Holiday Jeer

Painlessly short ideas for your holiday pleasure…

1. Development aid is like a kid getting a pair of goldfish for her birthday. In those first days, you can spend hours looking at the tank, watching the fish go about their business. Not much happens.  You can even talk to them, or tap on the glass.  Still, not much happens. Take a pinch of food flakes and toss it onto the surface of the water.  The fish dart to the surface and begin inhaling the flakes from underneath.  Press your forehead against the glass.  That’s better than Jacques Cousteau.

The next day your mother catches you feeding the fish again.  She warns against over feeding. But you can’t quite hold back.  You wait for your mother to disappear and then show friends how it works.  This is the thrill of your hand at work.  This is the reward and psychological satisfaction of causation.  And pretty soon your fish are belly up.

2. Good to see more awareness of the alarming persecution of homosexuality in places like Uganda, South Africa and Jamaica (e.g., here or here).  Typical reaction here is to think of that anti-gay violence as barbaric, as inherent in “their” lack of civilization.  Well, it is barbaric.  But is it something so comfortably foreign? On the news today I learned that the Queen used the Royal Prerogative of Mercy to issue a posthumous pardon for a 1952 conviction for homosexuality. British war hero (codebreaking) and mathematician Alan Turing was punished by chemical castration. Why does such a pardon require an act of mercy?  There is nothing merciful about it.  And why does it require 51 years?  As human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell opines: “I do think it’s very wrong that other men convicted of exactly the same offence are not even being given an apology, let alone a royal pardon.”

3.  Nice piece of journalism in yesterday’s Guardian (some interesting comments as well). Title: The State that Fell Apart in a Week.  Plenty of chatter in the twittersphere on the suddenness of the collapse. My own rather sarky take on it:  If it falls apart in a week, it wasn’t a state.  I’m not sure how to build a state, but you can cross ethically [oops, I meant "ethnically"] fuelled civil war off the list.  Ditto for destroying your oil industry and an outbreak of atrocities.

Without trying to sound either uncaring or self-absorbed, there is something quite telling and terrible about the impact of this emerging catastrophe on the international community.  Lots of international blood, sweat and tears, not to mention dollars, have poured into South Sudan.  It is fine to expect that the humanitarian community must once again muster a Herculean effort to feed the hungry, shelter the displaced, and set up a healthcare system; or that international militaries must enforce peace between the warring parties.  But let’s not begin with the World-has-failed-the-people-of-SouthSudan line of self-flagellation. The South Sudanese have failed themselves. And they’ve laid to waste an awful lot of hard work.

4. And because self-flagellation (or, at least, self-reflection) is often a valuable commodity … The international community constructed South Sudan’s house of cards nationhood through an almost comprehensive “partnership”.  Many will opine that the fickle finger of fault should be pointed in the direction of everyone from the UN to the US Government to all the big NGOs to George Clooney.  Many will opine that we must draw lessons and do it better in the future.  But I would go back to the goldfish story above before jumping onto the bandwagon of building a better South Sudanese state (or Somali, or Afghan, etc).

Happy Holidays

3 thoughts on “Holiday Jeer”

  1. Genial!

    Happy holiday, the truth is that long’m a follower of yours, but do not usually comment!

    And very good article, and I agree a lot with you in # 3 you get a lot right.

    A big hello and spend a good new year!

  2. Re-reading this article. I noticed the typo ‘ETHICALLY fuelled civil war’. Much better than the reality, methinks…

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