Beijing and the Great Wall Adventure

Eight Twelve Eleven


The mass of people that represents China was no more evident than when we arrived at the gates to the Forbidden City. We encountered many Chinese tourists while in Taiwan, but nothing prepared us for the masses that visit China’s capital city, including the short elderly women who attempt to clothesline you (ask Nichole). The pushing and pressing of the crowds were sometimes too much, giving a whole new meaning to breath-taking.


Ancient History!

I can’t even tell you how many ancient and amazing temples we visited in both Taiwan and China. Most of our time in China was spent walking between various ancient structures: Forbidden City (13 miles walked), Temple of Heaven (15.5 miles walked), Summer Palace, Drum and Bell Tower, etc.

IMG_3824DSCF6776IMG_3727Nichole conferred with Confucius. She is now overflowing with wisdom.



From the cold, gray heart of communism we snapped a great selfie with Mao’s portrait…

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ending charity: alone, is not the answer


“Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” – Anonymous

There are a lot of confusing buzzwords being thrown around these days: ending charity, dead aid, patient capitalism, impatient optimists, and investment over aid. What does it all mean?

My initial thoughts on this subject were spurred by zyOyz founder Steve Jennings’ repost of an article titled: “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty”. Well I agreed with the article’s basic premise that just giving money is not the only solution or the best, I was troubled by the article’s absolute statements that business models and capitalism will save the world.

The article, reposted from the Financial Times, notes the work of the Acumen Fund founded by Jacqueline Novogratz, which invests in small businesses with a social impact termed as “patient capital.” It has become a highly successful model, however Novogratz is quoted as saying: “We need creative approaches to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more inclusive.” The most inclusive business model that I know, with high degrees of success, is the cooperative model based on needs of those involved, inclusion, and participation. Looking at history, capitalism has generated exclusion: great amounts of wealth for many people, but it has also perpetuated extremely flawed systems that create great degrees of poverty for many people. The evidence is in any major city where the consequences of capitalism lay bare the desperation of good people who are left with nothing.

At the root of the article, “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty,” is the long-running debate on whether investment is more effective than aid. Professor Bill Easterly made popular the fact (through his book, “White Man’s Burden”) that over $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa over the last 50 years with limited positive results, Dambisa Moyo has termed this “dead aid” and calls for a complete end of aid to Africa. Others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given vast amounts of aid (which they often call “investment”) to Africa with their foundation, label themselves as “impatient optimists.” They are hopeful for the future and want more done at the present time.

However, there is a problem with their impatience that many have critiqued. Impatience tends to push solutions that are ineffective. Ian Wilhelm gets further into this topic in a blog about “irrational aid.” In the post he writes about Alanna Shaikh’s critique of ineffective aid, such as outdated pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that has no use in the field. This argument is countered by Isaac Holeman’s disagreement that well that aid may be irrational, it provides immediate personal stories of need to bring in more donors. I have to agree with Alanna in saying that this irrational, possibly impatient, aid does more harm and basically no good.

How have we now moved from decrying the failures of charity and aid to highlighting the benefits of business models and the capitalist system back again to smiling about greater benefits of monetary investment in people and ideas? Where is the line drawn between investment and aid? As far as I can tell it is mostly semantic. Isn’t aid when transparent, effective, and driven by best practices an investment? Giving an investment is essentially the same as giving aid or charity.

Investment is the buzzword used by social enterprises, microfinance, and has become the new fad in international development organizations. I think that it is important to make a distinction between what is effective and what is not. Aid can be very effective and investment can be very ineffective. The reverse is also true. Where does effective aid change from being a type of investment? When experts talk about the broken aid system do they forget that the broken aid system is merely a reflection of the broken financial system. The same interests and individuals who have run financial systems have run foreign aid systems.

The real issue in this debate need not be if businesses are better than charities or who’s money is better spent. What is most important needs to be the question of, “How?” The systems, structures, and practices that implement aid and drive investment need to be cooperative, inclusive, needs based, and people-centered – in one word: effective. If you are looking for a return on investment (ROI) or accolades for your donated or invested dollars, then maybe you should reconsider why you give?

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

when the rubber hits the road: rolling on the misfortunes of marcus garvey

What do you know about Liberia? Or do you even care?

Americans pay little attention to Liberia, and most Europeans think of the country as a joke. […] In case of apparently friendly relations between that country and European powers there has usually come to the surface some design to deprive Liberia of its territory or to secure some economic advantage. The American’s endorsement of the Firestone invasion of that African area shows that on this side of the Atlantic the same attitude has developed.

(Azikiwe 352)

The above quote best exemplifies what happened in Liberia in the 1920s in regards to the selling out of elite Liberians to US capitalist interests. Exploring the past is key to understanding how and why the exploitation of Liberians continues to happen today. Beginning as a colony for African-American settlement on the continent of Africa, Liberia grew from a small community of hopefuls into a nation rife with exploitation and a class system that denies the existence of, as Marcus Garvey might say, a “United Negro State.” With much help from the U.S. the new nation of Liberia was established and it started its long journey into the world of nations. (Pham 12) As it embarked on this journey it was not without the typical bumps and bruises. As Liberia encountered financial troubles it turned its back on the country’s founding principles. Thus the economic interests of the U.S. and the black Liberian elites superceded the facades of black-nationalism and Garveyism in the ‘black nation’ of Liberia.

Located along the western bulge of Africa, facing the Atlantic Ocean, the Republic of Liberia is a country of tropical rain forests and broken plateau. Liberia is a country about the size of the state of Ohio with a population estimated at a range from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000. Lying on the west coast of Africa, just north of the equator, Liberia is bound by Sierra Leone, French Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. The only Negro republic in the world with the exception of Haiti, Liberia celebrated independence in 1947. (Browne 113) It was founded as a modern state with the creation of Monrovia in 1822. The motto of the new republic, “ The Love of Liberty Brought Us Here,” proclaimed that the state was established for Americo-Liberian settlers. The settlers with the help of the America Colonization Society (ACS) established the first colony for “free men of color.” This African nation that was established to improve the ‘black’ man’s position ended up giving in to corporate interests and ended up doing more harm than good. How could Liberia turn its back on the black-nationalist ideals and close its doors to the UNIA and Garvey’s movement that strengthened the new nation? Or did it? There was an ever-present conflict between the settlers arriving on the coast and the “natives” living in the interior of the nation. Garvey’s UNIA ‘back-to-Africa’ movement actually helped in creating tension and conflict in the new nation.

The key conflict created was the rift in class, with the government ruling class being Americo-Liberians. There has been a deep-seated belief among experts of the moribund League of Nations and among some students of colonial policy that the Liberian Government itself is one of the causes of the Republic’s retardation. (Browne 231) The Americo-Liberians and their descendents have controlled the government, and the result has been the development of a split between a small governing class and a large governed class, which has taken less interest through the years in the Liberian administration. This large class of the governed constituted the aboriginal element in Liberia. The inefficient acts of the Liberian government, selfishness of the ruling class, and activities of interlopers [US] who would exploit the Republic’s resources for their own gains led to the economic troubles of Liberia today. The country’s economy today is resultant of the self-sufficient economy of Africa, the capitalism of the ruling Liberians, and the financial exploitation of the American industrialists. (Brown 232)

The Garveyite movement had a key role to play in the settlement of Liberia. The movement was founded in New York in 1917 and Marcus Garvey became a self appointed Moses for the Negro people. (Aron 338) In brief, Garveyism is a Negro racist philosophy that frowns on what is known as the US social democracy or ethnic integration, namely the free social and cultural intercourse between white and colored people. (Aron 337) It advocates for the creation of Negro business as a step towards national redemption in Africa. The most active organization in promoting Garveyism was the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which was dedicated to heightening a sense of black dignity and culture. (Pham 38) Led by the Jamacian born Pan-Africanist, Marcus Garvey, the UNIA built a steamship line (the Black Star Line, which transported Negro’s back to Africa), sponsored colonial expeditions to Liberia, staged annual international conventions, inspired businesses, endorsed political candidates, fostered black history and culture, and organized thousands. (Stein 1) The Association pursued bold and broad general goals:

To establish a universal confraternity among the race; to promote the spirit of pride and love; to reclaim the fallen, to administer to and assist the needy; to assist in civilizing the backward tribes of Africa; to assist in the development of independent Negro nations and communities or agencies in the principal countries and cities of the world for the representation of all Negroes; to promote a conscientious spiritual worship among the native tribes of Africa; to establish universities, colleges, academies and schools for the racial education and culture of the people; to work for better conditions among Negroes everywhere.

(Sundiata 19)

The association’s goals were somewhat similar to those of the Zionists for the Jews: a national home for the Negro race and the revival of a Negro culture. (Aron 337)

The advent of Marcus Garvey coincided with the Great Migration of African-Americans from the American South. The Southern African-Americans were seeking better conditions and thousands left between 1910 and 1920. The first wave of 300,000 settled in Northern Liberia and a decade later 1,300,000 arrived. However, in 1921 and 1922 a number of UNIA officials left the association and a number of prominent African-Americans distanced themselves from the organization. Garvey’s power was brief and when he was deported to Jamaica the UNIA in the US all but died out. Garvey was tried for mail fraud in 1923 and later fined, but it was too late and the organization was already too battered. In 1925 Garvey was remanded to a federal penitentiary in Atlanta and in 1927 the final blow was delivered and Garvey was deported to Jamacia. This final step led to the execution of the UNIA’s importance on the continent of Africa. “The UNIA experienced such great success because Garvey was able to appeal to the under-privileged people, yet Garvey’s movement represented the yearnings of the would-be black bourgieouse.” (Sundiata 16)

The economic interest of the U.S. in Liberia began with the Firestone Rubber Company in 1924. Liberia was in a precarious financial situation and was in desperate need of investors. Delegations had been sent to Liberia from the UNIA to negotiate for a loan to the country in return for certain territories, which were to be used for pioneer settlements. Fifty thousand dollars worth of materials were shipped to Liberia. In 1920 Charles King became president and was immediately confronted with the country’s dangerous financial position. The UNIA in 1920 proposed to the Liberian leader that the group would raise nearly $2 million to relieve Liberia of its debt in exchange for an agricultural and commercial land grant. With options thin the Liberian leader, King, agreed to deal. That same year Garvey proposed to move the UNIA headquarters from the U.S. to Liberia. Liberia had been chosen to be a ‘black’ Zion and between 1920 and 1924, millions of African Americans were caught up in the thrill of having a ‘black nation’ of their own. (Sundiata, 1) In January 1924, Marcus Garvey unexpectedly announced that he would be moving the UNIA headquarters to Liberia. He boasted of the plans in the Negro New World and launched his $2 million dollar campaign. However, during the 1924 Negro Convention the Liberian government publicly issued a statement repudiating all agreements with UNIA and protesting to the American government on the UNIA’s activities in Liberia. Garvey raged, but soon after the Firestone Company was awarded the territories for some of its rubber plantations instead of Garvey’s UNIA plans. In an article written in 1955 Liberia is said to been ranked for many years as one of the important rubber producers of the world. The exploitation of this resource began in a significant way when the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was granted a concession by the Liberian government in 1926. Under the terms of the provision in the financial agreement, Firestone actually acquired control of the Liberian finances.

Although Americans made a major contribution to the founding of the Liberian nation in 1822, it was over one hundred years later before the US acquired a tangible economic stake in the West African republic. The change took place when the Liberian government granted the major rubber concession to the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and accepted a large loan from one of Firestone’s subsidies. The Liberian government had teetered on the verge of bankruptcy several times since the 1860s. But the Liberian government’s turn towards Firestone in 1926 was more than another desperate effort to save the nation from bankruptcy. The loan was an integral part of the arrangement by which Liberia granted the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company the right to grow rubber on a maximum of one million acres of land. (Chalk 12) By Granting Firestone a huge rubber concession and accepting stringent loan terms from an off-shoot of the same company, the Liberians seriously risked the loss of their sovereignty. The 1927 Loan from the Firestone Company opened a new phase in Liberian history, where national prosperity would increasingly depend on the success of foreign-owned private investments. (Chalk 12) The consequences of Liberia’s dependence on foreign capital for development has led it down a path of exploitation. The Firestone Agreement had not only economic and development consequences, but also political. At the same time that Firestone was looking towards Liberia, the British were looking to cut in on American rubber production. Therefore the Firestone Company went to the US Secretary of State and explained the agreement in order to get the US government on board with loans and support.

The Firestone Company was able to obtain a ninety-nine year lease “on a million acres of land suitable for the production of rubber or other agricultural products, or any lesser area that may be selected by the leasee.” At the same time Firestone made a loan of $2,500,000 to the Liberian government. Some supporters of the Firestone Company say that the company assisted the government and the economy of Liberia immensely by bringing investment capital to the country at a time when the conditions of the public finance were at their worse. In 1947 Raymond Leslie Buell described the impact of Firestone on Liberia as follows:

The Firestone Plantations Company represents the one concrete evidence of economic progress in Liberia since 1926. Its operations to date have proved more modest than at first contemplated. Instead of actually leasing a million acres of land, the company has taken up less than 200,000 acres, 80,000 are under cultivation. Instead of employing 350,000 native workers, as a Firestone pubication first predicted, it employs about 30,000, the actual force at work every day being about 26,000…. Even so, this is the largest rubber operation in the world.

(Browne 115-116)

However, the influence of Firestone in Liberian affairs represented a new brand of colonial exploitation

The two key reasons for the loss of support for Garvey’s movement in the 1920s were the interference of the colonial powers and the opposition of the Liberian oligarchy. (Sundiata, 16) “The Garvey Plan failed in Liberia not because it was illogical or unfeasible, but because key members of the Liberian political class opposed it from the outset.” (Sundiata 36) They opposed it from the outset because of the economic consequences that would follow. Garvey’s growing list of opponents (1922) launched a “Garvey must go” drive led by the NAACP. In addition, his efforts to negotiate a second colonization plan with Liberia were unsuccessful, in part due to being outbid for land by Harvey Firestone of Firestone Tire and Rubber Corp. There are significant documents that hold accounts of Garvey’s trial for mail fraud where he acted as his own attorney in pleading his case before the jury. (Grant 166) The causes are cited as being both economic and psychological. In a world dominated by white supremacy, a little bit of status goes a very long way. “In a world that subjected the majority of black imperialism and/or racial segregation, the oligarchy was deeply conscious of its relatively privileged position within the world schema.” (Sundiata, 36) Yet with that power and position the oligarchy failed to help the people once in their situation. The Liberian elites allowed economic interest of colonial powers or the US to take precedence over the principles of Black Nationalism, which are embodied in the Garveyite movement, on which the nation was founded. The firestone venture however is both a case of US economic nationalism and an unavoidable expedient altruism. The US was forced to seek an outlet in order to counter the rubber monopoly of Great Britain. And despite the unilateral agreement, Firestone himself noted that his interest in Liberia is to aid it, he said “there is some small satisfaction in just giving away money, but the greatest satisfaction is in giving others the chance to be independent” (Azikiwe, Ben 31) The greatest threat that the UNIA and Garvey Movement ran into in Liberia, the proposed experiment site, was that of class. As noted above the Liberian elites that ran the government were not at all connected to the people that they were ruling. This combined with the interference of the US led to the end of the Garvey’s movement and the current exploitation of Liberia.

The firestone agreement is chiefly responsible for the economic problems of Liberia today. The agreement granted Harvey S. Firestone not only a veto power on refinancing the country, but also elevates him to a dictatorship where he controls the economic destiny of the government. Like an octopus he has a stranglehold on Liberia, which will ultimately threaten if not completely decimate the political existence of the lone African Republic. It is thus believed that this agreement paved the way for US imperialism in Africa and economic exploitation. (Azikiwe, Ben 30)

The way was paved for the Firestone Tire Company and it gladly snatched the opportunity to drive away with Liberia’s resources. The African country founded by freed slaves from the US in the 1820s, is suffering from serious poverty and unemployment due to the Liberian Civil War that ended in 2003. The war destroyed the infrastructure and economy. Firestone, the multinational rubber manufacturing giant known for its automobile tires, has come under fire from human rights and environmental groups for its alleged use of child labor and slave-like working conditions at its plantation in Liberia. Recently in 2005, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) filed a lawsuit charging that thousands of workers, including minors, toil in virtual slavery at (Bridgestone’s) Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia. Operating in Liberia since the 1920s, Firestone continues to depend on the poor and illiterate workers to tap tons of raw latex from rubber trees using primitive tools exposing the workers to hazardous pesticides and fertilizers. (Rizvi) Firestone denies the use of child labor and claims that its jobs are among the highest paying in the country. But, rights activists who have visited the plantation in question attest to the desperation and fear conveyed by Firestone’s workers. “I have seen six people living in one room, without any toilet, electricity, or running water,” said an environmental lawyer from Liberia, “The company has no justification whatsoever to keep on exploiting those people.” The lawyer and many others say thousands of workers at the plantation cannot meet daily quota without unpaid aid, requiring them to put their own children to work or face starvation. The workers are assigned a quota, which takes 21 hours a day at least to complete, and if they cannot complete, their wages are halved, and they cannot earn a livable wage. Therefore, the workers have to make their families perform hard labor from early morning in order to meet the quota. The children work 12-14 hours a day and most do not have proper nutrition in their diets given the low wages. Most plantation workers, according to the lawsuit, remain “at the mercy of Firestone for everything from food to health care to education. They risk expulsion and starvation if they raise even minor complaints, and the company makes willful use of this situation to exploit these workers as they have since 1926.” (Rizvi)

This current situation brings up a very important and interesting question. What if Marcus Garvey had been successful in Liberia with his UNIA movement? What if the Firestone Company never had been granted a concession and established in the country? What if the Liberian elites held to the country’s founding principles? Would there be no exploitation today if they had given Garvey the land instead of the Firestone Company? The evidence is not concrete enough to say one way or the other if exploitation would or would not have happened in Liberia if actions had been different. It can be inferred that exploitation would have been delayed if the Firestone Company had not been given a concession. However, one cannot say that the Garvey Movement in Liberia would have been the best option for the country either. In the Garveyite’s view, both they and the native people had been betrayed by white American capital, represented by the newly introduced Firestone Rubber Company in 1927. (Sundiata 80) Garvey had tried to warn the Liberian government. Needless to say, Garvey’s warning failed to impress the Liberian politicians who, in pulling off the “big deal” with Firestone, were further enslaved by US capital. From his Atlanta prison Garvey warned that the Firestone investment was only the beginning of the United States monopoly control of African resources. (Sundiata 75) The slavery begun in 1926 continues today and one can see evidently that the failure of Garvey in Liberia dealt the deathblow to the organization. However, it not only dealt the deathblow for Garvey’s organization but it also locked the shackle of US exploitation on the arm of the Liberian people.

Works Cited:
Anonymous. Stop Firestone’s Exploitation and Cruelty. 12 November 2005. Stop Firestone Organization/ Amnesty International. (accessed 26 April 2006).

Aron, Birgit. “The Garvey Movement: Shadow and Substance.” Phylon (1940-1956), Vol. 8, No. 4. (4th Qtr., 1947), pp. 337-343. (accessed 18 April 2006).

Azikiwe, Ben. “In Defense of Liberia.” The Jounal of Negro History, Vol. 17, No. 1. (Jan., 1932), pp. 30-50. (accessed 18 April 2006).

Azikiwe, Nnamdi. “Liberia in World Politics.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 20, No. 3. (July, 1935), pp 351-353. (accessed 18 April 22, 2006)..

Browne, Vincent J. “Economic Development in Liberia.” The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 24, No. 2. (Spring, 1955), pp. 113-119. (accessed 18 April 2006). .

Lewis, Rupert. Marcus Garvey: Anti-colonial Champion. New Jersey: Africa Worls Press, Inc.,1988.

Dunn, D. Elwood. Liberia. England & USA: ABC-CLIO Ltd., 1995.

Stein, Judith. The World of Marcus Garvey: Race and Class in Modern Society. Baton Rouge and London: Lousiana State University Press, 1991.

Strong, Richard P. The African Republic of Liberia and the Belgian Congo. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1930.

Sundiata, Ibrahim. Brothers and Strangers: Black Zion, Black Slavery, 1914-1940. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2003.

Pham, John-Peter. Liberia: Portrait of a Failed Nation. New York: Reed Press, 2004.

Rizvi, Haider. Tire Giant Firestone Hit with Lawsuit over Slave-Like Conditions at Rubber Plantation. 8 December 2005. OneWorld US. (accessed 26 April 2006).

Wilson, Charles Morrow. “Liberia.” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 57, No. 1. (Jan., 1972), pp. 47-49. (accessed 18 April 2006). .

Note: Written in 2006 for a 2nd semester college writing course.

do you already know what you are getting?

truth reflects reality
but what is reality
& what is then true?
knowledge implies truth
& who can claim to possess knowledge that
is purely true to reflect the real?
– Alex B. Hill (date written unknown)

Whether we all know it or not we are enslaved by a great system, a system that propagates discrimination based on race, division rooted in the ideas of economic class, military control bent on power, and a political will lacking the necessary passion to stand up for what can easily be perceived as right (as opposed to wrong). Right: equal rights for all people of the world, equal opportunity, fair wage and living standards, a smile from a stranger, an atypical helping hand when it may seem uncouth, truth spoken from the mouth of a fellow on the misdeeds of a few who would wield a vast power in the name of many, not denying people their basic needs. Wrong is spewed from the system in many ways, most are unrecognized and more unknown to the general populace than one might think.

I just went to the movies tonight and what was most striking was not the movie itself, but the previews. I nearly forgot that a movie was to follow. There was a new film on beating the US Treasury’s money shredder, one on the fictional assassination of a US presidential double and the preceding systematic cover-up, a film decrying US torture in wartime, the government extending a soldiers’ contracts: Stop Loss. The current climate of things is more than ready for a movement away from destruction and into progress. When I say progress I am not talking about reform, there is no place for reform in the current system. There needs to be change, as in complete, no holds barred flip of the system. People need to be the pinnacle of the equation – people in the sense that every man, woman, and child needs to be ensured that the reality they live with is not also the systematic structure that keeps them in poverty, at war, without proper clothing, or without the ability to pursue a higher dream. Here in the USA, we have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – why must it only be a pursuit and not a right?

Before this day at the movies, I had another similar excursion. An exciting day to go see the new political thriller just in theaters. Lions for Lambs was one of the best political thriller for our time, now. During World War I, the Prussian troops used to call the English grunt workers, on the frontlines, Lions because of the ferocity with which they worked and fought, these men were Lions for Lambs. The Lambs were the politicians who sat in their plush offices and said to reporters, “we will do whatever it takes to win,” as their men die by the thousands, day by day pouring the fiery passions of their hearts into their work. These men were only to be forgotten by the Man, the politician on the pedestal, the system for which they had risked their very lives to preserve – a construct that had no place for them and never will.

This is the overtone of the most recent political thriller to come out of movie making land. Sadly much of the message was lost to the American public before they had even seen the movie. It has become very common that political thrillers are not appealing to the American public. They don’t like the harsh realities coming to life on the big screen, they don’t like the messages, they don’t like being called out in the theater where they came to enjoy a little bang-bang shoot’em up action. And so in the end Americans do not see these movies and political thrillers, which very well may be later called the greatest films of their times, fall in the box offices to popular whim. I recently read a very poor review of Lions for Lambs in which the student author claimed the film relied too much on political generalities and made the message too confusing. I would say that this was the prime example of the audience being lost to the message. As this student was the target and missed the mark completely.

Warning: Possible spoiler of Lions for Lambs

The film opens, in a hypothetical situation mirroring the present circumstances, with a ‘liberal’ journalist meeting with the new, young, up-and-coming republican political star. They are to spend an hours time getting the ‘truth’ to the American people. The Republican, played by Tom Cruise, tells of a new strategy in Afghanistan to win because “America needs a win.” The typical Republican rhetoric of today played out very well as a representation of the current political situation. As the Republican explains this plan in detail the story cuts to a team of Army Rangers beginning to initiate this new strategy to win in Afghanistan. They tear across the sky in their Chinook helicopter to land and take the high ground in the mountains. Suddenly they are hit by anti-aircraft fire, the gunner is hit and one of the soldiers falls out the back of the helicopter. Another soldier hesitates and then jumps after him. We then cut to a student visiting his political science professor, played by Robert Redford, to talk about how his class involvement and grades have fallen as well as his attendance.

The Republican dishes his empty rhetoric, soldiers fall in a new push in the war on terror, and a student discusses his grades. The professor asks the young man why he has stopped attending his class yet has continued to do so well on his exams. The student hesitates and replies that there are girls, and his frat house obligations, and college social stuff. The professor cries bullshit and asks ominously, “Why have you stopped caring?” when before the student used to spark debates and challenge ideas. The student responds that he is fed up. He is fed up with the shit that is the political system and he can no longer see the point. The professor begins to tell the story of two of his former students who used to give him as much hope as he had now in this fed up young man. They came from a tough area of LA where they grew up fighting just to live another day in the ghettos. Guns, drugs, gangs – when they made it to college on baseball scholarships they did not waste their time and jumped right into the political science course. As a class project they presented on how to solve America’s problems.

Their solution made a lot of sense. They noted how good we are with deployment abroad with US troops stationed across the world, but in America there is very little ‘deployment.’ They proposed that the Junior year of High School not involve the formal classroom setting at all. Juniors would be placed in either a Peace Corps type program, AmeriCorps program, or an ROTC program. They followed up this plan by noting the great and terrible disparities in America in literacy, access to opportunity, and potential in life. Drawing from their tough experiences as young people from the ghettos they saw this as an incredible way to get people involved. I have to admit that when they talked about this program in the film I could not help but think how amazing it would be if this were an actual program. Another student asks them, “You both talk a big game, but how serious are you?” They then place their military enrollment dispatches on the overhead. They are headed for the Army. They figured what good is it to talk and not be involved in something if you want to make change.

Cut back to Afghanistan. The soldier who fell out of the helicopter is unconscious and the other has a broken leg trapped in the snow. These soldiers are the two students that the professor talked so highly. Alone, trapped on the top of an enemy infested mountain the two former students, now soldiers, await their fate as the enemy closes in on their position. At the same time the Army is sending in rescue missions to help them, the Republican is getting the bad news that this new plan is failing, and the student meeting with his professor is wondering what he is supposed to do. Airstrikes to drive back the Taliban fighters fails and the two soldiers are shot dead just as help is on the way, the reporter refuses to write the politically charged article on the Afghanistan plan to boost the Republican party presidential hopeful, and the professor says to his student, “What if I give you a straight B, no plus no minus for the rest of the semester. If you don’t show up, don’t do your reading, and don’t turn anything in. A straight B.” The student doesn’t know what to say, but time is up and it is another person’s turn to have a meeting.

Back at his frat house the student is asked by another frat brother what the meeting was for. He responds that it was a meeting about class and grades. He is then asked, “do you already know what you are getting?” End of movie. The high schoolers behind me couldn’t believe it as many who have reviewed this film couldn’t. “A terrible end to a terrible movie,” said one. “I don’t even get it,” said another. That is the point! The film is much deeper than the usual hollywood hit. There is more to it than typical partisan political arguments and explosions with soldiers. This is a call for involvement, political action, doing something! We can no longer just sit by and watch things happen and complain about them later. Do we already know what we are getting? More importantly are you fine with that, are you satisfied? The end of the film noted how politicians bank on the apathy of the general public. They count on our ignorance of the situation. Great minds die in unnecessary combat, others get fed-up studying politics, and still others refuse to be manipulated by politics to give them good press – but for some reason that has become their job. All I can ask is “where are we going?”

All this has made me think and this post has been sitting in my draft box for a long while. “Why have I stopped caring?” Why should I care when everything is so arbitrary and falsely constructed in a terribly flawed system! Why should I waste my time and effort “playing the game” when all it does is mislead and fulfill my thirst with the nothingness. A higher education, while it is a great privilege, is wrought with discrepencies and lies. I needed the opportunities and intellectual challenges (outside of class), but in the end it will mean nothing if I do nothing. I hate the system and the system hates me. I will be judged as a failure by the system and doors will be closed. I am already judged as a failure – my grade point, my dislike of the institution, and my perhaps ‘radical’ and challenging ideas. I know that a degree can be seen as a way to be judged as less of a failure, but what is the point anymore? (Don’t worry, I am not a nihilist) I know that in many regards I have been very successful, but those are all discounted (no matter how great) by my performance in school, by my calls against the current system, by my lack of respect for those ensnared by the system. I am called a “naive” white boy ‘saving’ the African continent. I am called a “naive” radical – speaking that my professors are full of unthought (in the sense that they regurgitate ideas rooted in the terrible foundations of the system). I am called a failure lacking purpose and knowledge of how things work in reality, but it is a false, constructed reality actualized by the few. I have learned so much from my friends, personal quests for understanding, and engagements with student organizations in thoughtful discussions. I am here, at college, because of societal structure and expectations. I am here because this is what I am supposed to be doing.

Back again to Lions for Lambs. Do you already know what you are getting? Do you understand what you are already getting and are you satisfied? Is it enough to be able to say that I at least tried? For me that is not good enough. To be able to say I changed it, I destroyed it, I made it right is good enough. I am told that, “sometimes you have to play the game.” In no way, shape, or form will I play this game. I do not care to be recognized in this game. I will not don the jersey of this system to sit on the bench to watch the game from the sidelines. The system counts on our collective apathy, but that can easily be changed. Apathy is what fuels this game. An apathy that leads to a game of destruction, discrimination, and death. I already know what I will get if I continue to follow this system without thinking and acting for myself. I know the planned structural violence that plays out day to day – and I am not satisfied. Are you? What will you do?

Now playing: J-Live – Satisfied
via FoxyTunes

the continuous scramble for africa

From the so called great scramble to the new scramble, I believe that there never really is any difference or change in scrambling. The imperialist tendencies and actions towards Africa have been concentrated in one continuous scramble – for resources: land, people, minerals, diamonds, timber, markets, etc. A continuous scramble and a systematic exploitation and looting of the African continent. Globalization and the global political economy are generally not looked at through the African perspective. While I can hardly offer that perspective, I work to understand.

For a long while many people, non-Africans, Europeans and African alike have understood the systematic destruction of Africa. Quoted in an article in Alternatives: A book written by Walter Rodney in the 1970s was titled “how Europe underdeveloped Africa” and Karl Marx noted in his Critique of the Political Economy that the “hunt for black skins” signaled the dawn of capitalism. It seems the African continent may have been doomed from the birth of the capitalist dream.

The Scramble for Africa began long before the Berlin Conference of 1884-5, when the African cake was divided by European powers for land claims and resources (slave trade). The scramble, however, did not end after that conference. The European powers were not appeased with just staking claim to the land. Oppressive and brutal remained in control and increased their thirst for more, and more. The Alternatives article notes that there now exists NEPAD, the WTO, EU, AGOA, EPA, and I think you could place any international agreement that places the wants of those in power over the long exploited African people.

The article also notes the increase and spread of the Chinese influence in African markets seeking to gain access to fossil fuels and resources. There is now considerable critique into the effects and practices of the Chinese (I have been part of this). However, this makes the practices of the EU and the USA almost completely fall from the picture. Well the Chinese may be pursuing extremely detrimental practices in Africa they cannot be left as the scapegoat for why Africa is “under-developed,” exploited and robbed of resources to spur growth. The European powers and the USA need to be exposed and the ills of their actions need to be dissected and understood as well. These “historically-structurally disadvantaged societies” need leaders who will place the interests of their country-people above their own advancement. A lot needs to happen if the scramble is to end, but that requires a recognition to the problem and a plan to empower local communities. Resources do not have to be the downfall of a country. As long as the resources are used properly and agreements are in place so that the benefit reaches the people resource can be a positive. It is my opinion that African countries need to adopt a near protectionist policy in regards to socio-economic matters if the scramble and following exploit is to stop.

China is pouring money into Africa for “development” flooding markets and building infrastructure with money that will flow right back into China, the US is militarizing the continent at a frightening rate (nothing new) to “fight terrorism” and gain access to resources in their “triangle of interest,” Brazil, India, Russia, and countless other countries are positioning themselves to yet again eat from the African cake. This competition can work as a positive for Africa, but only as long as the minority of elites need to recognize the great need of their people.

death by modernization

According to National Geographic, “Every 14 days a language dies. By the year 2100, over half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth — many of them never yet recorded — will likely disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and how the human brain works.”

It has always been my opinion that language is free and language is fluid, but those two conditions cannot be met if a language dies. But why are languages dying? Both a difficult and nearly obvious answer exists. Earth is slowly developing into a single civilization. Traditional societies and languages are dying; disappearing and waves of rapid modernization aid in the erosion of tradition. The answer cannot be left at just that however, because there are many reasons, effects, and causes intertwined in the death of a language.

The most common ’cause of death’ comes from globalization – colonization and the growth capitalism. Dominant languages forced on populations by colonization or global capitalism leave the traditional language to wither in the dust. Children then learn the dominant language and miss the traditions and histories of their traditional people since language is a huge factor in history and tradition. As with the growth of global capitalism, the rate of death for smaller languages is increasing rapidly.

There are programs working to document and revitalize dying languages. This past year my swahili professor, Deo Ngonyani, traveled to northern Malawi to learn and document a disappearing language. He has previously documented two other languages, but these were not in danger of dying out. He was given a grant for a few years study of the language and culture of the traditional people associated with the language. There is also an organization called Living Tongues, which is associated with National Geographic Enduring Languages program. Living Tongues works with communities to document and preserve languages in danger of dying out. They enter communities and train the people to document their own language. Intellectual property rights of the community is the primary concern of Living Tongues. The communities grant Living Tongues permission to document and disseminate the research they gain from the endangered communities. Living Tongues has said that extinction of traditional and ancestral languages is one of the greatest socio-cultural threats of the 21st Century.

Dominant languages become dominant by way of oppressive structures. It is difficult to say that this would not have happened – that civilizations would have developed differently, but we cannot try to rewrite the past. With booming technology, traditional societies are becoming whitewashed at the expense of political and economic gain. In the course of this boom entire histories and cultures of people are effectively erased. Can you imagine being erased from the face of the earth?