Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Trash City" Photographs

I came across a short article and photo essay recently, which seemed apropos of recent posts to this blog. It documented life for hundreds of human beings in a dump outside the capital of Mozambique. The link below will pull up the article and photos.

In one sense I'm hesitant to share the article and photos in this forum. We Westerners often have a stereotyped view of Africa, that it is just a continent of human misery and hopelessness. I have already posted several heartwrenching articles about the dire famine in Eastern Africa. I'm torn between wanting to raise awareness of the suffering of others in our human family, and not wanting to perpetuate these stereotypes.

Personally, I have a real love and admiration for Africa and Africans. I have never been to the continent, but have read books and seen documentaries. I am well aware of the beauty of the land and its diverse peoples. It is my dream to one day spend time in Africa in some capacity.

There is a lot of human suffering in Africa, but that is not the whole story of Africa. Human suffering is also occuring on every other continent. I've seen stories about people living in garbage dumps in Central America and India. People elsewhere--and in our own country--live by collecting what others throw away. It is a truly profound difference in the standard of living among the members of the human family.

The photographs in the link above are difficult to look at. You can see how filthy the people are, how their skin is not healthy, and how desperate they are to attend to just the most basic human needs like quieting a hungry stomach or fending off the cold. The images of children and the elderly are particularly difficult to see.

There were two parts of the article that most made an impression on me.

First, the photographer talked about the generosity of the people he encountered at this trash dump. He said, "Despite all the circumstances of how they live, they keep on showing their kindness and happiness and hospitality. We don't find these human qualities in many places in the world."

Later, in conclusion, the photograph said, "The life we waste everyday because we want a better one or because we are never satisfied with it, is the life that many wish and yearn to have and would give everything to have it."

I think these two points are very profound and worth pondering.

Luke 6:21, 25
Blessed are ye that hunger now, for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh.
Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep.

Friday, August 26, 2011

More on the Victims of Famine in East Africa

As a follow-up to the prior post, another article about the plight of our brothers and sisters in Eastern Africa recently got my attention. The article involves the horrific choice parents have to make to leave sick and dying children behind to try to get siblings to relief centers.

The article is available at the link below.

I don’t really have anything to add. The anguish of a parent forced to make such a decision is unimaginable. My heart breaks at the suffering of my brothers and sisters.

Luke 10:30-37

Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

High Salaries for Celebrity Journalists

Apropos of my recent blog posts, I came across an article about the amazingly high salaries of the celebrity journalists who bring us the “news” in the major media outlets. The article is available at the link below.

On the very same day, I saw an article about desperate mothers in Kenya physically fighting other desperate mothers to get food for their starving children. As a mom myself, I couldn’t begin to imagine the horror of watching my own children starve before my eyes. That article is available at the link below.

I was talking recently with a colleague who mentioned that he could imagine I would be a real “Mama Grizzly” if anyone ever threatened my kids. When I read this article about the moms in Kenya, I thought about that “Mama Grizzly” comment. To the best of my recollection and with the possible exception of some minor naughtiness as a young child, I’ve never physically assaulted anyone. I cannot conceive of harming another human being like that. But if my children’s survival were at stake, I can imagine that might begin to be an option. It is horrifying to consider, but the love for one’s children is strong. It would kill me to see my children’s lives in danger and I would probably do just about anything to protect them. It would fly in the face of every value I embrace and I would hate myself. But the anguish of watching your child waste away is unthinkable.

The irony of the two stories appearing at the same time struck me. I don’t begrudge anyone good fortune and a windfall. There will always be people who earn outrageous salaries while others live in deprivation. These rich “journalists” are not alone in receiving such compensation.

But the services provided by these celebrity “journalists” is relatively cushy. They are in temperature regulated studios in places like Manhattan and Northwest D.C. They wear expensive suits and are well-coifed. They bathe regularly and have people who fuss over getting their make-up just right.

By comparison, the investigative journalists who bust their butts and often risk their lives to bring us the news from places of instability and violence are often unsung heroes. Tom Odula is the person who wrote the article above about mothers dealing with horrific drought in Kenya. Frankly, I’ve never heard of him before. I googled him and was not able to learn much. I could be wrong, but I’m assuming that he is making considerably less than Matt Lauer this year. However, to me, Mr. Odula is performing a much more important public service than Mr. Lauer’s hosting of the Today show.

I suppose the same sort of inequality exists in other professions. I began my professional life as a grade school teacher in an underfunded church school in a neglected part of town. The salary I earned that first year probably would have put me below the federal poverty level. The teachers at the best public schools on the other side of town made several times more than I did. Teachers at prestigious private schools in other more affluent communities also would have made many times more than I was making that first year.

When I was in practice as a lawyer, I was very fortunate and made more money than I could have ever imagined. Partners at big firms made a lot more, but I couldn’t complain. I made much more than the lawyers in my community who defended indigent clients to avoid deportation or incarceration. I also had a much nicer office in which to work.

Similarly, the plastic surgeons who play on the insecurities of various people perform tummy tucks and breast augmentations, for which they earn lucrative income. By contrast, the doctors who live in rural communities serving underserved populations often with substandard facilities live a much less opulent lifestyle.

I think it is interesting to note the way that market forces sometimes overcompensate services of lesser social value and undercompensate services of greater social value.

Galatians 5:13

You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


In October of last year, it was announced that Juan Williams was fired from NPR. Mr. Williams had been an analyst for NPR for years. Hosts would bring him in to provide analysis of the day’s news stories. However, he was also working as a commentator for Fox News Channel in recent years. He appeared on FNC programs to share his opinion on the day’s news stories. Mr. Williams was fired by NPR because its management objected to things Mr. Williams had said on FNC in his commentator role; they believed it compromised his analyst’s role on NPR.

There was a lot of fall-out and debate after Mr. Williams’ firing. Many conservatives cited it as illustrative of the liberal political correctness and intolerance of differing perspectives on NPR. For a variety of reasons, many on the left wrung their hands in angst over the departure of Mr. Williams and his full-time defection to the dark side of FNC.

I heard one news report during that time that was interesting in putting the whole affair in perspective. It explained the different roles Mr. Williams had played at the two media outlets. For NPR, he had been an analyst, which meant that after someone else provided the supposedly objective facts of the news, Mr. Williams explained the significance and repercussions of those facts. Per the report I heard, a news analyst is supposed to still retain journalistic objectivity and not inject his own views on the news. But for FNC, Mr. Williams had been a commentator, which meant that he was paid to give his own opinions and debate the opinions of others.

After listening to that report, I thought a lot about these two roles: news analyst and news commentator. Initially, I was skeptical about the need for either in news programming. But after more consideration, I now understand that just straight reporting of the news may not be enough. For viewers/listeners/readers to understand the reported news facts, context may be necessary. For example, to understand the significance of a particular presidential veto, we may need to understand the legal and budgetary repercussions of the failure of the legislation to be enacted, the history of the bill in Congress, the political rivalries that may have played out and prompted the veto, the frequency with which a particular president uses his veto and a host of other facts. I can appreciate that news analysis may be necessary, but I also recognize that it may be difficult to maintain one’s journalistic objectivity when providing such analysis. It can be a fine line between analysis and commentary. I can imagine the line might even be illusory at times.

But I remain unclear why supposed news programs need commentators. Why in America do we pay the same relatively small group of people big bucks to sit around constantly debating their opinions? The Sunday morning talk shows, the cable news shows, the talk radio programs and others simply expose us to the same folks spouting their opinions over and over again on a number of topics. Why do we always have to hear from the same people?

If we have to have these opinion-based shows, why don’t we at least bring in more folks to share their opinions so we will have more perspectives to hear? That might challenge us more and it could be enlightening. But that is not what such programming is all about. Again, such programming masquerades as news but is simply entertainment.

We end up with these little cults of personality. People love to quote Rush or Glenn or Jon or Keith. But these gentlemen do little to inform us of what is going on in the world and they rarely give us a challenging new perspective. Right wing audiences listen to Rush or Glenn spout what they want to hear. Similarly, left wing audiences listen to Jon or Keith for similar reasons. It is just a depressing state of affairs.

When the whole Juan Williams brouhaha was going on, my in-laws were visiting our family in Arizona. I like to hear the perspectives of different people, so I asked my father-in-law what he thought of the whole thing. His reaction was surprising and quite interesting.

My husband’s family is from a small town several hours from the nearest urban center. There were only a couple of radio stations available when my husband was growing up, and until the advent of cable, they couldn’t really watch much TV. My father-in-law told me that before the firing, he had never heard of Juan Williams and had never listened to NPR. My in-laws are well-educated and intelligent people. I was surprised they had never listened to NPR even once, but my father-in-law indicated they didn’t get NPR in their town. As a result, it was hard for him to put in context the whole event.

I suspect that that was not an uncommon reaction. When our family has gone on road trips, my husband and I sometimes have trouble finding an NPR affiliate in remote areas. Though the media pundits were obsessed with the firing of Mr. Williams for a while, I’m sure that a lot of Americans were like my father-in-law and didn’t know who the heck Juan Williams was. We in urban centers often have no clue what life is like in more rural areas of our country. The popular media seem to share and reflect that same ignorance.

Proverbs 11:29

He who troubles his own house shall inherit the wind, and the foolish shall be servant to the wise of heart.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Abruptly in January of this year, Keith Olbermann announced he was no longer appearing on MSNBC. There has been speculation why. Months later, it was announced he would be appearing on the Current TV channel, to which few people seem to have access. But don’t cry for Mr. Olbermann, he is going to receive a multi-million dollar raise.

Mr. Olbermann is a man of strong opinions and strongly-worded opinions. I happen to agree with many of them. Nonetheless, I’m not a fan. When I have watched his program, he is simply a left wing version of Bill O’Reilly, with whom he has had a public feud.

Such bombast and on-air confrontation is in my opinion the verbal equivalent of wrestling in the WWF. It should never be confused with journalism. People like Mr. Olbermann and Mr. O’Reilly give viewers little new information. They are a form of entertainment. The audience is supposed to listen to them spout their opinions in self-righteous style and berate anyone with whom they disagree. We rarely get new information from that type of broadcast.

I have always hated WWF wrestling. People with silly costumes pretending (?) to violently inflict pain on other human beings while embracing ridiculous personas to either cultivate audience support or audience antagonism. Why would anyone be interested in such senseless violence? I’ve never understood it.

But it seems to me that the same base appeal is used to lure people to watch Mr. Olbermann and his ilk. And that is tragic. We need to recognize that such shows are simply entertainment, not truly news. Again, there are only so many hours in the day. Time spent watching such programming means that we are likely foregoing opportunities to really learn what is going on in our world and to be truly informed about issues of importance.

Proverbs 10:14

Wise men store up knowledge [in mind and heart], but the mouth of the foolish is a present destruction.