August 29, 2004

IRAN

When I read the book Alas, Babylon two years ago, I could hardly put it down. It's the story of the aftermath of nuclear war and how the remaining people struggled to survive. I've been thinking a lot about it lately as I've been following Iran's nuclear progress over at LGF. The thing is, a series of articles showing Iran getting closer and closer seems to have little impact on anyone, but picture it as a narrative or a movie, and it starts to seem important. Picture ominous build-up music and scenes of putting the final touches on while the protagonist races to get there in time. That's what I fear we're facing, though the boring articles describing the scenario really play down the urgency. But Alas, Babylon is never far from my mind.

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August 23, 2004

PHOTOS

Erik of No Passaran discusses a French photo exhibit that will feature photos from Abu Ghraib but not from the mass graves found in Iraq as part of the "most important photos of the year":

Now I would like you to ask you to take another look at the photo of the father bestowing a final kiss on the dried skull of his son. (It should not escape notice that the place this skeleton was dug up at was the burial grounds of… Abu Ghraib.)

Which pictures do you think Ghirayer Ali would deem "the most important photos of the year", Monsieur Leroy? Those showing some of hundreds of thousands of murdered Iraqi civilians dug up from the Iraqi sands, including his son at Abu Ghraib, or the snapshots documenting US troops humiliating prisoners (a good portion of which were those who murdered their countrymen in the first place)?

Before I'm accused of catering to base emotionalism, I will take back the question, and ask a more general one: which of the two groups of pictures do you think your average Iraqi would deem "the most important photos of the year", Monsieur Leroy?

I have a lump in my throat from looking at that photo...

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August 21, 2004

DARK STAR SAFARI

I've been meaning to write about Dark Star Safari since I finished it, but I just haven't made the time yet. I'm making it now.

Beth recommended this book. Since I read The Power of One last year and went from zero knowledge of South African society to at least a passing level, I thought I'd give Dark Star Safari a try. I know that there's always a lot more to learn about foreign continents.

Beth's review of the book leaned towards the parallels with Iraq:

Reading the book has led me to ponder to comparisons, America and Africa, and Iraq and Africa. Theroux's book could/should serve as a stark warning of some major mistakes that could be made in trying to promote a democracy in Iraq. What it comes down to more than anything else is do the Iraqi's want a true democracy? And if they do, are they willing to go thru the struggle, take the responsibility, and resist those who would hinder the outcome?

That's an interesting parallel to make, one that I had forgotten Beth had made until I looked it up again now. Setting up the conditions for people to be free won't work if the people don't yearn for freedom. Similarly, setting up the conditions for progress won't work if people can't see the big picture.

When I was a French tutor at my college, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: students memorized formulas for putting together hypotheticals. I tried hard to teach them to think of the meaning attached to the hypothetical sentences. I encouraged them to think of what they wanted to say and then use the fitting tenses. They ignored me; the formulas were easier. My students invented intricate mnemonic devices to remember which tenses went together, completely abandoning meaning as a criterion. No matter how many times I tried to explain to them that they should view French as a language and not a math problem, they didn't want to listen. I always saw that chart in our book as the give-a-man-a-fish method: the students couldn't extrapolate from it or do anything that didn't plug neatly into the formula. But the students didn't want the teach-a-man-to-fish method because it was harder than mimicry.

I thought a lot about the giving vs teaching fish proverb while reading Dark Star Safari. Theroux is certainly an Afrophile, but all of his observations, no matter how much he tried to provide context, presented Africa in a horrifying light. Theroux does not sugarcoat the situation; he presents the good with the bad, which is admirable since I'm wont to smell agenda in everything I read. What he taught me is that Africa is a beautiful and mysterious continent that is completely screwed.

The problem Theroux lays out is that the Africans have been given so many fish that they'll never bother to learn to fish: they always know another handout is around the corner. All of the relief workers and foreign aid are killing the African initiative; Theroux relates countless stories of Africans who shrug off problems and say that aid workers will fix it. Foreigners move to Africa, start programs, get run out of town or move on when they get frustrated, and the whole program crumbles and dies. Theroux painted a dismal portrait of the endless cycle of foreign aid and dwindling African spirit. The Africans don't see the big picture of helping themselves, because in the short-run another aid worker will come and do it for them.

Kim du Toit has advocated letting Africa sink. The first time I read his essay, I thought it was too extreme. Now I'm not so sure. I'm not saying I advocate "a high wall around the whole continent, all the guns and bombs in the world for everyone inside" as Kim does, in typical Kim fashion. But I don't see a solution to Africa's deep-rooted problems anywhere on the horizon.

I thought Bill Gates was the height of magnanimity when he gave millions to AIDS in Africa; now it seems like fish-giving at its worst. Throwing money at the problem will not do anything to solve Africa's suffering. I sure can't offer a solution, but I know it ain't money.

Good book. Check it out if you're looking for a depressingly realistic read.

MORE TO GROK:

I forgot that Bunker wrote a similar post (complete with giving/teaching fish idea) back in July. I must've subconsciously plagiarized him...

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August 05, 2004

MUSIC

Since dc is so interested in the group of bands that is touring the US supporting Kerry, perhaps he'll be interested in this link via LGF; it seems even commenters on an anti-Bush site want musicians to shut their yappers.

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EQUALITY

That war cheerleaders website berated me for saying that I value an American life over a non-American one. So I supposed that site's owner will also berate this Muslim woman for saying "the blood of a Muslim is for us more precious than the Ka’ba , but the blood of [Paul Johnson] is the blood of a dog because he is an idolatrous infidel.”

But I won't hold my breath waiting for it...

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