you get the file path to Stata entered correctly, and edit the code so it refers to your version of Stata. I futzed with this for a while before realizing the code pointed to Stata 14.0 and my version is 14.1.

Next, to get Notepad++ to recognize Stata commands and provide syntax highlighting, follow these instructions from Konstantin Golyaev to set Stata code as a user-defined language.


Now you can choose Stata as one of the languages. Note that Tex comes pre-installed under “T” in the menu pictured above, so you can toggle between the two languages as you write.

Step 3: Configure Notepad++ to work with LaTex

John Bruer has thorough instructions here for setting up Notepad++ so that you can run LaTex to generate documents and even search back and forth between the final document and the code that produced it.

Note on references: The code in Bruer’s instructions above uses Bibtex to generate references. If you prefer Biber (which is more recent and has more options) you’ll need to substitute biber.exe for bibtex.exe in the pdf_latex.bat file. And again, pay close attention to the paths to the various programs that are being called.

Step 4: Put it all together

Now that Notepad++, Stata and LaTex can all talk to each other, it’s just a matter of settling on a workflow that works for you. I tend to keep three files going in Notepad++ at a time: the .texdoc file, the .tex file, and a master .do file that gets everything started. The master do file just has a few lines of code like this:

cd “example working directory”
set more off
texdoc do example.texdoc
texdoc strip example.texdoc, replace

This sets the working directory, initiates the .texdoc file, and creates a separate .do file with just the Stata code, in case I want to look at or share the code without all the LaTex stuff.

So to run the whole thing, I execute the master .do file, which runs all the code in the .texdoc file, generating both my stripped .do file and a .tex file in the process.


Then I click over to the .tex file’s tab and run MikTex using the pdflatex_build command (which I’ve set as keyboard shortcut F8), and there it is: a nicely formatted pdf with paragraphs of text and Stata-generated tables all included.


So that’s that! Using texdoc with Notepad++ you can write reproducible papers and reports and look like a boss doing it. If anyone reading this has any additional improvements or modifications they’ve made, please share them.



Growing up my heroes were martial. Flying aces, squadron commanders, generals, fighter pilots. Sergeant York, General Patton, Ulysses S. Grant, Hannibal of Carthage, Sun Tzu. The ones I dreamed about most flew planes, steely-eyed men wedded to sleek flying machines dealing death from the air. I had a profusion of inner effigies, models of me at war, reflected back by the pictures in books about dog-fights and bombing runs.

I was in the woods when we declared war on Iraq.

Click here to continue reading at Curator Magazine

They killed the dogs last night. Gunshots and panicked yelps then—for the first time in two months—silence. Now I’m walking two blocks toward the river on the way to the barbershop and there are corpses piled in heaps on the curb awaiting removal.

Calo is unconcerned. He is singing the praises of the neighborhood barber. My hair is thick and shaggy, while Calo’s is buzzed tight; his dense Dominican curls smooth against his head.

“He will make you…zzzt,” he runs his fingers across his scalp, “so good, so cool.”

Dog tongues loll out of dog mouths. The flies, used to the meager pickings on discarded mango pits, are feasting.

“Que…” I search for the right question, “Que es esto?” “What is this?” As if some thing has been here, some single beast, slouching toward the river to die.

Click here to continue reading at Curator Magazine

  • In Thai, one word (tam), suffices for both “make” and “do.” The same is true for the Tajik kardan and the Spanish hacer. English is the only language I’ve yet learned that separates the idea of action from that of creation.
  • When Thais say they are eating, they say they are eating rice. When they say they are hungry, they say they are hungry for rice, whether they plan to eat rice or not. Rice is food. The real food. This linguistic association of the staple with the very concept of food is common. Congolese will often say they have not eaten today if they have not yet eaten manioc.

continue reading at Curator Magazine.

If there is an Oscar for the category, “best glorification of the life of the mind” then Hannah Arendt deserves it. Rarely have the classroom and the writing desk glowed with more fervor on-screen than in Margarethe Von Trotta’s biopic of the acclaimed Jewish political theorist.

It’s a winning presentation. Barbara Sukowa’s Arendt is a lantern-jawed hero of independent thought, steely-eyed in the face of criticism.

And that criticism is stiff, for Hannah Arendt chooses to center its drama around Arendt’s coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial and the writing of the subsequent book, Eichmann in Jerusalema period in Arendt’s life when she was embroiled in controversy. The film makes much of this drama, reminding the viewers that what is now familiar in the history of ideas was once too hot to handle.

Click here to continue reading at Curator Magazine.