28 April 2010

Countdown to Burma (Mynamar)

I’m rearranging my suitcases hopefully for the last time today.

I’ve mastered several tricks to get most of my books on the plane in spite of those pesky weight limits. (This is where my fairy godfather interjects, “I will get you an iPad.”) We’ll see if it works tomorrow.

For the next few months my coordinates will be 16° 46' North longitude: 96° 09' E.

Why Yangon? Rangoon? Or whatever derivative you choose to call it.

In May 2008 Cyclone Nargis blew through 37 townships. The low-lying Irrawaddy Delta was the hardest hit region. The cyclone left 140,000 dead or missing and affected about 2.4 million people.

I will write about certain aspects of the humanitarian response of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN, and its cooperation with the UN and other organizations, particularly its success in getting two mistrustful sets of stakeholders (the government and donors) to work together. The second piece will be about the ASEAN mobilization of volunteers. This is where I should be able to clock some time in the field.

In the meantime I better get back to re-arranging. This won’t be the first time I’ve been to Yangon. I travelled there twice for UNICEF Myanmar in 2006 so I know what to expect: No luxuries! I also expect to have an awesome time because I am one of six international writers who will all need some form of company on most nights of the week. This means that I won’t be holed up in a hotel bar listening to chics with too much make up sing the Rivers of Babylon (for the third time that evening).

I also just finished my MA in Anthropology so I hope that I can put some of theory and practice to use. Ah, I just remembered. I have to go to the market once more tonight. I need to find an anthropology-ish hat so that I can look the part.

Once I have the look down the rest should be easy.

Lisa Woods Fan Page

Does anyone remember MySpace?


How about Hi5?

According to the laws of trendiness, Facebook will one day become obsolete.

Until then, I've added a professional Fan Page to keep everyone updated with as much info as possible while I'm away in Burma. While I won't have access in the country, I'll update the page via other means (telepathy anyone)?

Don't worry, I'll take care of my part -- but you need to "Like Me" on the fan page entitled "Lisa Woods" to get updates while I'm away this summer.

Like me to become a fan of my facebook fan page. Simply CLICK HERE.

09 October 2009

Blessed are the Peacemakers: Obama and the Nobel Prize

President Obama got an early morning phone call – but it wasn’t the kind that Hillary Clinton envisaged.

Early Friday morning Robert Gibbs woke Obama to the news that he had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

Talk. Act. Talk, act?

The Hutus referred to the Tutsis as Cockroaches.

The Nazis called the Jewish people “untermenschen” or sub-humans.

Did the words precede the genocide or did the genocide precede the words and murderous climates?

Can you have war without incitement? Can you have peace without engaging the enemy?

Did Obama’s kumbaya approach to Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and some States in the Middle East earn him piece of the peace, or was the Norwegian Nobel Committee blinded by his star power?

In all fairness, the prize is only for the past year’s effort. It’s not a lifetime achievement award. As the Committee said: “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

While some say this award is too soon I say that it’s right on time. This “call to action” comes at a crucial moment during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, during talks with Iran and North Korea and the rest of the world. This prize will serve as constant reminder to Obama that – to whom much is given, much is expected. As Thorbjorn Jagland, the committee’s new chairman, said: “It’s important for the committee to recognize people who are struggling and idealistic.” I believe Obama genuinely walks these two separate paths each and every day and attempts to do the right thing, each and every time.

While the choice of a sitting head of State is odd, I believe the Committee is making a bold statement. President Obama was elected POTUS, yet he is the leader of the free world and as such his actions are not geographically bound. Like it or not, American presidents have the Power to change the world, for better or for worse. Publically holding the President of the United States of America to the highest standard of Peace is the first step to world Peace.

In a mere eight years George Bush wrecked havoc on the world, severed diplomatic ties with formerly staunch allies, and turned international opinion against America, seemingly forever. In a mere nine months America has fast become the world’s new BFF (best friend forever). Does that not have purchase on world peace? Are we so fascinated with time (or Obama-bashing) that we can’t see that it takes so long to affect change because we lack a real determination to do so?! We say that we want Peace but few of us are really that interested to actually do something about it. For example, Hitler was chancellor of Germany only a few months before the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp was built. In 102 minutes the Twin Towers fell in New York City. These individuals were committed to destroying the peace. But would anyone deny the impact that those events had because they occurred in such a short space of time? What has time got to do with it?

As Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop from South Africa who won the peace prize in 1984, said: “It’s an award coming near the beginning of the first term of office of a relatively young president that anticipates an even greater contribution toward making our world a safer place for all,” Mr. Tutu explained. “It is an award that speaks to the promise of President Obama’s message of hope.”

Congratulations on helping us hope for peace again. Hoping for peace is a crucial step to acting for peace, although I’m sure that Obama is somewhere groaning in private. This award is the coat of many colors and Obama is the Biblical Joseph. While Obama’s jealous rivalries are plotting against him, let’s pray that he continues to have the audacity to hope – and the will and support to act on those hopes – for the good of humankind.

13 August 2009

PETA, I'd Rather be Naked with Less Photoshop

I started not to reply to this message because it is clear that whoever read the complaint didn't read my complaint. The response reads like a form letter that PETA sends out anytime someone complains. I will position myself in this statement: I do NOT have an issue with nudity. I don't feel like I have the right to morally judge anyone. I live in Europe and have enjoyed myself on the topless beaches of Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. What I have a problem with is PETA's censorship of real women's bodies with the excess use of photoshop. Before you moan -- I know the reality of advertising -- we all like to be retouched. But there is retouch, and then there is RETOUCH. I've answered some of the scattered responses of PETA below:

Dear Ms. ________,

Thank you for your letter sharing your thoughts about our ads and campaigns. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns. First, please know that, as an organization staffed largely by feminist women, we would not do something that contributed to the serious problems that women face.

Judging by the commodification of women’s bodies, I find it hard to believe that your organization is staffed with “feminist women.” What feminist man/woman would perpetuate the beauty myth that women are only beautiful after pounds of their flesh are hacked off by professional photoshop artists?

We feel that there is nothing shameful or “wrong” about being naked or choosing to use one’s body, and we believe that women—and men—should have the choice to use their own bodies as political statements.

The problem is not explicitness; the problem is censorship. You have censored what it looks like to be a real, nude woman -- and even the women that we all know to look one way, you've photoshopped them to look completely different! What choice did Nia Long, Kourtney Kardashian, or Eve Mendes have in the amount of photoshop PETA deemed necessary to use their bodies in these publicity stunts? Show me a real naked woman, without TOO MUCH photoshop, and I will support PETA! As far as using bodies as political statements, posing nude next to a metro pole, resembling a stripper pole doesn’t count. T
he monk in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) who set himself on fire to protest the Viet Nam-American war; Rosa Parks who refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white man, spurring the Montgomery Bus Boycott; American track athletes Tommie Smith (first place) and John Carlos (third place) who used their wins in Mexico City's 1968 Olympic Games to show their opposition to the American apartheid, by raising their black-gloved fists to rally for black unity -- are examples of people using their bodies to make political statements. Parading around naked means very little in a country where it is DONE (in varying degrees) ALL OF THE TIME.

This tactic has been used since at least the 11th century, when Lady Godiva rode naked on a horse to protest taxes on the poor. Far from being exploited, our “naked” demonstrators and billboard models choose to participate in our actions because they want to do something to make people stop and pay attention to animal abuse.

Let’s start with historical accuracy: the story of Lady Godiva is undocumented, therefore a myth. The chronicler Florence of Worcester mentions Leofric and Godiva, but does not mention her famous ride, and there is no firm evidence connecting the rider with the historical Godiva (http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/anglo_saxons/godiva_01.shtml). But, for argument’s sake, let’s go with the tale of Lady Godiva ditching her 12th century Victorian gowns to parade through the streets of London to “protest taxes on the poor.” The story goes that she ordered the town people to look away, and one man named Tom (hence the name peeping Tom), was blinded as he turned to see her nakedness. You can look at this two ways: 1) She was courageous for going through with the act; or 2) She was exploited because her husband refused to lower taxes on the poor unless she ashamedly rode through Coventry in the nude (according to the legend she felt shamed because she tried to cover herself with her hair and she ordered the town people not to look). This, by the way is also a stereotypical notion of womanhood, as she was very religious, and therefore the play on the binary oppositions of Madonna vs Whore.

Take Traci Bingham, for example, who posed for our “All Animals Have the Same Parts” ad campaign (http://www.GoVeg.com/feat/tracibee/). She is a deeply committed vegetarian who is known to millions for her television work, such as beating out a platoon of men to excel in an endurance test called Boot Camp. She chose to use her body to bring public attention to a serious animal issue. In this case, Ms. Bingham felt offended by the traditional “meat” posters that treat animals as “parts,” and she wanted to make the point that neither they nor women should be viewed as parts—we are all precious. Consider that it is the societies that allow women to wear revealing clothing in which women have the most rights and the most power. Likewise, it is the societies that punish women for wearing revealing clothing in which women have the fewest rights and the least power—they are considered chattel who must do as they are told.

Islamist feminists (I’m assuming that these are the societies that you are referring to) would strongly disagree with you. In fact, they pity their Western sisters who are caught up in the viscous cycle of silicone, botox, and maxed out credit cards. They pity the women who are afraid to eat because if they do, they won't fit into this summer’s latest skimpy dress. Saba Mahmood says that many “modern Egyptian women” have started wearing the veil again and studies say these women cite practical reasons such as: the veil makes it easy for women to avoid sexual harassment on public transportation, lowers the cost of attire for working women, and so on. “Other analyses identify the veil as a symbol of resistance to the commodification of women’s bodies in the popular media, and to the hegemony of Western values more generally” (Mahmood). In Pakistan and countries where purdah is practiced, the burqa is traditionally an issue of class, i.e., the wealthy women could afford to stay indoors and wear the burqa, while the poor women could not. In many cases, Islamic dress is a counter-resistance that the Western feminists have labeled, oppression!

Isn’t it dangerous to tell young women that their bodies and sexuality are shameful and must be hidden or repressed? Should women only be allowed to participate in activism if they promise not to show their bodies or use them to make social statements? If a person chooses to use her physicality to convey a message of his or her choosing, aren’t those who would censor him or her—even if their motives are well-intended—also somewhat guilty of disrespect and repression?

What’s dangerous is an organization who believes that the wellbeing of one population (women) must be sacrificed for another (animals). What’s dangerous is a 10-year-old girl looking at an OVERLY photoshopped image of her favourite actress, and not being able to intellectually reason that she doesn’t really look like that. Repression operates as a regulator: it tells something to disappear, it silences that something, and is an affirmation of non-existence -- nothing to see here folks -- a little photoshop will do the trick! By pushing these OVERLY photoshopped images of women, you are contributing to the repression of a young girls' sexuality and healthy view of their body image. You are telling them that real women’s bodies are something to be ashamed of and covered – PETA takes away the clothes, but censors with photoshop.

Although our use of “nudity” is attention-grabbing, we don’t rely on it for the majority of our outreach, nor do we use it gratuitously; it is intended to underscore our message, whether it is “I’d rather go naked than wear fur,” to emphasize the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, or to show the vulnerability of animals in laboratories or circuses. We would also like to note that we do not feature only women in our more provocative ads; please see the following examples:

Your use of nudity was NEVER the issue. Using nudity to grab attention is lame, quotidian – not radical. Hip-hop videos use half naked girls shaking their butts to drum up hype for an empty song; cosmetic lines use orgasmic-like faces to pimp out lipstick, underwear ads use augmented breasts and butts to draw attention to their logos – and all manner of capitalistic ventures use nudity, or various states of undress to get their 15 minutes of fame. Using soft porn as an advertising ploy doesn’t make PETA unique, or radical, it just makes PETA like all of the rest. Take a number. Stand in line.

The second part of your tagline which admonishes a person to “Be Comfortable in Your own Skin,” is as dishonest as it comes. How can a woman be comfortable when she can never live up to the Mariah Carey-esque photoshop jobs PETA is financing? The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty www.campaignforrealbeauty.com/ is an example of women, not fully dressed, still sending a corporate message – a positive one no doubt.

Our purpose is to stop animal suffering, and we use all available opportunities to reach millions of people with powerful messages. The current situation is critical for billions of animals, and our goal is to make the public think about the issues. Sometimes this requires tactics—like naked marches and colorful ad campaigns—that some people find outrageous or even “rude,” but part of our job is to shake people up and even shock them in order to initiate discussion, debate, questioning of the status quo, and of course, action. After PETA publicized our 2007 “State of the Union Undress,” for example, we were rated the number one “mover” on Yahoo’s search engine, meaning that PETA received the greatest percentage increase of terms searched that day. We have found that people do pay more attention to our racier actions, and we consider the public’s attention to be extremely important.

Although we understand that some consider our projects that include nudity to be controversial, many express support for these tactics. However, PETA does make a point of having something for all tastes, from the most conservative to the most radical and from the most tasteless to the most refined, and this approach has proved amazingly successful—in the more than two decades since PETA was first founded, it has grown into the largest animal rights group in the world, with over 2 million members and supporters worldwide. For more information about PETA’s vital work for animals, please visit http://www.PETA.org/abou.

We respect your right to disagree with our strategy but hope that you will continue to work for the animals in whatever way you feel comfortable (http://www.PETA.org/actioncenter); they are counting on all of us.

As I said before, when PETA uses REAL naked women for their adverts, I will support its cause!

Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to explain our position on this important topic and for all that you do to help animals.


The PETA Staff


Hmmm. Wonder if they will really read my email this time?!? Or will I get another chain letter :-) If PETA wants to do something "radical" it will use the bodies of transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and others who have been marginalized from the "sexy" body debate!

12 August 2009

People for the Ethical Treatment of Women

An open e-mail to PETA, sent on 12 August 2009:

I watch with fascination PETA's campaign showcasing nude celebrities. I like the idea, I think human bodies are to be admired.

What I don't get is PETA's tag line: Be comfortable in your own skin!

How is this possible when all of your models are photo-shopped a new body image? How can women be comfortable in their own skin when you are presenting images of Nia Long -- a 39-year old woman with a child -- made to look like a 19-year old with no cellulite, stretch marks or previous children? Does this make women comfortable in their own skin? I won't go into Khloe Kardashian's image that was so heavily photo-shopped that without a photo-caption no one would recognize her.

I think PETA is hypocritical for this. You are so concerned about animals but what about women who are daily assaulted with images of perfect bodies that even the models themselves cannot achieve without retouching, airbrushing, and other photographic tricks? Photo-shop violence = violence against women's emotional health.

Does PETA know that as many as 10 million women and girls suffer from anorexia and/or bulimia, in the United States alone

Does PETA know that 86 per cent of people with eating disorders report the onset of the illness by the time they reach the age of 20 (by no means is an eating disorder "less severe" when the eating-disordered person is above the age of 20).

Does PETA know that an estimated 81% of 10-year-old girls are concerned with being fat?

Does PETA know that young women with anorexia are 12 times more likely to die than other women their age.

If PETA wants to be ethical it should stop presenting false images of women, while on the other hand telling others to be comfortable in their own skin rather than wear fur. Perhaps fur would cover the reality that women age, gain weight, have children, get stretch marks -- oh and can't afford a professional photoshopper to falsify their body image.

I'm all for the ethical treatment of women.

Aren't we worth it, or do you only care about dogs?

20 July 2009

What's the Greek word for Racism?


I rarely write about "race" -- the product of racism because I think it’s a fiction. But allow me to think aloud this once. The equalities are real but the category, or box, is based on physical appearance alone. How can you honestly make a judgment based on skin color and hair type? Are those features really intelligible?

I rarely think about it, but every now and again, some human – or a group of humans – adds meaning to the brownness of my skin – a bodily organ with a physiological function. In this case, these mis-interpretations led to change being dropped on the counter instead of in my hand while I sat and observed white customers having change given to them in their palms. In areas where English was widely spoken, responses to the most basic questions was met with a fierce head-shaking and a tight-lipped no, and standing at the bar at tavernas took a great feat of perseverance to shame the waiter into taking our food order.

I’m no stranger to being the Other. For the most part, I relish my role in mixing up the situation. After years of living in Southeast Asia I know that you will immediately notice that I look different. I speak differently and I’m going to be the only black American you have probably ever met. So I expect curious stares. A bit of apprehension. Some child-like engagement. As I am cognizant of this, I work to engage people on a level that allows them to explore this thing called race, in the space that they are comfortable with. I’m guessing that it works 99% of the time.

I feel qualified to speak on "race" – not simply because of the color of my skin alone rather because of how I engage the world around me.

When someone of another color is caught in my gaze, I assume a benign person. I expect a positive outcome.

I believe that I am going to like you and you’re going to like me. So this had me wondering what to make of the descendants of the ancient world, the Athenians.

Before I sat down to write this, I wanted to make sure that I was being fair. I thought about the travel diaries of 15th century Brits who were shocked by the complexion of Africans, who wrote about it, and appropriated meaning. I wondered, was this reception in Athens tainted by unchecked racism, or did their reaction to me have to do with their largely homogeneous society and experiences with immigration?

In Athens I saw African and South Asian immigrants – the invisible people of the city – hawking pirated goods near the Piraeus port. They were only noticed when the police swept the area, arresting an unlucky salesman along with his tarpaulin of goods. This scene was disturbing no doubt, but I filed it away in the Google-later section of my brain. [The problem with this section is that its occupants are prone to rogue escapes into my consciousness]. I know it would be too simplistic to say that a whole-lot-of people in Athens are racist because of mis-representations of Africa and immigrant relations.

So then I thought about the economy. Before the credit crisis, Greece had amongst the lowest wages in the EU (and the Euro made the situation bleaker). As with Nazi Germany, it’s easy for the Greek to sip espresso in the cafĂ© and blame the immigrant, toiling in the hot sun, for the tanking economy. Random raids by the militarized police force make the streets a little more homogeneous (aside from those pesky tourist chics who assert their right to equal treatment). Perhaps it’s an unfortunate cocktail whose ingredients are too sumptuously blended to separate. But this one thing I know for sure, there is an evident racism in Athens.

So many millennia, so little progress. And that's all the time and space I want to allot to this subject.

*P.S. The islands (Santorini and Crete) were fantastic! Skip Athens and fly straight there.

*Pic 1/The Parthenon, Pic2, 3/The Temple of Poseidon, Pic4/My sister and me, Santorini

26 June 2009

Michael Jackson, death larger than life

It’s not every day that I think on the subject of death but as both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett have died within hours of each other, death has become larger than life. As it often does, the glare of celebrity has transformed the ordinary into something extra-ordinary. Last year in the United States there were 565,650 cancer deaths – still 9 million people tuned in to watch Farrah’s Story.

The circumstances surrounding the King of Pop’s death are still unknown but Tim Arango at the NYT compared the icon’s death to “The Kiss in Times Square” memorialized by Alfred Eisenstaedt, after the Japanese surrender ended World War II. A kiss is just a kiss, but some kisses are more memorable than others. Death is a part of life, but some deaths touch more lives than others. I will always remember where I was when I heard the news of Princess Di’s death, John F. Kennedy junior’s missing plane, and now, the gloved one’s untimely death. Perhaps our fascination with celebrity death’s is an attempt at voyeurism into the afterlife. A peak into the inevitable.

18 May 2009

Be Back Shortly

I'm taking a hiatus to write my exams. Will be back in June. Don't read and believe anything about the torture memos, the torture photos, or the military tribunals until I return!

21 April 2009

Ten + One Rules to Subvert SOAS Library Regulations

As I am a junior anthropologist, I take my job to participate-observe very seriously. In coming up with these rules, I, err, observed more than I participated.

1. Make sure your bag is sturdy enough to sneak in iced fountain drinks, fast foods, and other study survival foods not available on campus. (P.S. You might not want to bring in KFC because the smell cannot be concealed)!

2. Consider a waterproof bag (e.g. Longchamp) in case your Frappuccino spills out when you're walking through the security area.

3. TexMex Rice crackers that you buy from the Student Union might be too loud to snack on in the 'quiet zone.' Consider something soft and chewy. (Snickers work well)!

4. TexMex Rice crackers most definitely should not be munched on in the quiet zone if you asked your neighbor to watch your stuff while you ducked outside to get them. They might get annoyed and rat on you.

5. Enjoy your caffeinated beverage in an opaque water bottle. No one will ever know that it's not water -- not even the wicked witch at the main entrance.

6. Stretch your neck periodically to see if your snacking is being observed from the levels above. If you get caught, feign low-blood sugar.

7. Remember to collect all of your litter from around you. It's better to cover your tracks while you are making them.

8. Take wet naps to ensure that you don't get smudges on the rare books.

9. If you do get smudges on the rare books, quietly (and quickly) pack your things and flee the scene of the crime.

10. Avoid all of the cute guys who have been curiously absent from the library during terms 1 and 2 (unless you want to party, then by all means, do get the slackers' phone numbers).

11. Don't burn after reading! Politely return the books to the shelving cart.

As I said before, these are just observations of mine.

SOAS students should follow ALL of the library rules or it could take a long time -- even longer than the unusually high number of months after dissertation completion -- to receive your diplomas.

And, seriously, no eating around the rare books!

11 April 2009

Somali pirates: A tale of the chickens coming home to roost?

If Dubya, Chainsaw, and Rummy were in the White House we’d teach those pirates a good lesson on democracy by invading Guatemala.

We’d capture those enemy combatant pirates -- dead or alive.

We’d add Somalia to the “axis of evil.”

We’d huff and puff, “Fool me once shame on … shame on you ... eh … um… a fooled man can't get fooled again."

Then we’d blow the pirates to smithereens (along with our reputation). 

There would be a war in the Gulf of Aden. Somalis would be further victimized. Humanitarian aid groups would appeal for safe entry. Women’s and children’s rights would provide the momentum; and nation building would occur. Civil war would break out. It would be deja vu all over again.

Then we’d claim victory and retreat to our ranch in Crawford. 

But thankfully we don’t have to wear that dead albatross around our neck any longer. President Obama’s studied silence speaks volumes – and I am listening to every single utterance.

We're obviously paying careful attention to this issue. And I'm really not able to go beyond that at this point, said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Maritime law is murky and as I am not a lawyer I won’t attempt to analyze it. What I will do is pose some questions as to how this situation has actualized – over and over again.

It appears that the chickens have come home to roost. That’s right, I said it, and I will say it again: The chickens have come home to roost.

It is unfortunate that Capt. Phillips is being held hostage -- the pirates are his physical takers but Western ignorance of the plight of Somalis led to his capture.  Phillips must’ve known the risks – 66 vessels around the Horn of Africa have been overtaken by pirates since January 2009. In 2008 there were 130; in 2007, 31; and in 2006, 10 (while Bush was in office fighting "terrorists" the pirates were emboldened). As such, I question the use of American military might to protect private commercial interests.

What’s also very unfortunate is that during the Somali civil war firms from several European countries made a deal with warring factions to dump processed industrial waste off the Somali coast. The toxic waste –and shipping vessels – has poisoned the fish, restricted the movement of fishermen, and taken away their livelihoods. If the fisherman can’t fish, he might look to you to feed him!

I concur that piracy is illegal. Phew! I’m so glad we cleared that up and now we can move on to the issues really at hand like the legal and the morally reprehensible -- i.e making a deal with one faction of a country in the middle of a civil war. The war was real convenient for these companies. Now vessels from the West are being inconvenienced from piracy.

Now the question remains: What to do about these particular pirates who are holding Capt. Phillips, and what to do about piracy in general? 

Violence won’t solve the problem this go around. If the pirates are attacked it won’t stop other pirate attacks, neither will it save the lives of the hostages on board. It would only create the awful spectacle of a US Navy destroyer using disproportionate force against a small boat of rag-tag men from a failed State on the verge of implosion.

Rashid Abdi Sheikh, Somalia analyst with the International Crisis Group in Nairobi, says using military options could only make things worse if they did not go hand-in-hand with political solutions.

“Most of these pirates are operating from the region of Puntland, which is essentially a failed state within a failed state,” he says.

“Nothing will change until we see more stability on land.”
Pirates are not a threat to you or me. They are not suicidal jihadists. They are only a threat to big-shipping companies. Let them deal with it. Once a sovereign power gets involved there are Egos to be protected and international rules of engagement that sometimes trump common sense.

If *we* want to address piracy at sea, we have to address the pirates on shore. That would be the West who continuously plunders Africa for its economic benefit and balks when a pawn captures its king. That would also be the warlords governing Somalia who make it necessary and lucrative for pirates to operate. I won’t quote statistics but it only takes half-an-intelligence to reckon that Somalis are among the poorest of the poor. 

Do the ends justify the means? It’s not my place to say. A better question might be, what would you do if your family needed food and life-saving health care? Would you quote maritime law or take the law into your own hands? In a country where medical care is poor and doctor visits cost a day’s wage – the pirates are sending their wives to foreign countries to deliver their babies. 

Do you blame them? If not, who is to blame?

*Image source: NYT/Huffingtonpost.com

07 April 2009

Madonna, the Baby-buyer

Madonna shouldn’t be allowed to buy children. 

Even poor and destitute ones.

On the other hand, said-orphaned children should not be prevented from a bright future based on the hypothetical risk of child trafficking.

In nailing the coffin shut on Madonna’s adoption plea, the puppet-to-delirious-human-rights-groups *judge* explained that:

By removing the very safeguard that is supposed to protect our children, the courts by their pronouncements could actually facilitate trafficking of children by some unscrupulous individuals who would take advantage of the weakness of the law of the land.
The risk to trafficking is hypothetical to four-year-old Chifundo "Mercy" because Madonna is clearly not a child trafficker. And would this "unscrupulous individual" be Madonna who already adopted a son from Malawi under its "weak" law? Sounds like punishment for the first adoption.

Although we can tick off child trafficking as a threat, Mercy isn’t safe from growing up in an orphanage without family members to provide her primary care. This means that in a country such as Malawi she will also have scant access to education as a girl, and probably-never as a girl child without a family. Girl children without education don’t educate their children; have less means to promote the survival of their infant children; and are more at risk to AIDS – a huge problem in Malawi. (And this is the short list). Although the former is the worse case scenario it is a real possibility.

Obviously there is no cut-and-dried solution to orphans (in Africa in particular). Groups who are calling for people to donate money to aid agencies as a solution, seem to have selective memory regarding the process and politics of humanitarian aid. That is, Mercy may never get the aid. Unscrupulous relatives (like the ones who are coming out of the wood-works to suddenly claim her) may exploit her for the aid. The orphanage will also not be able to give just to Mercy, it will have to spread the aid around. (That's the short-short list).

Although it's uncertain whether Madonna will win the appeal she can still do more (than the school she already has) to help orphans in Malawi. Madonna can set up a trust for Mercy to justify her love (and prove that she really cares about the child) as if she were her own daughter.

Meanwhile there are many countries that don’t impose a residency requirement for the legal adoption of children.  

Madonna should stop trying to break the rules, fuel up her jet and adopt there.