Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 519: Violence Begets Violence

The Brazilian government has deployed forces to one of Rio de Janeiro's largest slums - in a clean-up operation which aims to reduce crime in the city ahead of the World Cup.

Federal forces are here pictured entering the violence-plagued Complexo da Mare - one of Brazil's biggest slums - 'favelas' in Portuguese.

These pictures show troops storming the favela bearing guns in bullet-proof vehicles while a helicopter circles above.

The faces of the 130,000 residents who live on the Mare complex have also been pictured. Mare is formed of 16 separate communities and has been riddled with drugs and dominated by gangs and militias.

It is close to Rio's international airport, which means that visitors must drive past it on their way into the city.

Senior officials have denied that the Mare clean-up is related to the World Cup - claiming that they aim to improve the lives of Rio favela residents. - Daily Mail

No one can claim that there is an easy solution to the living conditions and mind set in a place like this. Changing the social dynamics and phasing out drug cartels and militias doesn't come and the flick of a wand. What is certain is that sending in a bunch of guys with guns and tanks does not address the cause of the problem in any way, it is rather more likely to escalate conflicts and decrease living standards for those in the slums more.

There is no one cause that you can point to that created the living conditions and social ills in slums. Lack of financial security is certainly one of the larger contributors, maybe the largest. There have been more studies of late linking poverty, lack of education, lack of financial stability and other related "lifestyles" to an increased disposition to criminal activities, drug use, depression, lower IQ and so on. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are so many people who are living in poverty and whose families have lived in poverty for so long now that the consequences have reached far and wide and will be difficult to reverse.

I am not saying that it is impossible. I am also not proposing to know exactly how the problem could be solved in every single case. I am proposing that those people who are in positions that make them capable of  assisting should investigate different approaches instead of opting for tanks and guns. There have been cases where a government creates opportunities and training for people to help themselves which were successful - proof that it is possible.

Why would anyone think that violence, or that the threat of violence would be a viable solution to the consequences of poverty? Sure, there is crime and drugs in "nice neighbourhoods" - but it is far less than in slums. No one should live in those conditions - is it at all surprising that those living conditions have a negative effect on the nature of people? Living in poverty like that gives a person the distinct impression that they are worth nothing, that their society has deemed them as having no worth - this is bound to cause psychological problems at the very least.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 518: Street Child World Cup

The Street Child World Cup is a global movement for street children to receive the protection and opportunities that all children are entitled to. Ahead of each FIFA World Cup, they unite street children from across five continents to play football and unite in a unique international conference. Together through football, art and campaigning their aim is to challenge the negative perceptions and treatment of street children around the world. - Wikipedia

The local newspaper brought this Street Child World Cup to my attention today for the first time. According to Wiki and the paper, the purpose of this event is to raise awareness and decrease discrimination and negative views against street children. There is also a vague reference to promoting the rights of street children, but no specifics.

The official website does not contain much other information: Here is an extract from their FAQ page:

What has it achieved?
The Street Child World Cup’s reach went far beyond football.
The Durban Declaration captured the key themes which the children taking part believe will transform their lives. This has been presented to the UN Committee on Human Rights, to central and regional governments and to civil society organisations. It calls on them to act on the impunity people experience when abusing street children, for preventative measures to enable children to stay at home, for investment in services for street children and for their voices to be heard.
The Street Girls’ Manifesto, created with Plan International at the conference, became a central part of their 2010 ‘Because I am a Girl’ report, and has been presented to central and regional government and to major international NGO’s.
In Durban during the 2010 Street Child World Cup a roundup of street children by the police took place. The media interest this generated and global outcry led to changes in local policy. There were no police round-ups of street children in Durban during the FIFA 2010 World Cup and have not been since. Umthombo, Street Child World Cup hosts, are contributing to the first nationwide street child strategy in South Africa.
The 2010 SCWC received extensive media coverage in South Africa and around the world through social networking, web and media coverage. The BBC’s coverage has been nominated for a Bafta Award and global programmes such as FIFA’s ‘Football Mundial’ featured the Street Child World Cup. The British Council teaching resources based on the event are being used in 130 countries and a book of the event and a documentary film Street Kids United will both be released in 2011.
The art created during the 2010 SCWC was first used to create the “Interactive Street Child Experience” facilitated by Momentum Arts artists and local South African artists at the Durban Art Gallery. This showcased the street children’s talent and highlighted their voices within a city, a country and a world where they are some of the most vulnerable and invisible members of the community. This exhibition lasted for six months and included the FIFA World Cup, exposing international visitors to street child issues.
The ‘One Voice‘ art exhibition, was held at the Foundling Museum in London, UK, in September 2010 for three weeks. Using the art created in Durban during the SCWC 2010, as well as some new pieces made especially for the exhibition by Momentum Arts artists, One Voice brought the SCWC to a UK audience. Visited by thousands of people, One Voice was thought-provoking and emotional, pushing its audience to think how they could help promote the rights of street children
The Tanzanian team led a discussion with 50 Police Commander Officers from Mwanza City and Lake Victoria, on the problems that brought them onto the streets, and the ways they are treated by police. This marked the start of their own campaign: “No child should have to sleep on the streets”. In September
2010 the President of Tanzania announced his intention to visit the project.
The victorious Indian team were welcomed back by an exuberant crowd and extensive coverage in the Indian media. As a result of the Street Child World Cup exposure, Jatinder Singh was selected to represent India in the under 16’s World Cup.
In the Philippines as a result of the team’s success a new street child football project is being set up which seeks to use football to mentor street children. The Philippine team’s success was one of the top ten sports stories in 2010 and has been cited as one the reasons for a resurgence in interest in football.
The Ukrainian team were welcomed home with a reception from the newly elected mayor. This allowed Depaul to strengthen their presence in Kharkiv. The Deputy Regional Governor of Kharkiv region accompanied the team to Durban. This experience has influenced her profoundly and she is committed to exploring more participative ways of working in the children’s institutions in Kharkiv.

I find it rather strange that there is no mention anywhere of changing the lives of children living on the streets in any real way. Over the decades it has become clear that organisations like the UN and their related laws and initiatives are essentially impotent, so waving this world cup for street children around like a banner with the support of the UN means nothing when it comes to implementing any real change.

This whole thing is pretty typical of our current approach to global issues: make it a big issue in the media, open a bunch of "charitable organisations", raise a bunch of money and last, but not least, do nothing to actually address the cause of the problem, so ensuring that all that lovely money coming in from donations and all of the good press received by the corporate supporters lives on.

This approach is similar to what magicians and illusionists do: create a distraction over here so that no one pays attention to what's really going on over there. Evidently there are some people who are master illusionists, especially since no one even realises that that is what they are.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Day 517: A Little Something About Desteni

From what I have witnessed other people overcome using Desteni’s tools, I can say with absolute certainty that any person wishing to change themselves and their life is capable of doing it using the tools. Unfortunately, nothing is that simple, and one of the biggest obstacle people face in living these tools is that it requires absolute dedication – dedication in themselves. This world is far from perfect, it is cracked and broken
. I see the world and our society as a reflection, or manifestation, of our cracked and broken selves. We are the masters of the world and what we see around us is what we have created – we are individually and collectively responsible for this world. Desteni offers the tools to repair oneself, but there are so many aspects that influence each person’s life that I am not certain that most people would take the opportunity to help themselves. Another aspect is that the community exists online and so any person(s) without access to the internet would also not have access to the community.
Each person in this world is born into a unique set of circumstances, not by their own choice. There are people born into wealth, poverty, illness, deformity, culture, religion, family values, social values – there are so many factors influencing each person. This is essentially the greatest challenge that any person, organisation or community faces in the attempt to make the world a better place. Primarily, people have the tendency to hold onto their belief systems so strongly that they are simply unwilling to consider that there may be an alternative that would lead to a world that is better for everyone. The belief that “I am right” is one that causes much suffering in this world. Take racism as an example: those who believe that the colour of a person’s skin makes them somehow inferior or superior is the epiphany of an irrational and flawed belief system – but the racist person continues to believe in their own superiority because to them, it is what is “right”. In this particular human behaviour I would like to share another principle that Desteni shares: The idea that a person’s opinion is their right is one of the greatest abuses of human rights. There are so many atrocities stemming from peoples’ opinions. Desteni proposes that we instead live according to principles such as do unto another as you would like to be done unto you, and investigate everything and take that which is best. The former principle is perhaps the more applicable to the particular topic I am discussing: that we as people have a tendency to assume that our beliefs are “right”, even when they are not in everyone’s best interests is one of the greatest contributors to human suffering today. Take the current debate on economic inequality: those who are in power and are enormously wealthy believe that they deserve their wealth more than anyone else, and that those people who live in poverty somehow deserve it. This opinion can in no way be seen as being in the best interests of all of humanity, but it is still accepted because of our flawed belief that to have an opinion is somehow a right. Is it still a justifiable right if it leads to someone’s suffering? This is simply one aspect of the current global issues that Desteni members investigate. 

Desteni suggests writing as a tool to investigate oneself and grow as a person. The 7 Year Journey to Life is one platform the Desteni uses, it is a daily writing or video log that one can share on the internet if one so chooses. The principle is that a participant writes in a journal style, daily if possible, about whatever issue, event, thought or belief system they are currently dealing with. When I say “dealing with”, I mean that the person is working on investigating and essentially letting go of whatever pattern(s) may be detrimental to them. The 7 Year Journey to Life takes form in multiple ways, some people write about their own experiences, while others write about global/societal issues. The purpose of sharing the writings (or video logs) is to provide support to other people who are currently dealing with the same topic, or who are just investigating a particular topic.
The Forum at the Desteni website is also available as a support platform where people can share their writings (experiences) and receive input from others who have had similar experiences. This input mostly comes in the form of suggestions for the person seeking advice to ask themselves questions in order for them to clarify for themselves how best they can support themselves – because this is essentially what Desteni stands for: providing people with the tools with which they can support themselves. With this in mind, the support that people give each other on the forum centres around helping each other to see different aspects of any one situation, in order to be better enabled to make an informed, practical choice on how to move forward.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 516: What Lies Beyond the Horizon

Elementary school students in Alberta, Canada are about to see a “massive overhaul” to their school curriculum, overseen by Big Oil.
Major oil companies, including Syncrude Canada, Cenovus Energy and Suncor Energy, have partnered with the government “in helping draft Alberta’s future curriculum for our students,” a document posted to the Alberta Education website reveals. Specifically, Syncrude and Suncor are pitching in as members of a working group led by the Edmonton public school board, aimed at redesigning the kindergarten through third grade curriculum.
According to the Edmonton Journal, critics are “worried about the direction” the children’s education is taking. “Kindergarten to grade three is a very formative time in a child’s education where their minds are still developing,” said Deron Bilous of the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP). “It is outrageous and appalling to have oil and gas companies involved in any way in developing curriculum for Alberta’s youngest students.”
“We want the economy involved in the education system,” responded Education Minister Jeff Johnson. “If we’re going to build a relevant education system, we need the voice of the employer, the business community, economic development — we need those people at the table.”
The oil industry, a major part of Alberta’s economy thanks, in part, to its infamous oil sands, is certainly “relevant” to the province. How that will apply to public school education, however, remains unclear. Commented Bilous, “It really makes me wonder what value will [the oil companies] gain from it and how this is going to impact our students.” - Salon

As if our education systems are not bad enough, now the big corps are getting their claws into our kids' brains from the ripe age of VERY YOUNG. When have the big corporations ever done something because that is what is good for society as a whole? Exactly. It's all about how they can increase their profits.

Remember that corporations are run by people like you and me. The only difference is that the people running corporations have lost what little humanity people have these days. Listen to the way that the super rich talk about other people: we are not human beings to them, but pieces on a chess board to be manipulated and maneuvered in ways that will benefit them. With this in mind, what do you think will happen if they start designing the curriculum's in our children's schools?

As if the big corps don't have enough influence on our lives with their complete market control of the food and health industries. Look at what happened when private prisons were introduced: a need was created, a niche market. Those prisons do not exist to benefit society, they exist to make rich people richer.

Do you know exactly what your child is taught in school? You most likely are not aware of every single thing, so just imagine what new weird and wonderful things they will start learning that you will only find out about after it's too late. We are already a society of conformity, unable or unwilling to question or change the way we live even when it is glaringly obvious that it is so very wrong for us. What will our kids be like after graduating from a school that was designed by a big oil corp? Will they be ready to lay their lives down for profit?

The government claims that kids need to learn about the economy, which is certainly true, but what is absolutely not true is what the big oil boys will teach them. Education should be unbiased and even adventurous - giving children the tools to investigate things on their own to find out what is really going on. The Education Minister saying that big oil corps designing the curriculum will be good for the complete education of our children is the same as him saying "I've been bought and paid for."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Day 515: I Just Want a Living Income
Some have parked their tents along the sidewalk since early Tuesday, enduring the brutal cold of this New York City winter for six days and five nights.
Ray only got here this afternoon, but he’s no more than 20 spots behind the front of the line. A stocky guy in his late 30s, Ray’s bundled in a thick, hooded parka; he’s holding a plastic blanket around his legs. Why, I ask him, did someone show up five days in advance?
“He’s hungry,” Ray tells me, his admiration obvious. “Ya can’t knock that. That’s hustle. But he’s gotta live ’round here to take a shower, or he’s gonna need some fuckin’ Old Spice. He’s been sittin’ out here since Tuesday.”
Ray arrived Sunday afternoon, “around 11 o’clock,” but he’d been driving past the entrance all week, checking to make sure early arrivals wouldn’t force him to line up earlier.
These are not welfare queens, “moochers” or “takers.” These are hardworking, blue-collar New Yorkers, camping on the street by the hundred for a shot at one of 30 union jobs being offered by Laborer’s Local 731. The union announced recruitment starting Monday, March 3, scheduled to continue through the 14th, but they could staff every position — four times over — just from the men standing on the street tonight. And while Ray’s got a pretty good shot — he’s near the front of the line, easily within the first 30 through the door — there’s still an air of uncertainty in his voice when I ask him about his chances.
“It’s a gamble,” Ray explains.
And when they tell me the hourly rate they’ll earn if they manage to get hired, I start to wonder if maybe I should go home and grab a tent of my own — these jobs start at $30-$40/hour (with union benefits and perks, of course). According to one applicant, a union like this one only brings in new members once every five years.
Indeed, it’s such a good job that most of the men in line already have jobs. But in the plutocratic mecca of New York, even $16/hour — as Ray earns working as a warehouse supervisor — doesn’t add up to a living wage. So he stands in the cold, waiting for the chance to get a shot at a job. (That is, assuming he passes a physical test that includes pulling a 75-pound weight 12 feet in the air.) - Salon

This is a common occurrence these days, people queuing by the hundreds, or even thousands, for just a few available positions. The reality is that middle class is no longer them middle class but the upper class, and the upper class has now become the super-elite class. Everyone else is in the trying-to-survive class. I don't think I need to give you the statistics, they've been floating around the web and TV for a while now. The question is then, if we all know that there is a problem, why has nothing changed? We are actually the ones who are suffering, who are trying to survive in a system that makes it harder and harder to do so - so why are we not investigating how we can improve the system?

Lately, times have been tough for Joe, and he’s had to rely on welfare and the Back to Work Program just to pay for basic essentials like public transit. Joe lives in Staten Island, obtains work training in the Bronx, and is standing in line talking with me in my own neighborhood of Astoria, Queens. There are also fees for tests and applications associated with getting construction work that Joe could never afford without this assistance. I asked Joe if he thought that this was fair, but he demurred.
“That’s the way it is.”
These men aren’t naive about their long odds, but they’re still determined, even a touch optimistic. I suppose the kind of person willing to stand on line overnight in freezing temperatures just for the chance of a good job is optimistic by default.
The men in line are old and young; black, white and Hispanic; thin and heavy-set. There’s a 19-year-old kid currently working in restaurants, who hopes a union job might offer stability, benefits and raises. For young Americans, these have largely become the hallmarks of a “middle-class” life.
“If I get this job,” a fast-talking hustler named Andrew tells me with a laugh, “I’d be a Republican.”
In his mid-30s, Andrew is a classic, consummate New Yorker, a central casting extra pulled straight from the set of one of the classic Scorsese or Coppola films that have defined this city for a generation. Andrew’s been working a number of odd jobs lately, most recently in plumbing and car dealerships (“BMW, Maserati,” he rattles off to me, clearly trying to impress), but Andrew hopes for something more stable — and more profitable. Like everyone else I talked to, Andrew’s sole concern is getting the job, “winning the lottery,” not the politics that have led him to stand in the cold for the “opportunity” to work as a laborer. Andrew doesn’t have time for politics.
“I care, you know, but I don’t follow it.”
It was the same story all night: these are hard-nosed, pragmatic, blue-collar guys, too busy looking for work that pays a living wage to worry about changing the conditions that led them to sit out in the cold in the first place. - Salon

When your sole focus is on the survival of you and your family there is little room for other considerations. The sad truth is that this will likely lead to a revolution-type series of events, probably violent. Violent revolutions only happen because a part of the population feels like they "have no choice but to be violent in order to be heard" - which is, unfortunately, not an objective assessment. Violence is never the answer and is often incited by a handful of charismatic but aggressive leaders who convince people that there is no other way. As usual, human emotion and our seeming inability to practice self discipline is what puts us in a position that is worse than the one we started off in. Now I know that many people will call me idealistic and unrealistic, that there is no way to change the world without violence because those who are in charge are loathe to let go of their power. It may be optimistic, but I do not think it's impossible.

Real democracy can not be born from violence - that would just be autocracy disguised as democracy. The only way we can change the system in such a way that everyone benefits is by doing it calmly, rationally and with patience. What has happened time and again throughout human history is that our emotions have influenced the outcomes of most events. This is a key element that must be understood: we cannot come to mutually beneficial terms if we are emotional about it. Things like anger, spite, blame - will always sabotage our best efforts if we allow them to exist within us.

I suppose that I do sound like an optimist, but I at least can say that I know this is possible because I have seen even the most unlikely people change themselves for the better and change the focus of their lives from crashing from one self-made mess into the next into living in a way that is considerate of others and without abusive actions (towards themselves and other people). I know it is possible because I have seen this for myself. I know it is possible because I live it every day. I commit to continue living as an example of what is possible.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Day 514: Pistorius and Protection Paranoia

Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) -- When security guards arrived at the home of Oscar Pistorius on the night his girlfriend died, the first thing the track star told them was that everything was fine.
That's what Pieter Baba, a security guard supervisor, testified Friday in Pistorius' murder trial.
The athlete said everything was fine, but he was crying, Baba said, and he knew everything was not fine.
Baba and the other guards then witnessed Pistorius descending from the upstairs carrying Reeva Steenkamp to the lower level.
"I was so shocked, I couldn't think for a few moments," Baba testified.
Another witness who testified Friday, former Pistorius girlfriend Samantha Taylor, said their relationship ended when he cheated on her with Steenkamp.
Taylor also testified that Pistorius slept with a pistol on his bedside table or on the floor beside his prosthetic legs and once became so angry after a traffic stop that he shot a gun through the sunroof of a car.

Things like this seem to be happening more frequently. People becoming completely possessed by a fear or belief. If you become that obsessed with any concept that it drives you to extreme behaviour then you must know that there is a problem. The reality is that the problem is not only at an individual level but also (and maybe more so) at a collective level. We all contribute to the manifestations of extreme behaviours, mostly by passively accepting their existence without questioning how we could change. 

These stories pop up in the news regularly, but never in such a way that we start to question why it keeps happening. We don't get to a point where we say "you know what, there should be some kind of support for people who start manifesting extreme behaviour". Sure, we have psychology and drugs, but these things have proven to be woefully insufficient - proven by the very existence and proliferation of extreme behaviour. Only a small percentage of people actually overcome their obsessions (possessions) - this owing to either ineffective treatments or to the fact that many people do not seek help, mostly due to ego or financial constraints. 

There is no shame in recognizing that you are possessed by some concept or belief, nor in asking for assistance - you should only be ashamed if you do nothing about it when you realise what you have been doing and thinking. Unfortunately, the understanding of the human mind and behaviour is so limited that support to society on a large scale is severely stunted. The reason for this stems from the same source as someone's inaction toward their mental state: ego. Those people who purport to study human behaviour have a tendency of imposing their own opinions onto their research so that the results are biased. Have you ever noticed how there is some scientific study proving pretty much everything and each study contradicts the others? This is what subjective science looks like and it will obviously never show the truth.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Day 513: The Nature of our Customs

Whenever a package is sent to South Africa from outside the country it must be cleared by Customs. This is apparently supposed to tell you how Customs works and what-not - it is a schedule to the laws basically.

Unfortunately it cannot be said that the manifestation and implementation of these laws is an accurate reflection of the Schedule. If you were to ask around, let's say you ask a postal worker, I pretty much guarantee that they will shrug their shoulders in bafflement as to the workings and reasonings of RSA Customs.

I have heard of someone paying 100% of the value of their package to Customs. I have seen myself how a package with certain contents will be charged one amount by Customs one day, and another day the amount will be ten times higher for the same contents. Sometimes you don't pay any Customs tax at all.

Somewhere, someone is making a hell of a lot of money.

This reminds me of a discussion in one of my text books for Public Administration - Ethics. The author postulates that in a country where a certain thing, or way of doing things (for example: bribery), is accepted by the majority of people and where details pertaining to this thing or way of doing things is made public knowledge (and obviously is still accepted by the people) then it can be seen as a part as the custom or culture of that country and is therefore not immoral or ethically incorrect.

That sounds pretty frikkin weird to me, it doesn't really make sense. It is the same as saying "if everyone accepts rape as being a part of life that is "OK" then rape is OK". This is essentially the act of seeing something for what you want it to be instead of for what it actually is. If you were to ask yourself if things like bribery and rape are things that are truly best for everyone involved, directly and indirectly, and answer with anything but "no", then I would doubt your sanity and definition of the word (and concept) of "best". So, to make sure that we are on the same page, when I say "best for everyone" I mean that it gives everyone the best opportunity to fulfill their potential and not be abused or impeded by anyone or anything else.

How about I use a parent-child relationship as an example: a parent wants what is best for their child, but sometimes the parent projects their own desires and warps their idea of "what is best" to suit themselves, instead of recognising that they are actually imposing their own will onto their child. We all have a tendency of living this way in all aspects of our lives, we have lost the ability to be practical and objective, to recognise what is truly best in the absence of our own interests. When you are defining what is best for all it is absolutely imperative that you let go of your own ideas and look at the entirety of the situation objectively.

Now you may ask yourself again if things like bribery and rape are things that are truly best for everyone involved, directly and indirectly?

You could ask yourself the following question in relation to each and every one of your relationships in your life: Do I truly want what is best for this person, or do I want for them what I think is best? It is a hard question to ask, as we naturally believe with a very powerful conviction that what we want for someone is inherently what is best for them simply because we care for this person.