Monday, December 29, 2003

Ryszard Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist and writer who has elected travelling as his life, more than as his work. Kapuscinski has been choosing as destinations countries torn apart by feuds and wars and he has described the consequences of the latter not only at the political level, but first and foremost from the victims' perspective. His spirit of observation, sensitivity and evocative succintness make reading his works an actual "travel" experience, as well as an invitation to reflect upon the dynamics of power and, more generally, on human nature. [in italiano]

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

I read an article this week on health care policy by two writers, David Leach and David Stevens. It contains the following sentence: “Competence without compassion is not really competence, and compassion without competence is not compassion.” I tend to shy away from sayings and platitudes (to the extent that they obscure the real complexity of things), but these words - in combination with Fawce's post below - do trigger a thought that has been forming in my head for a while.... I find that in my interactions with people they fall into roughly two groups when it comes to their sense of obligation about how much they need to know before they offer an opinion - on sports, on politics, on art. One group is hesitant to have any position until they have thoroughly read through a point and the other, informed or not, takes a hard stance right away. My preference runs toward the former group but, given the demands on people's time, I wonder when you know enough to deposit an opinion. For instance, I haven't hesitated to form an opinion on the middle east but, as Fawce's post suggests, very few people know the geography of the region (I don't), the history of the place (I don't), its demographics (I don't) or needs of the average person there (four for four). So what, then, is our obligation as citizens, particularly in international affairs? Hard to say. To circle back to my quotation, though, I think that any person or organization that intends to do good work - George Bush, Joe McCannon, the World Bank, any one of thousands of (often useless) NGOs - cannot do so without being thoroughly informed...it is one thing to offer your opinion but another all together to take action in the name of compassion without knowing who you are trying to help. It seems like we lose sight of this a lot.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

washingtonpost.com has a very quick summary of various states and actors associated with terrorism. Such basic facts as population, size, location, religious demographics and recent historical events are presented. Reading these summaries revealed some surprising facts -- for example over 90% of Filipinos are Christian, and the recent spate of terrorist actions have been enacted by a very small minority of militant islamic fundamentalists; or Iranians are ethnically Persian not Arab.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The English language has by now reached the status of lingua franca throughout the world, to the point that the vast majority of people, to a specific question on their knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon idiom, answer “I know English!” (despite uttering a sequence of unintelligible sounds when it comes to using it). In many countries, including Italy, there is growing concern about the possibility of losing the heritage of the mother tongue, because of the invasion of internet caf├ęs, intercity trains and ministries such as welfare. In my view, the possibility of Italian being replaced by English is still a quite remote one (even though I had rather start worrying about it, since it would put me among the unemployed) and, in any case, there are some who fare worse than we do. DOBES is a Dutch program dealing with endangered languages, describing their history and giving the opportunity to listen to the sound of some of them. At least, if and when our language is on the brink of obsolescence, we will know whom to turn to…