Thursday, December 31, 2009

Summing up

Well, it seems to be the thing to do. I have procrastinated posting recently because the story I wanted to highlight just seemed to be too depressing. There was an article in the New York Times a week ago on violence in Polokwane, South Africans against Zimbabwean and other African refugees. It is depressing to me because it speaks to the inability of the South African government to fully address the needs of its own people. It is depressing because the problem that is Robert Mugabe is still there, making life miserable for the people of Zimbabwe. It is depressing because the "lost generation", primarily men 24-50 whose education was interrupted due to school boycotts beginning in the mid-1970's in protest against the Apartheid regimes 'Bantu Education' policies, will never gain full employment and may only ever settle for under-or-unemployment. And it is depressing because it is a microcosm of all societies where inequity breeds discontent, distrust, and violence.

On a more upbeat note, I saw Invictus last night. Now, I know and can appreciate the complaints by South Africans that no South African actors played the lead roles. But in reality, this was a movie made for a non-South African audience and is another Clint Eastwood exploration of revenge/redemption stories. He usually focuses on the revenge of the underdog and the making of this movie is about the ultimate revenge of Nelson Mandela. I found many parts of the movie very moving for the feelings they invoked about the man Mandela. It reinforced in me the sense that Nelson Mandela is, and will be, regarded as one of the most amazing and important human beings, ever.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Consistent Behaviour.....and all of it negative

The Chinese are nothing if not consistent: their actions in Africa have been mentioned here before. They offer investment in economic development in developing countries: infrastructure development, resource extraction, etc The expectation is that this will lead to much needed employment growth, ancillary business growth,etc. Various African nations which have negotiated such deals with the Chinese have found that it is an all-inclusive package: the Chinese bring with all their own workers, restaurateurs, equipment. And now the Vietnamese are complaining! And the Indians! Check out the NYT article linked here.

And shame on the Cambodians for sending back the 20 Uighers who had fled repression in China and now face certain imprisonment and torture. And how remarkable that this was done one day before the arrival of the Chinese who, the day after their arrival in Phnom Penh announced an economic development package worth $1 billion! Are the Cambodians expecting the Chinese to also employ locals, patronise local restaurants, buy goods form local businesses?.....see above for frustrated expectations elsewhere. And where are all those newly found human rights principles that were rediscovered since the fall of the Khmer Rouge? Shame on them all.

Monday, December 21, 2009

And Give More....

Nicholas Kristof wrote and article in the NYT on 16 December about the school that Valentino Deng and Dave Eggers are building in Southern Sudan, in the town that Deng grew up in before it was burned to the ground and he became on of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Dave Eggers wrote What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, based on conversations he had with Deng and all the proceeds from the book went to starting this school project. Buy the book, read about Deng's Foundation in the links, send money.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Romania's Securitate Legacy

Two references to Romania's past have appeared recently. A BBC report by Oana Lungescu describes files kept on her own family, as well as others, that have become available for perusal. And today, Herta Mueller, a German citizen born & raised in Romania (part of the German minority there), who fled in 1982, was awarded her Noel prize for Literature. The German minority in Romania was also in the news this past week, when the NYT reported on the popular mayor of Sibiu. Such interesting stories.....

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Salt Trade

A story on the BBC about profound, and permanent, changes in the salt trade in Mali, reminded me of other aspects of this story I heard about a number of years ago that have immense implications for all humans in terms of our repository of knowledge accumulated over our species' time on earth. The BBC story reported on how the use of trucks, instead of camels, to haul salt from the mines to market (such as Timbuktu) has impacted the lives of the Tuaregs. A truck journey to-and-from the mines is a week; a camel journey is 45 days. Tuareg customs dictated that when a person had made three round trip journeys by camel to haul salt, he was ready for marriage: the trip by truck does not prove perseverance, responsibility, any accumulation of knowledge. Another story also focused on how climate change has made the journey with camels very difficult because of the lack of water at needed intervals for the camels.

The story I heard about a few years ago, concerned how the fact that the Sahara Desert was traveled by fewer and fewer people working in the salt mines, resulted in the loss of knowledge of how to read the desert. Reading the desert by the Tuaregs or Bedouin is like reading the snow by the Inuit and Eskimos. This knowledge about our environment is dying out...using a GPS device is just not the same. Having the information in text books only is not the same. While no one would wish the traditional life of a salt miner/trader on anyone, it is also a shame that we will eventually lose information on reading/understanding/living in an environment that taxes all of our creativity, acuity, and endurance.