Sports vs. Violence

PeaceI started working on this post weeks ago and had a different opening focused on gun violence in the U.S. Then this happened: a Honduran soccer player who played a couple years ago for my favorite team, Glasgow Rangers, was shot dead on his way into a mall in La Ceiba to do some Christmas shopping.

It’s not clear whether or not the murder was premeditated but Arnold Peralta had stood up to the drug gangs that currently rule Honduras before, tweeting, “Our country is facing difficult times with so many criminals killing so much, as though killing is fashionable! These sorts of people don’t deserve to be alive.” Honduras-flag

(Honduras has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world. In 2012, with a rate of 90.4 intentional homicides per 100,000 people, it was at the top of the list of 218 countries.)

Soccer itself comes with its share of violent behavior but rarely does this involve murder. More often, the beautiful game can be an outlet for the anger, fury, angst, and frustration that can show up in life and, for whatever reason, seems to especially in young men. A few years ago, a Rangers manager commented that if it hadn’t been for the team’s 140-year-old rivalry with crosstown rivals Celtic in the 1970’s and 1980’s that the city would have fared far worse in the violence wracking Glasgow at the time. The exercise of going to the game and cheering, singing, and sometimes, yes, bemoaning your favorite team’s exploits on the field, provided a release valve and tamped down the violence in the streets. There were still a lot of brawls but there wasn’t a war.

RFCThe Rangers Charity Foundation, despite some massive financial turmoil over the past few years in the parent club, has stuck with their partnership with Unicef which runs Soccer Aid, a program to promote sports the world over. So that’s why and who I’m giving to today. RIP Arnold Peralta. UnicefThanks for your contribution to the beautiful game and for your stand against the violence.

Here’s Peralta doing what he loved most:

Thanks, Mr. Peralta, for your fighting spirit both on and off the field.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

Bringing a Ray of Hope to the Girls of Afghanistan

Empowering WomenAlmost six months ago, I published my first novel, An Invisible Woman in Afghanistan. I began working on the book in June of 2001 just before 9/11 and finally published on June 1 of this year. An-Invisible-Woman-in-Afghanistan-thumbnail

A lot of people have asked why I chose Afghanistan. There are many and varied reasons but the main one has always been that Afghanistan at the time was (and still is) one of the toughest places to be a woman or girl. I needed to put my character in the country and find out if she could do anything at all to help the women there because this series, although fiction, was always meant to focus on international women’s rights issues. (And if you want to know what she does and how that works out, you’ll have to read the book!)

While doing the research for the book and discovering the many and truly horrific adversities Afghan women have faced, I also found that there are equally extraordinary, strong, and powerful Afghan women fighting hard every day to bring their country out of its recent Dark Ages and back into the light.

One such woman is Razia Jan, Razias-Ray-of-Hope-imagean Afghan-born American woman who was profoundly moved to do something, anything, after 9/11. She began by organizing her American community to send blankets to rescue workers at ground Zero, then care packages to soldiers in Afghanistan, and then shoes to Afghan children. And then she got on a plane and went there. Right into a war zone. She hadn’t been back in over 30 years.

Razia wasn’t sure at first what to do to help but eventually it became clear: help to ensure that the girls in her homeland had the same educational opportunities as the boys. She founded Razia’s Ray of Hope to fund the Zabuli Education Center for girls which opened in March of 2008. The school now has 440 students, is increasing this number every year, and Razia has set a new target – building the first  women’s college in rural Afghanistan. The Razia Jan Technical College is scheduled to open in March of 2015.

Empowering women and girls in a country that just a few years ago seemed committed to their complete and total dis-empowerment is no small task. But Razia Jan and the founders of this school (including the male elders of the community who she enrolled in the project and who now support it 100%) believe that the education of all the children of Afghanistan is key to bringing positive peaceful change to their country.

Girls across the world are going to school as never before. I can’t help but think that this “Girls’ Revolution” will have some very profound, positive, and peaceful effects as they grow into women leaders in Afghanistan and beyond.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. For more information on Razia’s Ray of Hope, you can also watch this short video trailer of the upcoming film documentary, WHAT TOMORROW BRINGS (3 min trailer) from Principle Pictures on Vimeo.

Maximizing Our Human Potential

EmploymentI’m back after taking an incredibly long break to move across the country as well as work on another project dear to my heart, my first novel, An Invisible Woman in Afghanistan which I am about to publish. (More on this soon!) I’m living near the New England seacoast, a place I lived many, many years ago and am very fond of.

I’ve missed this blog. It’s great to be writing again, trying to fit the pieces together and maybe even getting a glimpse of the larger puzzle. But this particular blog entry has also proven far more challenging to write and think about than any other I’ve done, maybe because it’s so close to home for so many of us. 

There have been a lot of people falling by the wayside in the world of work lately. Many “old” jobs are disappearing here in the U.S. and in Europe, war and natural disasters are taking their economic toll globally, and despite all our fancy new gadgets, we still have huge numbers of both unemployed and underemployed people across the planet.

And yet there are jobs. And there is a ton of work to do.

We need doctors and other healthcare professionals like never before. We desperately need every possible variety of engineer. We need teachers, professors, and other educators. We even need more lawyers in some places to represent the poor and disenfranchised.

However, there is an insidious underlying assumption among all this need, and that is that we should only have so many of certain types of worker. So many doctors, engineers, etc…
American_flag

This is wrong. And with so much need, why do we cling to this outmoded belief? I’m not sure and I’m also not sure I want to look too closely at the “why’s” of this situation.

But I do know we can fix it. We just need to change our minds. That’s the tough part but we can do it. A lot of people thought we couldn’t go to the Moon and yet, there’s proof positive at the top of this page that that belief was unfounded.

If we’re going to do this, though, we need to provide more and smarter support for our work force, top to bottom. If a kid in inner-city Baltimore wants to be a doctor, then we should be giving him every bit of help that we can. And if a Nepalese girl wants to be a structural engineer, then it would be very smart of her government to support her however they can. Or a Honduran day laborer wants to be a lawyer in his country, that country would do well to support his dreams.

Wounded_Warrior_ProjectFor whatever reason, the military often seems to be on the cutting edge of trying new things.  In the U.S, we have a huge number of veterans returning home, many without much prospect of a solid job once they leave the service. Many of these people have ended up on the streets of our towns and cities over the last few decades battling terrible mental and physical illness, as well as enduring the cruel scorn, disgust, and neglect of a civilian population that should know better.  The U.S. Veterans Administration, although incredibly efficient in some ways, has in many others, fallen down.

So the vets decided to fix it themselves.

One such organization among many large and small, publicly funded and private, is the Wounded Warrior Project. Among the services they provide are extensive resources and even financial aid to help veterans who want to further their education do so.

As a country and as a world, we need to be doing far more to train and educate our population, and that means everyone, most especially the ones we might be prejudiced to believe are “irredeemable.” There is absolutely no reason why we can’t do this. We went to the moon, right?

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

The Internet and Monoculture

Internet Access

As access to the internet rapidly spreads across the planet (Cuba just added its first high-speed connection; even the remotest islands want in – with one notable exception mentioned below; and even the deepest regions of the Brazilian Amazon are getting hooked up), one obvious side-effect is access to cultures and social norms which differ from your own.

American and Western culture have long been dominant in this arena with the good, the bad, and well, rock n’ roll, distributed globally courtesy of a powerful mass media machine, intent on driving sales in markets, whether emerged, emerging, or submerged.

This has been a mixed blessing for aforesaid markets. Democracy, jazz and the blues, personal computers? Pretty good all round. McDonald’s, Grand Theft Auto, and reality TV? Hmm.

There are a lot of people on both sides of this equation who are more than a little uncomfortable with these cultural exports. (See China’s Great Firewall, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and the entire country of North Korea.)

(Then there is North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants have just decided that, nope, sorry, we’re not having anything to do with you. Period. End of discussion. And any more attempt at discussion will result in lots and lots of arrows fired at your helicopters, boats, etc….)

But the connections continue nonetheless and what is actually happening is not the feared monoculturization of the planet. Yes, there are definitely some not-so-great examples out there. But there is also a burgeoning mixture of culture that is producing some remarkable, for lack of a better word, “super-culture” where two cultures mix and produce something completely different:

  • Music, as the universal language, is at the edge of this wave, and this is nowhere more apparent in the blockbuster Youtube hit, Gangnam Style which although borrowing from Western tropes, has a definitely Korean stamp; a few other interesting and less well-known  include heavy metal in Baghdad; Mongolian rap music; and a young South African falling in love with Italian opera;
  • Languages are being preserved as well but changed, and even taken up by people not originally of the culture; and the English language is adding words at an unprecedented rate including many borrowed from other languages. (Whenever someone in the U.S. complains about immigrants not speaking English, I always want to ask what the English words are for “taco,” “sushi,” and “falafel.”)
  • Manga comics, Bollywood, African smart phone apps, and Carnival in Rio, and I’m sure you can name even more examples — all are contributing to a vibrant myriad of changing and mixing cultures that shows every sign of further diversifying, fusing, and then changing again. And definitely not slowing down even despite some massive and occasionally effective efforts to control the process. (See Ai Weiwei.)

So I’m not worried about one dominant monoculture — it seems we’re all smarter and more creative than that. And I’m looking forward to whatever cultural fusion I could never have imagined will show up next. Which reminds me I have to go try to track down that Swedish/African fusion band I heard recently….

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

PS. This is not to say that we aren’t losing some cultures, traditions, and languages. This has always happened and will continue. (Some of those traditions, such as slavery, can’t be discarded fast enough.) But we have also never been so capable of “saving” some elements of these disappearing cultures by using modern technology and there are hundreds of anthropologists involved in exactly that.

The Necessity of Better Education

EducationWhy doesn’t every child know who the latest Nobel science prize winners are as well as they know their favorite pop singers and sports stars? These scientists should be known — they make discoveries that will affect the future of mankind far more but yet we ignore them except for that once-a-year notice in the media round about October (and most of the news stories are dominated by the political implications of the Literature and Peace prize winners anyway).

We need an educated populace now more than ever. The scientific challenges Nobel_Prizefacing us in the next centuries dwarf anything that has come before. We need, as a world, to get educating so that the next generations can address these challenges.

Many Americans (with the exception of many very hard-working and increasingly frustrated teachers) just don’t seem to understand this. We are far too comfortable. (A recent radio commercial campaign even makes fun of our indolence and tells us that we really aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, and that we should just let someone else invent the next artificial heart, or pancreas, or whatever, the rest of us should just watch our favorite TV shows. Ugh.) Unfortunately, most people seem to think that there are plenty of MacGyvers out there and we just don’t need to worry.

Kids at School in UgandaFortunately for the planet, a lot of other countries, including some of the poorest, don’t have quite the same attitude towards education. I am always astonished when I hear of kids walking to school for miles, sometimes under the threat of physical attack from gunfire, assault including rape, landmines, and just simply the weather and distance. But they seem to understand how valuable an education is when American students often do not.

This attitude towards education needs to change. I’ve mentioned many times before that the robots are coming, and many of the basic manual labor jobs will be going away (and are already).

What’s left? The jobs and careers that require a human brain. The arts are one avenue, sciences are on the other path.

We’re seeing this desperate need for educated workers already in the tech industry. Companies which want to keep their place on the bleeding edge will do practically anything to get the best and brightest from across the planet, and that can mean stretching the visa requirements, poaching from competitors, and other barely legal practices.

Some universities are attempting to scale up to meet this challenge. As the internet has connected people all over the world (at an ever-increasing pace) Udacitymany universities have jumped in with quality online courses taught to massive numbers of students (“MOOCs” or Massive Open Online Courses), even offered for free. (Udacity, Coursera, and EdX were a few of first, and now the Brits are getting involved.)

Educating the next generation is no longer just important because students now and in the future will be able to find fulfilling jobs and live comfortably, and businesses will be successful because they can easily find many talented employees. We need to get educating because the next generations face planetary challenges we have never seen before: climate change, an increasing population, the rapid depletion of natural resources, new diseases, pollution, not to mention the possibility of wayward asteroids.

Thanks for stopping by,

Heather McC

P.S. The Nobel Prize winners in the sciences for 2012 are:

Physics – Serge Haroche and David J. Wineland “for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems”

Chemistry – Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka “for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors”

Physiology or Medicine – Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent”

Economic Sciences – Alvin E. Roth and Lloyd S. Shapley “for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design”