Slavery In The World Today

I happened to tune to part of an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air program that caught my attention while I was driving home a few days back.  They were talking about slavery in the world today.  I was shocked for a couple of reasons.  The first was the realization that an institution that people have for a long time recognized as being abhorrent, and have condemned in the civilized world, still exists today.  In spite of all the technological and social advances in the world we have not found a way to uplift the life of so many people in all parts of the world.  In fact inequality probably exists to a far greater extent today than it ever did before. Would you believe that the statistics indicate that there are more than 20 million “slaves” in the world today?

You can also check out this older article on this topic from the Washington Post.

The second reason for my shock was the realization that a significant component of today’s slavery is due to the western world.  In our quest for cheaper goods and certain luxuries that we take for granted, we accept whatever process provides us with our  quality of lives with our eyes closed, and do not question how such a situation can come to be.  There has already been some publicity about how inexpensive clothes that are available in the west are sometimes created on the backs of exploited children in third-world countries.  But there are other aspects of our comfortable lives that are also dependent on the lives of exploited people.  I learned from the show that some of the rarer metals (cobalt , tantalum, etc.,) used in devices such as our smart phones for components like batteries and capacitors can come from slave mines in West Africa.  Folks, these are not just exploited people, they are real slaves with no freedom to live as they want.  The vendors manufacturing these products may actually not even know how exactly the raw material that goes into their products is obtained.   We, the consumers, are quite thrilled with getting a new, and very often subsidized, smartphone every other year for an inexpensive price from the service provider.  We consume so much of the product that the demand for the raw material cannot always be met by legitimate means.  There are consequences!

Think about it.  We are in the 21st century, and some of us have been fortunate to be able to live in circumstances where we do not have to worry about the basic necessities, and where we take a lot of what would be considered luxuries for granted, while at the same time there are people who are slaves who have nothing!   And if one is the cause for the continued existence of the other, humanity should be ashamed of itself.

But, surprisingly to me, I did find quite a bit of information while searching the Internet about this subject.  There is even a Wikipedia article on the topic.  There are organizations and people that are trying to bring attention to the problem.  There are people in this world with a conscience.  Here is one such link.

http://thoughtcatalog.com/daniel-hayes/2015/06/facts-about-modern-slavery/

 

The FCC and Set-top Boxes

The dramatic headline “The FCC is going to war over set-top boxes” brought back memories of the time I was dealing with regulatory issues in the world of entertainment.   I think some things will never change as long as there is big money involved and there exists the institution of lobbying.  The battle to change the existing paradigm regarding processing and delivery of entertainment content to consumer eyes from signals that are delivered to the home by the cable companies, and to a certain extent satellite TV companies, has been ongoing for years.  It is the traditional television content delivery guys trying to protect their turf against the home entertainment guys who want to expand the reach of their systems and control how the consumers interface with the cable TV guy’s signals.   If you think that the opposition to the current cable TV signal handling paradigm in the home comes from organizations that are trying to protect the consumer and have their goodwill at heart, think again.  It is companies like Google and Sony who are on the other side, with their own business interests at heart.

It is all about business and money at the end of the day.  And I have to throw up my hands and laugh at the absurdity of all of it, because all of this fuss, and the use of significant monetary resources, is about entertainment and the distraction of the population, something far removed from the more basic needs of the people at large.  While reading the article above I came upon this video from John Oliver from a long while back on the topic of Net Neutrality.  It is dated at this point but still hilarious!

There is another battle well underway in parallel in the entertainment world where the forces of business are trying to change the way entertainment actually gets into your home.  Companies like Netflix and Amazon actually deliver entertainment content via the Internet, which is of course a very non-traditional approach to doing things.  Considering that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are almost always the cable companies themselves, this leads to the development of interesting business strategies by the cable companies to try to optimize return to their shareholders, all of which is supported by suitable lobbying of the government that is hoped to result in regulatory regimes that benefit one company or the other.

For heaven’s sake, it is only entertainment!

The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

Moon at Monocacy Aqueduct100_1455

I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.

Just another story? The tale of Nature Boy

I suspect that many of us who inhabit the blogosphere today would be considered a little bit outside the mainstream.  We are most probably here because we think we have something to say; perhaps we have time on our hands; perhaps we have interests (hobbies?) that are provided an outlet though this medium; perhaps some of us are fortunate enough to belong to the minority who are in a position to lead lives beyond the seemingly never-ending need to earn a living.  Seen in this context, some of us may be considered a little crazy, and craziness in the eyes of the mainstream of society can sometimes take you in a different direction in your life.  Witness the story of Elijah Alfred “NatureBoy” Alexander, Jr that I found in the Washington Post today.  It includes the following quote:

“I’m the freest man in America.”

Reading the article led me to do some more searching about this gentleman.  I came upon another blogspot called Invisible People, and a page about the gentleman noted above.  The blog includes the following video interview.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GO3IULOrrlM#t=17

Many thoughts come to mind when reading about Nature Boy.  Some of them are perhaps captured in the comments that follow the Washington Post article.  Some of them come from reading about the lives of the Invisible People.  I wonder how many of us think we are qualified to pass judgement on people like Elijah Alfred Alexander, Jr? And do we think that the existence of the invisible people in our societies today is acceptable?  If anything, I think all of this is commentary on the kind of society that we inhabit today.  And I for one certainly think it is possible to do better.

The Tree (4/16/2005)

The old treeThe tree had seen many seasons pass by.  Its days as a young sapling were barely a memory. It had lived through many times of change, and survived many years, to grow into a fully formed master of the jungle, multi-branched and majestic in its span, held up by a strong and solid trunk, and fed by its well-spread and efficient roots that picked up nourishment from Mother Earth.

As a young plant growing up the thick woods, there was an element of uncertainty about its ability to survive. There were times when there was a doubt whether it would make it through the season, or even through the day. In those days, it did not have the strength and the knowledge to endure on its own. It was dependent on the creatures that lived around it, it was dependent on the earth and the skies – it was even dependent on the winds that blew through its young and growing branches.

But now it was a mature and strong ruler of its domain. It had seen many things, and gone through many experiences, both good and bad. It had become a wise one. (Of course, it had not traveled far and wide. It was a tree, for heavens sake!) It had known troubles and setbacks, and survived to fight another day. It had seen change, both in itself and in the things around it. It had known both happiness and sadness. It had experienced the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, it had withstood many a storm that shook its trunk and threatened the very core of its existence. When one of its branches suffered, perhaps from a bolt of lightning, or perhaps from an illness in its leaves, the tree found a way to survive. It could thank its strong roots and its other healthy branches that worked to keep it alive – each branch vibrant with the new leaves of spring, the flowers of summer, the multicolored hues of fall, and the whites of winter. The birds resting on its generous branches, singing happy songs, gave it pleasure. It had learned that the dark and gloomy winter that left it cold and shivering, would eventually be replaced by the rebirth in Spring. It knew that if trouble came to pass, it could survive because it had survived similar troubles in the past. Nothing could bother it. And it wished to be sure that its wisdom was passed along to the young ones.

It wanted to make sure that these young ones, the seeds that grew into saplings, and the saplings that grew into stronger plants, and then into trees, would know how to face the world, and also learn to recognize the gifts provided by the earth. It wished to show them the safe path amidst the dangers that lurked, and it also wished to help them experience all the good things that it had itself experienced. It knew that it had to be patient in its endeavors, and that it would not always be successful. It also knew that there would be a time when it could teach no more. It watched over the seed that had fallen far away, and hoped that it would still be able to learn in spite of its distance – that it would still listen, that it would realize that nothing survives in this world on its own.

It knew that its time would eventually pass, and that its roots would not be able to sustain it forever, but this bothered it little. It had survived to see what it wanted to see, and experience what it wanted to experience, and it had left its legacy behind in the trees and plants that had risen from its seed. It had helped many a creature of the woods, whether it was one that needed protection, or even some food, or whether it was one that just needed a comfortable trunk to rub itself against to remove the itch from its back. It had served its purpose and had left its mark on this earth! It did not matter if it happened to be cut down the next day. It did not matter if a flood washed it away along with its roots during the next thunderstorm. It was content.