Give up, bail out or continue running?

Afghanistan ruins

Just read this on Itinerant and Indigent, one of the aidblogs I following. Phil, an aidworker in Afghanistan, writes about his struggle to continue believing in the "Cause". The "raison d'ĂȘtre" of an aidworker:

Why do we keep trying here? I am less and less sure that we achieve anything. I know, I know now that this work is not about us feeling good, or developing our CVs. And I am not an aid junkie, living on the high of the emergency, the thrill of saving lives. But I would like to see permanent progress here in some form, in my lifetime. I am less convinced that will happen, or at least less convinced that there is much I can do to expedite it.

It seems I follow a God of lost causes. I am not sure how I feel about that. As Nathan says, ‘I have joined the long defeat’.

I wonder how many of the long term aidworkers have this struggle. How many years does it take before we let our shoulders hang down, or bail out, or stop caring, or continue running with our eyes closed, or invent the famous "signs of improvement"..

How many years have we been in Afghanistan? In Pakistan? In Ethiopia? Niger? DRC?

Add on top of the lack of progress, the security risks every single aidworker runs in some of these places, and you wonder...

I think the only way to cope in the longer run is to check out for a while and come back with new hope. In a different country. Another project. And for the rest, continue holding on, in the faith that humanity is basically good.

PS: If you know where the picture is taken, I guess you can call yourself an "ancien"... Start counting the days The Doubt will come.

PPS: Phil.. Hang in there, buddy!

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Floods in Pakistan? Google's advice...

Google ad for Pakistan floods

When searching for "Pakistan Floods" on Humanitarian News, the Google ad at the bottom of the page displayed the appropriate advice. Kind of.

Google could also have displayed an ad for one of the aid agencies or something, but maybe they were thinking of more longer term solutions....

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How to be alone...


A video by filmmaker, Andrea Dorfman, and poet/singer/songwriter, Tanya Davis.

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Haiti: The complexity of aid

..Looking at different sides of the need for aid and the effects of aid..

Video discovered via Global Envision

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I Am an Aid Worker. And a Woman. Help!

This is a post I wrote three years ago. It seems the subject is still ever so close to the hearts of many, so I brought it onto the foreground again.
There are several excellent insights people posted in the comments. I'm interested to hear your point of view.

In the previous post, Shylock explored, in a ironical, cynical, self-criticizing way, what personal future we, aid workers have. We wonder the earth, gradually getting used to travel all the time, often in harsh places, and very often in search of a thrill. Gradually we get addicted to it all.
But is there life after this.. after this life of a gypsy? Do we become gypsy disasters after years of behaving like a disaster gypsy, roaming from one emergency to the next?

No matter how much we chuckle reading the previous post, in the end, it is not funny. Far from it. Many humanitarian workers have a problem to find 'a life after this'.. But it is even more sad to realize how few actually "have a life even now"... Even now, many forget, or at least compromise, their personal life because of their addiction. The addiction to the horizon, to the adrenaline.

And now I want to you stop for a moment, no matter what you are doing. What I am going to tell you, is very close to my heart...

No matter how you twist and turn it. The professional world is still a man's world. This world in general is still a man's world. It has been for hundreds of centuries. From the time men dragged women into their cages by their hair, we have come a long way, but we are not there yet. "There" being "offering equal chances, and equal opportunities to women".

Here is how I see it. (and don't forget I am a man, and no matter how hard I try, I will always be a man, even if I try to look at things from a woman's perspective):

I look around me, and see people -men and women- alike, with loads of personal challenges through the work they do... But then I look again, and see that in most management functions in this business - the humanitarian world -, men hold the key functions (and most of them come from the first world, but let's leave that aside for a moment). I look once more, and see most administrative support positions are filled by women. Many women in this business are strong, well educated, hard working people. Many of them are young, full of energy, inspiration and aspirations. The new generation of women have been encouraged (and enabled) by their parents to get a good education. They are ambitious to develop themselves personally and professionally. Many of these young women whizz through their twenties like a breeze, and some climb up (if all goes well), the professional ladder.
All of a sudden they find themselves in their mid thirties, somewhere in the professional chain and ask "hey where is my personal life gone to?". And that is where the challenges start.

If all goes well, they find a partner. If all goes well. As we - men - are not always too happy to live with a partner who has a demanding career. Even fewer like it when that career takes 'our woman' away on duty travel. Heaven forbids that 'her career' would even have her live far away from us, in some dark and remote humanitarian crisis area.

"If all goes well" they find a partner, as too often at their mid thirties, what men are "available" on the "partner market"? Those coming out of their first long relationship, and not looking for something long term. The 'celibataires eternelles' or 'commito-fobes'. Those who have not made up their mind what the hell they want. The 'players'. And those already in a relationship. Or those who have failed in relationships so far.. (and all of that is a whole different discussion which I would love to have over a glass of Prosecco).

So "if all goes well", a partner is found. And then? "A career" you say? In this world where, no matter what, a woman is still supposed to not only bare the children, but also spend most of her time raising them? Where a woman is still supposed to do most of the household stuff? [if you are a man, think about it... If you don't agree with me, think again... Who spends most of the time with the kids, working for/in the house? You or your partner?].

So, what then? Most women are the ones making the compromise then.. Either give up their career, or work part time, etc...
If they don't, the juggle of kids, house, husband and career becomes a full time challenge.

The other evening, I went with E. over all the women we knew. And we tried to flag those we thought had found a good balance between kids, house, husband and career. And are successful in all. We found one. One woman out of the dozens of women we know, we found one.

That is a sad observation. And even more sad, when we realized that lady does not work in the humanitarian "business".

So, all you ladies out there. And specifically those of you in the humanitarian world! In my "The Dudettes" short story I tried (in my cynical and ironical way) pay a tribute to you all. But come and have your say too. Am I seeing things in a too dark, negative way? Am I seeing things too much from a "male" perspective? You tell me.

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Breaking news: What? We are not winning the war in Afghanistan?!?!

Here is some breaking news, fresh from the presses... It seems we are not winning the Holy War on Terror in Afghanistan. Surprise-surprise... And even worse: we have not been winning it since end 2001 neither.

The timelapse video above is based on the famous WikiLeaks documents, listing military incidents. The darker the red, the more incidents..

Is it just my impression, but are those dark red blobs just getting bigger and bigger as time went by?
Wanna make predictions for 2011?

Video discovered via ReadWriteWeb

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Vogue turns oil spill into fashion

Vogue turns oil spill into fashion

Vogue Italy's August edition frontcovers models in the midst of an oil spill. A shoot by Stephen Meisel, a photographer now infamous for his fashion shoot amongst soldiers in Iraq back in 2007.

In case you are interested:

Kristen McMenamy (...) keeps her skin golden thanks to Self Tan Face Bronzing Gel Tint (to wear alone or with foundation): it takes care of the skin, while giving it a hint of color. Carbon, anthracite, and all of the earthy shades "dress" her eyes: Quick Eyes Cream Shadow, cocoa shimmer, a long-lasting cream eye shadow, worn with brown High Impact Mascara, and her lips feature a nude look. All by Clinique. Tulle dress with beaded embroidery, Ralph Lauren Collection. Rubber necklace, My Sister's Art. Hair by Orlando Pita for Orlo Salon. Make-up Pat McGrath. Fashion editor Karl Templer. Set design by Mary Howard.

And I guess "Oil courtesy BP?"

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World Humanitarian Day on August 19

On August 19 2003, the UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed, killing 22 people and maiming others for the rest of their lives. Humanitarian aid would never be the same after that.

To remember this event, the humanitarian community decided to call August 19 "World Humanitarian Day". This year is clearly in a lighter note, celebrating "us", and the work we do while still remembering the hundreds that died while trying to help others... (More)

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Who needs Wikileaks when you have Google?

UK confidential documents on Google

Do this query on Google, and you will see things that you are not supposed to see.

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A glacier a day, keeps the cold away

petroleum company ad claims to melt glaciers

Back in 1962, we thought this was good publicity...

Discovered via Boing Boing

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Dear Mr Jobs, here is a comparison between a $600 iPhone and a $30 Nokia

Nokia and iPhone reception comparison

Nokia and iPhone reception comparison

Nokia and iPhone reception comparison

At the same time, at the same place, with the same GSM provider: a simple comparison between the reception of a $30 Nokia and a $600 iPhone 3GS. This should wipe the excuses from Apple that it is all about "the formula we use to calculate how many bars of signal strength to display", right off the table.

It is black and white: either you have reception or you don't. Either you can make a call, or you can't.

In my apartment in Rome, where GSM reception is rather marginal, I had to buy a $30 Nokia with a spare mobile number, so people could actually call me.

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Pakistan floods: Wishing I was wrong

Pakistan floods

A few days ago, I -once more- climbed onto my soapbox and proclaimed my eternal wisdom on the Pakistan flood emergency as if the Holy Truth Was Installed Upon Me by The Powers Above. Hallelujah..!

For all those involved in the emergency, I honestly wished I was wrong. But unfortunately, I am watching it all unroll as I predicted.

I claimed funding for the Pakistan emergency would probably not be forthcoming due to a lack of interest from the West... and here is a clip from yesterday's papers:

The global aid response to the Pakistan floods has so far been much less generous than to other recent natural disasters — despite the soaring numbers of people affected (...)

Reasons include the relatively low death toll of 1,500, the slow onset of the flooding compared with more immediate and dramatic earthquakes or tsunamis, and a global "donor fatigue" — or at least a Pakistan fatigue. (Ed: I would only accept the last explanation)

Ten days after the Kashmir quake, donors gave or pledged $292 million, according to the aid group Oxfam. The Jan. 12 disaster in Haiti led to pledges nearing $1 billion within the first 10 days.
For Pakistan, the international community gave or pledged $150 million after the flooding began in earnest in late July (...) (Full)
A detailed updated status of the consolidated pledges to the Pakistan humanitarian appeal, you find here.

And on staff security, all warning lights are on:

The Pakistani Taliban has urged the government not to accept any foreign aid for victims of the worst flooding in the country's history.

Spokesman Azam Tariq told an Associated Press reporter Tuesday that the Taliban would themselves provide money if the government stopped accepting international help.

"Pakistan should reject this aid to maintain sovereignty and independence," Tariq said. (Full)
Last year, the Taliban issued a similar statement one week before aidworkers were bombed in their Peshawar hotel.

Edited picture based on original by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images, discovered via The Boston Globe's second "The Big Picture" series on the floods and The Horizon

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How to make shit smell good

aid versus bullshit

Once upon a time, a red box was delivered to a large aid agency. The courier was a bit confused because of the lack of a clear addressee. It only had the street and the city on it. But as it bore the logo from a big donor to the aid community, he delivered it at the agency's front gate.

After a while, it ended up on the desk of the "Director Donor Relations, Press Relations and other Public Stuff". He was a bit surprised. "Hmmm.. a big red box, what do we do with this. Can't throw it away as it apparently came from a donor", he thought as his trained marketing mind started on a roll. "And red... hmm.. Communism.. Not much I can do with that. But wait. Wait a second...".

He immediately called in his whole team and presented The Box: "This green box here, will be the center of our new fundraiser and awareness efforts..", he started. Immediately some eyebrows were raised, but as trained PR professionals, nobody said a thing: If it was to be a green box, green it would be. Even if everyone knew it was red, and wondered "WTF ?". The trick was to sit, look, but not see. Have your mind wonder off somewhere else. Nod when everyone else is nodding, smile when everyone else was smiling... That is the trick of a PR professional.

The PR team immediately went to work. Took pictures of the box. Photoshopped it until it was green. They pasted their agency's CEO (who had not been in the office for two years and moved off to the Bahamas, but nobody was to know) standing next to the green box. Several well known actresses and actors, which are always part of their PR conglomerate, were also photoshopped in it.

The "PR content" team had a bigger challenge... "What can we tell about a red, euh, a green box?", they brainstormed. "It is green. Which is good. Green is good. Green is in. Green is Eco-stuff. It is a box.... represents mystery,... like development is a mystery. No, wrong, like.. Many poor's needs are a mystery.. Better. Like.. euh, many problems in the developing world are a mystery. Good. Think further. Green. Islam.. Good. Green is Islam, but only Islam knows that... Will not piss of the Americans which will think of Eco stuff. What more..? "Empty the box"... no "Join the box".. Better... "Join the Box". "Wrap the world in green paper of change"... Work on that.. Mmm.., "Green Trap, Change Wrap", no. More."The Green Wrap" Right... Green, the colour of change. Al will like it. The Iranian people will too. Shit, for all we know, the Taliban might like it!" It went on for hours. It was clear all PR staff, who were seconded for three months from big PR companies, as a collective tax writeoff, knew their marketing stuff.

Then it went to the operations department, the finance department, the risk analysis department (who indicated that green was also the colour of the election protests in Iran, but all wiped it off the table as "nobody cared about that Iran shit anymore"), the IT department (who distributed green mousepads) and even the catering people (who wore green caps for two months). The security department suggested to scan to box as nobody had opened it. And there was an awkward smell coming from it.. But they got orders from "up above" to keep their hands off.

In short, it took less than two months to prepare the campaign, and to present it at the next "General Government Meeting". They got the nod from the Americans and the Brits, which was good enough to roll out the campaign globally. None of the other donors were important anyway.
Neither the US nor UK knew what it was all about trusted the organisation to know what they were doing. It was also as a trouble-free way to empty their budget before the year's end. Otherwise questions were asked. And by nodding, they stepped up as a major donor, so they'd see their logo on all PR material. "Donation from the American and British People". Solid deal, man. Solid deal..
Some rumour that the US and UK representative to the General Government Meeting had been drinking the night before, and were actually dozing off. Which would explain their enthusiastic nodding at the proposal. But that is just a rumour of course.

The Green Box was put in a huge display case, stuck on a massive rotating pole with flickering lights and all, in front of the agencies' office. It even dwarfed the McDonald's sign right next to it. McDonald being one of the main private donors to the agency, did protest every so slightly. But they were quickly reminded that Burger King was just around the corner and waiting... Indeed, the main private donors: McDonald's, Bayer, Shell and Bureau for the Promotion of Tourism in West-Agriculturia (which later turned out to be a tax outlet for the Albanese Mafia, but that is another story), all supported the idea and made small green boxes for change collection in their offices and outlets. "Change for Green".

In one of the roll-out meetings that followed, some staff did question the content of the Green Box. One even opposed the idea, but the cold stares she got, had her sit down and be quiet. After all, nobody wants to be a lone tree. They catch a lot of wind. And she had only a temporary employment contract, so 'not extended due to funding limitations' was easy.

Once this initial opposition was dealt with, all went very fast. Everyone was enthusiastic. Directors pitched in their support, as they knew the Green Box campaign had a huge budget. They all wanted a piece of the pie. Staff stepped up to be the "Champion of the Green Box". There was a competition to collect the most money from family. Kids had a worldwide "Green Box" painting competition, you name it,...

The press had a ball. They pitched everything from "Turning Development Green", "The Green movement: turning evolution into revolution". "The Largest Green Aid Campaign Ever"... Millions, Billions, it did not matter, figures were thrown. Everyone loved the hype. I mean apart from Putin having the flu and the Americans invading North Korea, it was a slow news month.
Even Foxnews feature something. "Large Green box, center to Obama Tax Evasion" in which they proved through extensive investigative journalism, that the box was sent straight from Obama's office, and contained money left over from his election campaign...

Three years later, the Green Box campaign was declared a success. It went in the books as a school example how to to strategize for a good fundraiser, how to motivate staff for your causes, how to rally donor support.
In the next government meeting, the UK and US reps gave an enthusiastic nod on the final evaluation report, and approved funding for the next project.

So, everyone was happy. Loads of money went around. And they even helped some poor along the way. Not many, as their 10% declared overhead cost, did not include 50% staff cost, and 20% transport cost, 10% security cost, plus the agreed 10% miscellaneous cost.

It did not matter. Everyone was happy. With the funding generated, the organisation survived another year. There were no scandals, so donors were happy. And does it not feel good to help the Poor of the World.

Oh and the box? It was delivered to the wrong address. It was supposed to go to the recycling company next door, and contained 300 dead AAA batteries.

Question to be asked:
How many green boxes exist in the aidworld? How many times are we all sitting in a meeting, enthusiastically nodding at eachother, although we all know the proposal is shit, the product is shit, the purpose is shit, but it does not feel right to ask questions or to oppose. How many times are senseless things done, because "donors want it", because politics want it, simply because the boss wants it? Do we leave enough room for critical thinking and opposition? How many times are we sucked up as part of this massive dynamic which includes all the "wins-wins", and where it is almost impossible to stand up in the stream and say "Is this really what we should be doing?". There is no reward in opposition, after all. Loser!

A Wise Friend told me not long ago, that in the Aid World failure, incompetency, "half-half" are much more common and accepted than in the Commercial World. I think I will start to believe that.

Picture slightly modified from a find on Words, Pictures, Humor

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Military and aid

I receive a lot of press releases from NGOs and agencies lately, which I publish on The NonProfit Press

Yesterday, I received an offer from a PR company distributing video and images for the US military. They asked if I'd be interested in using some of their material.

My answer was rather short.

Thanks for the offer, but I have to decline. The involvement of the US military in humanitarian aid in the recent years has severely damaged the image of neutrality and impartiality of aidworkers, and as such greatly contributed to the targeting of aidworkers by terrorists.

Specifically for the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, I deplore the way the US has tried to integrate a humanitarian response as part of their plans to attack a foreign sovereign country, bringing down the threshold of engaging in military interventions abroad.

I am a fervent supporter of the segregation between military and humanitarian roles.

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You've been an aidworker for too long (Part 12)

aidworker in Pakistan

...if you are convinced "KFC" stands for Karachi Fried Chicken and that "Parasonic" or "Somy" are the real thing.

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Pakistan floods - Unpopular thoughts by an aidworker on the sideline

Pakistan floods

Watching the images on TV, and reading the reports, it is impossible to stay untouched by the misery caused by the massive Pakistani monsoon floods.

As an aidworker watching (for the moment), from the sideline, I have three thoughts that might make me unpopular in the aid community:

  1. Last year's Pakistani Swat emergency was hugely underfunded, which, according to me, showed a donor fatigue towards South-Central Asia and Pakistan in particular. It also showed a political unwillingness from "the West" to assist Pakistan, other than the "minimum needed".
    Unless some of the main donors take the lead and come up with big bucks now, the 2010 flooding will go into history as the worst international humanitarian response failure ever. Caused by lack of funding.
    And time is of crucial importance, as it always is for natural disasters: the response needs to be massive and immediate, as three months down the line, the accute need (and the majority of life saving actions) is no longer there.
    ...Leaving alone that anyone would still hick up money for a natural disaster three months after the facts.

  2. As of yesterday, I see press reports popping up with cries like affected people may outnumber the tsunami, 2005 Pakistan and 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. And the worst disaster in the UN's history. Both phrases were uttered by aid agencies, and not invented but eagerly picked up by the paparazzi... Reporters have been waiting for some exciting news stories in these slow summer months now that the Gulf oil spill is over.
    I would urge caution in using tabloid catch phrases like "the biggest ever"... Love is a drug. So are disaster figures, and crying foul. Like a drug, it is addictive, and numbs your senses on the longer term.
    Soon we won't raise a penny's donation anymore unless if the affected population is over the 20 million, and unless we make appeals over 1 billion (to get 100 million)...
    There has been a clear tendency to exaggerate figures in the past years. And the donors have happily played the PR game: Just as the aid community, donors have come out with billions and billions worth of pledges. Remember the billions promised for the Afghanistan rebuild? And the multi billions pledged as a response to the global food crisis. All pledges which never materialized, but were pitched at the press at the time. A press which eagerly took it over as "shock and awe"-reporting. A PR win-win for all those involved, but unfortunately as they sing in Italian: "Parole, parole!"
    This is what happens when aidwork reporting is taken over by tabloids.

  3. And most importantly. A subject very close to my heart. Staff security...
    A wise man once told me: "You can no longer reduce the threat, so reduce the risk": we have gone beyond the point where we can reduce the external threat of terrorist attacks on aidworkers, so we should confine to reducing the risk. And the more aidworkers sent into a high risk environment, the higher the risk. Simple as that.
    Now that every single self respecting NGO, UN agency, nonprofit organisation will be scrambling to show its face and "plant the flag" in Pakistan, we should not forget: In the past year, the aid community has been directly targeted by bold terrorist acts several times: In March 2009, seven WorldVision staff died in an attack on their office. Mercy Corps had their staff abducted and in June 9 2009, the bombing of the Pearl Continental in Peshawar, destroyed the hotel where most aidworkers stayed. The bombing of WFP's office in Islamabad, on October 5 2009, left five dead and several wounded.
    The Taliban has made no secret in targeting aidworkers in the whole region. A point made clear in this weekend's killing of 10 aidworkers in Afghanistan.
    Every single relief agency should hold back on the impulse to "pump in as many people as they can" to respond to the emergency.
    As a matter of fact, many support functions (finance, administration, procurement, reporting, mapping, etc etc) can be done in a remote support base, keeping the strict minimum of people in harm's way. In an emergency, more than half of the people needed on the ground can work remotely. And probably they would work more effectively too!
    I suggest for every single person any organisation sends in, the question is asked: "Do we really need this person to be there, on the ground?".
I think it is appropriate at this point to repeat the disclaimer at the bottom of this blog: "This blog expresses my personal opinions, and not those of my current or past employers."

Picture courtesy Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images, discovered via The Boston Globe's "The Big Picture" series on the floods

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You've been an aidworker for too long (Part 11)


You've been an aidworker for too long...

..if pictures from your first missions are on black and white print.

(for the aid connoisseurs amongst you: where was that picture taken?)

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Announcing my low traffic Twitter Feeds: The Two's

New Twitter Feeds

For almost a year, I have run a dozen Twitter accounts which are automatically fed with the latest posts from several of my blogs. Most of these Twitter accounts broadcast a dozen updates per hour.

Some people like the abundant stream of information, but others wanted less frequent tweets.

As an experiment, I have now released "The Two's": a series of Twitter accounts broadcasting the same information as the "main accounts", but at a far lower pace: 2 Tweets per Hour (or 2 tph ;-) ).

Each has the name of the "main account", with a "2" added to it. To show the link to the "main accounts", the Twitter icon features a large "2" too (toodeloo).
These accounts will not be monitored for direct messages or replies, for which you will have to go to its related main Twitter account.
Each tweet of the "Two's" will refer to its main account with a "via @mainaccount" in the suffix.

As a reference, here is a full overview of the Twitter accounts I manage, with the blog they refer to, and -if applicable- its low traffic account:

For the following Twitter accounts, there are no changes:

Do know if you subscribe to one of the "Two" Twitter accounts, you will miss updates as I can never get as far as I need to keep up with the frequency of the posts at 2 "tph"...

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How to kill 200,000 people in one go

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an important Japanese Army base.
That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of T.N.T. It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British "Grand Slam" which is the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

...Thus starts the statement issued by President Truman on August 6, 1945, announcing the US had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima earlier that day...

Much of the speech goes about the technical achievements, about putting down any Japanese 'machines of war' and 'they have started all of this'...

I always wondered how a president can announce something like this. I thought it'd be more like "Dear fellow Americans, today we have effectively killed 200,000 innocent civilians and maimed many more, in a war crime we will be proud of for many years to come."

Anyways, all sarcasm aside, I stumbled upon an excellent article called "The Documentary About Hiroshima and Nagasaki The U.S. Didn't Want Us to See". It features the video atop this post. A chillingly cold documentary of the bombs' impact on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. 22 minutes well spent to commemorate the 65th birthday of this shameful event. And to contemplate what this really was: Mass murder.

Most of the video concentrates on the material damage, and not so on the human suffering, the short and longer term effects of the radiation on humans and the environment both on the immediate surroundings and larger areas. At the time the documentary was made, it was probably too early to truely understand the impact of radioactivity.

One thing I found really... eh.. how should I say this... It really stroke me how, in a documentary made in the 40'ies, they called the spot where the atomic bomb fell "Ground Zero"... I am not too sure how to say this, but I am a true believer of good and bad karma: Spread good and better will come to you. Act evil and worse will be your return...

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The comprehensive state of the world - Part 3

rusted gate

While being 'out' for 6 weeks, plenty of stuff has happened on my blogs and its related projects. So without further ado, here is Part 3 of my 'catching up' exercise.

The most important stuff first: Change Starts Here, the social project we started on The Road almost 2 years ago, keeps on flying high. I just posted the details for our latest batch totalling $1,000 in loans.
Our Kiva team now counts 82 members, who issued a total of US$35,325 in 894 different microfinance loans. Ieehaa!
Check out the project scorecard and join our Kiva team!

Lemme see, what else happened?
Oh, we passed our 500,000th visitor on The Road! Iehaaa once more!

During the month of July, I had serious problems with the hosting of several of my blogs. Humanitarian News and BlogTips went offline for days in a row. I described my battle to get the sites back up in this post. I am now working on moving the hosting to a more reliable provider.

Still, that did not stop Humanitarian News from doing its job. In July, we collected 25,600 articles from 1,012 different sources and now store a total of 244,770 articles. On a downside, the poor performance of the servers forced me to shutdown the customized search and user-defined RSS feeds, though. Hopefully these can be revived after we moved Humanitarian News to its new host.

Meanwhile, my Twitter network kept on growing by itself. @aidnews now has close to 7,500 followers, @humanitynews approaches 3,000 followers. @newsongreen, @NonProfitBlogs have both well over 1,000 followers. @ChangeThruInfo and @AidBlogs are progressing more slowly, but steadily...

I get more and more requests from nonprofits to publish their press releases, which increased the traffic by 200% on my newest blogs The NonProfit Press. Shot from the Hip, a site close to my heart where I post sound, video and picture snippets straight from my mobile phone, has now well over 1,000 visits a month.

Several readers sent me lists of nonprofit blogs to add to my list, which totals almost 800 blogs at this moment. I made an analysis of the most common issues I found in these blogs in this post. The latest posts from each of these blogs are neatly aggregated (even though I say so myself) on The NonProfit Blogs and its dedicated section on Humanitarian News.

In the coming month, I will pick up quite a bit on BlogTips where I have a lot of pending posts, and expand the functionality in some of the other blogs e.g. putting in search boxes and finetuning the search engine optimization. So plenty of stuff to do.

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The comprehensive state of the world - Part 2

Ship's Bridge

It seems I tuned out of the world, and the world news, for the past six weeks. So, it is high time to check what happened in this cruel world while I had my eyes off the ball.

Pakistan seems badly hit by floods, and so is India. The Niger hunger crisis is still peaking.

Seems the "GOSPEL" (Gulf Oil SPilling wELl) is plugged, hopefully ending the worst oil polution event ever. Or was that honour given to Sadam's burning of Kuwaiti oil wells? ("Yeah, but that was far away from home")...

Google plugged a spill of its own by aborting their much hyped about Google Wave product. Sometimes I have to trust myself when my first impression is "TUUT": "Totally Unusable and Unnecessary Tool". Then again, sometimes a mega company has so much market weight that it can push through an unusable product, like Apple does with its iTunes. Beh.

Talking about Apple. Apple had a "SHIT" ("Signal Hiccup on iPhone Technology"): Their new iPhone 4 seems to be good at everything, except phoning, with everyone but Steve Jobs complaining about a significant lower GSM signal sensitivity than the iPhone 3. Which was already the worst I have ever seen. - Up to the level I had to buy a US$30 Nokia phone to make a mobile phone call from my apartment, as the iPhone sees no signal.
Apple then made a complete fool of itself by taking a "DUMP" ("Deny, Underestimate, Mumble and Patch-it-up-with-chewing-gum-and-ductape") approach:
First they denied the problem, then showed their totally ignorant users how to hold the iPhone (Do NOT use the deadgrip. I repeat, do NOT use the deadgrip), then claiming ALL smartphones have similar reception problems (which went down really well with Nokia, Blackberry and Droid affiliates), followed by a media campaign showing how well their antenna testing facilities are working, and giving all iPhone 4 users a free rubber. I kid you not.
In the end they hushed everyone and released the iPhone operating system version IOS 4.0.1, a patch of iPhone operating system to "adjust the way the signal level" was calculated. I kid you not.
It is a 40 Mbyte upgrade (as any iPhone upgrade), which you download, then upload to your iPhone, (after a full backup of course), hoping the thing does not crash  in the process and turns your iPhone into expensive paperweight.
All for probably one additional line of code in the whole 40 Mbyte and 3 hours upgrade procedure:

new_signal_bars = old_signal_bars + 2

Seriously, Mr Jobs: if in my apartment, I can make a perfect phone call with my $30 Nokia, and my $600 iPhone indicates "No Service", then this "SPIT" ("Simple Patch, Inadequate Technology")  won't help.

All of that bad news at the time where iPhone and iPad devices seem more security prone than one thought.

Yepyep, all insignificant news on the day the world remembers one of its most shameful deeds in which one nation killed 200,000 civilians in a single event, now 64 years ago. And everyone said "Yep, that was needed."

Guess the term "crime against humanity" is used solely dependent on which side you stand. And with that, I refer to Hiroshima, and not to the Apple iPhone problem.

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The comprehensive state of the world - Part 1

Ship's Bridge

Last night, I realized it was only two months since I left Santo Domingo. It seems like ages ago. Time to check what happened in the world, where I am, and where I should be going in the next month. Under the generic gest of "I'm BAAAACK"!

Lemme see. What happened with me?

Coming back from the Haiti emergency early June, I had one week at work in Rome, followed by the first week of my sabbatical during which I picked up work on my blogs.

Then I flew home for two weeks. Kids ended school, and we transitioned into the holiday. I reinstalled Windows XP on Lana's laptop three times. It is a challenge to re-install a laptop which randomly shuts down because of the heat. It was sizzling hot in Belgium. And curses were uttered.

Then we drove to Rome. The car broke down just after the Brenner pass, and miraculously rose from its ashes the next day, as if nothing had happened... Only to break down again in a major rainstorm just past Florence, where I had to push the car uphill to an emergency lane, avoiding people crashing into us from the back. Reminded me crossing a street in Basrah while people were shooting around us.

The garage's verdict: fuel lead contained metallic splinters, which broke the low pressure pump, which damaged the high pressure pump, which blocked the injectors. We picked up a replacement rental car to finish the last 200 km to Rome. Eight days and 2,000 euros later, the car was repaired. So they said.

Was sizzling hot in Rome. I reinstalled Lana's laptop once. The breeze at the beach was really soothing, the food was great. Tine, the kids and "H" loved it all.

Then we moved to an agriturismo in Le Marche, on Italy's east coast. Superb setting. Sizzling hot. Reinstalled Lana's laptop once. The food, the people and the wine was great. The vistas even more greater. Highly recommended.

Whoosh, then back to Rome for a week. Relaxing at the beach, strolling in town. It was less hot, and I did not touch Lana's computer. Bought an iPad, though, in an impulsive reaction to a dream I had. About buying an iPad.
I also had a dream about buying a Landrover 90. But will keep that idea ashore for a while.

Drove back to Belgium last Thursday morning. Left Rome at 8 am. Got into a horrible storm as we entered Tuscany, and an endless traffic jam around Florence. The car broke down at 3 pm, and we got to a hotel by 9 pm. Which was run by an Indian crew, so we had the best Chicken Tikka Massala in years.

Car was deemed as needing another week of repair - same problem, contaminated fuel line. So decided to have the travel insurance get the car to Belgium, while we got a replacement car. Meanwhile it was the start of the 'Black Weekend' - the horrible event where the end of July and beginning of August falls on a weekend. Half of Europe travelled South on holiday. And the other half drives back North ending their holiday. They collectively decided to use the same road as we did, resulting in many many many many many hours of traffic jams. We only arrived home in Belgium on Friday.

Time to repair Lana's computer for the last time, fill in all the claim forms for the travel insurance (1,100 euros without the repair costs), put two Tshirts in a bag and fly back to Rome.

Spent one night here, travelled in Italy for several excellent meetings in different places, and arrived back in Rome last night.

I will be here until end August.

And no, it is not sizzling hot anymore. And I can see Lana on Skype which means her computer is still working...

PS: I loooove Italy.
PPS: And yes, my car is still somewhere in North Italy waiting to be picked up by the towing service.
I hope.

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