Watching the world

Don’t have much to say, so here are a few things I’ve seen or read in the news.

1. Christians protecting Muslims while they pray in Cairo. From @NevineZaki:

2. CNN: Why more Americans don’t travel abroad. Many of these observations are ones I’ve pointed out when discussing this topic with non-Americans. I am glad to be one of the 30%.

3. Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student, addressing House Joint Resolution 6 in the Iowa House of Representatives. I know several if not most of the readers of my blog will disagree with him, but I found what he has to say very thought-provoking. I ask you to listen and consider what he has to say, too.

14 thoughts on “Watching the world

  1. Lola says:

    This week I had the opportunity to represent Amnesty at a vigil for David Kato, a man who worked for the rights of gay and lesbian people in Uganda– and sadly, was killed for it. The strong voices at the vigil, like those of Zach Wahls, speaking out against hatred, somehow enable me to have hope that one day we can achieve a world without hatred perpetuated by our government.


  2. Megan says:

    I found all three links interesting, so thanks for posting. Of course you know that the first had more effect on me than the other two. That photo makes me so proud to call Christians in Egypt my brothers and sisters, and I’ve heard similar sentiments about the way Muslims in Cairo are viewing their Christian neighbors.

    This, only 3 months after the attackers of a Catholic church in Baghdad claimed that their actions were based on religious tensions in Egypt. I continue to pray that the current, unified political unrest produces a unified political peace that protects citizens from religious oppression and fear, instead of ending worse off than they started. Insha’allah, right? 🙂


  3. Rebecca says:

    Right. I will now comment on the least important of these three topics, and reveal my inherent bias to all things shallow and magazine-y, rather than the profound depths of News and Comments sections. So, I was just looking at facebook and a friend was remonstrating your (mother) countrymen (& women) for not travelling more. A comment on her status update said that: 1) people don’t get enough vacation time to spend a day on a plane travelling; 2) the variety of 50 different states 3) the expense of international flights.

    1) and 2) seem to me to be perfectly valid. 3) is obviously a load of rubbish, coming from the most wealthy nation on earth. I know that you have further to go, but honestly, if an Australian can do it…
    Anyway, what this makes me think of is the kind of Britain/France divide. The French are decried as lazy good-for-nothings, because of their attachment to the 35 hour week (a situation which isn’t quite as simple as people like to think anyway), an arrangment which affords the French more leisure time but isn’t economically profitable (viable?). Anyway, what is the relationship between attitudes towards travel and leisure time and money (as mentioned in the article)? This in turn made me think about consumerism in general, and a conversation I had with someone a few months ago, in which they opined that, in food shopping, the dominant issue for an American consumer is price. Do you think this is generally true, or generally codswallop (exceptions aside)?


  4. Lola says:

    @Rebecca: From personal experience, the expense of flights is a legitimate and major reason for not traveling abroad. It’s important to remember that although the US is extremely wealthy, that wealth is disproportionately distributed, with the vast majority of it being held by a very small population. For most Americans, even a $650 plane ticket– the low end of a European flight– is out of reach. For most of us, that’s far more than one month’s rent.
    Also– and I hesitate to speak on this, because I am not as informed as I could be, so please feel free to correct me– as an Australian, you’re lucky enough to have socialized healthcare and subsidized education (correct?). Since our medical care and education are privatized, families are much more likely to put money that could pay for a European vacation in savings for unexpected medical expenses or their child’s college education. (Not saying this is a good thing! Just the current state of our systems.) I think this shifts priorities drastically.

    Food access is a really complex issue, and once again goes back to the disproportionate distribution of wealth in America. I’m not sure what you meant re: price– that Americans tend to buy the cheaper product over, ie, the organic or local product? I just took cold medicine and my head is woozy, so I’m not sure I can do a discussion of the topic justice, but google “food deserts” if you’re curious and have some time to read through the articles that come up.


  5. Chera says:

    @Rebecca & Laura: Regarding cost of flights, domestic flights can sometimes cost as much in time or money as international flights, so it depends on how much one is willing to pay to travel — and how far. But Laura is right regarding that being in a socialized state, money that in the U.S. I would be putting toward health insurance, etc., I am able to put toward other things, e.g., travel.

    Not sure how to address the food question. I don’t think there can be a general rule — Laura is right in that the American populace is diverse enough (regarding disproportionate distribution of wealth, as well as social values/priorities of different regions) that if the question what food one buys will be answered in many different ways. (Rebecca, I know you know this, of course — but sometimes even I tend to think of America’s diversity in the abstract.)

    @Amber: I know. I thought of you. ❤

    @Megan: The image of Christians protecting Muslims as they pray, just a few weeks after Muslims stood outside a Coptic church to protect it after a church was attacked, fills me with hope. I hope that this sense of solidarity survives the current waves of unrest, and that Egypt can be an example to the rest of the Muslim world. Insha’allah, Lord willing.


  6. Rebecca says:

    Oh, I don’t want you to think that I am espousing generalisations. I simply wanted to throw them in there for fun.

    @Chera Do remember that although we have socialized health care, there are a lot of costs to living in the UK that an American student here won’t necessarily face, e.g. income tax, national insurance, council tax, the cost of maintaining a vehicle, a mortgage, etc. So for example, to take a couple of those pressures: to be able to buy a house, we’d probably need a deposit of around £50,000. That means we’d have to save about £400 a month for ten years! To just maintain a car costs us a bare minimum of £200 a month, and probably a lot more (I daren’t work it out). Don’t assume that if you were earning a salary in the UK you would therefore necessarily have a lot of *extra* money floating around – though you might!

    Information on food deserts is interesting. The problem is that studies are almost entirely national, hardly ever internationally comparative. So that’s not going to help me make any patronising generalisations about whole countries, is it? 😉 Anyway, I think that my reported food comment re. price is probably a load of rubbish anyway, because although there are obviously differences in cuisine and buying habits, I don’t think that eating habits in the US and UK are incredibly different.

    I’m in the UK. Our post-18 education system is increasingly less subsidized. While my parents didn’t have to save for me to go to university, I certainly will have to save for my children.
    Interestingly, though, rates of post-18 education are lower here than in the US, so although people in the US must save to pay for education there is obviously greater access to that education. (Post-18 education has been seen as being for a small minority of people in the UK, until, at a guess, about 10-15 years ago.) There are clearly educational deserts in the UK. I’m sure they exist in the US as well. I quote:
    “What’s particularly distinctive about the numbers going to university in the UK is the polarisation of local differences.
    Youngsters in affluent areas are five times more likely to go to university than their counterparts in the poorest areas.
    At the extremes, the range is even wider. The last detailed local figures, gathered almost a decade ago, showed that only 8% went from Sheffield Brightside and 9% in Nottingham North.”


  7. Chera says:

    @Rebecca: Oh, yes, I’ve heard on Radio 4 about the insanity of saving up for a down payment on a house. And no, I know that I don’t currently pay council tax, national insurance, or the upkeep of a vehicle, but neither do I have an income. I don’t expect to have a lot of free money floating around whenever I do get an income from somewhere, but I do expect/hope it would be enough to pay for the bare minimum of things. If this is naïve of me, well, there it is.


  8. Rebecca says:

    No, it’s not naive. Because of course when you have more money you have more choices of how to spend it – that’s indisputable. And no one has to have a car, and plenty of people rent houses all their lives, so this is me conforming to certain aspects of society by having or wanting certain things. However, as I’ve had more income I’ve had increasing responsibilities – that then in turn make that income seem necessary.


  9. Lola says:

    @Rebecca: Regarding education – I think this does go to support my general statement regarding cost of travel being prohibitive for most Americans. I recently read a discussion of a Master’s degree in America being equivalent to how a BA was once regarded, and having recently been looking for job opportunities, I can somewhat attest to this. Cost of education in America is prohibitive yet necessary, meaning that many Americans prioritize spending in a manner different than people of comparative economic status in other countries.
    I don’t think the rate of higher education says as much about access as much as it does about cultural norms and practices. Secondary education in the two countries is drastically different, and in general (from what I’ve read, at least) a person with a secondary education in the UK is more prepared for the workforce than a comparative individual with similar education in the US. (Here I could tangent off into a discussion on how I think our education system is flawed, but that’s for another blog comment another time, I guess!)

    As for food deserts, I’m not sure why international comparability is relevant; in my understanding, they’re an American phenomenon caused by our unique structure of food distribution. My reason for bringing this up in response to your comment on American spending was mainly to say that, regardless of American tendencies, I think you’re asking the wrong question to begin with. The question isn’t so much “Are Americans cheap?” but “What is the status of consumer access that influences these buying decisions?” Far more interesting!


  10. Rebecca says:

    I don’t want to make generalisations, especially nasty ones such as ‘Americans are cheap’. The statement about Americans and buying habits wasn’t made by me, being genuinely attributed to a friend! This is also why I suggested that it could very easily be a load of rubbish.
    What I am interested in is how much the individual is responsible for or aware of decisions that bring him/her into line with a cultural/social norm.

    As regards international comparability goes, as far as I can see, if precisely the same proportion of citizens of other developed countries and US citizens held passports then I imagine the article Chera links to wouldn’t exist. It simply wouldn’t be interesting. The issue of food deserts arose from a conversation that began with international comparison of travel abroad, which I extended to the same in relation to leisure time, so I was thinking about this issue comparatively also. It is more interesting to think about the reasons for consumer choices rather than just comparing them. It would be even more interesting to compare cross-culturally as well, because I rather think that this would reveal points at which hidden causes were operating. But I think the data isn’t there or would be too complicated.

    The term ‘food desert’ seems to have originated in the UK in the 90s, and the OED lists it as a British English term, which suggests that it has been slow to catch up to its use in American English. (Certainly it would be odd for the term to be listed as Brit. if it originated in the US.) There’s also Australian usage of the term, too. In the UK food deserts are generally urban phenomena, however; I expect this might be the point of difference with the USA?


  11. Rebecca says:

    Incidentally, if young people in affluent areas are five times more likely to go to university than their counterparts from deprived areas then it seems to me that the choice to enter higher education is as much about access as it is about cultural norms. But yes, cross-culturally, I’m sure there is a difference in attitudes towards higher education, (though I’d like to suggest that this gap is closing fast). Personally, I wouldn’t denigrate the US education system (well, I have done once that I remember, but it was a really low blow aimed at someone who was being fairly arrogant at the time, and I regret it!).


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