Charlie Hebdo

Thankfully I haven’t yet seen any retards talking about how Islam is apparently the only religion which has extremists or terrorists, and trying to blame an entire religion for the acts of a few horrible people. This is an excellent article. Read.

Reblog: Original articl from The Guardian, Wednesday 7 January 2015 14.36 GMT

Charlie Hebdo: Now is the time to uphold freedoms and not give in to fear

Terrorists can kill and maim, but they cannot topple governments. We must not hand them victory by treating this massacre as an act of war.
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The scene in Paris: ‘Charlie Hebdo was testing the boundaries of taste and religious tolerance.’ Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Why does it happen? Whenever a political outrage is committed, the sensible question is to ask: what does its perpetrator want? What reaction does he seek, and what does he not seek?

Twelve dead cannot go unremarked. Those journalists who confront violent intolerance, even in the supposed security of a city office, need every support. When, very rarely, they die in that cause, they must be lauded and mourned.

Those who comment through satire are peculiarly bold, more so than those who deploy argument. Ridicule is the most devastating and wounding of weapons. It reaches parts of the political and personal psyche that reason cannot touch. It is one of democracy’s most effective weapons, and the price those who wield it have to pay is sometimes as high as any other.

There can be no doubt that the magazine Charlie Hebdo was testing the boundaries of taste and religious tolerance. But that is the burden freedom of speech in a democracy has to bear. The US bore it recently with its satire on North Korea’s leader; it was the risk Charlie Hebdo took, and knew it was taking.

If satire reaches places argument cannot touch, should terrorism now be allowed to do the same? All authorities on terrorism agree, as its student Richard English has written, that the question has “no easy solution”. The reason is that it is a technique of conflict, not a cause. It is merely a weapon, not an ideology.

In murdering so many, we can assume the terrorists sought to achieve two things. They sought to terrify others and thus to deter continued criticism, and they now seek to reduce the French state to a condition of paranoia. They want to goad otherwise liberal people to illiberal actions. To them, western democracy is skin deep in its freedoms, while the simple disciplines of their form of Islam are more powerful, more courageous, more lasting.

For the past quarter-century, the west has misread and misplayed the upsurge in fundamentalist sentiment across the Muslim world. The anti-western thrust was manifest in movements as diverse as Sayyid Qutb’s Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran’s ayatollahs, Bin Laden’s al-Qaida and, more recently, Isis in Syria and Iraq. But it has almost always been cultural, directed at the states of the Middle East, at keeping them to some concept of religious purity.

Some of these movements sought caliphates and toppled secular regimes, notably those of the Ba’athists. But the insurgencies were mostly contained within the region. The threat to the west was negligible. The threat to western commercial interests was more substantive, but it was likely to be short-lived. Oil would always need to be sold, as has proved to be the case.

Osama bin Laden’s attacks on the United States, culminating in New York in 2001, were exceptional. Since he could not hope for an American capitulation, the intention must have been to scare the US into a hysterical reaction. As a result, all advice at the time was for America not to universalise its response to 9/11, let alone characterise it as a “war”. This would merely fuel the flames of horror, and lead on to God knows where. As Tom Paine warned: “Sanguinary punishment corrupts humankind.”

That advice was ignored, and years of war ensued, years that realised al-Qaida’s wildest dreams. Western nations plunged into battle, at a cost of some $3tn. Thousands of lives were lost and regimes were destabilised across the region. Democratic governments lurched towards authoritarianism. Almost willingly, it seemed, governments tore up many of the central tenets of their liberties. In the more belligerent states – the US and Britain – habeas corpus, private communication, legal process and even freedom of speech were curtailed or jeopardised. The forces of state repression suddenly found themselves singing the best tunes.

Bin Laden was handed his triumph. For a decade he was able to rally supporters to his cause. He boasted at the vulnerability of this supposedly superior society. He taunted democracies that claimed immunity from the devious tactics of militant Islam. American presidents and British home secretaries alike became al-Qaida’s useful idiots.

Today’s French terrorists want a similarly hysterical response. They want another twist in the thumbscrew of the surveillance state. They want the media to be told to back off. They want new laws, new controls, new additions to the agenda of illiberalism. They know that in most western nations, including Britain, there exists a burgeoning industry of illiberal bureaucrats with empires to build. This industry may be careful of public safety, but it is careless of the comfort and standing it offers the terrorist. There will now be cries from the security services and parliament for more powers and more surveillance.

Few would be so foolish as to want any group, in this case journalists, to be left unprotected from acts such as those that have occurred in Paris. Huge resources have already been allocated to forestalling terrorist acts, and that is appropriate. But these acts are crimes and should be treated as such. They are for assiduous policing, at which Britain has so far been reasonably successful. They are not for constitutional deterioration.

Only weakened and failing states treat these crimes as acts of war. Only they send their leaders diving into bunkers and summoning up ever darker arts of civil control, now even the crudities of revived torture. Such leaders cannot accept that such outrages will always occur, everywhere. They refuse to respect limits to what a free society can do to prevent them.

Britain has never been free of acts of violence. The 20th century saw bombs in London from anarchists, Fenians, Palestinians and Irish nationalists. Now we have so-called jihadists. The last is the only group seriously to threaten Britain’s custodianship of freedoms handed down by centuries of the rule of law. This very week parliament considers stripping British citizenship from those merely “suspected” of going abroad in pursuit of terrorism. Anyone visiting London at present – with its blast barriers, armed police, alert notices, even train announcements – senses a government in thrall to terror, unable ever to say enough is enough.

Terrorism is no ordinary crime. It depends on consequence. It can kill people and damage property. It can impose cost. But it cannot occupy territory or topple governments. Even to instil fear it requires human enhancement, from the media and politicians.

That is why the most effective response is to meet terrorism on its own terms. It is to refuse to be terrified. It is not to show fear, not to overreact, not to over-publicise the aftermath. It is to treat each event as a passing accident of horror, and leave the perpetrator devoid of further satisfaction. That is the only way to defeat terrorism.

Why People Give to One, not Millions

I came across this interesting piece on NPR about charitable giving using emotional responses.

There’s a new study which shows that people give more generously to a cause where there’s one recipient, or one source in need of help, rather than millions of people.

It’s come about at an interesting time, when we’re all asking ourselves some serious questions about Ebola.

Psychologist Paul Slovic of the University of Oregon has some answers to this timely question. In his study, a young girl suffering from starvation was shown to volunteers to see whether they were willing to donate to help. Another group was shown the same story, but with the added level that there were also millions of others like her.

Initially, what would your first reaction be? I know with a set-up like this it’s hard to think naturally, but I thought that when faced with such a large issue, people would be more motivated to give money, and may even donate larger sums. I would’ve thought that if the problem was proven to be larger in scale than just one child, we might be more shocked into donating than if it was just a smaller-scale issue.

But the more I thought about it of course, the more this study made sense. We are inundated in our media by images of starving children, animals in danger, people near and far who need our help. It’s little wonder then, that when told that a problem we’re learning about is much larger in scale than one person, we throw our hands up in exasperation, certain that we can’t make a difference.

“What we found was just the opposite,” Slovic says. “People who were shown the statistics along with the information about the little girl gave about half as much money as those who just saw the little girl.”

Slovic initially thought it was just the difference between heart and head. A story about an individual victim affects us emotionally. But a million people in need speaks to our head, not our heart. “As the numbers grow,” he explains, “we sort of lose the emotional connection to the people who are in need.”

In other words, people decline to do what they can do because they feel bad about what they can’t do.

That theory might explain why there hasn’t been an outpouring of donations from Americans to the Ebola epidemic. The current outbreak triggers feelings of hopelessness: there’s no cure, lots of people are sick, and lots of people will die.

Fair Trade Tumi Wallet

I recently bought this beautiful wallet from Tumi, via their Amazon shop. For the princely sum of £20, I now have a beautiful, functional wallet that I know has been made with respect for the planet, and with a good wage for the person who made it. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s beautiful, too!

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Taking its name from an Inca dagger, Tumi was founded in 1978 by Mo Fini promoting fair trade crafts and goods with Latin America, working closely with organisations such as Traidcraft and Oxfam Trading, specialising in wholesale distribution, retail and mail order online of world crafts.

Among other things, they sell fair trade jewellery, crafts, pottery, musical instruments, glass, tiles, paintings, games, toys, carvings, mirrors, hats, accessories, soft furnishings, plaques, dolls  and puppets via their website.

This wallet is handmade in Tumi’s workshops in La Paz, Bolivia and has a small panel of textile on the front. There’s a zipper compartment at the back as well as inside, and there is plenty of space for your cards and photos – as well as, of course, your cash and receipts!

Here are my photos of the wallet – I got it in burgundy, and you can see it’s a beautiful colour. It has that familiar lovely smell of leather and you can see the quality of the workmanship, too. I’ve taken some pictures of the inside, so you can see that it’s got plenty of space for cards, photos, different currencies and it’s got two zipper compartments too! It fits well in your hand and is slim, but has space for everything.

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I’m really happy with this overall, and it feels great to have something handmade, with unique touches (no two wallets are the same since the fabric in front varies from piece to piece) and which is good for the environment, too. It came packaged really well and I would definitely recommend this to anyone!

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Tumi also have a YouTube page so you can get more information about the products they sell, the artisans who make them and their philosophy.  

27 Myths about the Developing World

I found this article on Global Citizen and wanted to share it. There was a lot here that made me think, but many of these myths have been debunked by most academics and professionals in development. Aid effectiveness is still a hotly contested debate topic, certainly – but are we really still in the mindset that aid leads to overpopulation (myth 24)?

Have a look and tell me what you think. It surprised me to see there are still those who hold on to these views.

1.) There is an agreed upon way to decide what is a developing country

Flickr: Sudhamshu Hebbar

There is no agreed upon metric for deciding which countries are considered “developing”. The standard of living for a given country can be calculated a dozen different ways with different factors. There is even debate as to whether the term should still be used because it assumes a desire for Western style economic development.

2.) When people say “developing world” or “third world” they mean Africa.

Wikipedia Commons

Yes, there are many developing nations in Africa. And yes, most of the myths on this list apply to how people think of Africa. There are developing countries in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. And Africa isn’t a monolith of poverty. This myth feeds into a lot of misconceptions about Africa like…

3.) Africa is a country.

Flickr: US Army Africa

It’s not as though people don’t know that Africa is a continent not a country. The problem is that people make sweeping generalizations about Africa. Whereas most people in the Global North have a clear idea about the differences between Germany and Italy, African nations often get painted with the same brush. In fact there are 54 different African nations all with different cultures, ethnicities, and economic statuses.

4.) Poor countries are just short of natural resources.

Wikimedia: Alexandra Pugachevsky

This is one of the most damaging myths because it makes people believe that there isn’t much that can be done to help. But it’s simply not true. For example, about 400 billion dollars worth of resources leave the continent of Africa every year. There are a lot of reasons why developing nations can have a lot of poverty, but a lack of natural resources is rarely a big factor. This myth also leads people to conclude that…

5.) Developing nations don’t have their own cultures or histories (because they have always been poor).

Wikimedia: Cordanrad

This one will probably seem obvious but there is a misconception that developing nations have no culture or history because they’ve always been poor and cut off from the rest of the world. Aside from the racist assumptions about poverty in tribal civilizations, this myth ignores the rich and powerful cities, kingdoms and empires that have existed in areas that are now impoverished. Look into the Malian Empire or the Mughal Empire if you don’t believe me.

6.) The people in developing nations are all poor.

Flickr: Christophe

There are clearly poor people in developing nations. But there are also poor in developed countries. Worse, the belief that a developing nation is entirely populated by poor people erases the many success stories of the rising global middle class people. Only focusing on those in desperate poverty makes for ineffective policies and leads to false assumptions about how people live in other countries.

7.) All people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas.

Wikimedia Oxfam East Africa

Most of the world’s poor, about 75%, do live in rural areas and rely mostly on farming. However like most things on this list, facts become myths when people replace the word “most” with the word “all”. The 25% of the world’s poor that live in urban areas need different types of aid, and different kinds of policy change, than those in rural areas. They shouldn’t be ignored.

8.) Developed nations spend a lot of their budgets on international aid.

Wikimedia: Russavia

How much do you think the United States spends in international aid every year? It’s probably less than you think . When asked how much of the national budget was spent on foreign aid the average American responded with 25%. The actual amount is less than 1%. Even the most generous nation in the world, Norway, gives less than 3% a year. When asked how much the United States should spend on foreign aid, the average response was 10%.

9.) Relying on aid hurts developing nations.

Flickr: Bread for the World

The argument usually goes like this: “If developing nations rely on foreign aid, they will never develop their own economies.” However, it is important to remember that the aid that directly saves lives, such as medicine and food, is really an investment in the nation’s future. Without a strong and healthy population there is truly no hope for independence from aid.

10.) Volunteering in a developing nation is the best way to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Elitre

A common misconception, although a valiant one! However, volunteering in a developing country usually benefits the volunteer more than locals, unless you have specific, applicable skills like medicine or engineering. The volunteer will learn a lot but will likely have little impact on community development. The best aid is the kind that gives locals the ability to craft their own instituions that can continue on long after the trickle of aid money has come to an end. Traveling to teach English for a month is not near as impactful as funding the local schoolteachers who will live and work there for their entire careers.

11.) Pictures of starving people, or sad children, are a great way to motivate people to make a difference.

Wikimedia: Oxfam East Africa

There is a name for the type of imagery that is supposed to shock people in developed nations with the realities of extreme poverty: “poverty porn”. While there is a time and place to document suffering, it is important to make sure the person in the photograph is aware of what the picture will be used for, and that the image is presented with context. When photos of children with distended bellies are used as symbols instead of portraits of living people, they are erased as individuals. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and presented with dignity: as a person with their own dreams, character, and motivations. Although these images undoubtably work at provoking sympathy, advocacy efforts need to be motivated by accurate information and these images don’t tell the whole story.

12.) People living in extreme poverty are poor because they made bad choices.

Wikimedia: Ton Rulkens

This rumor has been around as long as poverty has. The world’s poorest are often stigmatized as stupid, lazy, dirty, and violent. Structural inequality can be subtle and difficult to understand, but these types of assumptions poisons the efforts made to change the systems that keep people poor. Just because a person is successful, it shouldn’t give them the right to shirk responsibility to address structural inequality.

13.) There just isn’t enough food to feed everyone.

Wikimedia: Elitre

This is usually the conclusion people make when they hear that so many people all over the world go hungry. In fact, there is enough food to feed the planet one and a half times over. People who can comfortably afford food usually waste a staggering amount. Hunger is not a supply issue, it’s a distribution issue.

14.) Developing nations are all corrupt, and aid just supports that corruption.

Wikipedia Commons

First of all, let’s not pretend that developing nations are the only ones with corruption at the government level. When a mayor in the developed world is found to be corrupt, no one suggests that we cut off services to the city in question. It is important to ask ourselves if we are willing to sacrifice the lives of people who rely on aid until we are sure that every incident of corruption is removed. Of course institutions and governments should be transparent and accountable, but the cost of corruption usually only accounts for a small percentage of total aid.

15.) We should focus on poverty in our own countries before trying to help anyone else.

Flickr: Franco Folini

There is poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness in developed nations. No one is suggesting that these problems should be ignored. However, the fact remains that less than 1% of most developed nation’s budget goes to foreign aid whereas large portions of their budget address domestic health and infrastructure. The type of poverty in the developing world is objectively different from the type of poverty exerienced in developing countries.

16.) Future technologies will solve all of the problems of global poverty.

Wikimedia: Reynold Brown

Though it’s refreshing to see some optimistic myths about global poverty, the fact remains that relying on future innovations is not a viable plan and it does nothing for those living in poverty today. Which leads to me to another myth…

17.) Developing nations are technologically backwards.

Flickr: Tanalyn Dollar

There are places where there’s a lack of access to digital technology but it isn’t like developing nations are cut off from the tech boom. In fact, many times technology has spread faster in developing nations than developed ones. Cell phones are widely used and they have contributed to many innovations and has led income increases. Ignoring the use of technology in developing nations ignores how important it can be as a part of strategies for ending global poverty. This myth also ignores the innovations in digital technology that originate in the developing world.

18.) Developing nations are violent and unsafe.

Flickr: Ian Hasley

Wars are certainly one of the biggest causes of poverty and displacement, but not all developing nations are unsafe. Parts of highly developed nations can be less safe than parts of developing nations. The assumption that all parts of developing countries are torn by violenceprobably comes from movies and the kinds of news stories that come out of some developing nations.

19.) The decline of poverty is all due to international aid (especially celebrities contributing to charity) 

Wikipedia Commons

This myth ignores the strides made by the people within developing nations. The fact that the work Western nations are doing is the most visible doesn’t mean that Western people are doing the most. Aid is important to empower those living in poverty to lift themselves out of it. By giving them access to the basics: food, water, health, sanitation and education etc. Economies won’t boom just from aid, aid can give millions of people access to basic needs, allowing them to be entreprenurial and participate in the market.

20.) Any kind of aid is helpful to a developing nation.

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There are some kinds of aid that can end up taking more resources from poorer communities than they contribute, especially when you consider the cost of shipping, storing, and distributing certain donated goods. For example, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami thousands of useless items like winter coats, high heeled shoes, and expired canned food were donated to effected nations. Though this was a generous act, donators didn’t research what was actually needed by the people effected.

21.)  If people in developing nations started acting like people in Western nations, they wouldn’t be so poor!

Wikimedia: Valter Campanato

There is a long tradition of people saying that poverty is a cultural problem. Though there can be facets of a culture that slow economic growth, such as human rights violations, women’s equality etc. But a culture that happens to have a greater incidence of wealth is not a better culture because it is political history that’s the biggest factor in determining who is poor. People believed that Irish culture was at fault for their poverty during the 19th century.

22.) Developing nations are dirty.

Wikimedia: Russavia

There is no nation that can be considered as a whole “dirty”, just as there is no nation in which all of the people are poor. In fact, developed nations produce far more trash and waste than developing nations. Calling developing nations dirty is disrespectful and trivializes the real issue of sanitation for those living in extreme poverty.

23.) People are poor because they are having too many kids they can’t afford.

DVID: Sgt. Ken Scar

This myth is a classic misunderstanding of cause and effect. Putting aside that “too many” usually means “more than I think these people should have”, studies show that people aren’t poor because they are having too many kids. Rather they can’t choose to have fewer kids because of poverty.  Without access to contraception or sex education to use it effectively, people in extreme poverty have limited choice in family planning.

24.) Aid just leads to people in developing nations having more kids, contributing to overpopulation

Flickr: Todd Huffman

This is simply untrue. There is a belief that since aid is increasingly effective at saving lives, i.e. children that would have otherwise died from preventable disease, aid will cause a population crisis. Some people believe that with the extra resources from aid those living in extreme poverty will decide to have more children. Studies have shown the exact opposite results. The combination of girls staying in school longer and families having access to family planning causes birthrates to go down. 40 years ago, women in Bangladesh had an average of 7 kids and expected a quarter to die; now women in Bangladesh have an average of 2 children and only 1 in 20 don’t make it to their 5th birthday.

25.) All developing nations are near the equator. 

Wikimedia: Taylor Weidman

Believing that most people living in poverty live in hot climates is probably related to the assumption that the developing world means Africa. However, poverty is also a real issue in incredibly cold climates like those found in Central Asia, where staying warm is a top concern. Bonus fun fact: there are climates in sub-Saharan Africa where it snows.

26.) If living in a developing nation can be so hard, people should just leave. 

Flickr: Vicki Francis/Department for International Development

Most people living in extreme poverty don’t have the money to move somewhere else. Often enough people do leave their nations to go where there are better opportunities. However those leaving are typically those with some education and/or wealth. This ends up being another important resource leaving developing nations.

27.) Nothing ever gets better and aid doesn’t make a difference.

Wikimedia: Joseph Jude

This myth is probably the one that is the most important to bust. Listing how many things have improved in the last 20 or so years would need a whole other list entirely. In fact, here’s one. The fact is plain: aid makes a huge difference, and has already saved millions and millions of lives, with your help, it can continue to do so.