Monday, March 21, 2005

On Terri Schiavo,life, God and all points in between

I’m deeply perturbed by all the coverage the Terri Schiavo case has received in the media recently. It has been extremely difficult for me to neglect the glaring oversight in all the pontificating the pundits have been volleying. Over the past three days, I’ve been waiting for someone, anyone, to draw the only sensible conclusion that can be made of this supposed controversy. To my dismay, the sagacious opinionates have failed in their ability to elevate their observations beyond the myopicism of uneducated people.
What we’ve heard is a whole lot of political and legal jargon mired in between furious allegations of being extreme this or the other. Many in the blogosphere have slammed the conservative right for taking advantage of Terri Schiavo and her family for their own political mileage. Put in really stark terms the critics charge, “The far right has made Terri Schiavo the ‘Lacy Peterson’ distraction from their gaping mistakes (i.e. the budget deficit, social security, bankruptcy bill etc.)” How else do you explain the exo-legislative judicial forays undertaken by both the Florida and national legislators in the past couple of weeks?
Legal experts have voiced their displeasure with the encroachment by the government in a “private family affair” (depending on how you define all the terms in that phrase) and the disregard for due judicial process in articles like this one. Meanwhile ethicists and altruists call out the hypocrisy blatantly apparent through the whole episode; legislators are willing lose sleep over one person who’s been comatose for over a decade, yet they can’t be moved enough to considering a bill for thousands in abject poverty, without health insurance only minutes from the hallways of Capitol Hill, and millions of Sudanese killed in the Dafur genocide and beyond in broad daylight! It is reported that President Bush was woken up at 1:11 am to sign the bill into law. I can’t help but wonder if he’s ever woken at this ungodly hour for the hundreds that are sleeping homeless on our streets, or to console the families of the brave souls lost in War against Terror. Hmmmm, wonder what makes this case that important….
Led by Terri’s parents, those in favor of the extraordinary measures taken to preserve Terri’s life argue that keeping her alive is the only hope for any medical miracle. Ending her life would wipe that hope away in one foul swoop and that’s the impetus behind their efforts. They also add that Terri’s husband Michael who has a child with a girlfriend only has his selfish interests at heart. They allege that since he’s the benefactor of Terri’s estate, he stands to rake thousands of dollars recently awarded to Terri in a recent lawsuit. To press this point they wonder why he hasn’t previously agitated for the ending of her life in years past. He counters that she told him that if she ever ended up like she is right now, she wanted to die. Michael lambasts the politicians for interfering with a private family affair instead of concerning themselves with issues of national prominence.
The issue here is not light; it’s a stark matter that strikes a discordant note in our self-sufficient idealism. At the heart of the Terri Schiavo controversy is the distant echo that life is bigger than any one person’s intentions, political agendas, and all moral debates. That is a truth no one is willing to concede. The real question in this matter is who decides when to end a life. Biblical and common sense dictate that you cannot end a life you did not author. God is the only one who decides when to end a life.
As much as you and I have no control over where and when our lives began, none of us has a right to determine when another individual’s life must end. Say what you want, the only person who has a right to end a life can only be the force that started that life. We like Job’s friends are disillusioned in our response to tragedy by a false sense of entitlement (which is at the core of sin). As Job wisely did, let me encourage you, dear friend, to lift your countenance and focus on what matters, for “It is God who gives and it is God who takes away.”
If you shouldn’t start what you can’t finish, you shouldn’t finish what you didn’t start as well to put it in the Englishman’s words.
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  • Friday, March 11, 2005

    Technology: My view of its role in development

    If you know anything about me or have followed my writings here for a while, you know I have thrust myself into the “quest for growth.” Pursuit of the magical ingredient behind the booming economies of the west and near east has become the impetus propelling the branch of economics known as development economics. Yours truly has been has found himself swirling in the ideas of such big thinkers as Hernando De Soto, Bill Easterly and Joseph Stiglitz. And, as any good protégé, I have done some of my own thinking too. Today some of my ideas were validated.
    I wholeheartedly believe that technology holds the hope for the billions living in abject poverty in the nations of the world. But my view of how it does that is, let me say, a little more ambitious and optimistic than the views of some of my peers who care about this kind stuff. A common view is that technology can certainly improve the quality of life but, implementing technology is such a mammoth task, it’s not the best route to bettering the quality of life. I beg to differ.
    Most scholars thinking about development are westerners. “Why is that important,” you ask. I’ll tell you why. This seemingly innocuous fact changes their view of progress of development, in particular the role of technology in development. To westerners, technology while innovative, is really dependent on history, it’s not new. It evolves; improvements are based on previous versions. This idea is best articulated by economist Joseph Schumpeter’s “Creative Destruction” theory. The convenience of technology comes at a cost—at least in the west—people have to innovate and put up with unrefined inventions for a long time. So what you ask. Again, I’ll tell you what: this means it takes time, a lot of time, before new ideas revolutionize how we do life. There is a great deal of time and capital wasted between the inception of a great contraption and the time when said invention improves the quality of life for the masses.
    Take the computer for example. There are numerous dates suggested for when this now indispensable external brain came into being. Here are some of the dates suggested. For arguments sake let’s go by the story that the computer was invented by Professor Douglas Hartree in 1935 at the University of Manchester. If this is true, do you realize that it took a full 60 years before the computer changed the way we do life? “And what’s your point,” I hear you whisper. Tarry, I’ll tell you what my point is!
    For underdeveloped countries like my beloved Zimbabwe, the road to technology is not so long drawn out. We don’t have to wait 60 years, for the computer to change the way we shop, bank, or communicate. It already does that now. For us, the transition between inception and impact of new technologies is almost non existant. The reason for this is obvious, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel; consequently, we benefit from what’s already there.
    A new study by Forrester Research on global use of mobile phones (a.k.a. cell phones) came out today. Read about it here, here and here. They found that cell phone use is growing fastest in Africa, the poorest continent in the world! Good for us. But you know what’s even better; the same study also found that developing countries that had more than 10 cell phones per 100 people had .59% higher GDP growth than comparable countries! This is a classic case of how a technology (we didn’t invent) is remarkably changing lives. What this means is that developing countries don’t have to wait out the tedious process of setting up analog telecommunications infrastructure to enjoy the benefits of being able exchange information quickly over the phone (economists you now what this means for capitalism…fungibility!). This same study also found that mobile phone coverage extends over more than 5 billion people (that’s more than 80% of the world’s population!) even though there are only 1.5 billion people with access to mobile phone technology.
    This study is validating because it offers anecdotal evidence of the enormous role technology can play in the development. Notice, it is the technology impacting development, not vice versa.
    Let’s focus on not only developing specific technologies for the poor, let’s work on helping them access current technology too!

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  • Tuesday, March 08, 2005

    The archiac colonial aspirations of the British press

    On another day which we (in the USA) were subjected to yet another frivolous barrage about this or that trifling in the life of now ex-con Martha S, it was refreshing to note that the BBC found other important issues happening around the globe to appraise us on. Or at least so I thought. I’m not going to waste time addressing Martha, I already did that here.
    The municipal council in Pretoria, SA’s capitol city, has decided to rename the city “Tshwane.” The council’s justification is simple, the new name which means “We are the same,” is not only irenic, but reunites the metropolis with the name given it by ancient African settlers in the region. Clearly this name change is a long overdue and welcome conciliatory gesture in this nation, a decade after the end of apartheid rule. But the BBC in a rare display of that classic British bigotry and ignorant pride found reason to question the legitimacy of this move confirming that centuries after end of imperialism they still patently practice imperial journalism.
    See the real story here is not in questioning whether it is right to change rename places because we know that this is just a minute step towards righting many wrongs done to Africans generations ago. Besides, no one questioned the legitimacy of the British and their European kin when they changed the names of places or carved up national boundaries in Africa from Berlin in 1887. The real story is in the by line, “what does this mean for the British and their old glory?” If Africans, we who are native to the land rename important places in our countries to honor our heritage (and give some of these places their original names back), we do so at the cost of the British and other colonial powers. This is where the real pain is
    It’s no new news that the British Empire long since receded, but it’s been a long time since definitive action of this caliber has been taken to confront perpetual colonial influence in Africa. When was the last time you heard of an African capitol changing names? But nominal reclamation of Africa has been going on ever since the wave of independence swept across Africa in the sixties. We in Zimbabwe recently renamed some of our city streets, government buildings and schools. We have yet to officially rename the Victoria Falls, "Mose Oa Tunya,"--the smoke that thunders as our people originally called them.
    Casting the renaming of Pretoria as an independent incident based on a rash decision is calculated to reintroduce tension against the progress we’re making at reclaiming our continent. Of this, the BBC cannot shift culpability. Even in SA itself, several cities and various locations have already been renamed. Read about it here. Why didn’t the BBC see it fit to open dialogue about whether it is smart to change names then? What reason do they proffer to explain their new concern for the Africans under the wrath of AIDS now when they cared about us only enough to colonize and emaciate us two hundred years ago?
    I don’t buy the tainted “objectivity” the BBC’s employs in reporting about former colonies of the British Commonwealth. We Africans will continue to take back what's ours.

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  • Saturday, March 05, 2005

    Rewarding foolishness with foolishness

    There’s an old English adage that goes, “Don’t fight fire with fire.” By inference common sense dictates that the right way to fight a fire is with something other than fire, like say, water. The subject of this week’s opinion piece is an infuriating incident of the failure by a whole group of intellectual elites to grasp this idea of how to fight a fire.
    Background. The past five years have been a dark dark age for media in Zimbabwe. Journalism there has reeled under an avalanche of intense repression emanating from government’s information and publicity ministry. Jonathan Moyo, Zimbabwe’s most despised minister has been at the center of this blitzkrieg. He has wielded and employed every dirty trick in the harassment book and then invented some of his own. From intimidating and arresting journalists, bombing and curtailing the operations of several Zimbabwean newspapers, to crafting and foisting a decrepit propaganda on the people of Zimbabwe, he has done it all.
    His blistering vitriol and ad homonym diatribes targeted at any and all who’ve so much as dared to raise a voice in antagonism of any of his vicious pursuits of his grandiose plans to control and dominate the views of ordinary Zimbabweans have become the staple in state controlled media. In a short time this once reputed scholar turned vagabond has cleared the realm of media and information of any views that diverge from his, securing for himself a patented command to change the public agenda at will or whim.
    Words cannot begin to capture and recapitulate the evil this vapid serpent has done our young nation using words. If you thought the Iraqi information minister was delirious for the infamous, “The infidels are burning at the gates of Baghdad,” you need encounter some of the ridiculous things done by Moyo and his stooges in the government’s information department. But like the English go on say, what goes around comes around; Moyo’s kingdom has fallen.
    Just over a week ago, he was dismissed from the cabinet and ruling party for standing as independent in the parliamentary elections that are coming at the end of this month. All it took was an impersonal fax from the president’s office and Moyo was stripped of his powers. Moyo’s fall from fame has been so disgraceful, he doesn’t even have a roof to put over his family’s heads anymore.
    Unfortunately there are some in the independent media still under the affliction of days gone by. They still fear and revere this vile man and continue to beam their brilliant spotlights full beam on him and his repugnant outbursts. While the state media has already turned on it’s former master, independent news publications are hung up on an era long past. The very same people who were perpetual victims of Moyo’s despondent craftiness are trying desperately to salvage and sustain Jonathan’s fast fading glory. I can’t help but wonder why.
    This past week it was revealed that 41 independent journalists are going to stand trial for violating a law that Moyo single-handedly drafted; three foreign journalists were hounded out of Zimbabwe by Moyo’s goons; and ironically, two of Zimbabwe independent newspapers accorded Moyo acres of space. Even when his time is long gone, Moyo can count on the retrogressives that control the independent press to further his cause effectively sustaining his political viability. It’s a shame. I know the media is supposed to be a voice for the voiceless, but there are some who are better off voiceless!
    The independent media in Zimbabwe must cast their eyes on things ahead and not behind. Bygones are, as the English like to say “bygones”. Forget Moyo, leave him to roam the political wildernes in soltitude. You cannot payback one man’s folly with more foolishness.

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