A thought to ponder
My enduring image of the 2021 looting will not be empty shelves or burning warehouses, but a short video of a boy, maybe 10 years old, carrying a MrPrice bag. He’d been stopped by a passer-by who went through his bag. It had a t-shirt or two, a pair of tekkie shoes, one 5-pack of underwear, and one or two other things, neatly folded away.
It didn’t have toys. Or flatscreen TVs. Or even food.
It had a few clothes, and a single pack of new underwear.
The bag was closed again, and he went on his way, in the grimy and thin clothes he was wearing, into a Johannesburg winter night that was at about freezing point.
There are many things to be said about attempted coups, and factional battles, and senseless vandalism, and the desperation of yet another COVID lockdown, and a terribly slow police response, and the community response that showed the best and sometimes the worst of us, and about how the ultimate victims of the looting are almost entirely going to be the people who can least afford it. And it’s all true and important, but also … not really anything new. It’s just where we are, the unsurprising result of the last few years, and also the last few decades, and also the last few centuries, as we take steps forwards and backwards.
But when the sun comes up in the morning, we need to get up, and put down our social media feeds, and get back to work. Cleaning up, building, teaching, healing, starting businesses, spending tax money responsibly, serving customers, processing paperwork, even sending emails. Because doing those things better is the only way I can think of that we can gradually build a society that is good enough for us all.
Not (just) so that looting doesn’t happen, but so that a 10-year-old child doesn’t need an outbreak of looting to get a new set of underwear.
End of month one of lockdown: some thoughts as someone lucky enough to still be getting a salary.
Following the president’s example, I’ve donated a third of my April salary. Everyone’s choices of where to donate will differ, here were mine:
- First priority was Silvertree staff (and ex-staff, in companies that have had to shut down). This month, between UIF and crowdfunding, everyone received a salary
- I didn’t donate to Solidarity Fund this month, as (right now at least) we seem to have enough PPE, which seems to be their main focus
- Next, I tried to donate or buy vouchers at restaurants+coffee shops I usually support. Not yet easy! Hopefully, initiatives like https://www.saveyourlocal.co.za/ will help
- Lastly, I focused on NGOs that I know and that have established infrastructure to reach people that are hungry. This month, that included Thembisa Feeding Scheme, Streetlight Schools (https://www.streetlightschools.org/donate) and Gift of the Givers (https://giftofthegivers.org/make-a-difference/)
- Economically, our problem is that the velocity of cash has dramatically slowed, as people can’t spend due to lockdown. This is causing a demand-side slump. So, your duty if you have cash: spend as you would have previously, and if you can’t, donate!
[Let me know your great ideas for causes to donate to!]
I’m very excited about a project running at the moment, as summarised below. Full disclosure: It’s funded by my company, Thornhill, so I may be biased!
The idea is a modern alternative to initiation – a way in which school leavers could be introduced to the attitudes, ethic and life skills required to be an effective employee and citizen. The programme, for thirty school leavers, began this Friday with a weekend away in the Magaliesberg, and then runs for two weeks at GIBS (a business school).
The first few days have gone very well, with the participants committed, excited and learning lots. I particularly enjoyed hearing about some excellent spontaneous poetry in response to the weekend away.
A huge congratulations to Sarah Tinsley, Lanier Covington and Jonathan Cook for the concept and for making it all happen. This is also unlikely to be the last time the project runs, so I’m excited about it having a very useful impact on the lives of many high school leavers. Obviously, there’ll be a need for more volunteers to scale it all up, so anyone interested please drop Sarah a line — see contact details below.
Some further information:
Continue reading “BizSchool” →
With a title like the above, there are so many things this post could be about — the last few days and weeks have been excellent for providing examples of less-than-ethical democracy. But this post is in fact about none of them — it’s about a tricky personal conundrum I faced today, in exercising ethical democracy.
The thing is, I’m not a US voter, or citizen. But I am a US taxpayer and legal resident at the moment. Tomorrow the US Congress will be voting on a bill (of which more later) on an issue very dear to my heart — because it represents probably the largest ongoing damage that the US does, every day, to the poorest of the poor in the developing world and especially Africa (of which I am a citizen). So the question for the reader is: should I phone my representative in Congress and ask them to vote the way I’d like on the bill?
The bill in question is the huge farm bill, and more especially the Fairness Amendment component thereof. US (and to be fair, European) farm subsidies are a mess: they cost the taxpayer huge sums, benefit predominantly the largest agribusiness concerns instead of small farmers, offer only marginal assistance to hungry people within the US and EU, and make it impossible for developing world (especially African) farmers to compete on the global market. For instance, farming cotton in Texas costs about three times the raw price it does in Mali, on the southern edge of the Sahara. But after subsidies Malian farmers can’t compete — and so huge areas of Africa aren’t even being farmed. Cotton is Mali’s main commercial export, despite this huge disadvantage — so one can only imagine the huge difference even a small tweak to the subsidies would make to the 10 million inhabitants of this desperately poor country. And as in cotton, so too elsewhere — US and EU farm subsidies are together larger than the total GDP of sub-Saharan Africa. But enough rant — contact me if you’d like more!
Anyway, the Fairness Amendment is a step in the right direction. The vote is tomorrow. In the end I went ahead and phoned my Congressional rep — using this really convenient and easy service.
Now the more suspicious amongst you might think that what this post is really about is getting those of you who can phone US representatives without suffering any complicated ethical choices, to indeed go ahead and phone. In fact, you might even be right. But I am also interested in what people think about whether it’s ethical for me to make such a phone call.
And yes, it’s been a while since my last blog post. I have a few stacked up awaiting typing, but this one came first thanks to the obvious deadline. Thanks for your patience!
A line from an article about US election irregularities:
In Kentucky, a poll worker was arrested for trying to throttle a voter.
What?!? Throttling a voter?? Sounds like there might very well be a very, very interesting story behind this one. Any suggestions on the last thing this particular voter might have said, just before being throttled?
Here’s one to start things off: “So I just pushed this thing here, and now I’ve got this blue screen saying something about an illegal operation…”
Just released (see, for example, this Reuters article) is a new study, which aimed to estimate the number of Iraqis who have died as a result of the US invasion in 2003. The methodology involved interviewing randomly sampled families, rather than more passive studies involving, for example, morgue reports. The conclusion is that the death rate since the invasion has been about two and a half times higher than that before the invasion, as a result of all causes — including violence, breakdown in medical services, etc. This translates into 655 000 additional deaths, or one in forty Iraqis.
It is studies of this sort which once again show that invading a stable country, even one ruled by a brutal regime, does NOT improve the lives of the people within the country. And it certainly can’t improve the world’s image of the invading country. I just hope that one day soon American society will start really asking itself how this tragedy could have been allowed to happen, and how the US world view needs to change to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
New studies from NASA (JPL) and elsewhere show a 14% reduction in perennial (ie. survives the summer) Arctic ice in just one year, from 2004 to 2005. Supercomputer models had suggested that the ice (and, incidentally, polar bears as a species) would all be gone by 2070, but this is far faster even than those predictions.
This might be a good time to turn off a light, or take your bike to work tomorrow. Just a thought.
In the news today: new studies of gas bubbles trapped in Antarctic show that current CO2 levels are higher than those for the last 800 000 years — and that the growth in CO2 levels over the last 17 years is so fast that it would normally require over 1000 years of natural variation to produce the same change.
The past 800 000 years includes many ice ages, and interglacial warming periods between the ice ages. The CO2 level fluctuates in step with global average temperature. So we’re looking at a change that in the last 17 years has been larger than that associated with a mere ice age (though luckily other changes are also associated with ice ages). But our CO2 emission rate is still increasing.
As you may have heard in the news, on 1 December the South African Constitutional ruled that the wording of South Africa’s Marriage Act discriminates in an unconstitutional way against the rights of homosexual couples. The government now has to rewrite the legislation to allow same-sex marriage. The judgment is of course exciting and a triumph of South Africa’s ambitious constitution. But the text of the judgment raises some interesting questions relating to whether individual marriage officers with contrary religious beliefs should be required to marry same-sex couples.
Continue reading “Same-sex marriage in South Africa” →
As the rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina starts, so too do people start asking questions about what went wrong in New Orleans, and the lessons that should be learnt. Notwithstanding a huge global warming wakeup call, the main conclusion seems to be that the US failed spectacularly to protect its poor and black citizens. The Economist front page calls it “The Shaming of America”, and editorials everywhere are calling it wakeup call to the nation.
The problem, though, with wakeup calls is that they so seldom lead to any real change. An excellent editorial in today’s USA Today compares and contrasts Katrina’s wakeup call with another of 40 years ago — the Watts riots of 1965 in Los Angeles. They were substantially more violent, but (insofar as I can tell as a foreigner) made affluent America aware of the depth of poverty and anger of the social and racial underclass of the country. The result? According to the USA Today editorial, poverty levels in Watts are actually higher today. And, of course, they weren’t the last race riots that LA was to see.
Continue reading “False starts and things that matter” →