Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Future of Global Poverty and Disease

-January 1st, 2008-
On this day of days, we have a whole year ahead of us, the future is bright...and it's also time to elect a new president. What kind of stake do you, if you are an American, have in the future of the United States and the world.

The ONE organization, engineered in part by U2's Bono, is a group dedicated to improving global health and ending poverty. ONE has launched a campaign called "On the Record" which asks America's presidential hopefuls about their past records and what each of them will do to alleviate poverty if they are elected president of the United States. In contemporary times, where globalization is one of the paradigms that defines our world, the president of the United States must be open to addressing not only our problems at home, but the issues that confront our foreign neighbors, particularly those issues related to economic, social and physical well-being.

Let's see how some of the candidates measure up. Skip down to watch the videos of the candidates that interest you. The Democrats are first, followed by the Republicans.


Joseph Biden (D)

Biden knows what he's talking about for the most part. He wants to change how we think of Africa while recognizing that it is a very diverse continent. He wants to help African help themselves and is committed to working directly with the African Union (AU). Biden knows AIDS is a transnational issue and has seen the studies that show abstinence programs are ineffective. He clearly knows more than to simply say AIDS is a problem. Biden brings up many other issues as well including debt relief, female empowerment, cuts to defense spending, lowering tariffs. Most importantly, he mentions that he will want to use mechanisms to measure the success of certain efforts like the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Malaria and TB. Without measuring success we will be throwing money down a bottomless pit. Overall I was impressed, though Biden's poll number are low hopefully he will use his experience and knowledge to bring more of these global issues to the table.

Hillary Clinton (D)

Hillary gets props for actually taking the time to submit her own video to the website and she knows the importance of the figures she cites. Unfortunately, since she had time to prepare her response, she sounds robotic and impersonal. Clinton wants to be known for her work to support the world's children. She goes on to say that maternal health is also important and emphasizes focusing efforts on girls, orphans and child laborers, without forgetting about the disabled. She brings up microfinance as a possible solution for economic empowerment, but does not elaborate. This also signifies that she will probably be against more radical bank reform designed to make the global financial system more equitable. She does want to increase the number of recipients of anti-retroviral medications for HIV/AIDS treatment, but does not highlight any of the issues associated with them, for instance stigma and food security. As with many of the candidates she wants to increase the resources used to fight global poverty, but places little emphasis on measuring the effectiveness of the various programs. Overall, seems knowledgeable, but makes financial promises without mentioning oversight.

Chris Dodd (D)

Another candidate with little support compared to the front runners, but with plenty of experience and understanding of the key issues. Dodd knows the numbers of annual child deaths and at what ages they occur. He recognizes that fighting global poverty and disease is a challenge that can not be met by the United States alone. Dodd gets bonus points for serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic in the 1960's and for knowing the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health, but he goes a bit too far in trying to seem like he's one of Bono's close friends. He want more accountability for the World Bank and the IMF in addition to more cooperation from multinational corporations in helping the countries in which they operate. Overall, he comes off as a personable leader that is actually dedicated to these causes. Like Biden, hopefully he'll help give some attention to global issues that might otherwise be ignored.

John Edwards (D)

It's difficult to take John Edwards too seriously when he's standing in front of a giant American flag, its just a bit much. His responses are mediocre though he seems committed to ending the conflicts in Darfur and northern Uganda. He wants to bring education to all of the world's children and mentions micro-lending as way for increasing incomes, but doesn't go into any detail. Edwards is one of the few candidates who mentioned improving sanitation as a way to prevent disease and he did briefly say that he would try to spend money effectively which is respectable. Overall, his responses seemed prepared even though it was an on-the-spot interview and I took offense when he said Africa was an issue he cared about - talk about generalizing. I have trouble connecting with Edwards because his candidate persona is very much a caricature of a politician.

Barack Obama (D)

When it comes to Obama, I want to like him, I really do, but his inexperience often shows. Maybe a fresh face would still be good for the Whitehouse, but we'll have to see. Obama's responses are solid, but not overwhelmingly moving. He knows issues of poverty and disease are truly global and wants to give Americans a stake in the future of the world. He places emphasis on funds for global schools and seems like he really understands the power of a good education. Obama is another candidate who mentions debt forgiveness for highly indebted African countries and makes an important link between climate change and poverty. He would like to encourage more sustainable agricultural practices and stresses building what he calls "human infrastructure world wide with skills training programs. A bonus for Obama, which he of course brings up, is that his father is from Kenya and so he has close ties to the developing world to this day. We'll see if he can mature as a politician in the coming months and an Obama administration would be a remarkable symbol of racial tolerance and upward social mobility.

Dennis Kucinich (D)

I like having Dennis Kucinich around, while he's a love-em-or-hate-em guy, he brings some seriously important issues to the table. His radical views about shaking up the domestic health care system and making the banking world more equitable are quite refreshing. He explicitly states that countries considered poor are actually very wealthy in terms of natural and human resources. And he too connects climate change to exacerbating the struggles of the worlds poor. Kucinich's idealism is something that, unfortunately, the country is probably not ready for, but his ideas and sense of humor will certainly liven the coming presidential debates.

Bill Richardson (D)

Richardson is one of the most genuine contenders for the presidency. As he often suggests, his resume is quite impressive and his experience in diplomacy all over the world would be very important. He mentions struggles in Zimbabwe, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and offers his plan for a "Marshall Plan of the 21st century." Richardson brings up concern associated with refugees and malnutrition, while suggesting microfinance as a possible solution to increase income generation in the developing world. He even congratulates Mohammed Yunus on his Nobel Peace Prize win for developing the concept of providing small loans to entrepreneurs to help expand there enterprises. On the other hand, in his plans for aid he doesn't mention attempts to use the money effectively and some of his statistics seem made up. Most of the world has never seen a cell phone? The view knows what he means, but the exaggeration doesn't help him much. Richardson should be considered seriously with the rest of the frontrunners.


Mike Huckabee (R)

Huckabee is a smooth talker, he has preaching in his blood and his oration skills are making him a rising star on the Republican side. In reality, he has little to no foreign policy experience and he may just be saying what he thinks people want to hear. Regardless, he vows to be a man of action and not meetings. He talks about how how clean water can prevent disease mentions the empowerment associated with microfinance. But honestly, who knows if he was briefed for the interview or if he is truly serious about addressing world issues.

John McCain (R)

I will always maintain some amount of respect for John McCain because he often non-partisanly co-authors legislation with democratic representatives. In addition, as a veteran, he is familiar with the hidden costs of war and what constitutes military torture, unlike some of his republican counterparts. He speaks about fighting corruption and the concept of America as a power dedicated to helping the less fortunate. He mentions clean the importance of clean water say he's committed to finding out which development strategies are effective. Overall, his brief talk wasn't particularly informative . While McCain's "straight talk" image separates him from his peers, for him that also means showing clear support for socially conservative legislation that would limit the freedoms of American and could lead to the overturing of Roe vs. Wade and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Plus, as a military man, he somehow maintains support for the nowhere war in Iraq. At least he knows what waterboarding is.

Mitt Romney (R)

Romney is a character and a mormon, but is trying too hard to appeal to everyone. His words about addressing global poverty and disease were pathetic. He maintains that a strong America will lead to a healthy planet. In his own words he says to reach the goal of a strong America a Romney administration will basically ignore the outside world for at least a year until we alright. I wont go as far as Thomas Friedman and say the world is flat, but I do admit that it's pretty damn connected at this point. To cut off ties with the world simply isn't possible. I may be exaggerating his point, but it was a foolish thing to even come close to suggesting. He rambles on about planning summits aout this and that when it's common knowledge that summits mostly good for wasting resources and making empty promises as opposed to taking any real kind of action. Romney's words are empty and he is entirely fixated on two things that he repeats incessantly. (1) He will make no decisions until he is elected at which point he will consult his advisors and therefore in the meantime he will avoid almost all questions and (2) we're all gonna die because of attacks undertaken by violent radical Islamic jihadists unless he takes office. Somehow he works jihad into every response he gives and vows to put an end to Middle Eastern "madrahsas" (the arabic word for any kind of school). Of course he is referring to educational institutions that he believes train children to be terrorists from an early age, but his point is lost because of his cultural insensitivity. Romney has had to put on a facade of being extremely conservative to win the Republican nomination, despite having a fairly moderate record and so he may not be as bad as he seems. But damn, the guy says some scary things.

Fred Thomson (R), Tom Tancredo (R), Duncan Hunter (R), Ron Paul (R) and Rudy Giuliani (R) all did not find it important to comment about the future of American foreign policy with regard to poverty and disease. Sometimes not saying anything at all can also be quite powerful (and convey a lack of seriousness). Choose wisely and examine every aspect of the politicians you are considering. Not voting is one thing, but voting without any real knowledge of the candidates agendas is pretty irresponsible.

Global Fund
President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)
Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photojournalism at Its Finest

I was browsing the New York Times Africa section in accordance with my daily mania and I came upon some remarkable images of the Democratic Republic of the Congo shot by a photographer named Lynsey Addario. The images found in the Africa section are often quite good when the Times actually find the time publish a worthwhile article, but I found Lynsey's photos particularly stunning.

As a photographer based in Istanbul, Ms. Addario captures documents political and social issues, especially those dealing with women, as they unfold in India, the Middle East and Africa. For the pair of articles that caught my eye, Ms. Addario teamed up with Lydia Polgreen, one of my favorite journalists who covers West and Central Africa. I often get the impression from Lydia's articles and video reports on the New York Times website that she is an incredibly hard working individual and the photos shot by Ms. Addario for the articles exude a similar combination of skill and work ethic. The result is an interesting, intriguing, informative piece of journalism.

Everyone should visit Lynsey Addario's website that includes photos from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Uganda and even Darfur in addition to the places already mentioned. Interestingly, Lynsey graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (my hometown) with a degree in international relations (same as me).

Whenever I view photographs that really set the scene for places and/or issues I envision those photographs as giant lightboxs or as the wallpaper for a whole room in my house, doors to another domain. Someday, I think, I'll visit those people.

Photos by Lynsey Addario

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


While I don't condone the mass hunting of whales, as shamefully desired by the Japanese government, I am in favor of small scale traditional community building events that involve hunting whales by native groups in Alaska, especially if there is an amazing photographic project involved. A website called The Whale Hunt is "A Storytelling Experiment" by photographer Johnathan Harris about just such an event. Harris details his trip to document an Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo village in an interesting manner ... he take a photo at least every 5 minutes for 7 days, ending up with over 3,700 photos.

The website is one of the most superbly designed sites of its kind and it very interactive, allowing viewers to choose photos from the entire trip as they are all displayed on the screen at the same time. You can also change the pace of the slideshow which corresponds to the rise and fall of a heart monitor. At times when there were many photos taken in a single minute, Harris says his own heartbeat increased as well. Every photo includes a time, date and title and an impressive number of them are quite good. What a way to ensure you never miss a moment, by never putting you camera away and setting it to shoot by itself at night.

This project is a testament of what can creatively be done with photography and I would like to see this technique be put to use with other subjects as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Leaders

Nicholas Kristof's column and blog have always proven to be excellent resources for me. Kristof has the ability to illuminate serious global issues like few others out there. He's also an ardent advocate of activism for social and political change. For these and other reasons, I wasn't surprised when I discovered Nick was named one of U.S. News and World Report's leaders of the year. One of the bright stars in a dark sky according to the editor of the publication. I've always been impressed with his ability to find new innovations (kiva.org) and give a voice to the voiceless all over the world (Darfur). It's very appropriate that he's being recognized in this way. You can watch a video about all of U.S. News and World Report's leaders including Michael J. Fox and Nancy Pelosi among others, or simply see Nicks segment.


All the Leaders

Interestingly, the article was written by Jim Yong Kim, one of the major forces behind Dr. Paul Farmer's organization Partners in Health (PIH), featured below in Tracy Kidder's book "Mountains Beyond Mountains." Both Farmer and Kim were themselves on U.S. News and World Report's list of best leaders in 2005. It's always interesting to be inspired by new people and to see how they link up with other inspiring individuals. There must be so many people out there worthy of admiration that I've never even heard of.

By the way, I read Paul Farmer's book "Pathologies of Power" after learning about him in "Mountains to Mounatains." While journalistic biographies can provide perfectly fine insight into peoples' lives, I find it's always better to hear things in the subject's own words to truly absorb their mentality. The concepts of health and human rights consume Paul Farmer and his book is a commentary about how he thinks global public health should be sytemized.

I'm a member of the book networking site called goodreads.com and on it you can list the books you've read and wish to read while rating them with between 1 and 5 stars. You can also write reviews of books featuring your reflections on their content. Since goodreads is a networking site, feel free to sign up and become my friend, just search for my email on the website - zach.rosen@gmail.com. I'm sure we've read some of the same books. I find it very interesting to see what other people rated the books I've read. I rated Pathologies of Power 4 out of 5 stars and here is my review:

"Pathologies of Power is the impassioned work of Dr. Paul Farmer (whose life was detailed in Mountains Beyond Mountains), a doctor on a mission to provide health care to the world's poor. In Pathologies of Power, Dr. Farmer discusses the systems that cause those living in poverty to suffer increased threats to their human rights, especially their health, a concept he terms "structural violence." He goes on to write that more must be done than simply researching and recognizing these human rights abuses, action or "pragmatic solidarity" must be undertaken to relieve the stresses endured by the poor. Dr. Farmer's theorhetcial background is based on Liberation Theology, which describes not only seeking to provide treatment to the poor, but preferential treatment. Too many projects are limited by talk of sustainablility and cost-efficacy, Farmer argues, and ideas based solely on prevention shamefully ignore those that are already ill. Beyond plans of giving charity or promoting development, to truly change the lives of the poor for the better, we must seek social justice. While I don't agree with all of Farmer's points, I side with him in many respects and I admire his serious approach to dealing with issues of human rights. There are many short poems and quotes interspersed throughout the book as well that act as further evidence in conveying his message, that the voices of the poor are being silenced in many places and we can stand for that no longer."

I'm not sure if that makes anyonme want to read the book or not, but regardless, see you on goodreads.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

New Mountains

I just finished the book "Mountains Beyond Mountains" about an extraordinary man named Paul Farmer. The book, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, details the life and achievments of Mr. Farmer, a doctor who has dedicated his life to providing healthcare to the poor. Dr. Farmer has worked tirelessly for the past 20+ years to improve the standards of living for the global poor by providing them with healthcare, regardless of cost. While the majority of his work has taken place in Haiti, Farmer's organization, Partners in Health, has since expanded its efforts to Peru, Russia, Rwanda, Lesotho and the United States. Farmer's passion to provide his patients with adequate care in the most adverse conditons is elegantly expressed by Kidder in the book. Farmer has no problem taking a 7 hour hike up a series of rocky hills to check to see if a patient has been taking his medicine. I found this book to be an excellent introduction into health literature, a realm which I hope to further explore in the future as I anticipate working in the global health sector.

The most enlightening part about reading "Mountains Beyond Mountains" was my first ever contemplation of actually becoming a doctor myself. I'm aware of the commitment of time, energy and financial resources required to become a doctor, but I've finally begun to take my life seriously enough to consider medicine as a viable option. It feels like a daunting task to become a doctor, but the skills and knowledge I would gain would be invaluable resources that would be more practical and satisfying than those of other fields. Can you imagine a job in which one could derive more pleasure than a career that involves saving lives? Having developed a perspective in which I view life through a global lens thanks to my education, I have already personally dedicated my life to bringing global inequalities to equilibrium. Will my avenue for achieving that goal be with healthcare? We'll have to wait and see.

Enjoy this short clip of Dr. Farmer

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

5 Million Dollar Mindset

The winner of the Mo Ibrahim prize for achievement in African leadership has finally been announced this week. Mo Ibrahim is a Sudanese billionaire who sponsored the prize to award the most impressive African leader who left office peacefully in the past three years. The running included 13 former heads of state, though according to the BBC, six of them took power through coups. The winner of the prize is to receive $500,000 per year for the next ten years plus $200,000 for every year after that, as well as up to $200,000 per year for projects to improve social welfare. The prize was conceived by Ibrahim as a way to dissuade leaders from corruption and to reward an individual who has dedicated their his or her life to responsible public service. Judges for the prize included former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, Nigerian minister Ngozi-Okonjo Iweala (posted about as a TED speaker below), and former prime minister of Tanzania/secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (OAU-now AU) Salim Ahmed Salim among others.

The winner of the Mo Ibrahim prize, as announced Monday by Kofi Annan, is Joaquim Chissano, former president of Mozambique. Mr. Chissano is credited with ending Mozambique's brutal civil war that raged from independence in 1975 to 1992, as well as voluntarily leaving office after two presidential terms. Mr. Chissano brought multi-party democracy to Mozambique in 1994 and encouraged women to participate in the political scene giving Mozambique the tenth highest ranking of all countries in the world in terms of percentage of women in national legislative bodies (parliament/congress) according to recent figures. Female participation in Mozambique is more than double that of the United States. Based on all the information I have read, Mr. Chissano seems like a very deserving choice for this extraordinary prize. I'm sure he has his faults, but regardless, his record stands as very impressive. I like Mr. Ibrahim's attempt to change our mindset about news concerning Africa. This is a strong effort to focus on the positive progress that has been made in Africa and the potential for additional improvement in the future. Not everything is about disease and war.

My favorite part about this whole affair is that when the winner was announced, Mr. Chissano was unable to comment because he didn't know he had won. He was in northern Uganda serving as a United Nations special envoy, helping to broker an end to the violence that has been occurring there for the past two decades. Now that is a man dedicated to peace and reconciliation.

Here is coverage of the prize, including an interview with Kofi Annan by Aljazeera

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Little+A Little=A Lot

I've come across a couple websites in the past few days that are worthy of mentioning. For both of them, the general concept is that if many people each contributes a little, everyone will achieve a lot.

The first is blackle.com, a black search engine powered by the media giant Google. Blackle was conceived when a blogger posted that Google could save an estimated 750 megawatt hours of energy per year by making their website black. Technically speaking black screens consume less energy than white screen, 74 watts for white and 59 watts for black. Blackle keeps track of the energy it has saved right on the webpage and so far the number is over 267,000 watt hours since the page's launch in January 2007 (there are 1,000,000 watt hours in a megawatt hour). I understand that few of us can decipher that technical jargon including myself, but I'm under the impression that were talking about some serious numbers here. Blackle also has other tips for conserving energy that you may find interesting as well. I have made blackle.com, my homepage because it functions just like google.com (my previous homepage) while actively saving energy. I encourage you to do that same. If you have a different homepage, then simply substitute blackle for the search engine you typically use. Of course if you have your own webpage it would help to make that black as well, though I imagine using blackle saves the most energy overall because it gets more web traffic than most pages, including this nice little black website known as Afro-Photo.

The other hotspot I urge you to explore is freerice.com This site is unique in that you can view it in two separate, yet intertwined, ways. It is a tool that can help you improve your vocabulary and it also is a place where you can donate rice for free through the United Nations World Food Programme to people living in extreme poverty. The website works by showing you a word and asking you to pick the best synonym from four other words. For every question you answer correctly, 10 grains of rice will be donated by sponsors of the program (you can seem them being added to a digital bowl). The site automatically adjusts the difficulty of the words based on how many you get right. In the past two days I've donated over 3,000 grains of rice and I've significantly developed my lexicon at the same time. The amount of rice may not seem like a lot, but first of all it is donated at no charge and secondly when many people play the game it adds up. On the 22nd of October, 2007 26,881,930 grains of rice were donated and that number is sure to increase as the site gains recognition and popularity (it has only been up about two weeks). So go check it out and see if you can best define the word:


The choices are:

polyphonic song




What do you think? If you know the answer to this one I'm sure you'll find some words that you've never seen before at freerice.com and if you have no idea you'd better go there and practice. Either way, go donate some rice, it's free.
(The answer to the above question is polyphonic song.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thanks TED for the Talking

Time for a little analysis of a few TED Talks. Remember TED, which stands for Technology|Entertainment|Design, is a group that brings together innovative thinkers to give short speeches about really important ideas. If you have the time to sit down and absorb one, or a couple of the 20 minute speeches there is the potential to learn quite a bit from experts in their respective fields who have probably dedicated their lives to the subject they are speaking about. I'm going to embed some of the talks that I've found most interesting so far, though there are plenty more videos regarding a variety of domains from speakers everyone will recognize like Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore (a recent Nobel Peace Prize Winner), and Bono.

Let me begin with James Nachtwey, probably the most respected photojournalist in the world. James specializes in conflict/social issue photography and has traveled the world photographing the most horrible events of the last few decades. His images are truly remarkable and many of them were taken before the advent of digital technology. He has the courage to capture the conditions that destroy communities, sharing his images with the world. James has seen disease, famine and war in nearly every corner of the world but his humble view of people as equals drives him to document their lives just the same. Most every photojournalist loves to do documentary projects that will allow them to take a journey for the sake of photographing a certain issue or cultural event. Unfortunately the opportunity to pursue such projects is rare, though James Nachtwey is one of the few photographers that is able to base his career on such assignments because of the prestige that goes with his work. He has worked in Bosnia, Kosovo, the West Bank, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Guatemala, Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Brazil and South Africa too name a diverse few. In South Africa he worked with and befriended Joao Silva, profiled in an earlier post, and the rest of the so-called "Bang Bang Club." If you want to be shocked by the power of his images, I suggest you go to your local library and browse his monsterous book titled "Inferno." The book is an uncensored collection of his most vivid work that will bring out your most guarded emotions. James Nachtwey is and will continue to be a Witness.

The next talk is about Design. William McDonough speaks about creating innovative designs that will benefit "all children, of all species, for all time. Co-author of the book Cradle to Cradle with Michael Braungart, William's talk follows the same themes of the book. The idea is that it is not enough to eco-efficient, designs must be eco-effective. Eco-efficient designs are ones that minimize the harmful effects a product or system has on people and the environment. An example of that is recycling paper. The problem with recycling paper is that you are just delaying the inevitable transformation of the paper into waste, as the more times the paper is recycled the weaker it becomes. An ideal eco-effective design involves no waste whatsoever. Every aspect of the product or system of an eco-effective design creates byproducts that benefit the world we live in in the form of compost or is infinitely recyclable without losing quality. Because of the industrial and technological revolutions we have participated in, the average contemporary process of design involves plenty of waste. Intelligent designers (no religious connotations) need to find materials that will be safe throughout the lifespan of their creations. As we become more conscious of greener design that takes many of its cues from Mother Nature herself, we will move towards William's goal of designing for all children for all time.

The final two talks cover the important debate surrounding the controversy of relying on aid for development. Both speakers gave their talks at the Global TED Conference 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania this year. Andrew Mwenda and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala both make excellent points about the issue. They have fairly different views, but can come to some agreement on certain aspects of the debate. Both of them end up stressing aid is alright, but only if it ends up being used on projects that will have a positive and lasing impact. Contrary to the theories of aid advocates like Bono (what are his credentials again?), Mr. Mwenda suggests that doubling aid arbitrarily or pouring aid into the administrations of developing countries is not a good idea. These leaders are often corrupt and manage the money poorly to say the least. In addition, when services are paid for by aid money it causes domestic populations to be less creative and entrepreneurial because solutions are being imposed from the outside. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala counters by arguing when you live in poverty, you do not care whether the doctor that saves the life of a relative is paid with aid money or not. Aid can save lives and aid can build infrastructure that can lead to increased incomes. Overall, the debate is quite enlightening and the conclusion clearly is that aid can be used for good, but is often wasted. Feedback is essential and not all aid projects are beneficial.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Should We Tell Africa?

I'm always amazed at how so many people know so little about the world they live in. While it would be quite the feat to be familiar with the cultures of every corner of the globe, many people simply don't care what goes on outside of their own lives. This global lack of a human connection really bothers me and it prevents humanity from working together to solve the world's problems.

To highlight this point, I have included a couple short clips from The Onion News Network, a collection of videos based on the satirical Onion Newspaper, started in my home town Madison, Wisconsin. Represent. America's finest news source always knows how to put things into perspective.

In The Know: Is Our Wealth Hurting Africa2019s Feelings?

In The Know: Situation In Nigeria Seems Pretty Complex

Kind of sad, but hopefully kind of inspiring.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Better Than Bad, It's...

Simple, elegant, good, it caught my eye not once but twice. It, was the magazine called GOOD and once I actually read it, I was hooked. GOOD is a relatively new publication about ideas. Or as they put it, "through a magazine, feature and documentary films, original multimedia content and local events, GOOD is providing a platform for the ideas, people, and businesses that are driving change in the world."

GOOD publishes articles about the realities of life and how people are making life better. You can discover new products and services like a power strip that cuts power to appliances that are switched off, preventing the unnecessary use of standby energy, saving you money and helping the environment. In Brooklyn there is a smoothie bar where you can save a dollar on your smoothie if you blend it yourself with a bicycle-powered blender. Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles works with gang members to keep them off, drugs, remove their tattoos and help find them jobs.

The writing in GOOD is excellent/superb and it reminds me of the alternative magazine at Colorado College, The Cipher. GOOD is probably what the Cipher would love to be, if you take the Cipher's obsession with hipsterishness out of the equation.

GOOD also gives a plethora of interesting statistics like 75 percent of pesticides sprayed from crop dusters blow away rather than reach their intended field. And:

The magazine comes out every two months so you know the issues will be packed with worthwhile features and many of their articles as well as other intriguing musings like videos and such can be found on that website, goodmagazine.com. Some of the videos are quite well constructed design-wise and the music is usually unique and fancy-tickling. Here are a couple of my favorites including one whose relevance to my life will grow in the coming months:

Another one of the funkilicious reasons to like GOOD is that if you subscribe through certain venues, they will donate 100% of the price to organizations working towards a better world, including Ashoka, the group featured in the book "How to Change the World" that I've written about below. So far GOOD has raised over $38,000 for Ashoka alone.

If I was ever to dabble in the media world I would look for a place like GOOD. Hopefully I'd be GOOD enough.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Human Renaissance Part One-Biofuels

The age of fossil fuels has ended. The time of mindless consumption is over. We've all been lazy. But now its time to redeem ourselves. It may take extra time, effort and money to live and design with more sustainability, but isn't our planet worth it?

One solution is to promote research and development in the field of biofuels. It's quite sad that the word "biofuel" is still a misspelling in Microsoft Word. It should be part of our everyday vocabulary. In an effort to appease the oil companies, the Bush Administration, while finally acknowledging climate change, has allowed the oil giants to overemphasize the benefits of their primary biofuel - corn ethanol. In reality, it is clear that ethanol will not be the solution to our massive problems.

Corn ethanol is actually quite pathetic compared to other potential and viable biofuels. Ethanol is not worth the energy that it takes to create. In an amazing article (the cover story "Growing Fuel") in National Geographic this month, the magazine reports that for every 1 unit of energy consumed to produce ethanol, the result is only 1.3 units of fuel, fuel that is weaker than conventional gasoline. While we encourage an unprecedented level of corn production domestically and overseas where farmers have replaced some food crops with corn (risky business if prices fall), other natural materials exist that are actually worth pursuing.

Brazil has been producing ethanol for years, but it's sticky liquid is of another variety. Brazilians use sugarcane to make their ethanol with amazing results. For 1 unit of energy used to make cane ethanol the result is 8 units of fuel. Cane also emits 56% less greenhouse gases than gasoline and yields twice as many gallons of fuel per acre as corn ethanol. In Brazil, cane ethanol is even cheaper than gas. While the climate of the United States is far from conducive to growing sugarcane, cane ethanol is an example of a biofuel that is actually worth investing in.

For Americans the answers could be found in further developing the technology to harvest fuels from plant cellulose and algae. Cellulose are the sugar molecules that form plant cell walls. And if the processes can be developed to make ethanol from this material, that means that the typical agricultural byproducts - stalks, leaves, grasses, and sawdust - could be utilized to produce up to 36 units of energy with the input of 1 energy unit, all with 91% less greenhouse gas emissions. The drawback at this point is cost, but it sounds worth pursuing. Wired magazine also ran a nice feature this month on cellulose called Switch., as in switch grass, one of the crops that could be a major fuel source. Algae is the plant with the most potential. It grows in wastewater and needs little sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow. Under the right conditions algae can double in mass in hours. Algae produces starch which can be processed into ethanol. The research is far from complete in terms of actually mass producing algae biofuel, but while an acre of corn can equal 300 gallons of ethanol per year, preliminary numbers suggest algae could yield over 5,000 gallons.

For developing countries that rely on agriculture while not possessing the most ideally arable soil, there exists a crop of increasing popularity that could produce biofuel in sub-par conditions while not drastically affecting food crops. It is called jatropha and it has been reported on in the New York Times and New Agriculturalist. Jatropha, traditionally considered a weed in some areas, can grow in dry dusty climates with little water. The jatropha seeds are what are eventually produced into biofuel. It's tenacious disposition and the fact that it can be grown along rows of food crops makes it ideal for much of the developing world, especially northern Africa where it has seen some success in Mali. Though subsistence African farmers shouldn't spend all their incomes on jatropha seeds quite yet, studies have demonstrated that its cost and energy output seem reasonable. Who knows whether the promise of these alternative biofuels will come to fruition, but hey I'd give 'em a shot.

In my research surrounding biofuels, I've concluded that until further pro-biofuel research has been published, the best thing the average consumer can do is vote for change politically and vote with their dollars. Support candidates that aren't tied down to huge influences like the oil companies and buy products that are socially and environmentally conscious. People talk about what the best gas stations to fill up their tanks are, but I've found that there are none. All the companies have poor human rights and environmental records. I propose you drive less or carpool and pay attention to new technologies as they mature. To truly reverse the damage we have caused to our planet all of us need to get involved, not just some of us. Let others know how they can consume less or consume more responsibly. The costs of acting now may seem high, but they will be nothing compared to the burden we (and future generations) will experience if we don't act. Pay attention. Inform yourself.

Photos by Candace Feit, Dan Winters

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Photographer Until Death

I was navigating through the New York Times website this evening when I came to an incredible photograph. Naturally I looked to the bottom right hand corner of the photo to check the credit and I wasn't surprised with what I found.

The image was taken by Joao Silva, a South African photojournalist and co-author of the book "The Bang Bang Club" written with Greg Marinovich. The "Bang Bang Club" details the hectic lives of four up and coming photojournalist in South Africa covering the brutal urban conflicts characterized by tribal violence known as the Hostel War in the years (the early 1990's) leading up to a democratic South African Administration. The four main photojournalists/friends unofficially known as the Bang Bang Club by their peers risked their lives on a daily basis to capture the horrific violence happening in the urban slums of Johannesburg.

Two of the four ended up winning Pulitzer Prizes for Photography, the highest honor in the field of photojournalism. Two of the four also ended up dead as a result of their high stakes career, Ken Oosterbroek was shot and killed covering the Hostel War and Kevin Carter committed suicide based on the twisted ethics of conflict photography. Silva and Marinovich wrote the book to shine light on the dangers of photography and to immortalize the lives of their lost friends.

Today Joao carries on the legacy of the Bang Bang Club as he continues to work in conflict zones all over the world. Now that is dedication. Joao is determined to document human-initiated atrocities for all to see to ensure that no deadly event is ignored or forgotten. These blemishes of humanity must be displayed and addressed so theoretically fewer will suffer needlessly in the future and justice will be served.

Here is Joao's photograph depicting the chaos he seeks to capture and that of his own tortured past. This photo is of Iraq. If you like the image, check out Joao's website as well as his book, "The Bang Bang Club."

I respect Joao Silva immensely.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Free Kristof, Kristof for Free

Its about time. The New York Times online finally ended their silly Timeselect subscription feature that locked certain articles, columist blogs and limited how far back readers could access articles in their database. Now the casual news browser can read an opinion column and then check out the blog of the author and see what other items of interest have been posted online by them.

Nick Kristof has been my favorite New York Times writer for a while now and it has been a treat to read what thoughts he has to share online that never are seen in print. On his blog called "On the Ground," Nick often includes video features on his blog from his travels to Africa (including Darfur), China and the Middle East. He highlights stories of struggle and stories of success. Right now however, his blog is better than ever and Nick hasn't posted in weeks.

Nick is currently writing a book about the rise of China and has thus taken some time off from his gig at the Times. To fill the void however, Nick asked a few friends to post articles in his absence, resulting an interesting mix of opinions and subject matter from African development to engaging lower income students in schools. The website has actually gotten better not worse without Nick (no offense). Here is a list of the writers and an impressive one at that:

Kurt Campbell is an expert on Asia and security issues who is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security.

Will Okun is a Chicago school teacher who traveled with Nick Kristof in June to central Africa, on his win-a-trip contest.

Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda. He’s an unusual mix of academic expert and mud-between-the-toes aid worker.

Steve Radelet is a development expert who has lived for many years in Africa and Asia, taught at Harvard, and worked at the U.S. Treasury. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington and economic advisor for President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is an international lawyer and the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. Anne-Marie is the author of “The Idea that is America,” and she is spending this academic year in Shanghai.

Joseph Stiglitz is a Nobel-winning economist who has written incisively about the costs of our involvement in Iraq.

Naka Nathaniel is a NYTimes.com multimedia journalist and he frequently travels with Nick Kristof.

Not bad. It is also great to see the comments from other readers that show up in response to each post. Hope any curious New York Times reader will find something worthwhile at Nick's site. If not, there's always Fox News.

Photos by Will Okun and Ian Christmann

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

To Buy African? -Have Your Say

There is another really interesting BBC Have Your Say question this week I just had to highlight it, especially because it relates to the fair trade debate from the last post. This week's multi-part question is:

When you go shopping, do you consider where what you buy comes from, or do you just look at the price?

Do we do enough to support African farmers, suppliers and companies or is it more prestigious to buy western products?

African countries are currently negotiating a new trade deal with the European Union which could possibly lead to African markets being fully open to foreign produce.

Could Africa withstand such competition or does it still need some form of protective trade barrier?

After researching fair trade for the last post, I was able to clearly explain the benefits of buying fair trade today in the produce section where I work. I recommended a fair trade South African navel orange over a non-fair trade organic valencia. The customer really did care that the African farmer was treated well and received a fair price. That being said, I'll share a few of the posts at the BBC forum that really characterize the trade issue:

"You see, African goods are mostly farm products and raw produce. In Africa there is the mentality that if you have a European, American or Japanese goods you are better off than some one else. This is an economic taste of the poor. African consumers preference is guided by taste."

Obwota Omwony, Magwi, Sudan

"If people really want to help Africa, they should boycott buying their products which would send a clear message to the corrupt African governments that they should make their people's welfare a priority instead of relying on the rest of the world to constantly bail them out. This may sound rather cold - but when handful of men live in total luxury while the rest of country starves..."

Russ Higgins, Leamington Spa, United Kingdom

"With so many of us surviving on nothing (never mind the usual nonsensical reference to $1 a day), how many of us actually have the means to buy anything, home-made or imported? This is yet another attempt to divert critical attention from the real issue: our rulers' inability or unwillingness to create the basic institutions and infrastructure, without which we can never be in a position to engage in any sustainable economic activity."

AKPAN, Kent, UK/Nigeria

"The west is beginning to address the problems of Africa now; by re-addressing the unfair trade barriers between Africa and the EU. It is about time, the EU consumer, put their money where their mouth it; by actually buying "made in Africa" instead of the local produce, to help eradicate poverty and improve developments in Africa. Buy African produce instead of attending the so called " make poverty history" concerts with no African artist on the list!. I know which one I will go for."

modupe, London

"African goods should always come first. If we Africans fails to patronise our own, who else is going to? By buying our own products, we are keeping the money in the continent, creating job and boosting our economy. We Africans need to cultivate the habit of patronising our own first before going to the West or East. It is time for the West to open up their market for inflow of African products. Tit for tat is fair play."

Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

Alright, now time for my comment:

"With the subsidies that European states are able to pay their producers, removing trade barriers would hurt African producers significantly. Even food "aid" from the United States ends up competing with African goods. African producers have it hard enough already and they can use all the help they can get. I say if you can, buy African. The nature of the world market is incredibly flawed and must be changed, but in the meantime let's make it as fair as it can be."

My comment was informed by a New York Times article about the Aid organization called CARE. CARE turned down millions in federal funding for food aid this year because the distribution system is designed mostly to benefit American companies as opposed to feeding the hungry, and highly subsidize American goods could compete with goods produced domestically in Africa. I admire CARE's stance in opposing the food aid system and I hope they get more support from it. When it comes down to it, the realm of development could use a lot development itself in actually becoming useful for raising standards of living and lifting people out of poverty.

As I took a break from working, near the end of my shift tonight I sipped on a pomegranate and goji berry tea made by Honest Tea with fair trade rooibos from South Africa (red tea) and damn did it taste good. African products can be delicious, I just wish they didn't all come from South Africa.

Photos by Evelyn Hockstein/New York Times

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Fair Trade Debate

Working in a market where we sell fair trade products I wanted to know more about this rising certification. The Fair Trade label is has been spreading rapidly as of late and it cannot be ignored anymore. In principle the idea of leveling the market playing field with fair trade is a good one, but not everyone thinks so.

Fair Trade principles include:

-Fair prices: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.

-Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

-Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.

-Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.

-Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

-Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.

Fair Trade is currently the main answer the question of whether the market is fair. But is Fair Trade the only answer and are there other questions we should be asking? Please watch this short film promoting fair trade made by Transfair, the only United States Fair Trade certifier.

Find more videos like this on EQ CONNECT

The idea seems glamorous enough and I agree with all the principles, especially the idea of ending child labor by ensuring children go to schools with scholarships, but there has been some debate that has arisen as to whether this is the right way to deal with market failures that perpetuate poverty.

One argument is that establishing price floors for goods such as coffee will encourage many more producers to go fair trade and this will lead to oversupply and lower prices for producers. In reality fair trade currently represents only a small percentage of world trade and there is significant room for additional demand. In addition, Producers in developing countries may deserve to earn more because their goods are undervalued. Fair trade also represent only a niche in each individual market and doesn't threaten to take over industries.

Others argue similarly that when more people join the fair trade sector and produce, prices could fall hurting non fair trade producers. To counter that argument, evidence suggests that fair trade raises prices across the board by improving infrastructure and distribution systems which lower the costs for distributors and allows them to pay more. I'm not quite sure about either of these perspectives at this point. I think more research will have to be completed as fair trade increases in popularity to witness the effects on non fair trade producers.

Another opposition is that fair trade typically only deals with cooperatives of small farms and ignores plantations or large individual farms. The counterargument to this would seem to me to be that the individuals that need to be most educated about about working conditions, agricultural chemicals and trade would be the small producers. Maybe in the future the programs could expand to include farms of various sizes granted they were admitted to the cooperatives. The cooperatives are essential in being the educating body.

As you can see, a full length research paper could be written about the controversy surrounding fair trade, but there is one more essential argument that I need to bring up, though countless other questions remain (Why only one US certifier? Which countries can be fair trade?). Fair trade does not fully address the true cause of the unfair market which is the establishment of huge farming subsidies in the United States and Europe. This question unfortunately has no answer at the moment, but in my opinion this is what really needs to be focused on. I think fair trade is an acceptable short term solution until the world economy is ready to be restructured enough to allow for legitimate equal competition.

Images from Transfair.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

African Governance-Have Your Say

BBC Africa runs a weekly feature that I often browse called "Africa Have Your Say." The idea is to pose a question and solicit responses from Africans and readers interested in African affairs like myself. This past week's question was about "governance. Inspired by a $5 million dollar African leadership prize to be given to the best African leader proposed by Sudanese businessman Mo Ibrahim, the "Have Your Say" feature asked people how their country ranks and what qualities define good governance. The Ibrahim Index which rates Sub Saharan African states on their governance was released this week and Nelson Mandela has said that he supports this initiative to celebrate Africa's new leaders.

Mo Ibrahim

The responses as usual were quite diverse and intriguing. With some solid debate having been stimulated. Some people were happy to see a new source of motivation for African leaders to improve the standards of living for their constituents while other were pessimistic saying that African leaders cansteal much more money than 5 million if they want to. The following is a taste of some of the answers.

First the positive responses:

"With the exception of places like Zimbabwe and Sudan, most of the African nations seem to be pulling themselves up to embrace and demonstrate good governance principles. In my estimation, leaders like Paul Kagame of Rwanda deserve credit for ensuring his country is up and running just a few years after the genocide. It still remains to be seen how much democratic space Mr. Kagame allows."
Sammy Wanyonyi, Minneapolis

"The Mo Ibrahim award is a good initiative. In future, I believe, it will focus well-meaning African leaders on selfless service to their countries, banking on the 'good leadership insurance', which they can access while in office or when they leave office. I call on other African philanthropists to also consider extra-ordinarily gifted African youths for higher education and training, e.g. in science and technology."
John Odey Okache, Abija, Nigeria

Now the negative:

"Surely none of the current African "leaders" will qualify for this. The great majority of them, from west to east, are corrupt.
God save Africa."
Walelign, New York

"I don't think many of the leaders of the countries in question will care. Why would they make an effort to come top of this index when they already receive similar sums in 'Aid' from the West.It will take more than this to root out the endemic corruption in African governments."
Huge Canoe, Up a creek, without a paddle, United Kingdom

Nigeria is a country of blind guides masquerading as lords over helpless non violent people; overburdened and overwhelmed by the frauds of many years, resisting with cautions of the oppressors barrels in view. A nation of imposed lords bereft of political understanding, renowned academic misnomer juggling seats rejected by dons
Our leaders are imposed and the world is aware. May God help Nigeria
Macaulay Akinbami, Lagos-Nigeria

There are those that love their countries:

"I love my country, Zambia and its people but I'd rank my government very low over where its loyalty lies; China suspended investment in the copper mines to send a message about the diplomatic & economic consequences of Sata winning last years presidential election just because he said that he'd recognise the independence of Taiwan; seems my government puts China's interests before Zambias. China's looking after China and my government allows it to do so; my people's interest need to come first."
Samantha Phiri, Zambia

"I actually love my country Nigeria. But my problem with it is there is no law and order."
Kabeer Abdul, Gusau

Others found problems with the Ibrahim Index:

I believe the Republic of Somaliland aka Africa's best kept secret and one of Africa's few success stories, should rank somewhere in the top half if only it wasn't lumped with Somalia. Somaliland is independent although yet to be recognised as a sovereign state. In terms of democracy, good governance, security and human rights, the criteria on which this is based on, the contrast between Somaliand and Somalia couldn't be greater. The two countries are on opposite sides of the scale.
Idris, London

Not actually being from Africa myself I offered what I thought represented qualities of a good government (within the space requirements):

"Part of good governance is allowing for healthy criticism which would come from a free press. Allowing the formation of opposition parties is also essential as is ensuring their political rights, including the right to demonstrate. Corruption is a force that plagues even the most stable countries, yet a country governed well will see progress in the fight for corruption's demise. A good leader takes action, but makes decisions thoughtfully after weighing all perspectives."

An interesting forum indeed. I will be curious to see which leader eventually wins the prize (one of the judges is former Unites Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan). In the most recent Ibrahim Index, the top ten governed countries as rated on 5 main criteria (Safety and Security, Rule of Law/Transparency/Corruption, Participation/Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, Human Development):

Cape Verde
South Africa
Sao Tome et Principe

It it interesting to see that 4 out of 10 of those well governed countries are actually small island nations, including 3 of the top 4, the outlier being Botswana.
Now lets look at the bottom ten from worst to "best":

Democratic Republic of the Congo
Central African Republic
Sierra Leone

Not too many surprises here, though with the recent victory of an opposition party in Sierra Leone there is renewed potential for stability and growth. A more in depth analysis of the criteria as well as more information about the prize can be found on Mo Ibrahim's website moibrahimfoundation.org.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Good Times

The cemetary in my neighborhood seemed like an interesting place to do some long exposure photography. There's plenty of room for experimentation with long exposures and it makes consider the complexity of photography as time becomes a serious element in the equation. Now of course the length of the shutter speed is always important, but at night time what becomes even more apparent is movement and the source of your light. Check out these couple of photos from my cemetary adventure. Don't worry, I have more ideas and hopefully I'll try them soon.

The second photo is of David Lesh, my current house-mate. Tomorrow he will be resurrected on the big screen when Level One Productions premieres their ski movie Real Time in Boulder, Colorado. You can check out a preview of the movie on the Level One site featuring my man Thom Yorke's "And It Rained All Night" as the soundtrack.

Cherish the good times while they last.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Social Entreprenuership

I recently finished the book "How to Change the World" by David Bornstein about people that fall into the category "social entreprenuers" and an organization that seeks to promote their work called Ashoka. Social entreprenuers as defined by Ashoka are people who "have innovative solutions to social problems and the potential to change patterns across society. They demonstrate unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity, and collaboration are tremendous forces for change." These people basically are innovators in civil society who have created powerful non-govenmental organizations.

This book unlocked the world of social entrprenuership for me. Before reading "How to Change the World" I had no idea that such a term existed and that there exists a network to assist and fund their work. The back of the book provided a number of websites for other foundations like Ashoka and links to networks where the stories of social entreprenuers are told and discussed online.

Ashoka (ashoka.org) itself is a pretty amazing organization. Founded by Bill Drayton in 1980, it is now the leading organization that supports creative civil society projects worldwide. To date Ashoka has sponsored around 1,500 social entreprenuer fellows, lending consultation services and financial support so the fellows can focus on their programs. The process of discovering new people however is very selective, but the ones that are picked definately have an impact.

93% of fellows have had their work replicated by others.

and over 50% have influenced policy change on the national level.

(So the graphics are pretty hard to read but they back up the statistics. If you click on it it will show the graph more clearly with a white background)

Beyond Ashoka, I have found the social entreprenuer network Social Edge (socialedge.org), a program of the Skoll Foundation, very interesting. It features the stories of Peace Corps volunteers that have made a huge difference either in their Peace Corps communities or since returning with valuable experience. Social Edge has blogs from social entreprenuers as well as interviews that ask how people see what the world will look like in 2017.

One of the featured blogs is "The Kiva Chronicles" written by one of the people who started kiva.org, the website where people can lend $25 microcredit loans to small businesses all over the world. While this has been an innovative venture to start a microcredit lending system on the internet, the original concept or microloans was first discovered by Mohammed Yunus, a Bangledeshi professor, in bangledesh in the 1970's. I found the Kiva Chronicles blog a good read because I have used the service and because it is an interesting account of a growing project by the project's creater. Matt Flannery of Kiva writes about new features to the website and their implementation as well as the site's traffic prior to and after he and his wife Jessica (the other co-founder) appeared on Oprah earlier this month. In case you wanted to know, here are Matt and Jessica talking about the founding of kiva.org, an interview also found on Social Edge. They say kiva was the solution to a pre-marital problem.

Coincidentally, David Bornstein, the Author of How to Change the World is also interviewed.

I'm realizing that many things that I'm interested in are connected as I explore networks like social edge and read books like How to Change the World. There are many ideas out there that need to be perfected and that haven't even been thought of yet. Maybe someday I'll figure out how to change the world.

Friday, September 14, 2007


There's a new photo agency in town called Noor Images that was recently created by a small group of Nine photographers. All of the photographer are well travelled and have impressive client lists while maintaining diverse and unique image-capturing styles.

I was alerted to them because one of the photgraphers, Kadir van Lohuizen, has worked with Niicholas Kristof, one of my favorite New York Times journalists. And actually I had been familiar with his work even earlier, but without knowing it, when I clipped an impressive black and white photo (featured above) of people in Chad from TIME magazine to use with paper I was making. The image was one of TIME's images of the year. The agency site is worth checking out not only because of the splendid collection of images, but because the site is very well designed. The way the images are portrayed is BIG. They try to fill up as much of the browser wind as can with an image, a simple concept, but one I have never seen executed quite so effectively.

The documentary subject matter varies from refugees and conflict in North Africa (including Darfur) as well as sexual assault victims in South Africa, illegal immigrant in the United States, militias in Iraq, political and social unrest in south east Asia...something for everyone.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Grainy Goodness

While shooting color film with a 35mm camera just isn't practical or affordable anymore if you have a digital camera, it can still be fun and its a good test to see if you still can produce good photos when there's no screen on the back of your camera giving you instant feedback. Anyways, it can really be relaxing to take a stroll in your respective neighborhood and capture with your film camera anything that catches your eyes. There's just something about film, the wonder of it, it actually exists right there in your hand. And the grains, those grains, those wonderful grains... Black and white will live on for some time, but color 35mm is fading from our memories.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Finally I've Seen Femi

The time has come for me to review the live performance I recently saw of the great Femi Kuti, son of Fela Kuti. Having just moved to Boulder, Colorado, I naturally checked the flyers posted downtown to see if there were any upcoming shows featuring African music. For some reason I found no such flyers, but remarkably I still managed to hear about a concert being put on by Femi Kuti and his band the Positive Force. I was incredibly delighted because Femi is certainly one of my favorite African musicians and I was able to see his younger half brother Seun earlier this summer.

Eager to make the comparison I set out on an old squeeky cruiser bike and headed to the show. The typical African crowd that faithfully attends shows like this was in full force, some wearing hip funky outfits and others sporting more traditional garb. I entered the theater, downtown Boulder's Boulder Theater and went right to the front. The scene was relaxed as the show was for people 21+ and thus I had no problems finding my way to the front.

Before long the band was dancing on to the stage and Femi was in command. Omitting the instrumental introduction of Seun's concert, Femi joined the band immediately and began to play his songs. Femi eased the crowd into the music, nothing too intense from the beginning, but as the music quickly picked up the crowd moved more and more. Contrary to the almost choreographed moves of Seun and Fela, Femi was more likely to be shaking furiously to the beat and often stuck poses at the end of his songs. He played all of his well composed and very danceable hits including Beng Beng Beng (during which he gave a lecture on the importance of sex education), Stop AIDS, If Them Want to Hear, 1-2-3-4, Bring Me the Man Now plus many more and of course a couple of tributes to Fela including his masterpiece of a song '97 and his cover of a Fela classic Water Get No Enemy.

His age and experience as a musician really set him apart from Seun. Playing the keyboard, trumpet and at least two kinds of saxophone he was clearly a master of his trade. At one point during the show he showed off his impressive circular breathing technique by playing a couple of notes for a good three or four minutes. It was a pleasure to see him perform and really enjoy himself as the sweat poured off both of our faces. As he bowed and exitted the stage, my fist shot into the air. Power. At the end I waited hopefully to possibly shake his hand, but was thwarted as he used a different exit and boarded his bus. I'm now only 2 for 3 on African musician handshakes. Overall however, it was a wonderful show not to be missed by any who may have the opportunity. And he remains one of my all time favorites. If you want the incredible experience of a Femi concert, but are not able to see him live then pick up his DVD Live at the Shrine and you will be similarly moved.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Windmill William: The Movie

The video footage of William Kamkwamba from the TED Global conference in Arusha Tanzania has finally been put online. If you recall, William was a Malawian student who was forced to drop out of school because his family was no longer able to afford it. With his new freetime William built a windmill to generate electricity for his house. Eventually he succeed and received some publicity for his work. The video shows him being interviewed on stage in Arusha about the project. Very inspiring.