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Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

Introduction to my ethics

Posted by Chris on March 4, 2009

I have a lot of interest in ethics. I’ve got my own brand of ethics I guess you could say, and rather than try and explain it on a theoretical level, it would be easier to just do application. I have some favorite principles that I’ll briefly list and discuss.

1) Human rights discourses and contradictions. One of my favorite classes in college was Anthropology of Human Rights. Among other things, we looked at lists and beliefs in human rights and how they were often mutually exclusive. For example (I wrote my research paper on this) the United Nations supports full abortion rights yet comes down strongly against female feticide, aka targeted abortion of female fetuses. The UN, in its various human rights discourses, contradicts itself.

2) If at all possible, be libertarian. I prefer less laws, not more laws. I am (this is a generality) for legislating morality when it directly harms the object receiving the action (drunk driving, murder) but okay with allowing things, even if I think they’re immoral, if it only has an indirect effect (adultery, the argument for the legalization of drugs).

3) I’m a Christian. This impacts my moral beliefs. It impacts my goals of ethics and when and which exceptions I make to the above rules. Also, it adds a factor foreign to secular ethics’ discussions: the value of God’s character and sovereignty. Therefore an act can be unethical merely because it harms God, even if (for the sake of argument) it harms no one else.

I only expect or care to discuss the character of God and the significance to ethics with other Christians who affirm the same thing. I do not expect others with different preconditions to care about this line of reasoning, in fact, they should not be persuaded in this manner.

However, believers and non should understand that my Christian faith is the back drop for the final two principles, motives and conscience.

4) Motives matter. Ex a) if someone is drowning and you try to save them and they die, good. If someone is drowning and you don’t want to risk your own life and do nothing, bad. Same outcome, different motives, different ethical conclusion.

5) Conscience. We should follow it. This should be the final word, but it’s not because we are imperfect, sinful people. Many people have followed their convictions into doing very bad things. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” So it’s not infallible, but in situations in which the right thing to do is not clear, it is a guide. Furthermore, it can be the determining factor of what is and is not ethical. If your conscience says go ahead, you should, and if it says to stop, stop.

Finally, the application is to find consistency. That’s the goal. It’s very impractical to have to think through every single ethical quandary. So you want to find principles and then apply them consistently. An example would be the Hippocratic Oath’s “Do no harm.” That lets you know (if you decide Do No Harm is a principle you assert) that murder is wrong, defending yourself with a weapon is wrong, etc…

I often argue my point by finding inconsistencies in another event or person’s position or circumstance.

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Posted in about me, ethics, human rights | 2 Comments »

New Ways to measure poverty: Black AIDS %

Posted by Chris on July 31, 2008

I’m going to combine two seemingly very different articles into a post on an interesting way to measure poverty in the US.

First, at Slate.com Tim Harford writes about what he calls “a sensible way to measure poverty.” Harford is the “undercover economist” and has a very enjoyable and interesting book on the practical applications of economics with the same name.  He talks about conventional methods of measuring poverty and proposes something new.

The conventional methods include objective income threshholds used by governments such has the US poverty line, based on 1960s food budgets and since adjusted for inflation, and the European Union’s line of Below 60% of median income (meaning that it is statistically impossible to eliminate poverty).

Harford advocates the usage of subjective tests.  Every society, therefore, would measure poverty differently- not just a noticeable difference in income and wealth, but the standards of living.  A foundation proposes such a poverty measure, based on what is and is not necessary “to participate in society.”  Harford acknowledges that these measures will be controversial but argues that subjectivity is a strength, because as incomes rise, things like the Internet become necessary making those unable to afford it “poorer” (my word not his) than before.

In the other article, CNN reports that in some areas of the US, the AIDS rate of African-Americans** is greater than the rate of some African countries. (**The article uses “black”, “black americans” and “African-Americans”.  It seems like an important distinction.  If you’re going to compare the AIDS rate in America to that of Africa, it might be important that whoever does the study targets only American-born blacks.  Maybe it’s not?!  I don’t know.  But I am guessing that African immigrants have a different AIDS % rate– and it’s probably lower, actually, because I think the US  screens for that in immigration).  Of course, they look at the African countries with the lowest AIDS rates, but it is still alarming.  I’m rarely shocked or taken by surprise by such things but this honestly got me, I had no idea.

Comparing AIDS rates in Africa and the US is a bit of apples and oranges if you look at straight-up  statistics.  That is how I got in a situation where I thought of South Africa as a country with a very low AIDS rate, but am appalled to read that the black population of Washington DC has a 5% AIDS rate.

So here’s the question: is that bias unfair or Ameri-centric?  Certainly, many Americans care much less about those in Africa.  But according to Harford’s logic, it is not inherently biased to be more alarmed by the 5% of Washington DC than the 5% of South Africa.  First, there are the expectations– in one continent, you’re lucky to not have AIDS; the other, extremely unfortunate to have AIDS.  I will think a bit outside the box and give some other reasons.  In general, African life expectancy is lower, AIDS or no AIDS.  The CNN article reports that AIDS is the #1 killer of black women between 25-34.  Each case of AIDS takes many more years off life in the US than in Africa.  In Africa, AIDS acquisition and treatment is more of a problem because of other aggravating factors like lack of access to clean water, hunger, and other infectious diseases.  Without making light of the AIDS epidemic, in many cases it adds one more problem on top of many others, whereas in the US it single-handedly changes the direction and outlook of one’s life.

To look at the other side of this issue, even though you’re relatively “poorer” to have AIDS in the US, at the same time you’d much rather have AIDS here than in Africa.  Some live with HIV or AIDS for many years due to the superior health care and medicines universally available in the US.  In addition, everyday things like water and food help as well.  Furthermore, even though AIDS is much more common in Africa, culturally there is probably more stigma, even in light of the early homophobia that really cursed an AIDS diagnosis in the US.  I have heard and read firsthand accounts about how you do not discuss AIDS in several different African countries.  In the US, we have a negative socio-religious explanation for AIDS– irresponsible sexual behavior, even inherently immoral sexual perversion, is what causes AIDS.  Africa has its own, however, perhaps even more pernicious and scary to those who wish to avoid it: witchcraft.  Witchcraft, even in Christianized/Islamicized settings, lingers as an explanation for individual misfortunes.  Then, you can add the sexual immorality stigmas on top of that.

In conclusion, I’m not saying it’s better or worse to have AIDS anywhere; it’s unfortunate, sad, terrible–, whatever combination of words it takes to describe what’s going on.

But I wanted to use it as a case study of how we should look at poverty, especially in public policy and philosophical debate.  The way we act as individuals should not change that much.  We should be generous, sensitive, and desire to share in the sufferings of others no matter how relative or objective their “poverty.”  But philosophically, it’s helpful to consider the subjectiveness of poverty before making statements like “We should just be worried about people in our own country” or “How can you be so concerned about irresponsible people in America when there are so many AIDS orphans in Malawi?”.  Furthermore, it should impact the nature and goals of our public policy.  Does government have a responsibility mainly to its citizens to eradicate their problems, no matter how small or large?  Or should it set more moderate goals and then help other nations? (Which is the approach, in practice, of the US as far as I can tell).

After deciding on the goals of public policy, what is its nature?  What do we do?  Let’s say the US decides to only worry about infectious diseases within its borders.  In fact, we say that that it’s not biased to do so, because in part we want to limit our impact on spreading disease to other nations, and demonstrate our willingness to treat diseases brought by immigrants.  How do we concentrate resources?  Are the 5% of a poor population in a large city, who have many problems, the target of a multi-billion dollar campaign?  Or do we offer free Anti-Retroviral Therapy to any AIDS patient, the same amount, irregardless of where they live or what kind of medical facilities are available?

Posted in Culture, human rights, links of the day | Leave a Comment »

Abortion & Crime in China

Posted by Chris on July 11, 2008

NYC experienced a much-discussed and theorized drop in crime in the 1990s.  I first read about it in a Harvard Business School case study in college, then again in the books Freakonomics and The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell).  Gladwell and Harvard discussed Police Chief William Bratton and Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to clean up crime by increasing the visual presence of police and rooting out the simple crimes.

In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner hypothesize that legalized abortion led to the drop in crime.  Roe v. Wade occurred in 1973, so as the 1990s came, there was a much smaller population of young men born in circumstances linked to higher crime rates (poverty, single moms) than there would have been.  I neither agree nor disagree with their conclusion and they are clear that it is not a moral statement.  If you want to better understand their theory (and see how they use data to back it up), read the book.

Today, the Freakonomics Blog has an interesting post on a related issue in China.  The One-Child policy has led to a gender imbalance in China as parents select to have one son.  In many circumstances this has (allegedly, but supported by the data and anectodal evidence) led to sex-selective abortion and infanticide.  With more boys than girls, people have begun to wonder what effects this could have as these boys and girls become men and women.  Theories abound: increases in sex trafficking, some kind of polygamy (I forget the name, something like slave wives) where one wife is shared by many husbands, frustrated men who cannot find wives, and other general breakdowns in the social structure.  So, I’m not extremely shocked to read that…

In The New Republic, Mara Hvistendahl reports that as the first generation of one-child boys have reached adolescence, the youth crime rate in China has more than doubled, as idle and frustrated boys turn to crime “without specific motives, often without forethought.”

Posted in globalization, human rights | 1 Comment »

China’s grieving parents told to stop protests

Posted by Chris on July 9, 2008

I wrote two posts recently on the Chinese government’s “leniency” in allowing parents to have more kids to “replace” children who died during the tragic Earthquake in May. They are here and here.

I left off saying that the government’s decision was a good one, but is hardly worth applauding since it commodifies children. I saw a news story today that shows more frustration from grieving parents about a different criticism of the government.

In China quiets parent protesters about earthquake, the AP reports that the parents who were protesting will no longer be allowed to “march, wave banners and vent their rage in public.” Why are they so angry at the government?

The grieving mothers and fathers believe that nearly 7,000 classrooms crumbled so easily because corrupt and incompetent officials didn’t build them properly.

Ouch. Sounds familiar to Americans who remember the criticisms levied at the US government, the president, and others after Hurricane Katrina and the failed levees in New Orleans (and these criticisms are now coming up again in light of Midwest floods).

The article is surprisingly not very objective (at least my understanding of news writing), saying:

After winning global praise for acting like an open society and allowing the parents to protest after the disaster, China is reverting to the tactics of a communist police state ready to crush any dissent.

It’s important, in drawing a comparison, to point out that 70,000 Chinese people died, as opposed to 3,000-4,000 I believe from Katrina. I don’t weigh those 70,000 to mean a greater tragedy, but it is certainly equally as tragic. While American generosity is noted in response to international disaster, I think we have a serious empathy and perspective deficiency. What we do in our daily lives and our foreign and domestic policy should be more influenced by what happens in the rest of a globalized world. For instance, I am for free trade, even if it means that certain jobs are lost by some Americans, because it benefits foreign workers (and Americans by giving us lower prices).

It’s also valuable in comparing the two to see the reaction of people. The AP article describes the parents…

As they tried to cope with their losses, some parents seemed to be driven by a deep sense of nihilism, a feeling they could challenge the government because they had nothing more to lose now that their only child was gone. They were poor farmers or workers who obeyed China’s one-child policy.

Americans who challenged our government did not do it for this reason. We want and expect justice. Whether or not it will make a difference, people knew they could go out and vote either for or against politicians who will do a better job managing America’s infrastructure and making sure disasters like Katrina don’t have the same effect.

We should be thankful for this outlook– that’s about as patriotic as I’ll get during this July 4th season. It says something good about the place we were lucky enough to be born. We don’t expect people to die. We expect government to do something about it. And we know they can.

I’m also thankful for the prevalence of theistic and religious worldviews that are present in America. While our society has secularized in many ways, we are far from Western Europe which is certainly post-Christian (although perhaps entering a phase of pre-Islamic?) and not at all like China where religion has been suppressed for several generations. During times of distress, rare is the average American who will turn to nihilism or postmodern hopelessness- most will pray, cling to family, and be thankful.

Posted in human rights, links of the day | 1 Comment »

Global food prices, Part II: Excuses and Reasons

Posted by Chris on June 7, 2008

As way of an introduction, this series of posts came about as a result of all the media coverage of, and visible evidence in our grocery stores, of the rise in food prices and the effects globally.
In Part 1 I looked at some of the problems that result from higher food prices and gave some examples. It was by no means comprehensive; rather, it reflects simply the most recent anecdotal things I’ve read and heard, along with some of my own perspective. In this post I’ll look at some of the explanations for the rising food prices and talk about excuses vs. reasons as a way of evaluating the theories in terms of which ones are important in determining what we can personally do. So this is not a quantitative analysis to show how much each factor has to do with the rise in commodity prices– it’s a bunch of individual puzzle pieces from which I’ll pick a few over which we, as individual Americans, have some control.

I am drawing from a specific set of articles that I have read lately which are listed here as my sources. In addition, I am remembering other things I’ve read but do not have the url and drawing on conversations with people. I will try to give credit where it’s due as much as I’m able (denoted by a # in parentheses). But I can’t really take the time to do a bunch of extra research and will mainly draw from my head.

Part II: Why food prices are rising
Of course there are many factors that determine the price of food. And some explain for the rise. With some precision you can easily figure out which factors are definitely important and which are not behind the rising prices, however.

Demand for food

It is rising in China and India. Some say that the rising demand for food staples (either its homegrown rice, or for imported wheat, etc…) in these two countries explain almost all of the surge in commodity prices. Econ 101: if demand increases, the demand curve shifts outward and creates a new intersection with the supply curve (equilibrium). Since supply curves are upward sloping (i.e., low on the left near the ‘y’ axis which represents price and low on the right near the ‘x’ axis which represents quantity), a shift in demand leads to a higher price (because the equilibrium pt is now higher along the ‘y’ axis as suppliers will sell more at higher prices).
All things being equal, more people, eating more food, will equal higher prices. Things like the industrial revolution have helped to decrease food and manufacturing prices. Agrobusiness is the new industry trying to bring cheap food to the global masses. But it is possible that the effects of demand could begin to outstrip the effects of technological and agricultural improvements in efficiency.
It is also worth mentioning that part of the rising demand due to China and India is not just from more people, but more people with more money who are now eating things besides traditional staples like rice (such as meats and grains) (8).

Demand for alternate uses
Corn demand has increased a lot, but not for food purposes. Instead, corn and other crops like soybeans are being diverted from human or cattle food to the development of alternative fuels like ethanol. Richard Posner has written:

The demand for agricultural products has grown, though not as a result of population growth; instead as a result of increased demand for ethanol and other biofuels, and for food that requires more agricultural acreage to produce. Today, besides people and pigs eating corn, our motor vehicles “eat” corn that has been converted into ethanol. (7)

Blame Western governments
I have mentioned excuses vs. reasons. CS Lewis, writing about forgiveness, requests that people not make excuses for their sins, either to God or each other. If your actions are excusable, they are not wrong and you do not need forgiveness.
The accusations of infamous West-hating leaders Ahmadinejad & Robert Mugabe that British and US policies are to blame fall short of legitimacy (1). Mugabe is widely held responsible for wrecking the agricultural output of Zimbabwe and his rule has been marked by rising food prices and extreme inflation (I saw a receipt online the other day where a meal cost something in the neighborhood of the billions of Zimbabwean currency, the equivalent of a few US dollars).
These men are making excuses which are not legitimate reasons. For the purpose of this article, I will consider excuses and reasons as a Venn Diagram. Demand, discussed above, falls in the overlap. It’s a legitimate reason but serves as an excuse for the inaction of Americans.

Natural Disasters
Floods and tsunamis and cyclones have ravaged parts of our world in the last few years, destroying crops and the farmers who tend them. Ignoring global warming and the hypothesis that we could be responsible for increasing volatility in weather, there is little we can do about natural disasters.

Natural causes
I haven’t heard alot about this yet but there are some potential problems on the horizon. Pests have always plagued crops, and as we eliminate one, another takes its place. Bees are mysteriously disappearing in America. If you’re seen Bee Movie, you know the consequences of the absence of bee pollination– plant life dies. A guy who studied this in grad school told me that the bees are going out but are then unable to find their way back to the hive– scientists think that they may have some kind of virus or sickness inhibiting their instincts.

Government policies
Not political policies towards Zimbabwe, but agricultural policies. Quotas, tariffs, subsidies. Barriers to free trade hurt everyone except for a select few farmers. I like the idea of fair trade coffee but the lack of free trade in crops that are also grown in rich countries hurt poor farmers more than fair trade will ever help them.
Because of the cost of labor and other inputs, food can generally be grown cheaper in the third world (assuming they use relatively good agricultural technology/efficient methods). Let’s say wheat cost 1$/lb to produce in Africa but $3/lb here. To ship it to the US is another .50/lb. There is a .50 markup by the African farmer and the US grocery store. What would be best for the most people? I buy my wheat for $2.50, the African receives .50, the boat owner receives .50, and the grocery store receives .50.
[I’m oversimplifying and probably saying some stupid untrue things– I’m not an agricultural econ expert. But I’m pretty sure that in theory this could happen and I am confident in my assertion that free trade would be better]
Instead, the US govt would put tariffs so that wheat costs $3.50 from overseas. The grocery stores buy it either from overseas or the US– both cost $3.50 with the domestic farmer markup. Then I end up buying my wheat for $4, the African receives only what his fellow africans can pay (say, .1), the boat owner has to go and ship rubber to China which only pays .25. The american farmer gets .5 and the grocery store gets .5 while consumers pay $1.50 extra. I have no bias against American farmers. I have a bias against higher prices. And higher food prices are the subject of this blog post.

My final reason: No excuses
The preceding causes are what I’m putting in the category of reasons which are also excuses. That is, they do explain food prices, and perhaps even the recent rise in prices, but if I as an American focus on one and say “It’s because of all the people in China”, then I remove any personal responsibility or ability to help. In other words, they are also functional excuses for the people who have nothing to do with the particular reason. This final reason is about American individuals. Some of you do not share guilt in this, but most do, and I am the chief: Overconsumption of food. If I spoke of overconsumption in general, then nearly every American would be indicted. Most of us overconsume food. I don’t just mean overeating, although that is part of it. We eat more than our proportional share. We eat inefficient meals in terms of nutritional value and we are wasteful. People in poor countries are astounded that we would exercise in order to lose weight; it’s incomprehensible to someone with a realistic fear of starvation for theirself or their neighbor. The next blog post will talk about American gluttony and what we can do, how, and why, to lower food prices and be better global citizens. In addition, it will touch on a lot of other topics, notably the issue of self-control which should be of especial importance to the Christian and is the reason that I have been personally concerned about my own behavior before I thought about my role in global food prices.

Sources/Articles I’ve read lately

Posted in globalization, human rights | Leave a Comment »

Global food prices, excuses vs. reasons, and the American Glutton (Part I)

Posted by Chris on June 6, 2008

As way of an introduction, this series of posts came about as a result of all the media coverage of, and visible evidence in our grocery stores, of the rise in food prices and the effects globally. I intend to survey the situation through some different articles, the experience of a friend who is doing Peace Corps in Africa, and personal experience/opinion. Then, I’ll share the various hypotheses explaining the recent sharp increases in food and commodity prices. Finally, I’ll give what I think is much of the solution– I believe it is the best, most practical, and easiest thing we as Americans can do– yes, all of those things at once. My main goals are personal growth in knowledge and thinking on the subject and a growth in my conviction and dedication to my part in the solution. Considering that I’m not sure anyone will read this, convincing others to join in this “think globally, act locally” campaign to lower food prices, is a secondary goal.

Part I: What rising food prices looks like in the world

The first thing Americans must understand is that our “suffering” through higher food prices is a minor affliction compared to the potential in the rest of the world. The American “poverty threshhold” or poverty line was created in the 1960s based on an economy food budget that estimated food expenses equivalent to 33% of income. For this reason, the poverty line is now way off track according to the same benchmark– an “economy” food budget would likely be less than 10%. Food is not a big part of our budget– the proliferation of restaurants, where you pay 100-500% more for food than it would be to prepare yourself, is evidence that most of us do not struggle to buy food. Even the poor in this country can typically afford food, or receive food stamps (and if they struggle, it’s likely due to paying rent first which has replaced food as the most significant expenditure).
In fact, a homeless guy recently told me that “if you live in Champaign, you will eat” while patting his belly, implying that he’d had more than enough food due to the generosity of students.

So what is happening? In America, many commodity prices are rising. Food in itself is rising, but as a country with very few people growing their own food, the rise in oil/gas explains much of the rise. In fact, I am going to assume that sometime next year the Consumer Price Index will show an increase in inflation.

Rice as an example

In about 6 months, India raised its export price for rice by 300% (3, see link to sources below). Even more recently, India banned the export of rice period. Bangladesh, suffering from the effects of floods, has needed to import India’s rice(4). So Bangladeshis went from having to pay 3x as much for their rice to now possibly having no rice to purchase. After spending some time in West Bengal, India, I can tell you- Bengalis eat a lot of rice. There is no equivalent for us. It would not be like taking away cereal, like Lucky Charms and Cheerios, but taking away Cereals, like no products that use grain or flour or bread.

Vietnam, Cambodia, and Egypt also have bans on rice exports (3). I am guessing (I cannot confirm this) that US rice exports have dropped. I spent a summer in Arkansas and talked with a guy who did a lot of rice farming and exported much of it that he said ultimately ended up in Iraq. This was 2006, as people first started talking about ethanol. He wasn’t growing a lot of corn, but if prices went up, he would have no problem switching. While rice prices are going up, and he might be tempted to produce more rice next year, I’m guessing that some rice farmers like him (and other places in the world) first noticed the quick rise in corn prices and changed their acreages for each crop accordingly.

Overall, food prices have risen 40% since 2007 (6). From the same article:

This increase has had a disproportionate effect on many developing nations, where families often spend more than half their income on food. The situation is particularly troublesome in countries such as Nigeria, Vietnam and Indonesia, where the percentage of income spent on food is respectively 73, 65 and 50 percent.

Riots
Riots have become a part of life. The riots don’t even result in stealing food, as there may be no food to steal. People are hungry and frustrated and rioting is both the overflow of that frustration and a social movement to put pressure on governments to do something.
My friend Amber is serving in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. She went in November and reported some riots over food. A recent Economist article reported the deaths of 24 people in riots in Cameroon (8)– an escalating scale of violence. I will quote parts from a recent email she sent me, which addresses the riots and more

Prices were pretty much already high when I arrived at post… The strikes in themselves were interesting. It started out as a simple fuel prices strike but then escalated. President Paul Biya addressed the nation and made promises about lower prices… One of the reasons though that they haven’t started a rebellion again is because they’re believing in Biya’s promises and also they lack guns. The military has guns they don’t.

As far as the food prices and the world shortage in food… All I can tell you is that so far it doesn’t seem to be effecting small consumer prices. Like I can still buy rice for the same price I did when I got here. It hasn’t changed but the bulk price probably did so I’m not sure why my price hasn’t changed. Also people eat more fufu here which is made out of corn flour. It’s the staple to the diet.

I edited out some sensitive, more alarming parts. In her area, it appears that people are fortunate, but, the country as a whole has rioted and now sits back and does nothing in the face of a powerful (in terms of violence) yet ineffective government (in that the government has not, and probably can not, do much to lower the prices of food).

Violence and war
I read a Nick Kristoff (journalist for NY Times) article a few months ago that suggested that part of the blame for war, any and all wars, is poor weather which leads to scarcity of food and water. He cited historical examples and made a case for more concern about global warming in our own day. While global warming may have nothing to do with, there are contemporary conflicts in which this is somewhat true. The Darfur region, I’m pretty sure, is or was at least a more fertile part of Sudan. The aggressors wanted more than to just kill people- they want their land. When riots end, and nothing changes, violence will be re-directed in organized efforts at the government or in civil violence between neighbors.

Conclusion
It is no secret that there were always starving people: living in miserable housing, with no economic prospects, poor health, etc… Now we face a situation where those who weren’t starving, who have jobs, a decent house– they too are hungry. It is a serious problem. More people have always died from malnutrition than terrorism, lightning strikes, bee stings, shark attacks, and all those things we love to fear. Over time, the global economic situation has improved, but now we face retrenchment and taking huge steps back.

Some friends in college often debated the following question: Would you rather be surrounded by a pack of wolves in the forest, or be in the water with a bunch of hungry sharks? This was an amusing conversation and a silly one with no basis in reality. It was also a reflection of our lack of fear about anything. I now think of the Zarephath widow that Elijah encounters in 1 Kings 17. He asks her for bread and she responds:

As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.
1 Kings 17:12, NASB.

I am getting a little ahead of myself, as I will address what we can do in part III, but I want to end by asking you to imagine what it would be like to fear starvation. Can you even begin to picture having a genuine fear of lacking food that far outweighs threats from a pack of wolves?

Sources/some articles I’ve read lately.

Posted in globalization, human rights | 3 Comments »

I scooped William Saletan

Posted by Chris on May 29, 2008

William Saletan writes at Slate.com, mainly on cultural and bio-ethics. Almost daily he updates his “Human Nature” blog/article, which follows topics like cloning, medical technology, discrimination, and human rights.

After my post on China’s earthquake exceptions to the one-child policy, Saletan offered his view which can be found here.

I wrote that while “Making exceptions is a positive step,” the “language of exceptions and the nature of the exceptions commodifies children.”

From Saletan, speaking about the government’s decision:

It reads like a warranty or a software agreement. Except we’re not talking about consumer electronics. We’re talking about children. This is what happens when you ration people like commodities.

I’m not pleased that we have the occasion to agree about something as sad as the commodification of human beings– children especially, and children of God. But I will confess a minor pleasure in reaching the same conclusion as Saletan on my own as I really enjoy and value his writing on ethics and his approach, irregardless of whether I agree with his conclusions.

Posted in human rights, links of the day | 2 Comments »

Chinese and India governments take progressive pro-child steps

Posted by Chris on May 27, 2008

A pet topic for me on this blog is commentary on sex-selective abortion and infanticide of females in China and India (browse posts in the ‘human rights’ category). I have read quite a bit on the subject, especially in India for a research paper I had in college. I read some encouraging articles recently.

India
Al Mohler blogs about an article in the NY Times in which India’s prime minister refers to sex selection abortions as “inhuman, uncivilized and reprehensible.”

I also went ahead and read the full text of the prime minister’s speech. He discusses many problems of discrimination against the “Indian girl child” in addition to abortion. He also talks about the national government’s effort to encourage equal status for women (see this post I wrote from India about the diverse ways in which women lack equality). One strategy the prime minister mentions is giving “cash incentive to panchayats for improving the village sex ratio of Punjab.”

Panchayats are local governments, akin to a city council. I’d argue that they are more important to the quality of life of their citizens than in the US. India is so big, and lacks infrastructure- which slows down transportation and communication, as well as denying access to modern communication methods to many- that the actions of the national government are not known to the average Indian in the same way they would be to the average American. Also, they face different problems and need different actions from their leaders. In the US, you might go to a city council to get a zoning change so you can add a barbershop in your garage– in India, women band together and to put pressure on the panchayat to provide sources for clean water because they are having to walk 5km round trip to fetch water for their families.

Thus, this is a very positive and encouraging step. It should also be very straightforward to measure and practice and I would hope make corruption both difficult and unnecessary. Measuring a sex ratio is simple and without knowing the details, I assume the government would draw up benchmarks at precise levels such as 900 girls:1000 boys, 930 girls:1000 boys, etc… Globally, the ratio is usually around 106 women:100 boys.

China
The AP carried an article titled: 1-child policy has exceptions after China quake. Several exceptions are being made:

  • Families that lose a second child no longer have to pay fines for the child
  • “Illegal children” can take the place of “legal children” who died.
  • Families may adopt as many earthquake orphans as they wish without paying fines– there are 4,000 estimated orphans.
  • Adopting families may also have a natural child later.

In addition, the government will attempt to connect orphaned kids to other family.

Making exceptions is a positive step.  They don’t have to do that.  The adoption exception will hopefully encourage adoption in general within China which is certainly needed for boys born with birth defects and mental retardation and girls rejected because of their sex.  I won’t put an overall negative spin on this, however, much is left to be desired.

The language of exceptions and the nature of the exceptions commodifies children.  Children should not be thought of as illegal and legal, nor should the death of one child mean positive benefits for another child.  It should not be considered a mercy to not require fines from a parent for a dead child– not that they should pay fines in the first place.  It should also not take an earthquake for this exception, I would hope that if an “illegal child” died at age 7 that the parents would not continue to pay fines, whatever that means.

Posted in human rights | 2 Comments »

Smile Train in Haiti

Posted by Chris on April 17, 2008

The Smile Train (www.smiletrain.org) is a really cool charity. They perform cleft-lip surgeries in poor countries. They are not the only group doing so, but are arguably the best at what they do. They practice a business-like, efficient operating model. It has allowed them to quickly increase the number of operations, passing the 300,000 mark recently. I think they just passed 200,000 last year, so they are doing quite well.

For people like you and I, the Smile Train has a great offer for donating money. All donations go towards surgeries- they have other funding for overhead. $250 funds one surgery. It changes a life. It can take away depression and social stigma and make available opportunities for a successful life. The video above is from a recent trip that the Smile Train founder made to Haiti.

Haiti: makes me so sad. So close to us in the US, it really is “our neighbor.” There is such physical proximity to our borders that we cannot ignore the plight of the Haitian people as something happening “over there.” It is under our watch. Furthermore, our government has been very active in the last 20 years, “influencing” its leadership. Watching this video reminded me of reading Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, an account of the doctor/anthropologist/public health expert Paul Farmer who opened a health clinic in Haiti. Farmer, while not a Christian, is guided by liberation theology and the message of Matthew 25 to care for the “least of these.” He sees Haiti as his neighbor, so much so that he forsook his Harvard coursework to do clinic work, returning only to take his tests. What can I do

Posted in globalization, human rights, the church | Leave a Comment »

Internet round-up: weekend of March 28-30, 2008

Posted by Chris on March 30, 2008

Some interesting things I’ve read this weekend.

Carol Williams in the LA Times describes daily life for detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It’s hard to swallow some of the conditions– no matter the accusations and crimes committed. But when you take into account the difficulty in the War on Terror of accurately identifying the enemy, it is really sad for me to consider that “innocent” (if not completely innocent, at least innocent of direct terrorism) people are enduring this.

John Piper answers the question: “Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrong to plot against Hitler’s life?”

The Calculated Risk blog details a leaked Chase Bank memo about fudging underwriting standards for mortgages, and then comments on it here with very salient, industry-experienced commentary.

Nick Kristoff writes on the growing idea that the Obama-Hillary mess could lead to McCain’s victory. It seems like every time I flip on CNN the last couple days I see a new poll about what percentage of a candidate’s supporters would either choose not to support the other democrat or would vote for McCain.

I’ve been working this week on a mini-report of the research I did in India. I have visited the United Nations web site several times, reviewing the details of the UN Millienium Development Goals. If you’ve never read what they are, check them out– they provide the blueprint for many a development project. The goal is that through a collaborative effort by governments, NGOs, and invidividuals that we will acheive these benchmarks on a global level by 2015.

In “The Fire That Time”, Pamela Colloff gathers the accounts of more than 20 people involved in the Waco Branch Davidians standoff in 1993. I wish I had been a little older when this happened– or maybe I don’t. I have read about it extensively, first in a religion class, then in a conspiracy thinking class– my group did a project comparing/finding parallels between Waco, Ruby Ridge, and the Oklahoma City bombing. What to say about it? What a tragedy. That is the only fact not in contention between Branch Davidians and the government officials who were present. It’s amazing to look at ourselves as people and see two groups who disagree completely on the details of that course of events. Is someone lying? It scares me even more to think that they both think they’re telling the truth– what carelessness was displayed that day!

Muslims more numerous than Catholics.
I believe that headline speaks for itself (and this is a Catholic claim, so it is probably true.)

Posted in human rights, links of the day | Leave a Comment »