Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Let Them Have Oprah!

For years I have half-joked that if we want to solve the governance problems in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or any other backwards, belligerent country all we need to do is entice and enable all those nations' women to watch Oprah Winfrey. After such exposure, I surmised that the political scenario would change for the better, pretty damn fast.

Well what do you know? In reading SuperFreakonomics (SF) by Levitt & Dubner, I discovered that a very similar phenomenon actually occurred in India, of all places. It turns out that India (and China) are relatively inhospitable or even, downright cruel to women. Female fetuses are commonly aborted, and the prospects for those that survive are often grim. The Indian culture deprives women of higher education, tacitly supports wife-beating and generally, treats women in a sub-human manner. This doesn't happen everywhere in India but it manifests itself frequently enough to be well-known.

In SF they tracked areas where the situation had improved markedly for women and SF's findings traced the changes to television. It turns out that Indian villages obtained TV coverage and TV sets at different times. Those locales where TV became available showed dramatically better results with respect to a woman's treatment and human rights. I don't know if Oprah is on the air in India, but it seems that exposing people to what exists outside their enclaves does indeed foster behavioral changes in society...you can read the statistics for yourself in SF (incidentally, I really like the book.)

So if all this about India is true, and even making allowances for the fact that it is a democratic country, I think that if we plugged women in the Middle East into conduits like TV and the Web, that good stuff (by our standards) is bound to happen.

Periodically we have gone to war with troublesome nations like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, yet we pay little attention to the underlying sentiments that pervade the local population. We lost the Vietnam war simply because we did not understand how to oppose an enemy who hit, ran and used the countryside/local population as camouflage. Similarly, we do not comprehend Iraqis or the Afghans and we largely ignore their customs and tribal nature. After more than a decade of bellicosity, the Soviets were unable to conquer Afghanistan so what gives us the notion that we can do any better?

My Oprah quip is just a trivial expression for what I believe is needed in the Middle East. You can bet that when Obama soon explains his war escalation and exit strategies, he won't mention anything like educating the locals in western ways, using TV and media propaganda. Yet if it works in places like India, then isn't it worth a try in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Things Aren't Getting Any Better

Sorry that I have been absent for a while. Some medical problems got in my way but things are getting better now.

In the meantime, I have noticed that world affairs continue to deteriorate, and in the United States, issues such as unemployment, the Middle East wars, state and local financial troubles and such have reached disastrous proportions. In the link below, Bob Herbert, a NY Times columnist whom I admire greatly, explains rather pointedly how the unemployment situation has hit condition RED for those who are less than privileged, and especially those who aren't fortunate enough to work on (proverbial) Wall Street.

The financial community would have us believe that the salad days are here again, but who ever heard of the Dow topping 10,000 and gold besting $1,000 per ounce at the same time? Intuitively, that spells trouble to me. Meanwhile, the ill-conceived war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan now look like they will take decades to bear the fruit we are seeking, provided that we have the fortitude and resources (money and personnel too) to persist, and this seems highly unlikely.

Our politicians from Washington to Chicago are lost in rhetoric and in a non-winnable race to the bottom. Municipalities are looking to monetize their infrastructure by selling off things like parking rights, tax items and even bridges. I pity both the cities and the financial organization who are participating in this chicanery; the money the local establishments receive has already been spent and it is beyond me how anyone can achieve a long-term profit from 70-100 year leases on all this stuff.

Do I have any answers? Not really. That's why I use a hurricane as the graphic for this post; it is the most powerful force on earth and it is unstoppable. I am afraid that this is precisely what we are facing in a social context. Perhaps the United States can borrow from Germany's playbook, or even China's since in both countries, they have managed to resume (paltry) growth and preserve jobs, although they both have other problems (China=pollution, Germany=economic stagnation) with which to contend; but in the USA, we don't have the gumption to upset the political status quo. If what I am writing about here is even moderately correct, then next year's elections will devastate incumbents, and without a better Middle East war strategy (stop the fighting) and a concerted effort to resurrect jobs for the many disadvantaged, Obama and his entire Washington crew will end up confirming that they are the feckless ideologues that I believe they are. My biggest fear is that even with the best practices, wonderful innovation (currently stifled) and terrific luck, it will still take ten years or more to pull out of this mess.

Geez this really sucks?!

Here's the link to Bob Herbert's article: