Archive for June, 2008

Jun 27 2008

Scott McClellan, President Bush, and the Permanent Campaign

Scott McClellan was the White House press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006, and the deputy press secretary before that. I saw him speak at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club this Tuesday, June 24. He talked about his relationship to President Bush, the administration’s “mistakes”, and why these mistakes were made. For example, he now feels that “the war in Iraq was not absolutely necessary.” It is fascinating to watch someone formerly so close to the president recant so publicly and dramatically, especially someone who appeared on CNN time and time again to justify the president’s decisions. The personal dynamics of what happened between the president and his press secretary are at least as interesting as the actual events, and perhaps give us a little bit of insight into the psychology of politics in America.

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Jun 25 2008

French HIV Campaign is Sexy, not Scary

Most countries now have some form of safer-sex public health campaign, but the message is usually some variant of “you will die!” Consider this poster from the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia (2004):

AIDS Poster in Malaysia

By comparison, a recent French campaign talks about sex as if it were a good thing, with their “Explore — just protect yourself” series:

French HIV prevention poster

This poster is really quite an exceptional piece of art, and well worth examining at full size (just click.) Additional information can be found here.

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Jun 24 2008

Community Then and Now

The notion of community is changing, or perhaps community needs to become a notion. It used to be that community came for free. It was something you were born into by virtue of geography or biology, village and family. But now all the kids have moved away from their parents; now the subdivision has replaced the neighborhood. If we want community now — and of course we do — then we have to make it ourselves.

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Jun 19 2008

Acquired Tastes

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My African friends said the meal was good. Just good. Frankly, it was gourmet, and I challenge anyone else to do better in a place with no water, no electricity, no paved roads. I’d made lamb skewers with onions and tomatoes and mango. Good? It was utterly delicious. I’d been eating rice for a month.

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Jun 17 2008

Water Cannot be Cleaned by Machines

A friend of mine has been asked to design a small scale UV-light water purification system for use in the developing world, and he called me to ask what I knew about getting machines to work in poor places. At first I didn’t know what to say to him, because he’s at least as good an engineer as I am, but as the conversation continued I began to discover what he was missing. Engineering is the easy part of getting technology into the developing world. Getting technology accepted, used, maintained, and paid for is the hard part.
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Jun 12 2008

The Energy Companies are Still Oil Companies

The Exxon ad on CNN this morning talked about “using advanced technology to find new sources of oil.” The four-page Shell spread in the current issue of Wired – a high-tech, futurist magazine – proclaims “our scientists feel free to break rules that say providing energy could mean impacting our environment,” then goes on to discuss their technology for converting natural gas to liquid fuel. According to their website, Chevron invested $20 billion dollars in 2007 to develop new sources of oil and gas, compared to just $2.5 billion to develop alternative energy sources in the three year period of 2007-2009.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s insane that the energy companies are still trying to convince us that using more fossil fuels is a good idea?

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Jun 10 2008

What Does Internet Censorship Look Like?

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) it looks like this:

This is the web page that users trying within the United Arab Emirates see when they navigate to flickr.com

I captured this from an internet cafe in Dubai in November, 2007, when I tried to navigate to flickr.com. Click for a larger image; the text reads, in Arabic and English, “We apologize [sic] the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.” I must say it was something of a shock. If you live in what is commonly known as “Western Civilization”, you’ve probably never run into a censored page before. As with all personal experience, if you don’t see it yourself it’s very easy to forget that it exists at all.

But internet censorship does exist. It’s very real. In fact, something like one third of the governments of the world censor their citizens’ internet access. Given that this includes India and (especially) China, it may be that half the people people in the world can’t actually see what Americans, Canadians, Europeans and so on experience as “the internet.” Continue Reading »

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Jun 06 2008

The Sexual Revolution was not Global

In my travels through the developing world, one thing that consistently struck me was the way that men stereotype women sexually. Countries such as Morocco, Ethiopia, Oman and India are still very socially conservative by Western standards. Typically, there is a double standard, where men are allowed or expected to be sexual and women are not.

I had a long conversation with a young man on the train from Chennai to Calcutta. He’s a college student, studying for his BCom like so many others, so that he can start a business. We, two young men with 40 hours to kill, got to talking about women. He told me with a lopsided grin that he’d had a number of girlfriends. But he wouldn’t marry any of them. They weren’t the marrying type. His wife would be a virgin.

To this man, and many others I spoke to, women basically fell into two categories: sexual and reputable. It’s the old dichotomy: Madonna/whore, wife/slut, good girl, bad girl. Of course, the bad girls are more sexually desirable. And I’ve just discovered some careful research that confirms my perception of their perceptions.

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