What We Talk About, And What We Don’t

The BBC gives an interesting insight into what people talk about, at least when it comes to news and current affairs of all kinds. As they say about their “Have Your Say” feature:

It is a powerful body of opinion, one larger than any focus group and one which can be viewed anywhere in the world.

It speaks volumes about people trying to make sense of the new world order post 9/11, trying to work through the relations between different religions and cultures and shed some light on what is increasingly a complex and difficult world.

The BBC’s analysis of what people read and commented on in 2006 shows that 5 of the top 10 topics were about the Middle East or relationships with the Islamic world.

(And another two topics of those top ten were reactions to the death and near-death of two celebrities, Steve Irwin and Richard Hammond.)

This comes in a week when the Archbishop of Canterbury and other religious leaders have been telling us that the world musn’t ignore the issue of Middle East peace.

Ignore? All my life the world has obsessed about it. And never more so than in the last five years. But there is a world of difference between not ignoring something, and having the slightest idea of what to do that will work.

The Archbishop’s answer, of course, is to promote reconciliation and understanding and goodwill between men. Perhaps grounded in the injunction to love your enemies, and others.

And this is obviously wise and good. And just as obviously, it has been said many times before, and saying it one more time is unlikely to make any difference at all.

Loving your enemies hasn’t become popular these two thousand years. As John’s Gospel would have it: “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

So if just repeating it one more time will have little effect, what will?

I don’t have the answers, I’m asking the question.

Maybe what it will take is a Gandhi, a Mandela, or a Martin Luther King to emerge in the Middle East. And that is not something any of us can make happen, except the one out there that takes that task upon themselves.

. . .

Meanwhile, notice what the world is not talking about.

As I pointed out in my discussion of terrorism, in the UK during 2006, precisely zero people were killed by terrorism. While in the same year three thousand people were killed in road accidents.

We talk about what is dramatic, new and visceral, and forget what is chronic and ongoing.

We love stories with villains and heroes, where we can get worked up in righteous indignation about the evildoers, whoever we decide they are.

And if 3,000 people died in the UK in road accidents in one year, by comparison 3,000 people die of malaria in Africa every single day, most of them children. Of course, Africa is a big place, and we need to get a sense of the numbers in terms we can relate to. In a population the size of London or New York, that would be 30-35 deaths from malaria every day, or roughly 12,000 in a year.

And that’s just a fraction of the deaths every day associated with extreme poverty.

But the world doesn’t talk a lot about that. Except when there’s a rock concert or a tsunami to bring it momentarily back into public discussion.

I don’t think it’s that the world doesn’t care – just look at the outpourings after the tsunami.

I think it’s that the world has collective attention deficit disorder.

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Posted in all, current affairs, international development, poverty, society | 2 Comments

Doctor Who Music Videos

Some video interpretations to Doctor Who soundtracks..

Beware: There are lots of spoilers for both 2005 & 2006 series.

They’re all good, but I especially like the two versions of Song For Ten, and If You Wait For Me, as they’re a bit of a different take than the others. Fans of Classic Who will love the Seven Doctors version of Song For Ten.

Continue reading

Posted in doctor who, video | 2 Comments

Muhammad Yunus on web and video

As you probably know, Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

The text of his lecture at the awards ceremony is available here. The video of the lecture is currently not working, but footage of the ceremonial parts of the event can be found in the YouTube videos below. Note that these give a flavour of the celebrations, with a lot of music and dance, as well as discussion of Yunus’ work and thought. Yunus’ own lecture starts 16 minutes and 45 seconds into Part 2, but is incomplete.

Ceremony Part 1 (Approx 40 min)

Ceremony Part 2 (Approx 30 min)

. . .

It turns out that there is also a website devoted to Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank. This site appears to be something like a fans and supporters site, rather than Yunus’ own doing, but it has lots of useful information, and it seems he was willing to cut the ribbon for its launch, so is presumably happy with it.

An official site seems to be planned, and “coming soon” here.

Meanwhile buried in the very professional fan site – as I hope I can call it without offending anyone! – there are links to a number of videos by Ashoka.

I haven’t had time to view them yet, as they are each about 40 minutes long, but they appear very interesting. Although they definitely have a promotional spin, rather than being independent documentaries.

The one on Yunus’ life (“Banker to the Poor”) looks especially interesting as it gives a real insight into the making of the man.

Direct links to the videos are:

  • Banker to the Poor
  • Building Social Enterprise
  • Creating a Poverty-Free World
  • Also on the site is a video by Ashoka founder Bill Drayton, on the concept of social enterprise:

  • Nothing More Powerful
  • A nice feature of all these videos is that subtitles are available in many languages.

    Posted in current affairs, international development, microfinance, poverty, social enterprise, video | Leave a comment

    One Woman Making a Difference in Afghanistan

    The world is changing. And one way that it’s changing fast is that the likes of venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki are nowadays as engaged by making a difference as making money.

    He says the most inspiring tale of entrepreneurship he’s heard in 2006 is not the one about a few young guys in a garage starting YouTube and making a billion dollars, but the story of a female entrepreneur in Afghanistan, who employs 260 women making leather goods.

    For me, this story highlights many themes that are important:

    • The power of the entrepreneurial spirit, especially compared to the way that many traditional charities and non-profits operate
    • The shift in business consciousness, as more and more people are at least as interested in fulfillment and making a difference as making a pile of money
    • The rise of global partnerships and the increasing solidarity between the rich and the poor

    These are things to celebrate, take heart from, and work to expand.

    Posted in international development, poverty, social enterprise, society | 3 Comments

    Terrorism Paranoia?

    Yet another person seems to have been charged with terrorism with little reason. The BBC reports that the terrorism charges against an alleged ringleader of the summer Heathrow airliner plot have been dropped in Pakistan. Other criminal charges like forgery remain but the report says…

    Pakistan has presented Mr Rauf as one of the ringleaders behind the alleged plan to blow up flights

    But an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi found no evidence that he had been involved in terrorist activities or that he belonged to a terrorist organisation.

    There have been quite a few cases where the authorities seem to be jumping to premature conclusions. Not long ago someone described as Britain’s most dangerous terrorist was sentenced to forty years in prison. But as the Economist says:

    Yet there is something a little strange about the case. Although a mass of data was discovered on computer hard drives, no weapons or explosives were found… And not once in his ten years as a terrorist did he ever carry out an attack. But he has just been given one of the toughest sentences, save for the very worst murders, handed down in modern times by a British court.

    In ten years as an alleged terrorist, all he had done was write up grandiose plans on his laptop, and make the odd video of a target, making childish “boom” noises. But he had not taken a single step to implement any of these plans, had not gotten any of the materials needed, and as far as could be told, didn’t have the money to get them.

    Perhaps more a fantasist than a terrorist?

    And there are plenty of other examples… the Forest Gate incident, the alleged plot to attack a football match… The latter alarm appears to have been triggered because some Muslims were overheard discussing plans to go to Old Trafford. After much hysteria and dire warnings for all football matches, it turned out that there were indeed Muslims with such plans – because they were avid Manchester United supporters.

    A journal article recently – unfortunately I can’t remember which one – pointed out that since 9/11 there has not been a single attack in the US. It argued that there is no doubt that al-Qaeda would love to carry out such an attack, and the obvious conclusion which no-one has drawn is that they haven’t done it because they have little capability to carry out another attack. Probably, the article suggested, they have few members left in the US, and it’s now not easy for any would-be attackers to enter.

    No doubt there is a real threat as 9/11 and 7/7 show.

    But it seems the paranoia is way out of proportion to the threat. Even in the week of 7/7, more people died in the UK in road traffic accidents than from the terrorist attack.

    There are shades of the “intelligence” about WMD in Iraq. No intelligence agency in the world doubted that Saddam had them, and they were all wrong.

    Often, we all see what we expect to see, especially when there is no clear information, and such sources as exist are murky and unreliable. Especially if you are already jumpy and saying to yourself “it might mean many things, but we need to be prepared for the worst”.

    It’s not true that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

    But the fear and paranoia may be far more dangerous to us than the threat gave rise to it.

    Posted in current affairs, society | 4 Comments

    Is Moving to India a Good Idea?

    Ten years ago, I probably had a great opportunity to be in on the ground floor of China’s transformation. At the time, I knew it was going to be big, but it wasn’t such common knowledge then. I was doing an MBA where I had good Chinese and Taiwanese friends. I started to learn Mandarin. If I’d really wanted to, and had really gone for it, probably I could have started a new life there. And possibly made a lot of money for myself, and made a lot of difference there too.

    Today, I’m asking myself the same questions about India.

    The BBC has an interesting piece Brits head to India. Selected snippets:

    “My major concerns were around the general poverty, the fear of malaria that all British seem to have – and the standard of living,” he says.
    “But… amid India’s economic boom, Mumbai life is surprisingly easy.”

    “I miss my family, my friends, the dialogue, the contact, simple things like finishing work and going to a pub for a glass of wine,” she says.

    Posted in international development, life, meandering, society | Leave a comment

    Nigeria’s Stone Crushers

    Stone Crushers (BBC Pictures)

    Take a look at this BBC picture story . It vividly shows the lives of poor people making a living from crushing stones for the construction industry in Nigeria. The dignity and resolution of these people is astonishing, as they use any opportunity to take care of their families and send children to school.

    Posted in international development, life, poverty, society | Leave a comment