Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Why I’m not changing my profile photo

In Foreign Policy, Humanitarian Response, International Development, Politics on July 5, 2016 at 1:37 pm

Some thoughts on perspective and solidarity…

I’ve been on Facebook WAY too much in the last couple of months. It’s a self-perpetuating loop, where I post links mostly to whatever I’m reading, which is generally work-related, or just channeling whatever my little bubble is angry about. Today I was annoyed with the Scottish actress who wrote a stupid book about her gap-year in Zambia.

Once I post something, I feel compelled to check in and see if anyone’s commented or whatever – you know, curating my presence. Then I get sucked into whatever is trending. The last several weeks have been filled with gun violence, terrorist attacks, Brexit, and of course the presidential election, which permeates and distills all news. All of this contributes to an ice-cube in my stomach that never seems to go away. I’m already the insufferable humanitarian guy among my FB friends – always bringing attention to some new disaster. And I’m not the worst offender in my circle, either.

When there is a new attack, such as the Istanbul airport attack, or the car-bombing in Iraq, etc., I see new posts or comments to the effect of, “why isn’t there a FB photo filter for my profile photo for Turkey, so I could show my solidarity in the same way I did for France or Orlando?” The source of this is, of course, a sincere attempt to show solidarity with communities affected by violence.

At the risk of sounding like a cynical codgy old man – these acts of violence around the world are a drop in an ocean of misery – violence, disaster, and tragedy – that go on across the globe every single day.

I receive multiple daily alerts from ReliefWeb, these include situation reports, usually from UN agencies but also press releases related to specific ongoing and new emergencies and disaster responses around the world. Since I’m not working directly on humanitarian response any more I usually delete these messages – I know where to find them if I want to know more. But I choose to receive them because it gives me a sense of the industry and how the aid community is responding to various disasters, both man-made and natural.

 A sampling of countries with reports in the last 2-3 days alone include: Ecuador (Earthquake), Palestine (consistent unrest), Burundi (unstable government), India (Floods), Central African Republic (civil strife), Iraq (complex emergency), Pakistan (floods), Ethiopia (drought), Tajikistan (Floods), South Sudan (civil war), Chad (Boko Haram, drought) – and that’s all just over the July 4 weekend.

 In each of these countries, there are thousands and thousands of people being served by the humanitarian community. Each of these households served has either been displaced or had their livelihoods destroyed by a natural or man-made disaster. The man made disasters in almost all cases involve terrible atrocities – with regular peaceful people enduring the worst experiences imaginable. Seeing their neighbors killed. Losing children to starvation. Being homeless, stateless, without dignity or hope. This is and has been the status quo for the last several years, especially since the Syrian War escalated and ISIS metastasized across the world.

I believe we are all the same. Everywhere I’ve been – and I’ve been in over 35 countries across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East – people just want to live in peace with dignity. People just want to raise their families in a safe place and hope their kids have a better life than they did. People want to work and enjoy life, just like anyone else. Every human being matters.

When I see a photo of a child who lost her parents to Boko Haram in Niger, I think of my kids and how they would feel. Yes, when the Sandy Hook mass-murder happened, I was more affected, since I grew up in New Jersey in a similar kind of town, and the kids that were shot were the same grade as one of my daughters – so that naturally affects me more viscerally. If you have family or other roots in a disaster-affected community, it’s completely natural to want to show solidarity and work hard to help those in need. Solidarity can be a powerful catalyst for action.

However – there are a lot of people killed, through either mass murder, forced starvation, or other terrible tragedies every single day – that never make the news, barely even a wire-reported blip on the outskirts of the NY Times, let alone a banner headline on CNN. I’ve been so immersed in tragedies these last several years that you’ll have to pardon me if I don’t change my profile photo for France or Turkey or whatever. If I were being egalitarian about it my profile photo would be a constant kaleidoscope of various flags and community colors.

Better to work for a world where we help stop these tragedies from taking place and we can practice consistent solidarity with all people. Bring attention to injustice and suffering so that others will know it’s there, make sure you’re clear about why it’s going on and that you learn how to really help. Channel your outrage into making positive change.

I’ll just get back to Facebook now.


Breaking Face

In Gen X, Growing Up, Home Life, Kids, Politics on October 28, 2013 at 5:35 pm

So some of my friends may have noticed I had a mini meltdown and stormed off Facebook a few weeks ago.  I’ve barely been on FB for the last month.

Here’s the story…

The breaking point happened to be a stupid debate with some friend of a friend on one of his posts.  It was a sensitive issue for me and I was feeling angered and annoyed, one of those feelings where you want to come back with a howitzer of information to crush the dude, and I had all these terrible negative feelings about it.  Then, there was just a crush of other political rantings from other various groups I had followed during the last few election cycles (god FB has been around forever now)…  I was annoyed with what I was seeing, then mad that I was mad.  That was what moved me to take a Facebreak.

What got me to the edge was this long process where I had just been feeling more and more unable to focus.  My concentration has sucked lately.  I was having trouble staying focused on detailed tasks for a long time, getting distracted, either by an email notification, a tag on my FB app showing something… all the various essential viral articles, memes, and other junk that comes across FB and twitter that you just have to check out, otherwise your finger is off the pulse of modern culture…  OMG, OMG, look how many likes I got on this… wow, who was that person who commented on the article I posted?  Who is this person I let friend me a while back?  How do I know this person?

In summary, a flush of information that was requiring more and more mental energy from me to keep on top of, with increasingly diminishing returns.  There’s been this idea of cognitive poverty where the more decisions you have to make, the more tired your brain is and the less effective you are at complex tasks to higher levels of thought.  I was already feeling the crunch of having to make more micro decisions in my average day before having to care about my online image.

So to sum it up, I needed a break.  I needed to make a change.

In the last several weeks, I feel like I went through a bit of a Facebook withdrawal period.  It’s not like I went offline entirely.  I still posted stuff to twitter (@voxsouley, go there if you missed me…) and I connected with people on LinkedIn.  I use HootSuite and generally have been just unchecking FB, to avoid having to go check on how people “liked” me or not.  But I did start to think about the day to day things that I had felt moved to put out there, and it was a good chance to question what I really want everyone to know about my day.

It was kind of a relief to get off, not have to check through the likes.  To be immodest, I felt like I was kind of starting to get the hang of FB, I was getting “likes” on a lot of my posts.  I had a consistent following of a handful of people that seemed to pay attention to what I was posting, liking it or commenting on it, even bits that I’d just kind of re-posted without adding any comment or value.

Once I mistakenly reposted something from an old HS acquaintance of mine that was against my generally liberal progressive leanings, and within moments there was a veritable uproar of 4-6 people (which for me is a lot, another reason I needed to log off and chill) chastising me and debating amongst themselves.  I felt the need to take it down (and did) as I was afraid of how it would look.  Indeed, that might have been one of the seeds of why I went on a FB hiatus. Having to care so much about what you put out there, to fastidiously curate your online life, can really be a pain in the ass – it’s like adding another task to your workday that you’re not really getting paid for.  At least no one is paying me yet.  Who knows, maybe I’ll get a real angle and be the next “I fucking love science” but that’s pretty highly unlikely.

I have slowly started to get back from time to time, ideally using my new perspective and freshly honed FB self-control.  I realized that despite all the junk, it’s nice knowing the people I know, I miss the happy moments that people share – when their kids do something great or they get the new job or notice something beautiful and share it.  That’s when modern social media is worth it, and that’s what I’ll strive to share from here on out.  There’s already too much negativity, I don’t need to add to it.

Anniversaries in a bright new Chad

In International Development, Niger, Politics, Sustainable Development, Tchad on January 6, 2011 at 7:09 am

I’ve been in N’Djamena, Chad for two days now.  The big deal here is that the 50th anniversary of Chadian independence from France is being celebrated on January 11th – they’re calling it the “Cinquentenaire.”  All the main round-points and traffic circles are being spruced up with new cement bricks and landscaping, they’ve repainted the buildings on the main Avenue Charles De Gaulle (irony alert!) and workers are madly completing a large monument where presumably the festivities will be based.  From time to time, there are also jets rumbling overhead, which a colleague tells me are for an air show.

This Chadian colleague also told me that this is all to show that Chadians are in a new era of a prosperous Chad – they raised fonctionaire salaries and improved their housing, and are cleaning up the streets.  He also was worried that the recent republican takeover of the US congress was worrying for the future of foreign assistance.  I agreed on the last part, but remain uncertain of the new prosperous Chad.

So far, N’Djamena is a sleepy capital city by a river.  The streets do not seem that crowded, most of the people I see out and about are men.  There seems to be the usual Sahelian mish-mash of North Africans, Chinese, French, and here, Oil Workers.  We spent last evening at the Carnivore, a decent restaurant that caters mostly to expatriates. My Country Director here is Congolese, and he knew everyone, especially the other Congolese.  The Carnivore was hopping, with decent live music – one of the singers reminded me of Angelique Kidjo.  There was a point where the band was playing a cover of the Lionel Ritchie song “All Night Long”, sung by a Cameroonian, with Libyan, Chadian, and French guys all drunkenly dancing with each other and singing along.  The juxtaposition of styles was fun to watch.

My wife and I are celebrating an anniversary ourselves.  Yesterday, January 5th, it was our 10 year anniversary of closing our Peace Corps Service in Niger.  I feel like my trip back to Niger last September was reflective enough about this.  But it is a unique anniversary, and I’m happy to be spending it working in Africa, doing something I had wanted to do because of my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, all those years ago.

Bitterness over San Francisco

In Gen X, Growing Up, Politics on July 26, 2009 at 1:05 am

Just got a reminder of the state of mind we were in when we decided to leave San Francisco in late 2005. Part of the reason was Chris Daly. The Chronicle just published an article about him buying a house in Fairfield and moving his family there. Precious.

I loved living in San Francisco. Passionately. It had everything we wanted – nice parks, good public transportation, historic architecture, a thriving restaurant and live music scene. I loved exploring all the neighborhoods; I had coffee shops pegged all over the place. We were lucky enough to own a unit in an Edwardian Duplex in the Mission – in a tenancy in common situation.
I look back at that period – 2002-2005 – very fondly. Our first daughter was born in San Francisco. I guess her being born in late 2003 was the beginning of the end of our time in SF. At first, SF was a great place to have a baby. When they’re tiny it’s easy. All people generally give you a nod of the head and a smile at your baby and look happy to have you around.
Schools don’t matter yet, you can keep them on your lap on BART or MUNI, and you don’t have to constantly explain why that crazy man is pooping on the corner outside or what that funny smell is coming from the breezeway.
It’s when your kids get older and you look into preschool that you have second thoughts. When we started looking for Ellie it became clear that we were already too late and out of luck. Even mediocre preschools screen your tax returns to see how much you can afford, and even then you’ll be on a waiting list. We should have gotten her on the waiting lists when she was born.
And that’s not even the half of it. If you want your kids to get a good education in San Francisco, it’s going to cost you $15-35,000 year in private school fees, because the public schools are a total gamble. It’s a 7 square mile city, and they were bussing kids all over town to balance all the schools. Public school scores were low, and anyone with means sent their kids to private school.
We were stuck in the middle class level that the Chronicle article writers mentioned Chris Daly being so hostile to. We were too wealthy to get any breaks on anything in SF – housing, schooling, health care, etc, and too poor to afford what we wanted for out daughter, which was a safe and competent learning environment. This was even before we knew that our daughter was going to have special needs, which would have drove us out of SF even more quickly.
What finally did it was a confluence of factors. The Mission where we lived was a transitional neighborhood, and will always be. It was getting nicer while we were there, but then it was also getting worse. For every remodeled multiplex building with wealthy tenants, it seemed like new homeless or drug addicts would turn up relieving themselves all over our stoop, stealing our bikes, and generally making the place totally unfit for raising my kids. In one of the untransitioned houses around the corner from us, an old gang member got out of prison and had returned home, and there were a couple of shootings nearby, and the guy and his gang started tagging the corner houses around us. That wasn’t cool at all.
Then we started feeling really out of place. When our daughter grew into a toddler, when we would show up at Tartine, out absolute favorite weekly bakery and coffee shop, it was like we were cramping everyone’s style by sullying their coolness with our so-domestic vibe. Even going to other neighborhoods like Noe valley didn’t really change anything, because the other young parents there were totally out of our price range, so to speak. They were the dot-com millionaires who were paying what it took to give your kids the life you’d want to give them. But we just couldn’t really see ourselves running in those circles.
It was like there was no place for us left in SF – we were too poor to afford what we felt our kids would need: a safe and clean environment and schools in particular, and too well-off to take advantage of any of the politically progressive programs that SF is so famous for providing to it’s working poor. So when our tenancy in common partner offered to buy us out, we decided it was time to go. We took our money and bought a place up in Sonoma county where the schools were good and there were way more opportunities for our daughter.
I still miss the coffee shops, but it’s worked out for us. I like the idea of urban living and would love to give it another shot one day, but I can’t imagine moving back to SF for a really, really long time.
Coming in and sullying the coolness with my kids at our favorite old coffee shops is definitely on the agenda though, next time we’re out that way.

Candidates Views on Development

In International Development, Politics on July 31, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Just came across this website and had to share this – it’s McCain and Obama’s views on international development, among other things.

I’m an Obama supporter, I’ll lay that out there online and take that side. Of course there are bits from either side that are worthy of ditching or keeping. I don’t agree with Obama’s anti-globalization rhetoric when he’s brought that up, for example. I agree with McCain on supporting the eradication of Malaria as well.

I would go on with more here but I’m at work and shouldn’t be blogging on company time…