February 28, 2011

Peace Corps Celebrates 50th Anniversary! - March 1, 2011

Peace Corps - A 50 Year Legacy At Home And Abroad

Peace Corps Home Page

Nine Sky-Is-Falling US Foreign Policy Clichés - Plus One More

The article below is worth a read.  Regrettably, the author did not include one I think he should have - one I hope we can also say so long to, sooner rather than later:  "10. The world expects the US to take a leadership role.  Therefore, the US has a mandate to force the world to do everything the US way or else the sky will fall."  See for example:
  1. Africa & US Policy - Insisting On A Strong Central Government In Somalia Prolongs Suffering Of Somali People
  2. Africa & US Policy - Ethiopia On The Frontline Of A "Clash Of Civilizations"?
  3. The Delusions Of American Foreign Policy
  4. "Unknown Knowns" - Is The Current Flood Of Information Drowning Our Ability To Find Meaning?
Here's the article's link and its list of the nine clichés:

So Long, Chicken Little: The 9 Most Annoying Sky-Is-Falling Clichés in American Foreign Policy by Michael Lind in Foreign Policy, March/April 2011
  1. A nuclear bomb will go off in a U.S. city in the next 10 years.
  2. The world must adapt quickly to the end of fossil fuels.
  3. Europeans are pacifists.
  4. The rain forests are about to disappear.
  5. The coming global pandemic.
  6. America is losing the high-speed rail race.
  7. Climate change will cause mass migration.
  8. Water-sharing can bring peace to the Middle East.
  9. The nation-state is dead.
Regrettably, #4 makes no mention of the impact of converting rain forests to secondary forests on plant and animal habitats, world weather patterns, or unknown unknowns.  Also, #9 makes no mention of the problems caused by nation-states in terms of ethnic relations, global peace, regional and sub-regional integration, and water rights such as access to and control of the Nile by competing nation-states Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt.  See Nile Water Agreement.

February 27, 2011

Scientists Did NOT Fudge Data To Help Prove Global Warming

Global Warming Skeptic Changes His Tune - By Doing The Science Himself by Donald Prothero, April 3, 2011, Skepticblog
"The Denial of Global Warming", excerpt from The Merchants of Doubt:  How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, 2011

Contrary to the much ballyhooed outcry of no-climate-change, dominate-and-plunder-the-earth conservative media windbags and many Republicans, an investigation requested by Oklahoma Republican Senator Daniel Inhofe found that scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admininistration did not manipulate data to bolster evidence supporting global warming.  In the following report the US Commerce Department joined the British House of Commons, Pennsylvania State University, the InterAcademy Council, and the National Research Council in exonerating the NOAA scientists:  Scientists Are Cleared of Misuse of Data

February 26, 2011

African Culture and the Emerging Global Morality and Civilization

The following paper was originally presented at the Society of Research on African Cultures (SORAC) Conference on Internalist and Externalist Interpretations of African Culture and History, Montclair State University, New Jersey, November 2002.  Keynote Speakers included acclaimed African historian and author Professor Ali Mazrui and American University economics Professor George B. N. Ayittey, author of Indigenous African Institutions (1991) and other books on Africa.

African Culture and Its Influence on the Continent’s
Internal Initiatives and External Relations[1]

James E. Lassiter

This paper examines the writings of African scholars[2] and commentators on what they regard to be widespread sub-Saharan African cultural values and processes of social and psychological adaptation.  A consideration of these values and processes is, I believe, the best place to begin a new and more successful search for solutions to Africa’s problems.[3]  From their writings it can be concluded that in order for African societies and nations to function, sustain themselves and prosper, a balance must be maintained between the forces and needs of social groups, individuals and leaders.  Unless such a balance is consistently maintained over a significant period of time, African societies neither function effectively nor sustain themselves in the face of internal change and exotic influences.  Further, without this balance, African nations will not succeed in addressing their major problems of insecurity, poverty and under-employment and fall further behind economically in the global community.  This paper provides a detailed consideration of the forces exerted by African social groups, the needs and responses of individuals, and the role of African leaders who exercise authority.  Suggestions are made for achieving and maintaining a balance between these entities and processes.  Suggestions are also made for re-focusing the study of African social, cultural and psychological characteristics and the application of this reinvented approach to helping solve practical problems on the continent.

Africa’s Biggest Problem is its Solutions

Consideration of social and cultural factors too often takes a back seat to political, economic, diplomatic, legal and military approaches when it comes to identifying and addressing Africa’s problems.  It often appears that the proponents of these preferred approaches, inside and outside Africa, believe that if they can devise an appropriate political theory, financially stimulate African economies in just the right way, bind the instruments of African governance through international law or conventions, draft an air-tight treaty or establish military control or a regional balance of power, the problems of Africa would at last be solved.  Granted, many of these solutions have helped some of the nations and peoples of Africa.  However, it is apparent that after over four decades of independence that unifying political theory, binding legal language, Nobel Prize-winning economic formula, diplomat-led peace initiative or key military stratagem has not been found and Africa’s problems have remained the same or gotten worse.  In fact, since independence, many African leaders, foreign development “experts”, international donors and lenders, and arm-twisting diplomats have inundated the continent with development white elephants, crippling debt[4] and thereby impeded African achievement or contributed to African societal collapse.  Despite their carefully worded espousals of good intent and partnership, all have helped bring Africa into the 21st century rife with poverty and under-employment.  Clearly, new internal and external approaches to Africa’s problems are long over-due.

February 21, 2011

Africa & US Policy - Insisting On A Strong Central Government In Somalia Prolongs Suffering Of Somali People

Kenya's Dadaab Camp: Aid Agencies Make Appeal, BBC, July 12, 2012.  Dadaab is now home to nearly a half million refugees, most of whom are from Somalia.  From the link:  "Nigel Tricks, head of Oxfam in Kenya, said: 'Refugee camps are only temporary solutions and the situation is increasingly untenable. Funds are needed now to save lives, but we can't keep pumping money in year after year while the camp keeps getting bigger. A change in approach is urgently needed. However, right now, the world has an obligation not to turn its back on Dadaab and the needs of the people there.'"

I interviewed thousands of Somali refugees in 23 African countries while serving as the assistant immigration attaché in the US Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya from 1996-1998.  I then supervised teams of US refugee officers on circuit rides throughout Africa from 1998-2007 where we also interviewed Somali refugee individuals and families, as well as other nationalities.  This work required extensive and detailed knowledge of the social and cultural aspects of all the Somali clans, their inter-clan relationships and their relationships to the central government in Mogadishu prior and subsequent to the fall of Siad Barre in 1991.

The legal framework for the interviews required an analysis of the need for protection of the principal on each case, whether the harm the principal claimed met the US definition of persecution, and who the alleged persecutors were and why they harmed the principal.  Other factors such as the credibility of the principle's interview testimony, whether s/he was barred from resettlement in the US, and whether s/he was otherwise admissible to the US were also considered.

Generally, the cases involved members of the largest, most powerful and most heavily-armed clans persecuting members of smaller less powerful clans and even less powerful minority ethnic groups in Somalia.  However, in the state of anarchy that has prevailed in Somalia since 1991, every possible clan-to-clan, persecutor-to-victim relationship occurred and was presented in the cases.  The atrocities credibility presented by the principals were among the most ghastly and horrific imaginable.  Although the brutality of the violence in Somalia was less in scale compared to the numbers killed during the Holocaust of World War II and the Rwandan genocide of 1994, it equaled and in some cases surpassed these two hellish nightmares of humanity in terms of viciousness.  In many ways the harm inflicted between various Somali clans, sub-clans and minority groups equaled the macabre violence that my officers and I encountered in the refugee cases of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans who were brutally persecuted during in the 1990s.  The personal accounts of torture, including rape, and murder the refugees narrated to me still resonate.

As a sub-Saharan Africanist the one thing that has always struck me most about Somalia is that of all the 53 nations of Africa, it is the one country least likely to succeed as a nation-state using the strong central government European model.  With the exception of the Somali Bantu and the Barawans and Benadiri minority groups, most members of the Somali clans, which taken collectively form a huge majority in Somalia, speak one language, engage in a similar pastoral economy, and are fairly homogeneous culturally.  Although this would lead one to think that such a majority should be able to lead the formation of and sustain a European-style nation-state.  This has not happened.  To appreciate the social and cultural complexity of Somalia and the Somali people see the following diagram:

The past twenty years of efforts to reconstitute the Somali Democratic Republic that was formed in 1969 have failed for one primary reason - the leaders of Somali clan social organization and it alliance dynamics, something most suited to a pastoral economy, have had no external impetus or internal reason to change their sociopolitical behavior or cede power to a strong central government located in the capital.

February 19, 2011

"Unknown Knowns" - Is The Current Flood Of Information Drowning Our Ability To Find Meaning?

Big Data's Parallel Universe Brings Fears, And A Thrill by Dennis Overbye, The New York Times, Science, June 4, 2012
The Age Of Big Data, by Steve Lohr, The New York Times, Sunday Review, The Opinion Pages, February 11, 2012
The Elusive Big Idea by Neal Gabler, The New York Times, Sunday Review, Opinion Pages, August 13, 2011
The Theory of Everything (Sort Of) by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, Sunday Review, Opinion Pages, August 13, 2011
"Explaining it All:  How We Became the Center of the Universe," The Beginning of Infinity:  Explanations that Transform the World by David Deutsch reviewed by David Albert, The New York Times, Sunday Book Review, August 12, 2011
"Information Is Cheap, Meaning Is Expensive" by George Dyson, The European, October 17, 2011
So What Do We Do With All This Data?, Smithsonian.com, Innovations, January 23, 2011

Does it matter?  For example, does it matter when our leaders take major actions risking our citizens' blood and nation's treasure after they ignore meanings and facts that must be derived from raw information?  Is such leadership wise?

Former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld:

"[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know."

But, Rumsfeld failed to mention that there are also what I call "unknown knowns" - that is to say things about which we have a lot of information but to which we have not yet given meaning and therefore do not adequately understand.

One could well argue that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld waged war against Iraq based on "unknown knowns."  That is, they had a lot of information about Iraqi history and culture but did not analyze it enough or give it meaning.  Or, they just chose to ignore the meaningful knowledge that had been provided them.

February 10, 2011

"Freedom Day?" - Lincoln & Darwin Were Born On February 12, 1809

  Lincoln in 1865, age 56    Darwin in 1869, age 60

Happy Darwin Day!  Tell US House to Support Darwin Day!  This link encourages support for a US House of Representatives bill to honor Charles Darwin who was born on February 12, 1809.  Here's the direct link you can use to contact and encourage your Congressman to support the bill - Darwin Day.

February 12, 1809, is also the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the US's 16th president (1861-1865).

I can think of no other persons in the modern era who have done more for human freedom than Lincoln and Darwin.  Lincoln was the steady hand at the tiller during the US's most trying crisis, the Civil War.  His stance against slavery and leadership during that war greatly furthered the liberation of all Americans from our brutality toward our fellow human beings.  Under Lincoln's leadership we affirmed the two core principles of our Constitution - freedom and equality for all.

The contribution of naturalist Charles Darwin to human freedom was equally significant.  The publication of his On the Origin of Species in 1859 and The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex in 1871 forever changed our understanding of Humankind and Life on Earth.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection liberated all of Humankind from the mental oppression of religious truth.  His theory provided a fact-based, demonstrable explanation of the history of all earthly organisms and placed Humankind squarely within that natural history.  Humans could hencefore seek and find their own explanations for the processes of Life.  They no longer were restricted to passively accepting an absolute, static truth provided by supernatural divination.

Both Lincoln and Darwin should be recognized each February 12th for their immense contributions to human freedom.  "Freedom Day" would be a fitting designation.  The day should be set aside to acknowledge Lincoln's and Darwin's efforts toward our realization of freedom from the bondage of body and spirit at the hands of each other, and our mental freedom from religious dictates regarding Nature and our place in it.

February 8, 2011

Church of England To Defend Itself Against Atheism

Clergy Told To "Take On" The New Atheists
Leading members of the Anglican Church of England have decided to more vocally challenge the "new atheists" and thereby stem the tide of increasing secularism in the United Kingdom.  The popularity of anti-religious books by British atheists Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others over the past ten years is regarded by Anglican leaders as an significant threat to the Church's importance in British society.  They believe the writings and public speeches of Dawkins and Hitchens have led to an increase in secularism in British society.  This, they say, poses a threat to the Church and has prompted high Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams and the Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, to commission a report to get to the bottom of the matter.  The report, now published, expresses concern that "religious faith" is being portrayed by the new atheists as a "social problem."  Top among the report's six recommended emphases for the next five years is stated as follows:

"The first is to be explicit about the need to counter attempts to marginalise Christianity and to treat religious faith more generally as a social problem. This is partly about taking on the ‘new atheism’. Bishops have a key role here both as public apologists and as teachers of the faith. Church members look to their leaders to speak out on their behalf and to help them in their own understanding and witness."

The link article claims that increasing secularism may result  in the Church losing it's central place in the public life of England.  The link also says that the Church must respond (to the new atheists) or risk being pushed from the public square.  The next five years will be crucial, the report itself says.

The report:  Challenges for the New Quinquennium

A central issue in all this is the new atheists view that science and religion are incompatible versus the Church of England's stated position one year ago that science and religion are compatible - Atheists Are Wrong to Claim Science and Religion are Incompatible, Church of England Says.  From this link, it is clear that a year ago many Anglican lay and clerical apologists saw no need for the Church to defend itself.  Now their archbishops see a need.

February 7, 2011

Burundi - Opposition's Marginalization Leading To Dangerous Political Impasse

"Burundi is descending ever deeper into a political impasse that risks reversing a decade’s progress." - International Crisis Group

Burundi - From Electoral Boycott to Political Impasse

Archive for "Being Human"