Monday, March 26, 2012

On Holiday

Wednesday is the big day. I'm headed out for seven days in Prague and Paris. I've included a couple maps showing where our hotels are. We'll be running the Hervis half-marathon on Saturday. I've spend a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what electrical attachments I need for the various electronics I'm bringing. I'll spare you the details, which of course I don't actually understand, and instead say that if things go as planned I should be able to post a couple pictures via wifi while across the pond. I'll also end up with a new set of pictures on flickr.

View Hotel in Prague in a larger map

View Hotel in Paris in a larger map

Monday, March 19, 2012

Finding Clarity in Updated Imagery

In February, Google posted on its lat/long blog that they had uploaded new imagery for more than a hundred different countries. Better yet, they released a KML file that showed the locations of updated imagery including, rural Chad, new housing developments in Burkina Faso, N'djili Airport in DRC - all sorts of interesting stuff. In fact, you should check it out by clicking here and downloading and viewing the KML. Better still, this prompted me to take another peek at the Village of Pommern, which I finally found on Google Earth a few months back. It turns out that the imagery has been significantly improved. So much improved that I could clearly see the outline of the cafeteria extension we were working on back in 2009. It is in the center of the map below.

View Larger Map

Here's a picture of the area as it looked when we were working on it. Picture 301

So that's fun.

Monday, March 12, 2012

So You Want to Help Ugandans

In 2009 I added the veil of green to my twitter avatar to "support" the Green Movement protests and promote awareness of election fraud in Iran.  It seemed like a nice thing to do.  Realizing, for reasons financial and other, that I wasn't able to attend any rallies in Tehran, I figured by changing my twitter avatar someone might see it and google "What does a green twitter avatar mean?"  That was the goal - promote awareness.

After stumbling around online for more info on what was going on in Tehran (remember this was before the Arab Spring and daily updates of Bashar al-Assad) I came across a new term: slacktivism.  Used in a sentence, it would go something like this:  People who change their twitter avatars to green monochrome are slacktivists.

Slacktivism is a fascinating portmanteau, meaning, more or less, activism that makes you feel good but has no impact, direct or otherwise.  I didn't like the thought of being dubbed a slacktivist.  After thinking about it more, I allowed myself to appreciate the term slacktivism, and also to realize the fact that BEING aware of the situation, just like any other travesty in other parts of the world, is among the more important things one can do.  No matter how small the impact, learning about, talking about and posting about things like the recent murders in Nigeria or who is responsible for the most recent bombings in Nairobi is better than nothing.  So while I understand the pejorative nature of the word slacktivism, in the end it's really not much different than activism.   Awareness of the masses is one of the most powerful tools available.  And that tool can be wielded by nothing more than a bunch of slacktivists. 

And now the masses learn about Joseph Kony and the atrocities "going on in Uganda" and it suddenly became chic to know about the next iteration of the Kony saga or other third world conflict.

Over the last week you've probably heard one of the following:

"I ordered a KONY2012 bracelet"
"You ordered a KONY2012 bracelet? Don't you know about Invisible Children's poor giving record?"
"Central African Republic is a country?"
"But there was never a threat the US would pull it's troops out"
"I'm concerned about human rights violations by the Ugandan army"
"Something something Idi Amin"
"Check out their IRS form 990"
"Something something Milton Obote"
"Nodding disease"

My point being, the only thing "cooler" than being aware of Kony was knowing he isn't in Uganda. The only thing cooler than that was knowing about the things that are affecting Ugandans now. And so on.

As someone who tries to keep up with current events across Africa (and simply by having an interest is probably better informed than 90% of Americans) I almost got pulled into the arrogance black hole of current events one-upsmanship, but somewhere along the line I realized that no matter how uninformed or misinformed we mass of slacktivists are, the conversations occurring across US media and our social networks are actually important and worthwhile.  Awareness is key.

Even if Kony is never found, the social media, slacktivist, fact-checking palooza that is occurring will have more positive impacts than negative.

Thinking you helped when you didn't doesn't make things worse, it's just unfortunate.

Learning where Uganda is on a map helps.

So while we'll see less and less of Kony over the next few months, all is not lost.
But if you're looking for something else you can do to help some people in Uganda, here's a thought:

Krochet Kids intl: Meet Betty from Krochet Kids intl. on Vimeo.

And you can go ahead and check out their IRS form 990.

The hat I ordered came last week and everything is as promised, even signed by Anena Irene

So you won't find me criticizing anyone who donates to Invisible Children, and I'm glad that you know who Joseph Kony is.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Keeping TaBs on Southern Africa

I've been reading up on a few sub-Saharan Africa conflicts of the last 50 years.  It's easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of rebel groups.  Most recently I've been working to remember which is which between the MPLA, FNLA and, UNITA (I'll work on the actual acronyms next) in Angola.  For now I treat them as thoughts rather than actual words, much the same way as when I read, or at least tried to read Ringworld (or pretty much anything Larry Niven wrote).  Reading about the relationship between the US and South Africa in the 70's and 80's has been a fascinating, if not disappointing experience.

Seemingly unrelated to the history of South Africa and its neighbors, the unexpected delight of a TaB cola sent me on a separate, web-hunt.   I was pleased to discover that not only was it a Coca-Cola product, but it was a sugar and calorie free pop that tastes much better than Diet Coke, or as they call it elsewhere, Coke Lite.  The tie-in to this discussion is the fact that TaB is only available in a few countries, including the Southern African Customs Union countries, which includes many of the same players as my sub-Saharan Africa conflict reading, namely South Africa and what is now Namibia. 
The real "lesson" out of this, however, is the fact that there is a Southern African Customs Union. Now, despite the SACU's success in acquiring a tasty no-calorie pop, they have not realized a successful long-term trade agreement with the US.  Jumping to yet one more seemingly unrelated lily-pad, thinking of relations between South Africa and the US made me think of one of the hot button issues of today - Syria.  Specifically an article in  If you've been following the situation at all, you've probably been frustrated if not perplexed by the inaction of Russia and China.  Bringing South Africa back in to the discussion, you absolutely must read this article.

One of the interesting lines in the article refers to the foreign policy of developing democractic countries as having "a strong preference for softer tools of international intervention: what they call constructive engagement".  To bring this full circle, "constructive engagement" is the exact same term used by the Reagan Administration over its relationship with South Africa during the end of Apartheid.  Of course, the Reagan Administrations use of the term "constructive" doesn't seem to mean the same thing.

I doubt I'll ever write a post that makes so many jumps between unrelated topics, but sometimes, no matter how illogical the progression, it's worth it to get everything out.