Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks Diplomatic Cables! Incredible!

Riveting! I can't keep my eyes off the youtube!!!! Amazing!!!

Two meanings of "sanctions" in DRC resource extraction.

Googling online reminded me of two different meanings for the word "sanction" related to minerals and petroleum mining in the DRC. The same word is its own antonym.

The United Nations continues to sanction or prevent certain activities in the Congo. This isn't economic sanctions like the ban on export of "luxury goods" to North Korea. In this case, DRC is under a general arms embargo to prevent the entry (i.e. decrease the prevalence) of weapons into the DRC. The arms embargo originally included the official national Congolese army (FARDC) but the FARDC was allowed to import weapons starting from 2008. There is also a range of sanctions placed on individuals and companies in the DRC, freezing financial assets and preventing international travel. This is an interesting list including names of the ne'er-do-well individuals and companies, including mining companies, and the crimes for which they are targeted.

Meanwhile, the Kinshasa DRC goverment seems to have sanctioned, or allowed the appropriation and resale of privately held mining rights over mineral-rich sites. Like condemnation of real estate for public works construction, but this Mineweb article describes it as mere "asset-flipping" to generate revenue. More names to learn, research to do.

I am a reluctant grammarian, so I don't appreciate it when the same word can mean both "prevent" and "allow" in different contexts. "Sanction" is derived from the Latin verb sancire "to decree, confirm, ratify, make sacred."

I suppose that any coercive authority, whether preventing or demanding action, must be sacred to some degree. To sanction means that the actor claims righteous moral high ground. Otherwise, it is simply bullying, with no kind of authority.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Update: Indiana to Boston and Derailing Haz-mat Trains

I hear that in-laws are supposed to be frustrating and difficult to get along with. Luckily, I wouldn't know much about that: my in-laws are the most amazing, wonderful family. I thoroughly enjoyed my pre-Thanksgiving weekend catching up and sharing great food with the Phouns and Hsus. There were nine people in the Leesburg, IN house at its peak, and it was nothing if not cozy. I was lucky enough to visit with John and Lou Davis - John was AyJy's middle-school teacher that she has kept in contact with over the years. AyJy and I even got to tryout Ma Phoun's aqua-aerobics class at the local Y! Unfortunately, I missed out when AyJy met up with Chris, Amber, and fast-growing Grayson Lincoln - I'll catch you all next time.

This Tuesday night Amtrak's trains were delayed for six hours due to a freight train derailment near Bryan, Ohio. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common sort of incident. Here is a news report on the November 2010 derailment that delayed my Amtrak train by six hours, this is the June 2010 derailment, and this is the April 2010 derailment in the same relatively small region. Let's get our act together, Norfolk Southern! I hope the train system gets better before we ever see nuclear supplies on these kinds of tracks. Quote from Going the Distance? The Safe Transport of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste in the United States (2006):
FINDING: There are two potential sources of radiological exposures from transporting spent fuel and high-level waste: (1) radiation shine from... normal transport conditions; and (2) potential increases in radiation shine and release of radioactive materials from transport packages under accident conditions that are severe enough to compromise fuel element and package integrity. The radiological risks associated with the transportation of spent fuel and high-level waste are well understood and are generally low, with the possible exception of risks from releases in extreme accidents involving very long duration, fully engulfing fires. While the likelihood of such extreme accidents appears to be very small, their occurrence cannot be ruled out based on historical accident data for other types of hazardous material shipments...
And yes there were hazmats on our Ohio derailed trains. Is the freight train policy to just cross your fingers and hope the routinely derailing cars don't happen to fall off a bridge? This is 3 of 3 derailments I found in Ohio during 2010. This is a cursory first-time review, and Ohio isn't that big of a state...
"There is no hazardous materials on the cars affected," Chief Torbet said. "We found the hazardous materials farther to the east and is not on the affected part of the train." (my November 2010 derailment)

"There are two different sections that are derailed. We have at least five cars that we know were leaking denatured alcohol and it has an inhalation, toxic hazard and also flammability," said Williams County Emergency Management Director Tim Jonovich. (June 2010 derailment)

No one was injured, according to authorities but the derailed cars included flammable methanol. (April 2010 derailment)
Anyways, Amtrak managed not to derail, and I had a pleasant train ride despite its 26-hour length. Apart from working on application essays and reading "Will to Intervene," I enjoyed some hearts and "BS" with a motley group of train riders. We even put on some Bach and some "dubstep."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Volunteering Budget - Congo / Rwanda

Hello, friend,

Below is a breakdown of my donation goals and budget for the volunteer trip to Goma, DRC and Gisenyi, Rwanda. Click here to donate!

Total direct cost of my 4 month trip will be about $4600:
Housing/Meal 1600
R/T Plane Tix 1600
4 months of visas 800
AGLI Overhead 500

Considering this $4500 direct cost of my trip, I would like to provide a comparable amount of additional donations to AGLI to fund the field work being performed.

Thus, we will set a target of directly fundraising $6000. AyJy and I will put up an additional $3000. So that's an even split of a $9000 total: $4500 in costs, and $4500 in donation directly to the local workshops and facilities - the Gisenyi Peace Center, and AVP workshops and a women's shelter in Goma.

AGLI's budgets are pretty lean, out-of-region work mostly done by volunteer labor. Here are links to a summary budget, and a detailed budget for AGLI 2009-2010.

Also, whether or not you can donate, please send me an email so I can make sure to include you on my updates, which will also be posted on this blog.

-Steven and AyJy Bhardwaj

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Preparations for ESV and Afterwards

Returned from studying French in Montreal at 6am Saturday morning Nov 13. After a quick nap, a morning game of pickup frisbee at Prospect Park with AyJy. After returning, I spent the afternoon and evening reviewing and planning for the clearness committee meeting and repacking for the upcoming trips.

Sunday Nov 14 was a full day of Quakers. After the 11am meeting for worship was a 2 hour meeting for business, followed by my hour and a half clearness committee meeting, clerked by AyJy. The clearness committee grilled me on my mental preparedness for the ESV trip, and was equally forthcoming with offers of help, in forming my "support" committee. The committee meeting ended about 5:15, after which we returned home.

We left the house at 6am on Monday, took a "New Century" bus to Philly, and arrived at Swarthmore by SEPTA at 10:30. Chris Densmore gave us a great tour of the Friends Historical Library, and then we went to visit some Swarthmore professors.

We took the Amtrak leaving Tuesday afternoon to Indiana to visit AyJy's family. The library here is open 10am to 7pm and has great internet, so I'll be camping out here most every day crunching applications etc. AyJy came out today (Thursday) to study and help me out.

I should remind myself that the process is the goal. The goal is the process. What a nice library, and what a great afternoon!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Stars of Human Development

Thanks Akira M. for the link to this very interesting article on the fastest-improving countries in terms of Human Development Index. Here is the original UNDP report.

Top movers in HDI, 1970–2010
Rank Improvements in HDI
1 Oman
2 China
3 Nepal
4 Indonesia
5 Saudi Arabia
6 Lao PDR
7 Tunisia
8 South Korea
9 Algeria
10 Morocco
Source: 2010 Human Development Report.

I suggest reading from the article while listening to "Night in Tunisia" by Dizzy Gillespie.

(Lyrics by Ella Fitzgerald??)

The moon is the same moon above you
Aglow with it’s cool evening light
But shining at night, in tunisia
Never does it shine so bright

The stars are aglow in the heavens
But only the wise understand
That shining at night in tunisia
They guide you through the desert sand

Words fail, to tell a tale
Too exotic to be told
Each night’s a deeper night
In a world, ages old

The cares of the day seem to vanish
The ending of day brings release
Each wonderful night in tunisia
Where the nights are filled with peace

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Morning Before Clearness Committee

It's the Sunday morning before the Clearness Committee meeting on my trip to Gisenyi/Goma as an ESV volunteer!

I'm sore all over from frisbee yesterday, and slept a fine eight hours to a comfortable 07:30. Breakfast of grape-nuts, walnuts, and a topping of Reese's Puffs. Time to start a regular daily blog habit. I think that consistent blogging will significantly improve the effectiveness of my Rwanda/Congo trip.

Morning Reading:
- Time Magazine's list of up-and-coming young politicians "40 under 40".
- 39-year old Jeremy Bash's (one of the 40 under 40) favorite political blog was "Mike Allen's Playbook." I read today's edition of the Playbook.

Morning Tasks:
- Printed out forms to take to Clearness Committee: Agenda 10 copies, Draft Application 3 copies, Volunteer Handbook 1 copy, Blog page 3 copies.
- Located office supply near meetinghouse: SW corner of Union Square (to buy more printer paper)
- Stretching/Meditiation