Thursday, January 27, 2011

USAID to the Chopping Block?

So, 165 Republicans/conservatives (I don't know what to call these people anymore) in the House have decided that in order to save some dollars, we should just go ahead and defund USAID (disclosure: the org for which I work receives over 2/3rds of its funding from the US Government).

I've been struggling to write about this, but luckily, Allie already wrote a great post about it over on her blog. So fortuitous.

She argues that, apart from its moral implications, foreign aid has always been part and parcel of American defense and diplomacy. The two biggest recipients of USAID right now are Afghanistan and Pakistan. USAID was created and expanded to stop the spread of Communism:

In fact, this ideological foundation was so significant to USAID that the program crumbled along with the Berlin Wall and the fall of communism. Without the obvious connection between security objectives and social and economic development, both Congress and the Presidency turned their backs on USAID. From 1985 to 1997, foreign aid appropriations consistently decreased, and USAID cut thirty percent of its positions from 1993 to 1996.

Of course, foreign assistance should go beyond military, defense, or diplomatic goals. I believe it is the US's responsibility as a wealthier, more stable nation to help out those countries that are struggling. We cannot exist in a vacuum. But there are other incentives, too. As Allie writes:

...In the age of globalization, we are a world of global problems. We cannot pretend that the issues our country faces stop at our borders. What happens in Haiti, what happens in South Africa… these things reverberate within the United States. HIV does not recognize national sovereignty, nor does climate change. And though we’re so worked up about immigration policies, we do not often stop to think about how we could lessen migrant flows by improving quality of life within other countries. Global development is in our best interests in every sense, from the political to the social and even extending to the economic, where emerging markets offer significant opportunities for U.S. business to expand.

So, I think Allie has laid it all out quite nicely. USAID: Good for defense, good for diplomacy, good for the economy. Also, good for health, human rights, democracy, women's rights, children, the environment, and a whole other mess of things.

Many, many, many thanks to Allie for letting me steal from her better-researched, better-written, more-thought-out post. Just go read her instead. She has nice photos too.

Monday, January 17, 2011

While I'm At It...

...Chinua Achebe wrote an incredible piece in the NYT on Sunday about Nigeria. It brings up all those uncomfortable questions I ask myself regularly about (apologies, generalizations) Africa, colonial and post-colonial. Of course (I'm not sure why "of course" but it doesn't surprise me, at least), Achebe is both much more hopeful and much more cynical--and, as he writes, loves a provocateur's stance. And a well-turned phrase.

Remembering Lumumba

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the democratically-elected prime minister of the Republic of the Congo (formerly; also formerly Zaire and now the DRC). Adam Hochschild, who wrote King Leopold's Ghost, has a nice little opinion piece over at the Times. Lumumba's assassination, for me, is one of the saddest moments in African post-colonial history, the doorway that opened to the chaos, violence, and oppression that has ensued in the Congolese region in the last fifty years. In fact, Lumumba was one of the only rays of hope in over a century of atrocities by Belgians and then by local leaders, Mobutu Sese Seko/Joseph Mobutu foremost among them. I also think it's important to acknowledge the involvement of the United States (and Belgium, of course) in the assassination of Lumumba and destabilization of the Congo. Anyway, take a gander.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Better Angels of Our Nature

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address. March 4, 1861, the first day the Confederate Stars and Bars were raised over Montgomery, Alabama.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Sometimes, the world and everything in it feels a bit discouraging. Today, I wanted to share two videos--just because it's important to remember that things are still beautiful and that it's OK to not always be so serious (somewhat in the vein of a recent post).

NYC - Mindrelic Timelapse from Mindrelic on Vimeo.

With not even H/Ts but profuse bowing down and We're-Not-Worthies to Andrew Sullivan and The Daily Dish for the first video and to Michael K and Dlisted for the second (PS Dlisted is not for sensitive eyes).

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Glimpse of Cape Town

Stumbled across an interesting photography blog of shots exclusively of Bree Street in Cape Town by Andrew Brauteseth. Some of them are obviously commercial shots done for a specific store or restaurant, but they give a glimpse into one aspect of the Mother City. I think you'll be able to deduce this on your own, but it's the affluent, occasionally-hipster, overwhelmingly-white side of life here. Really, I'm not trying to hate on it because this is the reality of where I live and of the majority of experiences that I have in CT. But I think it's important to acknowledge that it is what it is and that this is a beautiful, weird and simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable place to live.

H/T to The Foodie.

That Pesky 3/5ths Clause

So the Repubs read the Constitution on the House floor the other day. But they didn't read the original Constitution or make mention of the more uncomfortable parts of it--such as the clarification that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of free persons for census/representation reasons. Strict constructionists, indeed.

I'd like to see how a full-on strict interpretation of the Constitution or the Founding Fathers' views would go. Envisioning lead balloons. As Dazed and Confused says (I know citing this movie won't necessarily help my cause, but it's such a good line):

Okay guys, one more thing, this summer when you're being inundated with all this American bicentennial Fourth Of July brouhaha, don't forget what you're celebrating, and that's the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn't want to pay their taxes.

Though really, I guess that's kind of the (new) Tea Party after all. I just give up.

The New York Times (of course, just get used to it) actually had a nice little editorial about reading the Constitution on the floor. When I first heard about all of this and tried to think of it out of the context of the political BS, I thought this was a nice idea. Too bad it wasn't done well--though maybe that's not much of a surprise.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Friday, January 7, 2011

Daily Diversion

One of my good friends directed me to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros while I was conducting my annual expat-must-take-advantage-of-uncapped-American-internet iTunes binge in November (yes, I realize that they released their album in 2009; I've decided that I always find music late in the game--from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to Rilo Kiley). I like them. They give me a big beards, deserts, Laurel Canyon, psychedelic mythology vibe, which in its extreme form is Charles Manson and in the most mainstream incarnation is pretty much the whole of the late 1960s/early 1970s Counterculture. And anyone who knows anything about me will not be surprised that this is a band that I've migrated towards. Anyway, give them a listen if you haven't.

And check out this absolutely adorable video of a father and young daughter, Jorge and Alexa Narvaez, doing a cover of ES&TMZs' "Home."

H/T to one of my all-time favorite sites, Pajiba, for the video and to John for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Male Circumcision for HIV Prevention

Great short article on male circumcision campaigns in Swaziland for HIV prevention in The Atlantic. It's encouraging to see that efforts are underway in Swazi to begin getting their epidemic under control. It's also good to see that safe sex counseling and voluntary HIV testing are a part of the circumcision procedure. It'll be a hard road, since the country has the world's highest adult prevalence rate at 25.9%.

Obviously, male circumcision is not the end-all, be-all solution--especially since it helps with prevention among males but not females. Women bear a disproportionate disease burden in Swaziland--while 20% of males aged 15-49 are living with HIV, 31% of women are. All the same, it's a good first step.

Stats courtesy of AVERT and UNAIDS.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Shaking Off 2010

2010 wasn't a particularly encouraging year on the global front and, as far as I'm concerned, the only thing that even began to redeem it was a crop of high quality films (Inception, Social Network, Winter's Bone, etc--seriously, drop everything and go see the last one right this minute). Which isn't exactly an encouraging silver lining. And things continue to look down in 2011--with US politics looking uglier than ever, a potential conflict brewing in Ivory Coast (and maybe embroiling all of West Africa), and, you know, a bunch of other crap (side note: did anyone else see that the head of the Revolutionary Guard slapped Ahmadinejad in the face?).

But, as Joel McCrea (yes, I had to look it up) discovers in Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels (another great film, with the gorgeous Veronica Lake) and as Donald O'Connor sings in Singin' in the Rain (ditto on cinematic greatness), sometimes you gotta make 'em laugh.

So, take a gander at Dave Barry's overview of 2010. I've been reading him on and off since I was 13 (an eagerly anticipated bit of comedy in the Sunday International Herald Tribune, which was a difficult thing to find on a Sunday in Rennes, France), and he never disappoints. You'll laugh through the tears. A nice way to shake off 2010. Here's to hoping that 2011 is at least a smidge better.

With compliments and, I guess, an H/T to Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish for the Dave Barry link.

And with promises that pictures from my holiday break will go up soon--I've got a thousand or so photos to work through.