Kids collecting wood mistaken for insurgents

Ten boys between the ages of 9 and 15 were attacked on March 2, 2011. Nine of them died. They were collecting firewood to heat their homes. They live in the eastern Afghanistan mountains.

One of those terminated with extreme prejudice situations. Or what’s also euphemistically called ‘collateral damage’. There were two sets of brothers. Does that small fact make it more personal maybe? Or do they remain a statistic?

Reading the report in the New York Times there is a frightening amount of detail because there was a tenth boy who survived because a tree fell on him.

There were two helicopters that flew over the boys at a low level the first time. Then they came back a second time and individually shot the youngsters. One by one.

That means that with the kind of equipment, – binoculars – sharp scopes on weapons – that kind of thing, the army has nowadays it is likely that the soldiers involved must have had a fairly good look at these kids. At 9 years old they would have been small. Surely not to be confused with adult men?

Of course one doesn’t even need to ask the question again, surely, what are the Americans doing there in the first instance? Never mind performing some target practice on small children? And one wonders whether General Patraeus would have bothered to apologies if there hadn’t been such an uproar.

Reading a report like this is like getting a kick in the stomach and gasping for air. What? Why? How can this be possible.

It’s actually just not good enough is it?

The throw away society – even humans

One thing I’ve noticed in Vietnam is that people recycle naturally. Everything is re-used many times over. People don’t even need large dirt bins. The refuse collector comes around with a push cart ringing a bell and households put out a small packet holding their daily rubbish.

It’s different in developing countries where our refuse is a mountain every day. We have become a throw away society. A bruised fruit is trashed, paper and plastic is thrown out, half eaten meals are dispensed with, once worn shoes are binned. Many times things that have never even been unwrapped are sent packing.

Regrettably this attitude of throwing away things that we feel we have no more use for permeates our entire thinking. Reading a report on the Veterans homelessness statistics in the USA was a shocking reminder how callous and unthinking society really is. Even supposedly highly evolved ones such as the West.

Here are just a few statistics to shock you out of your comfort zone for just a few minutes. According to the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) departments report published on February 10, 2011 nearly 76 000 veterans were homeless on a given night in 2009 of which 43% were unsheltered.

Out of all veterans 136 000 spent at least one night in a shelter during 2009. This is a most shocking revelation.

We send young people out into war zones. In the case of Iraq and Afghanistan there is even no particular reason why troops are even there. These people are exposed to horrific scenes.

They are expected to kill people for no reason except that they have been ordered to. Civilians or ‘enemy’ no distinctions need to be made. In return they never know whether they will survive the trip and if they do they will have seen at least some of their friends killed in action.

In other words their minds are totally messed with. And in many cases their bodies have been damaged making them disabled and less likely to be able to work as before.

So they come back damaged goods. And we throw them away. Literally. Onto the streets. If there were a garbage collection for messed up people, we would use it.

If society has to send young people into war, and that alone is a crime against humanity, then at least look after them when they come back. Let’s not throw away our people too.

What are we doing to our children

Did you know that 8 year old Romeo Beckham has been voted number 26 out of 50 people in the best-dressed for ‘men’ in the New Year who’s who in the farmyard GQ annual list.

What?

Besides the fact that the list is a bit of a laugh in the first instance, I mean who cares… what does this bizarre ranking for a kid mean to other kids? Do they now have to ‘up their game’ when it comes to dressing up when going out to the shopping mall?

What does this signal to those obsessive parents who are determined to have their child at the head of the queue, whatever that queue might consist of. Does it mean that outward appearance, dressed up mini mannequins are now another aspirational point on the list of things they have to push their kids onto.

But it’s not all about the boys. There’s also an avenue for little girls to shine. Let’s just ignore the horrific Little Miss America competitions that toddlers have to subject themselves to because their mothers never achieved anything for themselves in their lives. So little daughter has to oblige. One can just pity them.

However when Vogue, a supposedly respectable magazine, gets on the bandwagon one has to truly shudder. In similar fashion as with the above GQ picking an 8 year old kid as an example to the rest of the world Paris Vogue did their thing to promote child pornography. Check the pics here.

French Vogue ran a feature using kids to sell gifts. The photos are terrifying. What are they doing to small kids. And it’s not as if those kids are not going to see themselves either. Of course these ‘high fashion’ mags have been selling women’s clothing using teenagers for years. It was only a matter of time before they stepped closer to the cradle.

Several pages in the Vogue featuring heavily made up children appeared in the December-January 2011 issue. And the kids are in poses that could put Playboy to shame.

Is there nobody out there, no organisation, that protects children? Where are the Agencies that are tasked with this? Surely Paris Vogue should be sued for a) child labour (somebody got paid for those little girls doing this) b) sexual exploitation of children.

Never mind that little example of sex sells stuff. What does it put into the minds of parents and children but that this is now normal. Kids do this sort of stuff. They should dress up as adults, put make-up on like adults and pose in come-get me positions just like adults.

Babies next, one imagines.

Shudder.

Bullying by kids – parents have to work harder to stop it. In support of the ‘It gets better’ campaign.

It gets to me when the media, citizens and parents attack schools pointing out their failure to control the children that are in their care. And especially the culture of bullying that seems to have risen to new levels in the last few years is firmly laid at the feet of schools, society and everybody else except the parents.

Yet the behaviour we see in young children, because bullying does start right at the first point that kids do stuff together and yes in kindergarden often, has been taught at home. Schools purely are faced with the end result when it’s already ingrained behaviour.

Kids come onto this world without prejudices. They don’t know about colour, creed, sexuality or gender issues amongst many of our supposedly set in concrete perceptions.

They follow the behaviour of their parents and immediate family environment. They listen to the words spoken by those they come into contact with. They learn by observation and imitation and they follow what they have been taught to do.

There is no way around this dear parents. No ducking out of this responsibility and putting it at the feet of schools, society, church, government you name it. There is no question that the behaviour by kids and teenagers is what has been taught by those in their homes.

You wonder why your kid is drinking and smoking when you yourself indulge in these habits? Ever wonder why your kids swear, lie, cheat and avoid responsibility for their actions? Because you do it.

We all do it. But we somehow think that because we tell our kids to do otherwise that is what they will do. As parents you are the role model for your youngsters. They follow you, they look up to you and they want to be just like you.

So if you think that gay people should be beaten up because they are different, how do you think your kids are going to behave? If you think the coloured kids in the neighbourhood are second rate citizens, what do you think your kids are going to believe?

Do you believe that the poor families in your city deserve to be poor because they are lazy good for nothing folk, then how do you expect your kids not to bully them and belittle them. They are just following your example.

So let’s stop putting the blame on the school system, the police force not coping with criminal behaviour by young people, the society that is throwing up its hands at bullying teens.

As parents we have to do a better job. We have to check our own prejudices and belief systems and fix those first so that our kids can become the kind of people we really want them to be.

Watch this talk by Joel Burns who is sending out a message to gay teenagers re-assuring them that life does get better despite the bullying they experience as young people. This will truly touch your heart.

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‘Relatives of the victims watched the execution’

Not much of my school education has remained lodged in my memory bank. Sure it is after all 45 years ago that I sat in one of those wooden uncomfortable seat/table combos we got tortured on.

One of the few images though that I have never forgotten was Madame Defarge and her knitting needles sitting at the edge of the execution square waiting for the next head to roll off the guillotine.Thank you Charles Dickens for that one.

As youngsters we shuddered at the thought of all those people thronging the streets and open spaces waiting for the nobility to get carted past on their way to their final rather painful public appearance.

But we chalked it up to old fashioned times where there were still semi-savage people in the population. Civilisation as we know it now had obviously not arrived as yet in the times of the French Revolution. We shook our heads in disbelief. Even 45 years ago we thought we would not see this in our life time anymore.

Of course we were totally naive young people. We didn’t have a clue. First of all the spot light had not been shone by the global media onto what happens in strict Muslim communities where people are still stoned to death in public meeting spaces.

We hadn’t heard about the honour and bride killings in India that in some cases are also performed in front of spectators. Never mind the raping and killing of women and children in front of mobs as part of a tactic of war in Africa.

Public executions have certainly carried on at a much greater pace than we could have ever dreamt of. After all World War II had come and gone and had been determined the worse crime on humanity we thought. Well we had obviously seen nothing as yet.

But the reason for this post is not for purpose of criticising orthodox Muslim laws or Africa’s shameful use of abuse against women as a war strategy or other public executions in the rest of the world. A search on Google will provide a veritable smorgasbord of videos for the ghoulish inclined.

This post is a reflection on the idea of the modern Madame Defarge making a come back in the USA. It takes place in a small room, usually the seats at a slant as one finds in cinemas, facing the execution chamber only just separated by a glass wall.

Viewing by invitation only. The family members of the victim of the murderer being executed have first choice of tickets and front row viewing. As happened in Virgina a few days ago.

Of course most of us cannot possibly imagine what it must feel like to have a loved one murdered by someone. And thank goodness for that. But to attend the public execution of the person who killed your loved one is a strange concept. Would it make one feel better? Is it easier to carry the burden of such a loss?

And the final question that one might want to reflect on, or not depending on your inclination of course, is whether one stoops to the same level by watching. After all the person being executed is not facing a natural death. And murder is taking someone’s life before their time with ‘malice aforethought’. Same same?

Peace on earth supported by billion dollars weapons sales

Image sourced from Wikipedia and is covered by GNU Free Documentation

A shocking article in the Spiegel recently describes the booming weapons sales. USA will be delivering US$60 billion’s worth to Saudi Arabia. Total global spend on arms and related goodies is estimated to hit the US$700 billion mark in 2010.

What’s on the Saudi King’s shopping list? There are a few F-15 Fighter aircraft and helicopters, weapons and tanks amongst other bits and pieces. Has anybody checked lately where Saudi Arabia is? In the middle of Iran, Iraq, Israel a sneeze away from Afghanistan. In other words it’s situated in the middle of the hottest and nastiest conflicts.

Bizarre isn’t it to see the TV images of US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton shaking hands with the Palestinian and Israeli leadership during the latest Peace Deal negotiations. The next thing you read is that the US is selling a mountain of weapons to the neighbour.

But let’s not single out the bad Americans in this little saga. Western European weapons manufacturers are as aggressively selling their macho adult toys to whoever wants them.

According to Sipri, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 34 companies out of the top 100 weapons manufacturers are based in Europe and account for 32% of the global business. 44 of them are in the USA.

One wonders whether Bush and Blair during their search for weapons of mass destruction might have wanted to start in their own backyard first. After all they are making them. Bound to find some there.

BAE Systems a UK manufacturer in fact heads the list of the main weapons manufacturers. Maybe this is the reason for Blair’s support of the Iraqi war, the sale of weapons. It’s all about the money after all. Might not even have been about oil.

BAE has a turnover of US$34 billion. Quite a sum. It makes tanks, nuclear powered submarines, explosive devices and is currently working on jet propelled aircraft that don’t require pilots. Next time somebody steps on a landmine check the Made in GB sticker. Did Lady Di. the ultimate British royalty, know this when she put so much effort into creating awareness about the tragedy of this war device.

Next time you join the throng of travelers in a Boeing or Airbus think about the amount of money these companies are making supplying the world’s war mongering politicians with appropriate people destroying tools.

Knowing that do we feel quite as friendly towards those two brands?

EADS, a subdivision manufactures Airbus, is ranked seventh in the world in terms of weapons manufacture. And there’s no stopping their progress further up the list. 48% of Boeing’s turnover is generated by arms sales. In 2008 that added up to a cool US$29 billion.

So who are the big weapons manufacturing and exporting countries? The big three nations that come up in response to this question are the USA followed by Russia and then Germany. Especially submarines ‘made in Germany’ seem to be popular.

From an economic perspective there is absolutely no reason why these three super powers would want a peaceful resolution in any of the conflict spots in the world. A cynic might even wonder who is stoking the fires.

Victorious troops pulling out of Iraq? What victory

Victorious troops in Iraq. What victory? Imagine this picture. A bully has beaten a weak opponent to pulp. In fact he has also beaten a few bystanders who just happened to be in the vicinity by mistake to pulp. You get the picture. We’ve all seen it in some form or other.

Then take the camera away and focus on what happens a few moments/hours/weeks later and the very same bully is seen performing wondrous deeds of resuscitation of his very same victims. There are string of heroes on camera. People helping, rebuilding, restoring those pulped people.

On closer looking one realises with shock that the bullies who have beaten up the people and their property in the first instance are now shown as the heroes rebuilding and fixing the damage.

This is the scene being enacted across Iraq. I suppose one should be happy that the bullies are doing this. They certainly didn’t do much in Vietnam after they had pulped up that country.

But it really must make any half way sensitive person want to vomit. Watching the scenes of ‘courageous’ expat people rebuilding the Iraq country and trying to help the people back on their feet.

This last week, while Obama was doing his interpretation of saving the Iraqi nation, a CNN reporter was showing viewers all the so called improvements. Here is a market where a year ago nobody was selling fruit and vegetable. Here is a rebuilt school, there a restored mosque and so the story went on.

It’s strange though that nobody ever states the obvious. Before March 2003 they were selling fruit and vegetables at that market, schools were being used for the right purpose and people could pray at their local mosque.

The figures both in monetary terms and lives lost are staggering. And the result of this war? Well not really easy to work out. Because the supposed purpose of this war was to find Weapons of Mass destruction. Well those were never found.

Then that changed to the axis of evil story. Fighting terrorists et al. That didn’t quite give off the correct result either. Now there are more terror attacks on anybody and anything in Iraq on a daily basis than there ever were before March 2003.

Oh wait. It was about Iraqis attacking the USA. Well that hasn’t been proven much either. And quite frankly if they did now out of retribution for what the US has done in their country one could almost understand it.

Here are some statistics just to remind us. A book recently published states that it has cost the US over US$3 trillion. And the UK and other allied forces?

Money isn’t all, although many people tend to think so. It’s the human life factor that is more important surely. So here are just a few stats for us to consider. Some of these stats do not represent the most recent figures. So many will be even worse.

US troops killed – 4 420. wounded 31 026 – 20% of which are serious brain or spinal injuries. It is estimated that 30% of troops coming back home develop serious mental health problems within 3 months. 120 000 troops were in Iraq at the height of the ‘surge’.

141 Journalists killed. Iraqi police and soldiers killed 9 654 but the big one here is the figure for the Iraqi civilians. According to the Iraq Body Count site the figure stands at around 106 000 civilian deaths due to the war efforts. Other sites state the figures to be as high as 1.3 million. Number of displaced people in Iraq are around 2.8 million.

And the toll carries on. No matter the huge differences in the statistics. There is bound to be secrecy around the true costs of this war. Who would want to admit to these horrific statistics. But even the lowest estimates are still shocking in their scale.

So as the news programmes carry on showing the world the pull-out of troops surely somebody should put a truthful account together. Surely some editor should have the courage to focus on what horrific damage this war has done to a country. Let’s not see pictures of what has been repaired. Let’s see pictures of what Iraq looked like before the war, how it was destroyed and what damage is now left over for the Iraqis to repair. It’s not as if their economy is exactly thriving with an inflation rate of 50% and the oil price coming down.

Let’s just for once try and be honest. Difficult I know.

Staggering high child poverty rate in the USA

A headline caught my eye. Made me stop everything else to read the article. The headline in my news update of Philanthropy Today says that 18% of children live in poverty.

Sure. Fair enough. We’ve all seen these kinds of meaningless statistics thrown out there for people to think about or not. But the reason for my instant interest was the fact that this stat applies to the USA.

That’s right. Nearly one in five children in the United States live in poverty  The richest country in the world has children living in poverty. Not only is the USA the richest country, or at least in the top ten,  but it must rate as one of the more Christian focused countries too with a stated 40% of Americans maintaining they attend church regularly.

Comparing the poverty rate in India and in the USA is quite amazing. One always thinks of India as the poor country. Images of child beggars, even movies like Slumdog Millionaire confirming these images in ones mind.

However the USA has roughly 13 to 17% living below the federal poverty line and some 40% falling below the poverty line at some point within a 10 year time span. That compares to India’s 42% live below the international poverty line. They don’t look like worlds apart after all.

Somehow it doesn’t seem that horrific to think of a poor India. That doesn’t mean to say that one should condone the situation. It’s just that India is fighting fiercely to right this wrong. In 1975 65% of the population fell into the category. Now at 40% there’s been a fair drop since then.

But why would the USA have such high child poverty rates? This is the land where the American dream is supposedly providing every person with the opportunity to make it. In other words they can make a living, improve their standard of living, build a future for their children. Even make it big.

How does an 18% child poverty rate fit into this picture? In my mind it just doesn’t at all. What is the USA doing about it? Not that much it seems as the figures have worsened in the last years.  And let’s not blame the recession again. So convenient.

How can a mega-power like the USA allow it’s children to live in poverty? I don’t understand. Maybe somebody can explain it to me.

Still wondering about the reason why the UK went to war in Iraq

So the war in Iraq was supported by the UK because Blair, the then Prime Minister, was worried about the Weapons of Mass Destruction. Oh but there weren’t any to be found. Well then it was the hatred of tyranny and terror. Mmm, they didn’t find too much of that either. Sure, they finally found Saddam Hussein in his bolt hole.

There are some small murmurs every now and then questioning the reasons for the UK’s involvement in this war that lead to the death of 1.2 million people. So far. Most of those  are innocent civilians.  Johann Hari, one of my favourite journalists, has a good article on this in The Independent.

But one thing that is mostly overlooked is that the UK is a democracy and it has houses of Parliament where elected representatives sit earning nice little salaries. And in order to avoid having a Prime Minister go off pop and do something stupid like getting involved in a war that has no purpose whatsoever, these folk get to vote on issues. On issues for instance whether to send ones soldiers off to fight a war that is none of ones or their business.

After all there was no real threat to British safety from Saddam Hussein and his rather motley crew of ragamuffin army folk.  But off they went to war regardless. Regardless even of UN disapproval.

The question has to be asked, why did so few people stand up to stop this idiotic action? Isn’t this what the Germans had to suffer after the war. The recrimination about not stopping Hitler, not stopping the Holocaust and not stopping the second World War.

So where are the recriminations this time around? Why is nobody pointing fingers at the British government, all those politicians still getting their pay, not having to be accountable for the deaths of 1.2 million people.

Surely it’s not just Blair. It’s a whole bunch of other folk who should be held accountable too. What did they do to the Germans after the war? They brought to court anybody they could find who had any kind of say with respect to the massacres at the holocaust. Is the Iraq war any different? And what on earth is everybody doing in Afghanistan?

Maybe it’s about Oil in Iraq and Opium in Afghanistan? The BIG money spinners… So then who was pulling the strings one wonders.

Closing our eyes to abuses suffered by women doesn’t make it go away

Today a petition dropped into my email inbox. It’s message is about a young girl called Gulsoom aged 15 who was forced to marry a 40 year old man. Her husband is an addict who regularly beats her. Trying to escape her situation Gulsoom tried to burn herself to death.

This is not an isolated case. A quick search on the internet will show that abuse against women is endemic in Afghanistan and many commit suicide to escape.  There are public floggings, honour killings, abuse by spouses and family members amongst many. These women have no recourse to the law and no support by the authorities. See the RAWA site for some examples.

The petition calls out for all to tell the President of Afghanistan that women need to be protected from violence and abuse. What are the chances that the President will listen after passing a law in 2009 to be observed in Shi’ite dominated areas that practically legalises marital rape?

But it’s all very well to appeal to the President of Afghanistan. What about appealing to the President of the USA, UK, Germany, Australia etc. After all these Presidents are supporting the Karzai government with their armies.  They are endorsing its credibility by fighting a war in Afghanistan to protect this political set-up.

But it’s not only Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel or John Hogg who may be considered to be condoning these actions. Surely we are all responsible? Every human being who understands that women have rights to personal safety, that they should be protected against abuse and offered the chance of a safe life should be outraged by this.

What can we do besides sign a petition? Nothing? Are we really as helpless as this? Does anybody have an answer?