Thursday, April 24, 2008

Who d'ya think I am?

So, I am an administrator for an online community where we do loads of e-forums and discussions. I send an email to people once I have approved their account, and sometimes I get back some wacked-out emails. Here is the treat of the week:

"Thank you for approval given to my account, Please kindly send one laptop computer for me. l want to participate in this programme efficiently and effectively,
l will be glad for your due consideration.
My postal address is as follow...
Thank you."

Right... I'll just kindly send you one right out. No problem whatsoever. Little does this person realize that I am just a lowly worker who doesn't even get her own laptop. But, I wish this person the best of luck convincing an NGO to give away laptops. That'll be the day.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I read a line the other day in Black Like Me that encapsulates the resident feeling we often harbor toward our fellow men: "How can you render the duties of justice to men when you're afraid they will be so unaware of justice they may destroy you?" That very reasoning lurks behind much of our regret and guilt. How often have we wanted to pull over and help that person stranded on the side of the road, but stopped short because we were afraid of what might happen if we did so? That "helpless" person, after all, could be a mass-murderer or a rapist, someone who will take advantage of our kindness. And so we deny kindness. And so we deny justice. We fear to provide that which is just because we fear. We fear that others do not have the same sense of justice, living by a divergent set of morals and beliefs. And so they cannot be trusted to do what in our minds is truly just. They cannot be trusted to live by our standard of the golden rule. And so we deny justice. Sadly, perhaps; regretfully, perhaps; but the truth remains. Is there, perhaps some bifurcation going on here? Is it truly either-or, or are there more options to be had? I am simply wondering, because I too face this dilemma. I have many times shoved aside my feelings of justice, allowing fear to fill that vacancy. And, I believe that it is a valid fear, a fear that is daily validated by the media and others' actions. However, I have begun to doubt that there are only 2 reactions to these situations. But I don't know where to go with what I think may be a false dilemma.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Riots on the streets of Addis

"The rapidly escalating global food crisis has reached emergency proportions and threatens to wipe out seven years of progress in the fight against global poverty."
-- Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary general

Riots in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Italy. All over rising food prices. Want the stats from the WB and the UN?

  • Wheat prices: risen 130% since last March
  • Soy prices: risen 87% since last March
  • Overall food prices: risen 83% in the last 3 years
  • Food represents 60-80% of consumer spending in developing countries
  • In just 3 years the price of staples (wheat, corn, rice) has almost doubled

Why this dramatic rise? Reports are citing increased population, biofuel demand, bad weather, high oil and transport costs that companies pass along to consumers, and newly "rich" countries' demand for meat and dairy products.

To reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to keep corn prices artificially high for farmers, the US has pushed the use of biofuels. Using corn for fuel, however, is fueling food shortages - especially in the developing world.

With Earth Day approaching, it is quite a propos to think of how we can better take care of the environment. However, how can we reconcile these somewhat opposing needs: to provide food for all, especially the poor, and to take care of the environment?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Lose your city eyes and act accordingly

"When you have city eyes you cannot see the invisible people, the men with elephantitis of the balls and the beggars in boxcars don't impinge on you, and the concrete sections of future drainpipes don't look like dormitories. My mother lost her city eyes and the newness of what she was seeing made her flush, newness like a hailstorm pricking her cheeks. Look, those beautiful children have black teeth! Would you believe... girl children bearing their nipples! How terrible, truly! And, Allah-tobah, heaven forfend, sweeper women with - no! - how dreadful! - collapsed spines, and bunches of twigs, and no caste marks; untouchables, sweet Allah! ... and cripples everywhere, mutilated by loving parents to ensure them of a lifelong income from begging ... yes, beggars in boxcars, grown men with babies' legs, in crates on wheels, made out of discarded roller-skates and old mango boxes ... Children tugging at the pallu of her sari, heads everywhere staring at my mother, who thinks, It's like being surrounded by some terrible monster, a creature with heads and heads and heads; but she corrects herself, no, of course not a monster, these poor poor people - what then? A power of some sort, a force which does not know its strength, which has perhaps decayed into impotence through never having been used. No, these are not decayed people, despite everything."

-- Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Splashing in the rain

Some may have abandoned the pastime of splashing in the rain when they were 3 years old. But for others, the magic still remains powerful, and they succumb to the puddles' calls. I would belong to the latter group. I really don't know what else there is to do with rain.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Scandal has rocked the public health world. Or so many would believe. Last week, events unfolded that are still oozing shock waves to the media, the blogosphere, and public health agencies. For a brief background, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) is, as one might imagine, part of Hopkins, but it is funded by USAID. CCP administers PopLine, the world's largest database on reproductive health. Here's the media's latest spin: recently, PopLine administrators removed the search term "abortion," essentially rendering all abortion-focused articles invisible to the public. That's where most media and bloggers stop.

Enter outrage, shock, and criticism. How could Hopkins, a world-premier research organization, allow such censorship? How could they cut people off from evidence-based information, information that is supposed to be free? People waged a textual war, yelling such things as: "it's absurd to restrict searches using a perfectly good noun such as abortion!" "Insidious and convoluted." "I hope somebody at Hopkins is looking for work next week." "Whoever did this should pay dearly." Hate mail began to stream in.

This episode is, to me, simply a symptom of a broader malady. I am repeatedly dismayed at our cultural readiness to criticize, find fault, and jump to conclusions. Is it that we truly lack the time to seek out a more complete and truthful view of a situation? Could it be that our inclination to rage has been weighted? Do we have shorter fuses than we used to? Are we all becoming cynics? I have noticed this increasing tendency to criticize - especially our leaders, but in a true sense, all people around us. It troubles me. Perhaps we have removed ourselves so far from the situation that we lose all context for decisions. Choices are rarely - if ever - made in a vacuum, and we seldom know the issues surrounding the decisions. It is even less likely that we will have a complete understanding of context - a holistic view of the situation - when it is first presented to us. Yet, so many of us constantly react to the first hearing. We join the rampage, and once adjoined, whether from fear or pride, it is difficult to retreat and look at the situation objectively. We seem to feel that once we have pledged our "support" in one direction, we cannot do what is necessary - to carefully examine each side of the issue. It is also vital to take into consideration the human aspect of decision-making, and remember, remember, that we too are human. I believe we forget that we are of the same nature as those making these "outrageous" decisions. Would we have made the same choice if placed in the same situation? I don't necessarily want to take this to the "cast the first stone" level; however, I find that it is rare that we are level-headed and realistic when we cast our first judgment. We react without full, or even partial information. From that point, we continue on adrenaline and emotions, inhibiting factual ability to penetrate our clouded minds.

To come back to the story at hand, CCP is funded by USAID, which means that certain restrictions are placed upon it. Abortion cannot be advocated or officially spoken of given the current administration. Whatever our personal views on the issue, I would venture to say that we need to seek more understanding of this multi-faceted issue by drawing ourselves back from the minutia of one facet. Then, we can begin to make decisions unadulterated by sheer emotion, and start to act - not react.