Archive for the 'World Events' Category

Television: The World’s Uniter

AFGHANISTAN and the United States have little in common. This dichotomy is perhaps best expressed in television terms: in the U.S., the war exists on TV while our daily lives are peaceful. In Afghanistan, the war is right outside, but on TV there’s a chance for escape.

Yet a converse example is also sprouting, says The New York Times, as Afghans are spending time on their keester glued to the screen:

But television is off to a phenomenal start, with Afghans now engrossed, for better or worse, in much of the same escapist fare that seduces the rest of the world: soap operas that pit the unbearably conniving against the implausibly virtuous, chefs preparing meals that most people would never eat in kitchens they could never afford, talk show hosts wheedling secrets from those too shameless to keep their troubles to themselves.

The latest national survey, which dates from 2005, shows that 19 percent of Afghan households own a television, a remarkable total considering not only that owning a TV was a crime under the Taliban but that a mere 14 percent of the population has access to public electricity. In a study this year of Afghanistan’s five most urban provinces, two-thirds of all people said they watched TV every day or almost every day.

“Maybe Afghanistan is not so different from other places,” said Muhammad Qaseem Akhgar, a prominent social analyst and newspaper editor. “People watch television because there is nothing else to do.” [Read full]

Yes, in a bombed-out war zone where going outside may get you killed, it makes sense that people would stay in and want to be transported someplace else for a while. According to the same article, a dismally low literacy rate in Afghanistan  means that reading is not an option for many.

So the Afghans have their reasons for loving the glowing box. But what’s our excuse? Though I’ll shamelessly defend my watching of Family Guy and Anthony Bourdain’s show on the Travel Channel, I’m a bit more embarrassed about vegging out with reruns when I would do better to read, spend time with a friend or just go to sleep.

Too often it seems that television is just a way to “kill time.” Seems such a waste when I think about the fact that time will eventually end up killing us.

Iraq: Reasons to Celebrate, Mourn

The Iraqi national soccer team won a victory over South Korea in yesterday’s Asia Cup match, via the NYTimes:

As the Iraqi national soccer team eked out a 4-3 shootout victory over South Korea on Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis poured into the streets in a paroxysm of good feeling and unity not seen in years.

It was more rapture than celebration, a singular release of the sort of emotion that has fueled so much rage and fear and paranoia. But this evening, at least at first, it seemed diverted into nonstop car-horn bliss; spontaneous parades clogged streets from Erbil to Karbala, from Basra to Mosul, from Ramadi to Baghdad. [Full]

While I’d normally be bummed to see a loss for South Korea, given the current situation in Iraq it’s clear which nation needed this more.

Tragically, the halcyon moment of revelry was fleeting for Iraqis, as two suicide bombings tore through Baghdad killing at least 50 people and several men used the cover of the crowd to violently end their personal vendettas.

Will the nation of Iraq ever know unity again?

TSA: Keeping Us Safe From Sanity

Via Mike at Vagabondish, a seven year-old Florida boy is on the national “no fly” list, as he is clearly a terrorism risk:

Michael Martin is only 7 years old, a typical youngster who enjoys skateboarding and playing drums. Because he shares a name with a known or suspected terrorist, he has run into roadblocks three times before boarding an airliner, Krista Martin said.

Each time, she was unable to quickly obtain a boarding pass for him online or via an airport kiosk. She had to march to a check-in counter to sort things out, which she said was mostly an inconvenience but also “exasperating.”

Apparently, in a nation that uses predator drones and can digitally spy on its citizens, we are still not quite at that technologically advanced stage where we can discern between a small boy who enjoys drums and a suspected terrorist.

Just for context, a quick search for “Michael Martin” in New York state brought 157 results. Keep us safe, TSA, keep us safe.

Fixing History

Israel’s Education Ministry announced yesterday that it will release a third-grade textbook that acknowledges the suffering Palestinians endured with the formation of the Jewish state – via the SF Chronicle:

Previous editions gave only the Jewish narrative of the war, pointing out the Jews’ connection to the Holy Land and their need for a state because of persecution in Europe. That version focused on heroism of the Israeli forces and referred to the Palestinian flight as a voluntary escape.

The new edition adds the Arab perspective, noting for the first time that many Palestinians were forced from their homes and became refugees after the winners of the war confiscated their land and barred their return. [Full]

The catch? The new text will only be taught to Arab children, not Jewish students.

I can’t pretend to be informed enough on the Palestine/Israel issue to pass judgment, but the fact that the Education Ministry is even willing to concede the Palestinian viewpoint is evidence enough that it is legitimate on some level. If that’s the case, then why shelter Jewish students from having an open dialogue? Why try to cook the history books in a time when we need desperately to understand each other?

In a related event, Taipei announced plans to “drop references that describe mainland Chinese historical figures, places and artifacts as ‘national,'” the Education Ministry has announced.” (International Herald Tribune)

While I can understand Taiwan’s hesitancy to declare full-out independence (China has threatened military retaliation if it does so), this seems passive-aggressive. If you’re gonna say it, President Chen, then say it.

Meanwhile, Japan still won’t cave on its hardline of ignoring the realities of the past, despite the outrage it has caused. High-schoolers there continue to glaze over the Rape of Nanking (reduced to a footnote) and the oppressive occupation of Korea.

Amid all of this, we must question whether children around the globe are being educated about the social realities of our world. If regimes continue to sacrifice legitimate dialogue for the sake of legitimizing their politicized view, the rifts between us will only continue to fester – we must look back on our pasts honestly, or we will never move forward.

(Revised 07/24/2007)

Oil in Africa: Hypocrisy and Responsibility

On Monday, the Wisconsin State Journal ran the headline “Africa’s Golden Chance: Can the continent play the increasing interest of China, India and the U.S. to its advantage?” above a piece by Edward Harris of the AP. As I walked by a newsstand and saw the bold print, I cocked my head in confusion – something about it didn’t sit quite right.

Later I sat down to read the entire article and was even more dismayed by the narrative’s simplistic conclusion that foreign oil investors are going to be the economic saviors of the continent , if only the African leadership could get it together [HT to Chicago Daily Herald, as WSJ does not archive AP articles]:

Nigeria’s oil industry, like those of many other African countries, is primarily run by Western energy concerns. The companies who operate crude-pumping operations and share the proceeds with Nigeria’s federal government include Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, France’s Total SA, Eni SpA from Italy, and US-based Chevron Corp.

But increasingly, China and India have been moving in, too. Chinese and Indian companies won big in a recent round of bids for exploration licenses, for example, and have become big consumers […]

Peter Pham, a professor of international relations at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., said: “Africa can no longer be safely ignored … that era of benign or not-so-benign neglect is over.”

It all adds up to a rare moment of potential influence for Africa, he says, but only if African leaders can end their own self-enrichment at the expense of their people.

“It’s a question of whether African leaders rise to the occasion,” said Pham, “or if it just becomes another moment to support themselves.” [Read Full]

Now, Pham has a point here – in the past many African leaders have simply shaved off hefty shares of the oil money, essentially pocketing what is rightfully owed to their people. However, putting all of the responsibility on African leaders and dubbing the burgeoning oil industry Africa’s “Golden Chance” overlooks several aspects of the reality.

Foreign investors, like China, owe it to the nations in which they invest to do so responsibly. I’m not talking about World Bank-style structural adjustment programs, but something even more basic. For example, China could perhaps stop selling arms to Sudan.

What is also overlooked here is that, from an employment aspect, oil doesn’t do much for the economy – the oil industry alone creates limited job opportunities, and it seems the trend for foreign investors is to bring workers from home anyway. If states were to set up a way of evenly distributing oil revenues it may flush the economy with more eager consumers; however, that scenario seems unlikely.

I cannot pretend to be an expert, but I will argue that oil on the continent will not be the saving grace for Africa. Historically, the extraction of natural resources for consumption abroad has brought little good to the African people, why would the rules change now? Foreign and local investment into infrastructure – into roads, utilities, hospitals, banks, business, etc. – along with education, is likely the only way the continent will pull itself up by its bootstraps.

(Revised 07/12/2007)

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