Monday, December 19, 2011

My Protesters of the Year

Time recently announced that the Protester was their person of the year.  Hard to disagree with that. Protesters have had made a huge difference in everywhere from Tunisia to Egypt to Wall Street to Moscow.

Here are my protesters of the year.

Bradley Manning
Bradley Manning
Occupy Wall Street was inspired by Egypt. Egypt was inspired by Tunisia.  Tunisia was inspired by the desperate act of Mohamed Bouazizi (more on him in a moment) and cables released by Wikileaks.  Bradley Manning (allegedly) smuggled those cables from an army base on a CD labelled "Lady Gaga".

The Arab spring and Occupy Wall Street would not have been possible without Bradley.

Bradley has been under arrest since May 2010 in Kuwait and the States.  He has only just been formally charged.  Bradley has spent long periods in isolation.  He was often left naked in isolation on the pretence of a suicide watch.

Many people - including former isolated inmates - have come out and said that extended solitary isolation is a type of torture.

The trial of Bradley has just begun.  I don't know what the result of the trial will be, but it might end in life imprisonment or an execution.

I suspect Bradley is going to be in no mental shape to defend himself.  He doesn't seem have been an especially happy person prior to releasing the cables and eighteen months of isolation tends to turn the brain to mush.

Bradley Manning should be celebrated as a hero.  He should not be in prison.

Exposing war crimes is not a crime.

Julian Assange
Julian Assange
Julian Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, the organization responsible for releasing the cables that Bradley (allegedly) acquired.

The Wikileaks people went over the cables with a fine toothed comb to make sure that innocent people were not endangered by the release. The U.S. military (eventually) agreed that this was the case.

Julien is currently in England and fighting hard to avoid deportation to Sweden.  Being deported to Sweden would be bad because Sweden would immediately deport him to the States where he would face Bradley Manning type problems. Some elected American representatives have called for Julian to be assassinated.

The weird thing is that Julian hasn't been accused of any crime. The Swedish authorities just want to question around some sexual misconducted charges against him that were quickly dropped.

The only possible reason they would deport someone for questioning is a political one.  The States is putting pressure on Sweden and Sweden is putting pressure on England.

Wikileaks has struggled in recent times.  Companies like Paypal, Visa, and Western Union have refused to accept donations to Wikileaks.  Donations form the main source of income for Wikileaks.

The Wikileaks site was hosted on the Amazon servers.  Amazon and others took down Wikileaks from their servers due to political pressure.  Yet another good reason not to shop at Amazon.  Freedom of speech be damned.

Wikileaks has broke more major stories than the large media organizations combined. He rightfully won a major journalism prize in his native Australia.

Mohamed Bouazizi
Mohamed Bouazizi
Mohamed Bouazizi was a street vendor in Tunisia.

His business was constantly harassed  by Tunisian government thugs who humiliated him, demanded exorbitant bribes, and confiscated his wares.

In an act of desperation, Mohamed doused himself in petrol in front of a governor's office, screamed "How do you expect me to make a living?", and set himself alight. He died later in hospital.

Mohamed's act of desperation - together with the released Wikileak cables - sparked a revolution in Tunisia.  That spark spread to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Wall Street and many others.

Mohamed, Julian, and Bradley.  I salute you all.  Well done.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The courage of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens passed away on the 15th of December 2011 and he will be sorely missed.

He was a journalist and polemicist.  His targets were as diverse as Mother Theresa, Michael Moore,  Henry Kissinger, and Chris Hedges.

I did not always agree with what he said and often felt uncomfortable when he debated people who I liked and admired.  Maybe - just maybe - his keen intellect and razor sharp wit would sway me from my opinion.

He was a complicated man.  Capable of great humanism coupled with an almost barbaric approach to the Middle East.  He wept with a family for the death of a soldier he did not know, while actively supporting the war in Iraq..

His humanism shone brightest before his death

Hitchens was a prolific writer with a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the world around him.  I can't nearly do justice to his work in this blog.

I do want to focus on his death however.

Christopher Hitchens described him self as an anti-theist.  Some atheists wished that there was a afterlife. But Hitchens was an anti-theist because he wished it wasn't true. He thought that the endless worship of an unchanging being would be a type of hell.  Almost like a celestial North Korea.  Better to leave the party early, than to never leave the party at all.

Christopher Hitchens had the courage to face reality as he saw it.  He knew that death would be the end of him.  No heaven.  No hell.  Just oblivion.

There was no deathbed conversion.  Hitchens found the whole idea repulsive.

Like him or loath him, you can't help but admire his courage.  

I hope I will be as strong as Christopher Hitchens when my time comes.

The world has become just a little less interesting and dark.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No more homes for the homeless

Via Bors Blog
One of the many things I liked about the Occupy Vancouver encampment was that it gave a home for the homeless.

On my numerous trips to Occupy Vancouver I met many otherwise-homeless people sleeping in tents around the Vancouver Art Gallery.  A lot of them were ex-druggies.

One gentlemen - with tattoos all over his face - had been clean for five years and wanted free needle exchange stations around town.

By the way, if you don't think free needle exchange stations are a good idea, watch this excellent TED talk by Elizabeth Pisani.

One cannot mention the homeless at Occupy Vancouver without mentioning the tragic case of the young lady who died of a drug overdose.  To the surprise of no one, this was used as an excuse to tear down the encampment.

I think this knee jerk reaction missed the larger problem. Between 2001 and 2005, there were over 290 deaths due to drug overdoses in Vancouver.  If you're gonna point the finger at the Occupy site and scream "Unsafe!  Unsafe!", then point the finger at Vancouver as a whole first.

I think the young lady who died actually had a better chance of survival at the encampment than she would have on the streets.  At least she was near a bunch of people who cared for her safety deeply.

But now the Occupy Vancouver encampment has been shut down.  The homeless can once again be homeless and ignored.  Free to die cold and alone in a back alley while using dirty needles.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Building a School in Nepal

I often said that building the first school was going to be the hardest one.  Once we delivered that project on time and in budget, we would find the second school much easier to fund and build.  "Gimme money to build a school" is so much harder than "Gimme money to build another school".

And that is what has happened.  I learnt recently that Meaningful Volunteer would receive funding for another solar powered school.  Most excellent.

After much talking with the Meaningful Volunteer staff, we decided on the country of Nepal to set up the school.

It is great to have the country and the finances both checked off.

But there is still the non-trivial matter of actually building the school.  Here are some of things we need to check off before we can get the school built:

  • Location
    Nepal seems to split into two.  One side is more developed and has a bunch of NGOs (non-government organizations).  The other is less developed and bereft on NGOs.

    We're likely to go for the less developed side. Less NGOs means less corruption and the need is likely to be more. Our biggest challenge is likely to be the roads.
  • Safety.   Safety.   Safety.
    Wherever we choose, it's gotta be safe.  This overrides any other considerations we might have.

    My heart is firmly placed in Northern Uganda.  The North would no doubt benefit with some Meaningful Volunteer projects, but is just too damn dangerous.

    If there is a similar area in Nepal, we won't be going there. This is likely to rule out border towns.
  • Somewhere for volunteers to stay
    We were lucky to find a gated compound for volunteers to stay in Uganda.  We will need to find somewhere similar in Nepal that's safe, secure and comfortable.
  • Conduct a census
    One of the very sensible things we did in Buyaya, was to conduct a census.  Once we have established a location in Nepal, we will do the same.

    This will help us get to grips with what the needs are in the community.
  • Establishment of a legal entity
    The Meaningful Volunteer CBO (community based organization) legally owns the land and the school in Uganda.  A similar entity needs to be established in Nepal.
  • Internet Access
    Internet access is a must.  I'm sure I don't need to spell out why it is so useful.  A USB device that access the cellphone network is the most likely Internet option.
  • Reconnaissance
    We'll need to send someone over to Nepal to answer these questions and sort these issues out before we can start construction on the school.
This list seems overwhelming at times.  But we got it done in Uganda and I'm sure we can get it done again in Nepal.

(This blog is also on the Meaningful Blog)