Friday, December 22, 2006

No, not again.

If there is anything worse about violence and ensuing beatings and killings then this only alternative can be that children are involved. Logically, one's mind goes to the numerous children that are maltreated by parents or strangers alike; the vulnerability of children makes it a duty for society to cater for and protect them. What happens though when children are no longer only victims but become perpetrators too?

Today in France two young teenagers, a boy and girl, killed their classmate in the school courtyard. A few days ago, a young boy of no more than 11 years was caught in Salonica, Greece throwing stones at policemen. Last year, in the town of Veroia, Greece a boy was allegedly tortured and killed by his classmates. Just a few years ago, in Columbine, Ohio, a young boy shot and killed his classmates.

Language deprived of sensationalism can make even the most shocking information appear normal. Yet no matter how objective and relaxed the language is, such news is disturbing, even to the most calm and composed individuals. Denial is a common response: one sees it in newspapers analyses, listens to it when people talk, expresses it on his own face. "It is not possible."

Sadly it is. Atrocities occur. Atrocities occur often. Atrocities occur often in many places. Can it go any worse?

Realizing the unrealizable is an obligation. Accepting what is unacceptable is a crime.

Society advances by the day. Is this a measure of our progress? Or is it perhaps a measure of our civility? What is it really that justifies our breeding of violence such that brings horrendous crimes like the ones we read in the papers to life? We talk about education and curricula reforms, we are concerned about what happens in school classrooms when we pay little if any attention to all the 'other' teachers of children: the movies, the games, the advertisements, the media, the archetypes. In her article in yesterday's Kathimerini, Tasoula Karaiskaki condemns society and the culture of abundance that breeds inequality and cultivates disdain to those least favored by society. Explanations there can be many. The question remains, and is poignant one: how do we go about? What sort of revolution it takes, if any, such that would liberate us all from the maze of the 'culture of violence'?

To me in this story there are two other things that are problematic too. Karaiskaki brings the first in her article: democracy, and the inherent inability of our political system to treat all those members of society, and particularly the younger ones, that are deviating. More often than note the society turns its face down to those mostly in need. While sure there are exceptions the fact that incidents occur repeatedly is a sign of our utter failure.

The second concern involves justice. How is it that we can administer justice when there are no fingerprints of the true perpetrators? (Let us not forget that children committing crimes are themselves victims). And, perhaps most importantly, what is that prevents us from doing so? It seems to me that our conception of crime being limited to traditional or almost stereotypical images of criminals as depicted in movies does little service to us in times when the definitions of villain and victim have expanded so drastically.

With the violence of children being such common phenomenon surely we must admit that another pillar of society has collapsed. In front of our eyes. The least we can do: try to pick up the pieces.

Maybe, maybe, one day we can have the full wall up.

References and Links:

Meaux : les deux collégiens mis en examen

Η ευημερία που πληγώνει

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Il y (en) a partout...

The debate on 'what is poverty?' is a hot but not a new one: economists, proponents of defining poverty with mathematical formulas and anthropologists with an insistence on cultural variance have been crafting successful and less-than-successful definitions of poverty for years now. Regardless of how poverty ends up being defined, instances of poverty or, of what resembles to poverty, abound in rich and poor counties, in big and small cities, in urban and rural settings.

Because poverty is such a big challenge for countries and the world, efforts from governments and international organizations concentrate on perfecting existing approaches to dealing with poverty; to that end in a statement released a few days ago, the World Bank announced that is expected that globalization reduces world poverty. Meanwhile and regardless of whether on adheres to this line of thought or not, it is important to get to know the 'enemy' well: how are we expected to win the battle ignoring the 'strengths' of our opponent, ignoring its many faces?

French daily "Le Monde" published a very interesting article titled "Nous, les travailleurs pauvres" ("We, the poor workers") on the subject matter of poverty and one of its nasty faces, urban poverty. Claire Guélaud narrates the personal stories of individuals that are poor (or near the dividing line- pending which definition of poverty you take). Yet it is not the story of homeless or unemployed people: it is the story of individuals that work but barely (if ever) make the ends. It is the story of people whose receipt of financial aid is contingent upon how much or how little work they found this month, as most of them are part time workers. It is the story of people that experience the frustration of unpredictability and the anxiety of seeing the electricity bill rise, even if such a rise amounts to a coin or two worth of euros.

Regardless of the category in which such individuals fit in, particularly since it may change by the day, the article raises important questions about economics, society, social responsibility and education. It even brings up the question of the ability to control one's life and future, most evident in the case of Mr. Lewille who dreads the day that Social Security will take his little child on account that he is not able to raise a family.

San Jacinto and parts of urban France like Roubaix (Nord) may differ substantially in just about everything; and yet if there is a commonality to be found then that would be that they both have people that suffer; people that work a lot and gain little.

Next to the damage it causes on people's lives, poverty's defining characteristic is its ability to conceal itself: behind statistics, behind nice clothes even behind a big smile. That all makes poverty no less an enemy to people: it only makes harder to fight.


World Bank Statement: Global Economic Prospects 2007: Managing the Next Wave of Globalization

article in Le Monde: Nous, les travailleurs pauvres

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Defining absurdity

There was a time that Kyoto was known as the former capital of the Japanese imperial state. And then 1997 came. Kyoto, the city of Emperors and Camelias, is now associated with reductions of greenhouse gas emissions- a consequence of the fact that the a Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed there. Rightly so I believe since this Protocol is a landmark in the battle to protect the environment and the future of the planet.

Around the same time, hype terms such as 'global warming' or 'renewable energy sources' started invading our vocabulary: the planet is at risk we were told. Slowly but surely environmental issues made it to the papers and television and smiling newscasters talk now about the dangers of global warming with the same ease they announce wars and catastrophes. Of course environmentalism is no new phenomenon: already in late 19th century one can trace its first steps in the United States; West Europeans have been thinking about the environment quite some time now.

And yet despite that all, environmental news regardless of how serious it looks, it holds a second-rate status. You will never find an environmental issue making the cover story of a newspaper: if you are optimistic you can hope that on the bottom left corner next to the marriage of Angelina or Jennifer there is going to be reference to the gloomy prediction about the ozone layer. With the exception of some west European countries, notably Germany, Austria and Sweden, the ministry of the Environment is 'your typical Ministry': chances are that in a Cabinet meeting you will see the Minister sitting at the end of the table, rarely appearing in the news or protesting about the modest budget.

Worse still than the second class tag we attach to the environment is our hypocritical behavior. Regardless of whether we know or not what 'global warming' is we shake our heads if caught amidst a discussion in a business meeting agreeing that the environment is a serious matter. We approve of recycling and yet we rarely take the newspapers to the designated bins. We complain about poor air quality and yet we refuse to leave our cars at home. Convenience: another big catch.

Instead of pointing fingers or creating dividing lines between state and human responsibilities (as if though the two parties had opposing interests) how about looking at the environment's fate? To my eyes, a dying patient to which we inject venom everyday, the planet no matter how strong it was just a few decades ago seems to lose the battle for life. Species disappear. World temperature rises. Just two days ago "doctors" announced that North Pole ice may melt until 2040.

If the environment was a human being it would be in the emergency room by now. Chances are that "the children of the patient" would be outside weeping and praying to God. What we do instead is to remove the feeding tube and the oxygen supply by the day. Death is slow and painful. This is sad yet certain. The only thing to be debated is the following: Since we will be dying too, are we victims or villains?

The latest on our planet:

In English:
Arctic ice may all melt in summer by 2040 - study

En français:
La banquise du pôle Nord pourrait avoir disparu l'été, d'ici à 2040

Στα ελληνικά:
Θάλασσα ο Β. Πόλος

Monday, December 11, 2006

¡Bienvenidos a Los Hervideros de San Jacinto!

-Come on in, cross the gate!
-Where am I?
-Come on in, and I will take you a tour. In Hell.
-Where is Hell? Is it not far away from us, the sort of place you may go to after you die? Or is it some terrestrial version of it, say Iraq or Darfur?
-Ha. Well certainly no after life yet, let's constrain ourselves in Earth. And no, (thankfully) it is not Iraq. Why, you thought Hell is only there? Or where you hear about war and disaster and big money gets involved too?
-Well, no... But...
-But what?

-Where are we?
-Will a name matter to you?
-Okay therefore. We are in Los Hervideros de San Jacinto.
-I told you it would be pointless. Come on here, come see this.

-Is this geothermal activity?
-Yes, indeed. It is where the earth boils and steam comes out of it...
-Is it because of the volcano I see further afield?
-Yes, the area is very volcanic. Hervideros in Spanish means hot bubbling springs..
-It is very beautiful! But I would imagine hard to live around.. The smell of sulfur, the hot steam coming out of the earth, the hearing of bubbles all day...
-This is one way to see hell... There is something else I want to show you.

-This is Hell too. Wanting to be able to live a decent life and not achieving it. Living in p-o-v-e-r-t-y, relying on whoever tourist will show up to see the Hervideros for maybe, say, US$0.50, relying on whatever you produce, not having enough money for any decent clothing... Poverty is everywhere.
-I know, I can see...
-You can see it because it is obvious of course but you can see it because you have the eyes to see it. If you lived far away you would not be able to. Who in the world you think cares about those destined to live in Los Hervideros de San Jacinto? If you lived here you would not be able to see poverty either...
-How so? It is all around me...
-Because it is all around you my friend. Because you have to try to find someone who has a clean shirt. Because you have to try to find a hut that is "liveable" by (average) health standards. Because poverty is all around you, your eyes get used to it, you get used to it, it does no longer bother you. In the same well you get used to sulfur smell. Horrible as it may appear to you, you get used to it when you breathe it all day and all night long. Plus, if you want to make money, you go to the hervideros when tourists come, you kneel, you show them the mud hole, you tell them the story... And, sulfur smells so damn well when it gives you half a dollar...

-I see.. People here are taken by this way of life... They have not seen anything different.. This is the way they have grown up, the lifestyle they pass to their children.. But, on the other hand if you think about it, this is their life, why change it? Does anyone have the right to?
-You are right here, perhaps. Perhaps not though. Because no matter how you want to preserve the local life, the culture and tradition of a group, can you say they are fine if they lack such basic things as education? Healthcare? What sort of a life is that where you may die at any given moment because of a mosquito, because malaria pills are too expensive for you?

-It is time to go. Is there anything to be said?
-So much and so little. It is time to go.
-For us that have the option to get out of hell. For the rest it is going to be a fine night next to the hervideros.
-Even Hell is not fair in Earth. Some have the option of getting in and out. So easily, and yet for others there is no way out whatsoever.

Los Hervideros de San Jacinto is small village located 25 km north of León, a famous colonial city in Nicaragua. Despite the fact it attracts some tourists, the village is typical of the region. Tourism is not yet developed in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the continent with 50% of the population living in poverty and over 30% of its people unable to read and write. The country has witnessed a 50-year right wing dictatorship, followed by a tough communist rule and a ravaging civil war that claimed at least 50,000 lives. It is only during the last 15 years that Nicaragua has been experiencing democracy.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Killing globally: the untold story of globalization

Gold arches. I-tunes. Mickey Mouse. Yes, you have guessed correctly, McDonalds, I-pod and Disney are all typical examples of the pervasiveness -for better or worse- of globalization. And yet the globalization extends beyond common services and goods; guns can get global too. How? In just about the same way that the average toy of your son travels around the world before it settles in your home, a gun that was produced thousand miles away may kill a little girl in Uganda.

"Weapons and ammunition supplied to the governments of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda were subsequently distributed to armed groups and militia in the eastern DRC involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. In addition to committing other crimes, these armed groups systematically and brutally raped and sexually abused tens of thousands of women. Arms dealers, brokers and transporters from many countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Israel, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, the UK and the USA were involved in these arms transfers, highlighting once again the key importance of regulating the operations of arms brokers and dealers. By the end of 2005 only about 30 states had laws regulating such brokers."
(Source: Amnesty International 2006 Report on Arms Control)

Ever wondered how global conflicts are fought? How genocide is committed? How on earth do people that have no food to feed themselves find modern technology weapons and bullets? Well, we provide them with. Or sort of. The question of arms trade is a large one and truly global; Whether as producers of weapons (G8 countries, the Balkans) or recipients (Africa and pretty much wherever conflict takes place) or as in-between agents/smugglers, a good number of countries are involved in arms trade and a better number of people make a living by (enabling the) killing (of) others.

Years of campaigning and raising awareness bore fruits today when the United Nations passed a resolution that paves the way for a treaty on arms control; such a treaty would restrict the scope of this lucrative business and the chance that such weapons fell on the hands of guerrillas or terrorists. We would be talking of a milestone day today, had there not been one country, the United States, opposing such an effort: of the 192 countries members of the world, 153 voted in favor of the resolution, 24 countries abstained -mostly gun trading countries- and yes, the United States opposed it.

Fighting the war against terrorism while providing terrorists with weapons: Are we missing something here or is it just me?


On the UN resolution:

In english:
UN seeks new treaty restricting global arms
En français:
L'ONU ouvre la voie à un traité réglementant le commerce des armes

Sunday, December 03, 2006

?tnereffid taht ti sI/Is it that different?

December 3rd is the International Day of Disabled Persons. Aside from this one day devoted to our fellow citizens with some disability, the United Nations has passed two important documents: the World Programme Action Concerning Disabled Persons (1982) and the Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (1993).

But need we be reminded of the fact that all people are equal and deserve the same amount of dignity, respect and opportunities for prosperity?

It appears that we do. The World Health Organization's press release informs of a dismal reality: of the 500 million of people living with some disability, 80% live in developing countries and only 1-2% have access to rehabilitation services. Some 30% of the 104 countries that bothered to respond (there are close 200 countries in our world) said they have no provisions for the rehabilitation of the disabled. Only three countries involve disabled peoples' organization in the planning and evaluation of health services.

But statistics is only one side of the coin. There is another, a sadder one: Discrimination. Our inability as society to (fully) engage the disabled members is a testimony of our outter failure. But matters can go worse. We build barriers, both physical (lack of facilities and equipment) and social (unemployment- 70% in the US, a country that is well ahead in bridging the gap); we discriminate against verbally- or even without using words.

I don't think there is much more to be added here. Just let us all take a moment to briefly imagine how different our lives would be if, say, we could not walk? could not hear? could not see?

With this principle in mind, but with the goal of increasing awareness on the unique abilities of the disabled, the Foundation for the Hellenic World (Ίδρυμα Μείζονος Ελληνισμού) a not-for-profit cultural institution based in Athens, Greece organized a day of activities for the little ones, titled "Different skills, different friends" ("Με άλλες ικανότητες, με άλλες δυνατότητες.. οι φίλοι μου") which aimed at showing the unique ways children with disabilities perceive the world. What an excellent initiative!

Finally, I have been told that the newly released movie "Happy Feet" (the story of a penguin that is different in that it "taps" his feet unlike the rest of penguins and fights in order to become accepted in the society of 'mainstream' penguins) is also a strong criticism against discrimination.. may the powers of Warner Bros and the cute penguins help us become better persons..!


World Health Organization Press Release
Foundation for the Hellenic World
The movie: Happy Feet!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

It's been a year...

that you are not among us. Difficult to believe, difficult to realize that we will never see you again. We convince ourselves that you are somewhere around, hiding or too busy -just like you were in real life, trying to make other people's lives better.

So you would ask me, 'what am I am missing'? Not much, nothing too good has happened around here or in the world really that I can think of. More casualties in Iraq and elsewhere, a war in Lebanon over the summer, more deaths of diseases, earthquakes and catastrophes. Presidents go up, others stepping down, but politics are still very messy. Hamas in Palestine, Prodi in Italy. García in Peru, Ortega in Nicaragua, Correa in Ecuador, Chavez next week again? South America is becoming more lefty by the day. The Iraq is mess- the civil war is a matter of time, so they say. Pinochet admitted political responsibility for what happened during the dictatorship: does this bring people back? I don't think so.

Good news? I have to google. ETA ceasefire in Spain. Rumsfeld stepped down. Definitely good news. In our neighborhood, the Balkans, Montenegro declared independence from Serbia. Your Bulgaria is closer to my Greece on corruption: you are 57 we are 54! Keep it up! Oo how did I forget? Yunus, the microfinance guru got the Economics Nobel Prize! You remember my hate/hate relationship with econ[omics].. but you would have greatly appreciated that, I am sure. I do too.

We have not had snow yet around here. Can you believe it? It's December and not a single snowflake. Yes, we have messed up the environment too. But let's say, for a change, I want to believe is our good fortune... don't ruin my dream please! Let us hope that 'spring' will be as good as 'fall' or at least not that bad as '03 or '04! Deval (D) got elected here as Governor.. A change after so many years! Our president is still doing the marathon, dewick has gotten extended by yet another one (it is something crazy like 8.30 on 9 on fridays now-wow!). Most of our people are no longer here of course... but for me is the good same december days now...

Verdammte broadway.

We miss you. Everyone that was fortunate to get to know you.

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