2009 -- Putting things into perspective

earth only from 6 light-hours away

A photograph taken by Voyager 1, at a distance of 4 billion miles, (only) about 6 light-hours, from Earth. Our planet is the tiny pale speck, in the top center of the picture. You have to look carefully to see it.

Astronomer Carl Sagan put things into perspective about "our tiny pale speck":

"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there - on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." (Full)
Happy New Year to all of you. Let's hope 2009 will bring a bit of peace, prosperity and happiness to each one living on this tiny blue speck.

a view on our tiny dot - click for hires

Picture courtesy NASA

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2008 Press Freedom, and freedom of expression today.

look in one direction please

Reporters Without Borders wrapped up their 2008 press freedom report.

In short, this year:

- 60 journalists were killed
- 1 media assistant was killed
- 673 journalists were arrested
- 929 were physically attacked or threatened
- 353 media outlets were censored
- 29 journalists were kidnapped
- 1 blogger was killed
- 59 bloggers were arrested
- 45 bloggers were physically attacked
- 1,740 websites were blocked, shut down or suspended

Talking about freedom of expression. On Newsvine, I read an article about the war in Gaza today. The article starting with:

"As a young American living here in Israel the recent events in Israel have been terrible. Without getting into the discussion of ideology I want to talk about events."

I found the article quite polarized with a lack of relativation and I posted a comment:

"Mmmm... Stories told from either end are always coloured."

A few hours later, my comment was deleted by the article's author.

I could not but resubmit a comment:

For an article and a discussion that throws around the word 'truth', I see plenty of reason why my comment should be removed. I totally agree my comment was inflammatory, insulting, and discriminating...

Sheez, says something about your opinion of "truth", guys... Which one? Yours?

So, you are going to delete this comment now too?

So, for an interesting exchange of relativating views, engaging in an open discussion where clearly views from both sides are solicited, read the article and its comments and judge for yourself ;-)

Well, surprise. My second comment was deleted too :-)
I guess what stroke me the most of this (minor) incident, is not the issue of 'freedom of expression' itself, but the combination of the subject -the conflict in the Middle East-, and the unwillingness to even consider there is 'a view from the other side'..
Getting off my high horse now. It is the year's end. Time for more positive thoughts. Let's hope 2009 brings a solution for the suffering in both Palestine and Israel. An end to the suffering on both sides.

Update#2: Well it seems more people were thinking like I did, and similar comments came out on the post... Apparently more than the author could delete... There might still be hope for a freedom of expression. :-)

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Picture of the Day: New York Times pictures of 2008

Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar

Last May, Cyclone Nargis swept through the Myanmar lowlands.
Extracted from the New York Times series "2008, The Year in Pictures".

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Brian Sokol

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Picks of the week: Hubble, GigaPan and The Hungersite

deep space

Here are the interesting links I harvested this week:
  • Boston.com shows some of the amazing pictures from the Hubble telescope. Like the one above: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field: Astronomers pointed Hubble at a tiny, relatively empty part of our sky (only a few stars from the Milky Way visible), and created an exposure nearly 12 days long over a four-month period. They found thousands of galaxies ranging from 1 to 13 billion light-years away from Earth. Each galaxy is a home to billions of stars.

  • The Enough Project is helping to build a permanent constituency to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity.

  • AndFunForAll features many bitter-sweet random pictures collected from here, there and everywhere.

  • The HungerSite allows you to "donate with a click" for their causes: hunger, breast cancer, children's health, the rainforest, literacy and animal shelters.

  • And last but not least: Gigapan is a project supported by a team at Carnegie Mellon University, promoting a camera robot. The unit, which can be used with almost any digital camera, costs just under $300, but the “stitching” software that creates the signature zoom & pan panoramas, is free. The result are megapictures where you can zoom up to incredible details. Have a look and get hooked. (discovered via Janet from TrackerNews)
More Picks of the Week on The Road.

Picture courtesy Boston.com

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Crippled accounting standards: the cause of the economic crisis?

corporate accounting

World leaders have vowed to help prevent future financial meltdowns by creating international accounting standards so all companies would play by the same rules, but the effort has instead been mired in loopholes and political pressures.

In October, largely hidden from public view, the International Accounting Standards Board changed the rules so European banks could make their balance sheets look better. The action let the banks rewrite history, picking and choosing among their problem investments to essentially claim that some had been on a different set of books before the financial crisis started.

The results were dramatic. Deutsche Bank shifted $32 billion of troubled assets, turning a $970 million quarterly pretax loss into $120 million profit. And the securities markets were fooled, bidding Deutsche Bank's shares up nearly 19 percent on Oct. 30, the day it made the startling announcement that it had turned an unexpected profit. (Full)

Cartoon courtesy Glasbergen

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Picture of the Day: Reuters pictures of 2008

kids in Kenya

Two children stand together in the rain at a temporary shelter for around 19,000 displaced people during post-election violence in Eldoret, Kenya (February 2008).

This picture is part of the Reuters RNPS images of 2008 series.

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy REUTERS/Georgina Cranston

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Are these the humanitarians of the future?

Blackwater: humanitarians of the future?

In the UPI article "Dogs of War: Bleeding heart contractors", the author asks:

"Where are the future markets for private security contractors? In recent years, thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, their clients have been primarily governments or contractors doing reconstruction work."

[Ed: that sentence already hit my stomach. "Thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"?!?!?! Thanks to thousands of innocent people killed, --Hooray! Hooray!-- we created work for a couple of hundred (Western) private security contractors?!?!?! ]

He continues to observe (rightfully) that Blackwaters and Blackwater-wannabees start pitching at the humanitarian market:

"This would not be entirely new. Organizations like CARE and the World Food Program have extensively used armed escorts in transporting aid to needy populations. While armed escorts are normally provided by host governments, in cases where state authorities lack effective control, those organizations have hired private security companies to protect aid convoys."

[Ed: I am not aware of either hiring private security companies. But let's call that a slight oversight. But here comes the pitch:]

"Since PSC can't take direct action on behalf of the United Nations or individual states, they look to provide security for those doing humanitarian relief. And those providing such relief need it, as humanitarian workers have been increasingly targeted in recent years."

[Ed: Ok... so because aidworkers become more and more targetted, we will have all aid workers replaced by armed Blackwater PowerRangers... And while we are at it maybe also throw impartiality and neutrality overboard? ]

"Another reason, according to Spearin, why PSCs (Ed: Private Security Companies) might be used more by humanitarian NGOs is that they offer greater resilience when faced with violence. Many NGOs, when their personnel have been wounded or killed, have simply withdrawn from a country. That is not their fault. They are not combatants and should not be expected to fight like them."

[Ed: Ok... So here is your daily delivery of food aid, but hurry as I have a couple of RPGs to launch at 'insurgents' who object my presence.]

I will stop ranting here. Points to remember, though:
- Private Security Companies "have proven" to be "a viable alternative" for work too dirty for regular armed forces.
- Their work-ticket bubble in Afghanistan and Iraq will soon come to an end.
- Aid work becomes increasingly complex and dangerous
- Host governments and UN member states become more and more reluctant to provide the needed security or peace keeping forces.

And all of that might become quite an enabling environment for the Blackwaters of the world. Proof of the matter: Blackwater is now providing private security for commercial vessels off the coast of Somalia.

And as fellow blogger Michael notes: Blackwater, for its part, is ready and willing. According to their website:

"Our outreach programs support human development, health, education, nutrition, housing and disaster relief the world over. When crisis or disaster strikes, Blackwater is ready to reach out and help those in need."

Picture courtesy AP

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Free press, the first step to freedom from poverty?

Some say the chronical cycle of poverty in Africa is partially caused by the corruption and un-accountability from governments or individual heads of state.

An independent and free press could be the significant step out of this vicious circle.

Tanzania recently took such a step, with the recent creation of the Tanzania Media Fund (TMF).

TMF's goal is to create an open society where all people can access information, express views and debate issues. They want to achieve this through "an independent, quality, diverse and vibrant media in Tanzania by enabling investigative and public journalism and facilitating critical reflection and learning".

TMF’s work in Tanzania is centered on three objectives:
1. To improve the skills and capacity of journalists and media institutions.
2. To increase both the quantity and quality of investigative and public interest journalism.
3. To encourage the media to play a more critical role in ensuring accountability among public and private sector actors.

Discovered via Pernille. Picture courtesy AFP and BBC.

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Gaza: Ripped apart by bullets.

Life in Gaza

A Palestinian family on their balcony in the Rafah refugee camp between Egypt and the Gaza strip. U.N. Security Council calls for an immediate halt to all violence in territory. (Full)

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Mohammed Saber-EPA

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The Sin in Doing Good Deeds

south sudan staff accommodation

In his New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof wrote a controversial op-ed under the title "The Sin in Doing Good Deeds"

Some excerpts:

If a businessman rakes in a hefty profit while doing good works, is that charity or greed? Do we applaud or hiss?

A new book, “Uncharitable” (..) Mr.Pallotta's (the author) (..) frustration is intertwined with his own history as the inventor of fund-raisers like AIDSRides and Breast Cancer 3-Days — events that, he says, netted $305 million over nine years for unrestricted use by charities. In the aid world, that’s a breathtaking sum.

But Mr. Pallotta’s company wasn’t a charity, but rather a for-profit company that created charitable events. Critics railed at his $394,500 salary — low for a corporate chief executive, but stratospheric in the aid world — and at the millions of dollars spent on advertising and marketing and other expenses.

Mr. Pallotta argues powerfully that the aid world is stunted because groups are discouraged from using such standard business tools as advertising, risk-taking, competitive salaries and profits to lure capital.

“We allow people to make huge profits doing any number of things that will hurt the poor, but we want to crucify anyone who wants to make money helping them,” Mr. Pallotta says. “Want to make a million selling violent video games to kids? Go for it. Want to make a million helping cure kids of cancer? You’re labeled a parasite.”

I confess to ambivalence. I deeply admire the other kind of aid workers, those whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it. I’m filled with awe when I go to a place like Darfur and see unpaid or underpaid aid workers in groups like Doctors Without Borders, risking their lives to patch up the victims of genocide.

I also worry that if aid groups paid executives as lavishly as Citigroup, they would be managed as badly as Citigroup.

In the war on poverty, there is room for all kinds of organizations. Mr. Pallotta may be right that by frowning on aid groups that pay high salaries, advertise extensively and even turn a profit, we end up hurting the world’s neediest. (Full)

I can not share the author's admiration for "aid workers, whose passion for their work is evident by the fact that they’ve gone broke doing it." This brings us back to the old question as aidworkers, are we allowed to have a life?.

If aidworkers go broke by trying to help, they are not effective. Punto. It is not by starving yourself, you will help those that starve.

On the other hand, should aidworkers be paid high salaries? My view: if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. No, aidworkers should not be paid salaries of bank executives, but they should not be paid hand-outs neither.

Sure enough, the humanitarian motivation should be part of the drive of an aidworker. Beyond any doubt. But if you want qualified and experienced professionals, you need to pay the price.

I started as an aidworker, being paid about US$1,000 a month, working for the Red Cross. Cost of living and housing came as an extra. Unfortunately there was no way I could maintain a family that way, no matter how strong the humanitarian drive in me.

Executives in UN aid organisations are paid in the range of US$12,000-14,000 per month. Often these individuals have the responsibility of programmes yearly worth hundreds of millions, sometimes billions of USD. They supervise hundreds sometimes thousands of employees in their organisation. While the salaries of these individuals are nowhere near what commercial companies would pay executives with comparable responsibilities, would you want to reduce these wages? Would that not make amateurs to run aid programmes?

Sure enough, thinking of monthly wages in the range of US$12,000-14,000 brings up visions of lavish offices and luxury cars, dining with the jetset of the world. However, think again... Often people work in conditions like Enrico once described in his short story.

The value of humanitarian work should not be measured by the salaries of the aidworkers, but by the effectiveness of their work.

NYT article found via Wronging Rights and Humanitarian Relief

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Illegal immigrants flood South Italy by the thousands

illegal immigrants land on Lampedusa

More than 900 immigrants have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa this weekend, bringing the numbers which have landed in Italy this year to more than 30,000.

The conditions of the journey, which takes at least four or five days, are more hellish than ever. “They travel literally one on top of another,” said Francesco Galipo, at the Maritime Rescue Centre in Palermo. “We have intercepted boats 14 metres long with 324 people on board.”

After a lull during which rough seas prevented crossings, the latest landings brought the arrivals over the Christmas period to more than 1,700.

Lampedusa’s reception centre was designed for 840 but now accommodates more than twice that number, and it is approaching breaking point. (Full)

Picture courtesy Times Online

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Israeli raids on Gaza heaviest for decades

Raids on Gaza

Israeli F-16 bombers have pounded key targets across the Gaza Strip, killing more than 200 people, local medics say.

About 700 others were wounded, as missiles struck security compounds and militant bases.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert said the operation "may take some time"- but he pledged to avoid a humanitarian crisis. "It's not going to last a few days," he said in a televised statement. An other statement said "Israel was responding to an escalation in rocket attacks from Gaza and would bomb as long as necessary".

These were the heaviest Israeli attacks on Gaza for decades. (Full)

Picture courtesy AFP

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Home, the Flemish coast.

Remember the short story Home - Le Plat Pays in which I raved about my roots, the place I was born, the Flemish coast?

Today, in a ice cold biting wind, we made a wonderful walk through the dunes. A day out of a thousand. Some shots:

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Winter 2008 on the coast

Watch the hires pictures in a Flickr slideshow:

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Winter walk

Cold here in Belgium... But at least it is dry! Wonderful walks with the family and Mr H. Some snapshots taken a few miles from where we live.

Belgium winter 2008

Belgium winter 2008

Belgium winter 2008

Belgium winter 2008

Belgium winter 2008

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Picture of the Day: No Christmas Truce in Afghanistan

no christmas truce in Afghanistan

British troops in Helmand province (Afghanistan) return fire after an attack by Taliban during a Christmas carol gathering. (Full)

[Ed: To me, this picture is a symbol for the sad state of affairs in the world]

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy London Media

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Picture of the Day: Scavenging

children in Zimbabwe scavenging for rice

Zimbabwean children picking up corn spilled from a truck on a road near Harare. (Full)

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi (AP)

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A walk and "Mr. H"

Winter walk in the fields today. My three girls.
I think this the right moment to introduce "Mr.H". "H" short for "Hercules" or "Hercule" like in "Poirot".
Hint: it is that little black thing on the left.

the girls walking

Mr.H is the newest member of our family. For years, the girls wanted a dog. We told them "wait until you are bigger, so you can take care of a dog". Guess the time has come.
After a boxer, an Old English Sheepdog and Kadee, our faithful German Shepperd (see this short story), we have been dogless for 9 years. And now, we have "H", a French Bulldog. Three months old. A small body, but big at heart and brave like no other.

H 2008 026

He is also the ugliest dog we had. Which makes him irresistible cute.

Mr H

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The Great Christmas Truce of 1914

christmas truce 1914

One of the most remarkable Christmas-es happened not far from here. In the First Worldwar trenches near Ypres (Ieper) in West-Flanders, where warring troops had dug themselves in. With water often coming up to their waist, dug in mud and cold, the first Christmas of the War of the Trenches, was to be nothing but misery. Until a small miracle happened.

From a letter by Rifleman Graham Williams:

"I was standing on the firestep, gazing out towards the German line and thinking what a very different sort of Christmas Eve this was from any I had experienced in the past...

There had been no shooting from either side since the sniper's shot that morning, which had killed a very popular young soldier in our company named Bassingham. But this was not at all unusual.

Then suddenly, lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the still frosty air! Other sentries had, of course, seen the same thing, and quickly awoke those on duty, asleep in the shelters, to "come and see this thing, which had come to pass". Then our opponents began to sing "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht".

This was actually the first time I heard this carol, which was not then so popular in this country as it has since become. They finished their carol and we thought that we ought to retaliate in some way, so we sang "The First Nowell".

And when we finished, they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs "O Tannenbaum". And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until we started up "O Come All Ye Faithful" the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words "Adeste Fidelis".

And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war."

Both British and German warring parties, shooting to kill a few hours before, but softened by memories of loved ones, later met in no-men's land. It was one of the rare truces in a vicious war, as can be read in this letter by Henry Williamson.

Inspiration from Tall Skinny Kiwi. Picture courtesy First World War

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Recommended: Leo the African

Leo Africanus
In the need of a good reading book for this dark period of the year? Leo the African by Amin Maalouf is without any doubt one of the best books I have read since a long time.

Put onto a background of the 15th-16th century East-West or Christian-Muslim conflicts, the reader follows Hasan al-Wazzan, a merchant, traveller and writer on his travellers after being chased from Granada to Fez, in a caravan through North Africa and during his years in Cairo and Rome. From place to place, from woman to woman, he learns to drop and pick up his life and fortunes.

Amin Maalouf writes in a witty, eloquent style, becoming for a 15th century traveller. Through his words, one has no trouble fantasizing about the Souk in Fez or the river ports of Cairo. Here is the first page of his book.

Leo The African on AmazonI, Hasan the son of Muhammad the weigh-master, I, Jean-Leon de Medici, circumcised at the hand of a barber and baptized at the hand of a pope, I am now called the African, but I am not from Africa, nor from Europe, nor from Arabia. I am also called the Granadan, the Fassi, the Zayyati, but I come from no country, from no city, no tribe. I am the son of the road, my country is the caravan, my life the most unexpected of voyages.

My wrists have experienced in turn the caresses of silk, the abuses of wool, the gold of princes and the chain of slaves. My fingers have parted a thousand veils, my lips have made a thousand virgins blush, and my eyes have seen cities die and empires perish.

From my mouth you will hear Arabic, Turkish, Castilian, Berber, Hebrew, Latin and vulgar Italian, because all tongues and all prayers belong to me. But I belong to none of them. I belong only to God and to the Earth, and it is to them that I will one day soon return.

But you will remain after me, my son. And you will carry the memory of me with you. And you will read my books. And this scene will come back to you: your father, dressed in the Neapolitan style, aboard this galley which is conveying him towards the African coast, scribbling to himself, like a merchant working out his accounts at the end of a long journey.

Check out the books in my library.
More about books on The Road.

Picture courtesy University of Virginia

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A peaceful Christmas to all...

The Palestine Wall

Still looking for a Xmas gift that makes a difference in the world? I updated the ideas list today.

Cartoon courtesy Polyp

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Wanted: Prime minister for Belgium.

You probably heard the saga about Belgian politics in the past two years.

After the elections in June 2007, it took them nine months to form a government, during which press rumours circulated about the imminent break up of Belgium.

Now again, we are government-less: The prime minister was accused of unlawfully meddling in the Fortis/BNP-Paribas take-over.

I read several articles about it in the newspapers. I still don't understand fully... Seems like a typical Belgian tragicomedy:

In October, Prime Minister Leterme tried to save Fortis, one of the most prominent Belgian banks and 49% government owned, by agreeing to sell them to France's BNP Paribas. The insurance arm of Fortis, however, still belongs to the publicly traded Fortis NV, and minority shareholders filed a court challenge against the sale.

When Leterme's cabinet discovered it was likely to lose the case, cabinet members tried to persuade one judge, via her husband (who is related to Leterme's political party), to reverse the decision. The court investigated the case and found unduly political meddling in private businesses and into the juridicial system, a bit no-no.
Leterme took the blame, the government fell, the King say "What, where?" and everyone goes: "Next please!" (Full)

But then again, we are never without a governing bodies. Besides the King, all of his lawful and unlawful sons and daughters (with a varying degree of debilism) and the federal prime minister, we also have 5 "minister-presidents"... No, I kid you not!
* The Minister-President of the Flemish Community
* The Minister-President of French Community
* The Minister-President of Walloon Regional Government
* The Minister-President of the Brussels region
* The Minister-President of German Community

Most people driving from Holland to France, drive through Belgium in one and a half hour. Unless if you are watchful, you miss it. But.. we got six governments. Plus provincial governors too. ;-)

Picture courtesy François de Dardel (and Herge)

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Christmas dinner. Three different takes.

In the local newspaper, I found three articles, one next to eachother. All about food and Christmas. But with a different take.

As an example of the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, starving families are feeding on the skin of a cow slaughtered six years ago. (Full)

In the Vatican, the pope likes his take of Lebkuchen (honey and spice biscuits), Stollen (German Christmas cake), Bavarian sausage and chocolate. (Full)

The poor in North-Italy will be savouring beluga caviar this Christmas. 88 pounds of the contraband delicacy was seized from smugglers. Officials decided to donate the lot to shelters and homes for the elderly. (Full)

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MSF's Top Ten Humanitarian Crisis

MSF crisis in DRC

At the end of the year, MSF (Doctors Without Borders) used to publish their "top 10 under-reported crisis". Now, their hit list is called plainly "Top 10 Humanitarian Crisis".

No "under-reporting" this year. Guess there were sufficient press spotlights turned to the humanitarian aspect of any crisis:

Myanmar's cyclone emergency was an excellent opportunity for the West to wedge some cracks in the Generals' totalitarian regime and the press was present.

Zimbabwe got its fair share due to the West's tendency to collectively sideline 'no-longer-wanted' leaders from African countries. And the press was present.

Somalia got floodlights due to the piracy plague. Sexy subject, and the press was present.

I still think a full blown crisis was avoided in DRC when the media jumped onto the plane direction Goma real fast. Fast enough for the different warring parties to sit around the table and go chest-thumping. A million people affected by the crisis.

So no "under-reporting" this year. MSF still wanted their top 10. And no surprises as to who got listed. Some of them have been in there for years: Somalia, Ethiopia, DRC, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Iraq. With a special emphasis for TBC/HIV co-infection and malnutrition. (Full)

Picture courtesy Sven Torfinn (MSF)

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UNICEF photo of the year


This image by the Belgian photographer Alice Smeets was nominated the 2008 UNICEF photo of the year.

It shows a little girl in Haiti, trudging barefoot through the water, full of old shoes, dilapidated tins, and plastic bags. Two black pigs graze on an island of trash.

In the background stand the dwellings of the "Cité Soleil" slum, the "city of the sun," its huts corroded by rust. (Full)

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Goodbye to a friend.

We knew since a couple weeks Thomas was ill. But we did not know it was all going to be over this fast. Thomas passed away last Saturday.

It seems like just yesterday, we're standing by the pool in the back of the office, smoking a cigarette. And now he is no longer with us. The memories remain.

Safe journey, my friend. We mourn. But the memories still bring smiles on our faces.


Thomas Keuster with Spain's Queen Sofia
at the Wat Run primary school (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
earlier this year.

Update March 17 2009:
Posthumously, Thomas received the "Tun Myat Award for Excellence in Humanitarian Logistics" at a moving staff ceremony today.

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Rumble: Weeweechu

xmas tree

One beautiful December evening Juan and his girlfriend Mary were sitting by the side of the ocean. It was a romantic full moon, when Juan said "Hey baby, how about playing Weeweechu."

"Oh no, not now, lets look at the moon" said Mary.

"Oh, c'mon baby, let's you and I play Weeweechu. I love you and it's the perfect time," Juan begged.

"But I rather just hold your hand and watch the moon."

"Please Mary, just once play Weeweechu with me."

Mary looked at Juan and said, "OK, we'll play Weeweechu."....

Juan grabbed his guitar and both sang....

"Weeweechu a melly Chlistmas,
Weeweechu a melly Chlistmas,
Weeweechu a melly Chlistmas,
and a happy Neeew Yeeelll."

Picture courtesy Pixel Charmer

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Rumble: Beach Combing

After the storms and rains that flooded half of Rome, all debris carried out to the sea by the rivers, washed on the beach. It looked like a battle field.

Fregene beach after storm

Fregene beach after storm

Many dinghies got picked up and dropped, or buried under the sand.

Fregene beach after storm

This river estuary is normally three meters wide.

Fregene beach after storm

More on The Road about where I live, Rome and Italy.

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Rumble: Three struggling aid workers.

Three posts by people working in the humanitarian field caught my eye today.

Kanae got ripped off in the immigration office in Cambodia, and asks the question: "Why? I am here to help. So why are you doing this to me?" (More)

Phil in Afghanistan is struggling with the arch-question of any aidworker with a conscience: "Why do I have it better than those I am trying to help?" More)

Alana in the US: "I have a mortgage to pay and a family to feed – however much I’d like to, I can’t devote my whole life to pro bono work." (More)

The latter two reminded me of my post: As an aidworker, are we allowed to have a life?

Discovered via AidBlogs

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News: Gaza, the sad facts of a forgotten crisis.


A UN report today states:

Following the resumption of violence on 4 November 2008, Israel has intensified to an unprecedented level the blockade on the Gaza Strip, imposed in June 2007. The 18-month long blockade has created a profound human dignity crisis, leading to a widespread erosion of livelihoods and a significant deterioration in infrastructure and essential services. The consequences for the Palestinian population are profound, pervasive and difficult to reverse.

The daily lives of most of 1.5 million Gazans are increasingly consumed by completing the most basic tasks, such as collecting and storing clean water, and searching for food, fuel and other essential supplies.

Residents of Gaza City are without power for up to 16 hours each day.

Half of Gaza City’s population is receiving water only once a week for a few hours. 80% of the water supplied in Gaza already does not meet the WHO standards for drinking.

Unemployment has risen to almost 50%. Only 23 out of 3,900 industrial enterprises are currently operational. 70% of agricultural land in Gaza are no longer being irrigated, leading to desertification.

20% of essential drugs are currently at zero level

The average Gazan household now spends two thirds of its income on food. 56% of Gaza’s population is food insecure. (Full)

And to make matters worse, the blockade and renewed fighting forced the UN to suspend its food aid deliveries (again). (Full)

Picture courtesy KabobFest

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Picks of the week: Libraries in Africa, Ning and Plain English

Here are the interesting links I harvested this week:

  • Room to Read partners with local communities throughout the developing world to provide quality educational opportunities by establishing libraries, creating local language children's literature, constructing schools, providing education to girls and establishing computer labs. They also feature on my post about meaningful Xmas gifts.

  • You might think Facebook is "it", but I like Ning more as a highly customizable social network platform. It features blogs, forums, video and picture libraries, events scheduling all on an easy to use platform. I subscribed to ChangeBlogger network on Ning.

  • You might have come across some of the Commoncraft ".. in Plain English" video tutorials, but have you checked out their library. All in Plain English, from "Electing a US president" to "Twitter" and "Social Media", all in short videos and in Plain English.
    Some of their productions is also worth a look. (Watch the Google Docs video).

  • You would be surprised of the digital trail you leave on the Internet through your signature (your IP address). There are plenty of public domain tools available allowing anyone to trace back the origin of the visitor through that IP address. So.. should your activity can be monitored? Maybe you are a human rights activist, or you blog about controversial issues. TorProject allows you to 'hide' your entity, and 'go onto the web anonymously'

  • And last but least, Technorati published their 2008 overview of the Blogosphere. Who are the bloggers? What is the impact on the Internet? Even just these figures are impressive: 184 million blogs active worldwide, reaching 346 million readers. 77% of active Internet users read blogs.

More Picks of the Week on The Road.

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Rumble: Kiva Rocks!

Click to participate to The Road's social projectJust got a mail from Kiva... The people we have allocated loans to through our blog's social project have started repaying.
We received a total of $55.11:

  • Quirudis Altagracia Ortiz Cordonis's Group in Dominican Republic (Activity: Grocery Store)
    Our Loan:$50.00
    Newly Repaid:$8.33 (16.66% of our loan)
  • Maria España Ugaz Castillo in Peru (Activity: Food Production/Sales)
    Our Loan:$50.00
    Newly Repaid:$12.50 (25.00% of our loan)
  • Sopheap Chun's Group in Cambodia (Activity: Agriculture)
    Our Loan:$100.00
    Newly Repaid:$7.44 (7.44% of our loan)
  • Kim Houy Lach's Group in Cambodia (Activity: Poultry)
    Our Loan:$100.00
    Newly Repaid:$3.89 (3.89% of our loan)
  • Ganna Shkirta in Ukraine (Activity: Fruits & Vegetables)
    Our Loan:$50.00
    Newly Repaid:$6.25 (12.50% of our loan)
  • Francis Jamilett Areas Vivas's Group in Nicaragua (Activity: Retail)
    Our Loan:$100.00 (12.53% of our loan)
  • Mao Kung in Cambodia (Activity: Pigs)
    Our Loan:$50.00
    Newly Repaid:$4.17 (8.34% of our loan)
The funds are now available as Kiva Credit, which we can re-lend! More work to do :-)

Check out our Project Score Card

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Rumble: Ideas for change in America

You can vote what the next US President should tackle On Day One

Change.org also has a mass initiative where thousands are voting for "Ideas for Change in America". The "Top 10 Ideas for America" will be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day.

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Rumble: I don't wanna be there.

I live close to Rome's Fiumicino airport, about one mile from the planes' landing path.

As I write this, we have a storm passing by. Lightning and thunder galore as if there was no tomorrow. The windows tremble with every "kaboom".

And still I hear planes landing and remember the terrible landing we made a few weeks ago in a storm like this. I am thinking of the people in the plane I hear approaching this very minute.

I know where I'd rather be. I'm going to bed, and will pull the sheets over my head.

Ah.. and found this on YouTube:

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Rumble: The Revenge of the Nerds


At 7 pm I started hacking to put "that small navigation menu" on my metablogs (like this one)

It is now 1 am and I am done.

And I am happy.

Am I a nerd or what?

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News: Korea buys half of Madagascar's agricultural land.

land for sale by Pernille
I posted before about the new colonialism, when Western companies buy or lease large parts of arable land in Africa to grow food or biofuel for their own production.

Via For Those Who Want To KnowI just stumbled upon this article:

Daewoo Logistics of South Korea has secured a huge tract of farmland in Madagascar to grow food crops to send back to Seoul, in a deal said to be the largest of its kind.

The company leased 1.3m hectares of farmland - about half the size of Belgium - from Madagascar for 99 years. It planned to ship the corn and palm oil harvests back to South Korea. This deal will have half of Madagascar's arable land produce food for Korea. (Full)

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned this year that the race by agricultural commodity-importing countries to secure farmland overseas risked creating a "neo-colonial" system. A warning in the wind it seems, as more and more agro-companies make new land deals in Africa and Asia. (More)

Daewoo Logistics is not the only one leasing land in Madagascar: D1 Oils plc, the UK based producer of biodiesel, uses about 17,000 hectares of existing Jatropha plantations for its biofuel production since years. In addition to the 37,000 hectares of plantations in Africa, India and The Philippines. In addition to approximately 6,000,000 hectares of land available to the company in different countries under option to contract. (Full)

As a note worth mentioning: In Madagascar, some 50 percent of children under three years of age suffer retarded growth due to a chronically inadequate diet. (Source)

Picture courtesy of Pernille (Louder than Swahili)

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