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Really? Maybe not...

America is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. But one thing is for sure, it seems as if everyone has an opinion about America. How great America is or how bad it can be. It all comes down to the problem with America. What is the problem with America?

Well, as a start, part of the question relates to a little thing called dependency. They are the big guys on the block. Pretty much “the dude”. They sneeze and we catch a cold. And we are a bit like the media – we build them up and then want to shoot them down when given half a chance. Why? Because we can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. And that makes us pissed and jealous. But that’s not the problem with America.

The simple answer is that we know that the problems of the world won’t be solved without America. Whether we want peace or the end of poverty or someone to deal with global warming or a fairer world trade regime – it doesn’t mean jack shit if you don’t have America inside the tent. Oh we can ask the Europeans to do their bit or ask African leaders to be a bit more responsible or get the Chinese cut their own carbon footprint. The reality is that none of that will work if America doesn’t come and play. It’s always better to have them in the tent pissing out than having them piss on our little parade.

We can’t solve it or deal with it at a global scale without America. That’s part of the problem. But that isn’t the problem with America.

Part of the problem is that sometimes we don’t like the answer we get from big brother America. Want a global legal system dealing with global crime? Sounds like a good idea. But a bit toothless because America refuses to sign on the dotted line. Want to stop landmines from blowing kids up after a war? Great! Get an international treaty to deal with that. But we know it will continue to give the bad guys a cop-out as long as America refuses to support it. Want to deal with those computers being dumped in Africa and the kids inhaling the fumes of burning computers for copper? Let’s all agree to keep our electronic shit at home then. Sounds like a great idea. But pretty useless because America doesn’t support the idea. That’s a problem. Sometimes we don’t get the answer we want. And we don’t like it.

Sometimes it just looks like America is in it for themselves. Thinking about what is best for them. What America needs. Instead of thinking of what we need. But that is not the problem with America. That’s just a problem with those darn humans.

Tell me. What do you want from life? Have you noticed how that involves you? Most answers are about the self. The human aspect. Sometimes it’s materialistic things we want – a bigger car and a bigger house and a  bigger telly and more bigger things. Supersize my life. But even those nice warm fuzzy answers are all about the me inside. A peaceful life and some love. You are thinking of you. And your only interest in the outside is how they might impact on your life.

When your government decides to help those on the outside. Do you bitch and remind them of the problems at home? Do you constantly try to tell your government how to make the world a better place or just your little world? I don’t mean the one off donation or being pissed at your government not doing more about Zimbabwe. We all have our moments of madness. Most of the time it’s just me-me-me isn’t it? Oh you cloak it in nice fuzzy language and make as if it is for the whole world. But it’s really about what is good for you and your country in most cases. I haven’t seen it any other way. I don’t judge this. I’m not saying it is wrong. I’m just saying…

Oh I know there are groups out there doing work on a global scale. Mostly crap like global religious fanatics. But I am talking about the good stuff. Making the world a better place. Even when working on these issues you think of yourself and your way and not the others and their way. Or try to find an “our way”. Oxfam? Love them to bits but over 90% of senior management in the UK was British. Sorry, that’s not really global. It’s just colonialism cloaked in goodness. Like the original one. Greenpeace? The luxury of fighting for whales while people die of hunger. None of these people are bad. They are just in it for themselves. But cloaked in goodness and all things nice.

Now what is wrong with that? What is the problem with that?

What is the problem with us?

What is the problem with America?

Maybe we are asking the wrong question here. Maybe we shouldn’t be asking what the problem is with America. Maybe the question should be what’s the problem with us.

Maybe the problem with America is that they are just a little bit too much like us. Americans are just a tad too much like me and you. Just your average people trying to live a decent life. Their life. Maybe that is the problem. Maybe the problem is that America is in all of us. America is us. And we are America.

Yes, the problem with America is us. You, me and our American friends. All of us. That’s the problem.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that once we realize we are all one then we start looking after ourselves.

All of us.

Us Americans.

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It’s odd how we look at the problems of the world and just continue to live our daily lives. Like driving past a car crash and thanking God it wasn’t us.

Zimbabwe is a car crash of we witness in our world. And we all slow down to stare, shake our heads and say, “Oh shame, I wonder what happened”. But no one stops to help. At most we will phone 911-AU or 1-800-UN and hope they will sort it out. But we drive on. Not stopping to help. Because we don’t want to “get involved” or get our hands dirty. And, in any case, we have an important meeting to go to and just didn’t do that bloody first aid course. We drive on because we have good reasons. Sorry, excuses.

But there are different types of car crashes in this world. We never stop to look at the reason. We assume we know. And behind every assumption is an idiot waiting to crash.

There is the drunk idiot driver that thinks he can just do whatever the hell he wants. Mugabe for example… They drive the way they want and crash where they want because alcohol makes you feel invincible. Just like power politics. Nothing can touch you. And you go ahead and do stupid things and drive as if you own the road, but we know you are going to crash. And take a few people out with you. Innocent bystanders and passengers. But like real people we watch you get drunk and never actually ask you to leave the keys and take a cab. No, we are to scared you might be offended…

But you are an idiot. An idiot for getting drunk on the power the steering wheel of life gives you. And an idiot for the false sense of safety the cacoon car gives you. I would stop and applaud your crash if it wasn’t for the innocent passengers and bystanders.

And then there are those who crash and they had nothing to do with it. A tyre blew and the car is hanging on a cliff – ready to crash down and take everyone on board with them. These drivers drive old cars with worn tyres and clunky bodies. It’s not that they want to have a crap car but they can’t afford a new one. And they have to take the commute of life to stay alive. They drive their crappy cars to work each day hoping that they will make it there and back safely. They don’t want to but they can’t help it. It’s life. And they are at the bottom of the piles of bodies. The janitors of life. Zambia…

My beautiful Zambia. The most amazing people in the world. Never been in a war. More Swiss than the Swiss. But they have a land-locked country with little to sell to the world. But they survive most of the time. And the crash we see is in slow motion. Like a bad dream. We can see it happening and we can rush out to help but like in those dreams… we are always just a little bit too late. It’s the hand they got dealt living on the wrong side of the track. But they continue to move along and try and make it to work for another day. Maybe that crash won’t come today. Maybe not tomorrow or even next week. But we know those tyres can’t last forever…

And sometimes everyone crashes while we drive by in our luxury vehicle of money and ownership. The roads are wet or full of sleet. People go off the road and crash into each other left, right and centre. But we are comfy in our luxury vehicle. We slow down a bit to stop us from sliding off the road and swerve to miss the others crashing around us. We just slow down enough not to get involved or harmed. The slippery dreadful roads are the economy. Making it dangerous for everyone. But those with money will slow down a bit. But they will survive while the others crash without reason. Those others didn’t speed or blow a tyre. It was just that there were no warning signs when they came around that economic bend. It’s a dead-end road. It’s their end of the road.

And even if the luxury vehicle slips and slides off the road they know they will be fine. Their cars have automatic recovery and crash warning systems, the latest safety devices to cushion the blow – and insurance to cover their costs if anything unforeseen happens. It’s life. It’s a hiccup for them. Lose a car or a million but they know they will be okay. Except if they got insured by Madoff & Co. Then daddy will have to bail them out. He always does. For them.

Of course it all is very different when someone crashes through our front door or wall. Then we get all worked up and want to beat the bloody guy up and want the police and insurance to deal with it right now! Because then it happened to us.

It happened to us…

Those people crashing everywhere around us? They are not us. It only happens to other people. Not to us. It’s never us.

Car crashes… That’s life in our little world. One car crash after the other. Thank god we have a few people who stop and help. And a handful of firemen and paramedics. Not enough to save the world. But enough to save a few while we drive past and shake our heads…

Maybe we all just suffer from road rage.

You know what? I don’t have a licence…

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This might be a bit tricky. It cuts a little bit too close to the work bone. Let’s see if I can avoid stepping on any landmines…

As you know I lean to the left. Okay, less of a lean than a complete body-and-soul kinda jump and stance… And damn proud of it. Part of the definition of liberalism (according to the Webster dictionary) is “One who is generous”. But not everyone agrees with that. I can’t recall how many times people will tell me that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. And they love using a study by Arthur C. Brooks called Who Really Cares to prove their point. Aah… That study…

No. Arthur C. Brooks isn’t some right-wing nutcase. Yes, he has been a Republican registered voter in the past. But he has also been a Democrat registered voter in the past. And the study is actually pretty good. I can go into some detail on his use of statistics and data but that isn’t the point. But just in case…

“When it comes to giving or not giving, conservatives and liberals look a lot alike. Conservative people are a percentage point or two more likely to give money each year than liberal people, but a percentage point or so less likely to volunteer” (Brooks, A.C. Who Really Cares: America’s Charity Divide; Who Gives, Who Doesn’t, and Why It Matters, Basic Books 2006: pp. 21-22)

One slight problem with his data. He uses the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmarking Survey (SCCBS) data to back up is claims. I am skeptical of using SCCBS as the foundation of any argument, mostly because it reports that liberal families make more money than conservatives. He should have used the General Social Surveys (GSS), which are a much more representative sample of the US. The GSS also shows that conservative families make $2,500 to $5,600 a year more than liberal families. Blah, blah, blah… Lies, damn lies and statistics. But that isn’t really the point of my argument. It never is, is it?

But let’s assume that conservatives give more to charity than liberals. Let’s just go with it for a moment. And please remember I know that most people don’t fall into either bracket easily. Shades of gray more than black and white. So we are talking more about those at the extremes. Maybe. Whatever. You know what I mean – let’s just agree with the study and that people fall nicely into a pigeon hole for a minute.

Yes, conservatives give more to charity. So what? Who cares? Hum… Conservatives apparently. Seriously though. What does giving tell me? I don’t give much to charity. What does that tell you about me? Here is the difference. I have a great job that allows me to try and be part of making the world a little better. I try to work to make the world a better place. I put my life forward to try and make the world more just. Fair enough, it’s not just me but the whole bunch of great people I work with and for. But this is what I do. To work with others to make it a little better. To bring equality, liberty and freedom to all. I fight for peace. I live to love. I am because we are. I don’t pay for my conscious. I work for my conscious. I speak out and fight injustice no matter where they are. Sometimes loudly and sometimes a little bit more quietly and strategically. It would be easier for me to “just” give. I can make more money doing something else. And then I can give more money than what I can afford right now. But would that make more of a difference than me trying to fight the good fight? I work to give. I give not money. I give my life.

It reminds me of the days back in Apartheid South Africa. It was unbelievable how many people who supported Apartheid went to church on a Sunday. They pray and they worship on a Sunday and then go on exploiting on a Monday. Oh, and on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. And they do it again when they watch rugby on a Saturday. But the Sunday cleared them of all their sins. A prayer will make it all right then I guess. No matter what you do on those other days.

Giving to charity does not mean a thing. Not if you are a bigot on the days when you don’t give. You can’t give your $10 or $50 or $100 a month and think that it is okay. Or even a foundation of a million or billion dollars. It does not make you a good person just because you are giving. It does not absolve you from your duties as a human being. You can’t just carry on with what you are doing with the rest of your time. Your responsibility to your fellow Americans and the world goes beyond money. You can’t buy absolution. You can’t buy forgiveness. You can’t buy justice. You can’t buy equality. You can’t buy freedom. You can’t buy liberty. You can’t buy life. And you can’t buy love.

Do you give because you feel sorry for those poor souls who don’t have as much as you? Who aren’t as lucky? Don’t. Don’t feel sorry for them. See them as your equals. See them as the human being they are. See them as people. People who want the same things you have. Not the material things. Rather things like opportunity. Freedom. Equality. Pride. Justice. Liberty. Peace. Life. Love. They don’t want your money. They want you. They want Ubuntu. I am because we are.

Of course there is the little issue of who do you give to? It’s not really that important. I know that conservatives don’t just give to religious groups. They don’t. They give across the whole range. But make sure you are diligent in your giving. Don’t give because it is something you believe in. Give because it is something they need and want. They know better than you what they need. Give to help them be themselves. Not to be you. Give because we are.

Do you know the story of the Good Samaritan? He first went to bandage the wounds and poured on some oil and wine (Must have been pretty strong “wine”!) He loaded him up on the Biblical pick-up truck, the donkey, took him to the inn and cared for him. And then he paid the innkeeper. He took action. He didn’t throw money at the guy. He took action. He did something. He cared by first doing what was right.

But it goes further than that. There is this old saying we all know – “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for life.” It is even more important when it comes to giving. If you give money you only sooth your soul for a day. If you get involved and help make this world a better place. If you fight for equality every single day. If you spread liberty each day. If you push for freedom every day. If you stand on the side of justice every minute of every day. If you spread peace where ever you go… That is how you teach to fish. That is how you sooth your soul for life. By being part of it. Not by throwing money at it.

Have you noticed that the “heroes” in the movies and books are people who do things and not just throw money at it? But you can even look at real heroes. Nelson Mandela. Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Mother Theresa. They did things. They are known for their actions and not their money. Not their money giving. But for their soul giving. For their work and deeds. They do. It’s an action.

Giving money or giving yourself. It’s the difference between giving medicine to treat the symptom or trying to find the cure. By all means, fight the symptoms, but be like a heat-seeking, radar-driven, laser-guided missile and find that cure. Or else we will never stop giving them bitter pills to swallow. Charity is dealing with the symptom. Involvement and commitment and fighting side by side every single day is finding the cure. It’s systemic. It’s going to the heart of the problem. Not just trying to make the heart go on for a few days longer.

I see too many people trying to buy their way into the good books. Big powerful people starting big powerful charities or foundations. With money that they got how? Run that past me again? And what do you do with your time when you aren’t giving? Who suffered for you to be able to now do the right thing? From the ashes left behind flows a money trail.

It’s like telling your wife or husband or partner that you love them when it is Valentines Day. Or hugging and kissing your children when it is their birthday. Sending flowers on an anniversary. Buying presents at Christmas. Those “special” days. Giving is your special day. It shouldn’t be. Every single day should be your special day. Like loving, hugging and kissing your partner and kids every single day.

Please. I know that I might have offended some people with this. It is not meant to offend. I admire people who give so much. So much more than money. And I admire people who ensure that they gives for the right reason or reasons. I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most admired minds when it comes to giving. And they all give money and themselves for the right reason. A just cause. Doing the right thing and giving for the right reason. Now that is the way to go. It is neither liberal nor conservative. Both sides can do more. One can give more to what is truly needed in this world. And the other side can do more to what is truly needed in this world. Liberty. Freedom. Equality. Justice. Peace. Hope. Opportunity. Life. Love.

It is not about how much you give. It’s whether you give yourself. It is about what you do.

So… Who really cares? Do you? Or do you just give money?

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Note: Don’t stop giving money! Those working at charities across the world still need support. But they want your hands and soul in it as well. There are people out there doing amazing work who needs your financial help to allow them to keep on doing what they are doing. Support them. Believe in them. Hold them accountable. But most of all… Be part of them! Be the change you want to see. Don’t try and buy the change.

Dear John,

I know we haven’t spoken for a while. Not since I broke up with you a few months ago. You remember my Dear John letter? Did you even get it? Very rude of you not to write back. I mean really. Did you have to take breaking-up so seriously? Live with it John. It’s over between the two of us. But I thought we could still be friends… Not that I missed you or anything. Puh-leeze… I need you like I need another 100 years of war.

What have you been up to? No, don’t answer. I don’t really want to hear. I see and hear enough on telly. You are seriously messing up my Lost and Raising The Bar time. Talking about Lost, how’s the election going? That Obama dude is really Raising The Bar isn’t he. The audacity of the man. To actually stand for something. And something good as well. I know, it is just not on in politics. But hey, what can you do?

But I am here to help John. Wait! Really, I have a few tips for you. (Just ask Sarah, I gave her a few tips as well.) Things you can use as you try and scare enough people to vote for you. Trust me, it comes from the deepest part of my heart. You know, that part that belongs to only you. The deepest and darkest part. I give you these tips in the hope that you could use them as you move along in your life outside of politics. I mean as you move along to retirement.

Missus in a bottle...

Missus in a bottle...

1. Having a beer woman on your side gets you no points if you don’t share.

Come on John. Didn’t you learn anything from Barney they Dinosaur?  Remember what he said? “Sharing is a special way of caring?” Not sharing isn’t very nice you know. Do you know that people voted for Bush because they think he is the kinda guy they would like to have a beer with? I know, it shouldn’t really be a criteria for who you want to run the country. But hey, what are you going to do? You get what you voted for. But you can learn from this. These people don’t really care about wars and money and stuff. So don’t worry about trying to figure that one out. If you don’t have it or get it by now you really shouldn’t bother. But dude! You have a babe with over $100 million worth of beers on your side! Not fair for not sharing. Why don’t you just promise a free round for everyone? No! Not a free round of more wars you idiot. A free round of beers! Hell, people are losing their homes and the kids are fighting a stupid war in Iraq – They could do with a drink you know. Come on John, ask Cindy for a few beers to share around. I would take one as well. You know, to drown my sorrows if you win. It might just make me forget.

2. Flip-flops are shoes and not a policy.

Summer is almost over dude. You have to get rid of the flip-flops. Both. Yes, the shoes and the policies. I mean really. The shoes are only good for one season but the policies… They come back to bite you in the ass for years to come. Oh, you can have more than one pair of flip-flop shoes, but you should really try to stick to one set of policies. Treat it like you would treat your wife. Have one and stick to her. Oh wait… Sorry… But on the policy front. Pick a policy and stick to one. I don’t care what it is, just make up your mind. Sooner or later people will start noticing the closer we get to winter. And they will realize you still have your flip-flops on. But then, I guess it is better than thongs. The shoes and the underwear.

3. A chick that smiles at you isn’t always hot or a running mate.

Dude! Nice one! I see you got a chick to run with you. Unfortunately she wasn’t running away with you. Or even away from you. That would have been so much easier. But man, you gotta learn. Even at your old age. Not every girl you meet that smiles at you has got the hots for you. Or should be your running mate. Look she isn’t hot. And I don’t just mean her looks. I mean her baggage. All those rumors up there in Alaska. The firing of the Commissioner. The debt she left behind in that little town. She’s a bit lightweight isn’t she? Or as we would call it in South Africa – wet behind the ears. And she might be foreign to mainland US or far off or spaced out, but it doesn’t give her foreign policy experience. What the hell do you think Putin is going to do with her? Hey, he is second in command over there in Russia you know. Doesn’t quite compare now does she? I hear he loves barracuda for breakfast. Sorry John. You’ve been had. She isn’t hot – no matter which way you look at it. But at least you have something in common I guess. You both love flip-flops.

4. Hugging a man does not make you gay. Just stupid.

Come on John. Be honest with us here. You have a man-crush on him don’t you? I saw that look in your eyes. That big hug with your head resting on his shoulder. A sweet whisper in his hear. A brush of the cheeks. It made you feel all giddy didn’t it? It made you feel all warm inside. But don’t confuse that with love John. It isn’t love. It’s envy. You are just envious that a little man that couldn’t run a baseball team to save his life beat you back then, aren’t you? And that he started a senseless war before you could, aren’t you? And that he became the worse President before you could ruin it, aren’t you? I know John. It is difficult to take. But you don’t have to become him or love him to be your own man. Come on. You are a big boy now. You just look stupid trying to be a Little Dubya II. But you two sure look nice in that hug. Twins almost. I could hardly tell you apart. Almost like your policies. Ever seen the movie Dumb and Dumber, John?

I love your wars big fella

I love your wars big fella

5. John, you are not del.icio.us. DiggIt?

I know you are trying to be all cool and hip. But really, it isn’t working that well. You gotta get with it John. I know you don’t get “the Internets” and all that computer stuff. But you are not helping yourself here. Email has nothing to do with she-males from Taiwan. They are similar in that they can deliver a message. But it is a message we should rather not go into. And MySpace isn’t the Reagan space programme. FaceBook isn’t about you being on the cover of “Guns Daily”. Digg isn’t an oil policy. StumbleUpon isn’t the way to get a foreign policy or any policy for that matter. MicroSoft isn’t something that can be fixed by Viagra. iPod isn’t something used to escape from the Starship Enterprise (that’s fictional by the way). Apple isn’t what the doctor told you to have. HP isn’t a sauce for you meat. Del.icio.us isn’t Sarah Palin’s vetting process. LinkedIn isn’t about your relationship with Dubya. RSS Feed isn’t an official aid policy. TreeHugger isn’t a Gore family member (well, not really). FeedBurner is not about GM crops. Spock does not know Captain Kirk. PayPal is not a donor. And Twitter is not for the birds. But okay, you might be a Twit.

6. Say after me, “P” in POTUS stands for President.

It’s easy, I taught my kids to spell this way. Say after me… P.O.T.U.S. stands for President Of The United States. You knew that’s POTUS stood for that right? No, not POT-ASS. That’s something else. It stands for PRESIDENT of the United States. I know it is a big surprise. But there you have it. I didn’t make the rules. It does not stand for Pandering OR The Ultimate Sell-out. Or even Pathetic Overtures That Ultimately Suck. No-no, John. It actually means you have to have the balls to run this country. You can’t pander just to try and become President. You actually have to stand for something other than just becoming POTUS. Look at what happened the last time you went for the “Don’t-Know” option. Endless wars and an economy that is tanking. And you are owned by China and the Middle-East. Balls please John. Or else you will make the US into Please, Our Time’s Up Sir. How low can you take it John? We are pretty rock-bottom as we speak. And do remember that the POTUS is also FOR the United States. Not for McCain. There is no J or M in POTUS. You should do it for the country and not for yourself. You should want to be President for and of the US and not just to be called President McCain. So don’t just say anything to become President. Rather say something “just” to become President. Hum… that last “just” is like in righteous or truthful. We get it from a little word that might be foreign to you – justice. This isn’t about you wanting to be President. This is about being the President Of The United States. Putting yourself first is not what America needs. Putting America first is what America needs.

7. The comb-over is not even old school.

I know you are trying hard. Hard to be one of the cool boys. But that hair just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work in the same way that you weak attempts at telling us nothing about yourself doesn’t work. No matter which way you comb it. You can brush it to the left or brush it to the right. We still know that it is a comb-over. Like we know you are anti-sex education, anti-choice, anti-peace and anti-everything in line with more of a typical Republican right-winger. It remains a comb-over and it sucked even in the 70s. But I guess it doesn’t suck as much as your policies and the party you stand for. Your comb-over isn’t “old school”. But your politics are old school. Straight from the books back then in the 60s (and even today) – control through fear. Shave your head McCain. It might look a bit cooler. Or hang your head in shame McCain and realize that people have freedom today. Of speech. Of choice. And of self.

8. Only Texans make more sense when speaking louder.

I have seen it before. People from Texas start speaking louder the further they get away from Texas. They have “Texan logic” to back-up their claim that people from a foreign country, like Massachusetts or France, will understand them better if they speak louder. But you are not Texan my friend. You don’t make more sense the louder you speak. You just create more white noise. A lie is a lie no matter how loud you say it. No matter how many times you say it. A lie remains a lie. No. Matter. How. Many. Times. You. Say. It. Take it from me. Slow down, speak softly and tell the truth. Like the fact that your tax proposal will actually increase the taxes I pay. And that you stand for… Hum… What do you stand for again?

9. Kool-Aid can be bad for your health.

I know you used to drink this stuff when you were a kid. But hey, we didn’t know about the problems with smoking or big fat hamburgers back then either. Kool-Aid is bad for you John. You shouldn’t drink it. The Kool-Aid that the economy is just fine. Don’t drink it John. And don’t sell it at your lemonade stand either. Or would that be a soap box? That Kool-Aid that drilling would make you energy independent. Don’t drink it John. Bad for your health. And bad for the health of the economy. That Kool-Aid that Iraq is doing just fine. Don’t drink it John. It’s not Disney you know. It’s Baghdad where the bombs still go off daily. Remember that walk in the market? Did you see they didn’t sell Kool-Aid? It’s because of the 100 troops on the ground, gunships in the air and armored vehicles on the roads that kept you in fresh Kool-Aid. That Kool-Aid should be left alone John. It’s no good for you and no good for America. And no thank, I don’t want any.

10. Please don’t scare the kids.

Last thing John. You really shouldn’t scare the children. You know how easily they scare. How easily they fill up with fear. Not nice John. Not nice at all. You should really let them grow up a bit. Let them decide for themselves. Tell them the truth. Tell them they are old enough to stand on their own two legs. I mean really. They aren’t even kids anymore. They are grown ups. Maybe you should share some truths with them. Tell them that America is a powerful nation. Tell them that America stands for something good. Tell them that not everyone hates America. Tell them that it is better to love as Americans than to hate as a world. Tell them it is better to talk first as America than to bomb first in the name of America. Tell them there are no monsters under their beds. Tell them that you might not know the future but that you stand for more than being anti-everything-Obama-says. Tell them that Obama was right about the withdrawel date in Iraq. Tell them that they will pay more taxes under you than under Obama. Tell them that you made a mistake in your first big decision by nominating Palin as your running mate. Tell them that you voted for the scary monster under the bed 90% of the time while he has been in the office. Tell them that your oil policies won’t get America an inch closer to energy independence. Tell them that you love big oil and anyone else who are willing to fund your run at the White House. Tell them that your senior advisers are all big lobbyist from DC and that they run your campaign. Tell them that you don’t need universal healthcare because you can afford you own private healthcare. Tell them you aren’t one of them because you are rich beyond their wildest dreams. Tell them you don’t worry about them losing their house because you have 7… 10… 12… Who knows and who is counting? Tell them that gas prices will remain high as hell as long as you sit in your big fat SUV with your big fat ego. Tell them that you will strip the forests to make sure that you have more paper to write your memoirs of pain. Tell them that you will continue to torture people in their name. Tell them that you want them to be at war for at least a 100 years and that they will suffer the consequences long after you are gone. Tell them who you are John. Tell them the truth. But then… Maybe not… Because that would be really scary and then they might know real fear.

 

There you go my boy! Ten easy tips even you can understand. I hope you have a fun time. Just look in the mirror and repeat after me John… “I must be better and more honest than what I really am. The truth will set me free. And I’ll just sit down and cry if that doesn’t work”. Repeat a thousand time and take an Aspirin.

John, John… John. What are we going to do with you? Or rather, where are you going to take us John? I’ve been there and it is not pretty. A country filled with hate and fear. We don’t need that John. We need love and hope. Give it to us or please leave the room.

Remember John, if you want to play this game of hate and fear then we’ll play the same right back at you! No more Mr Nice guy. You must be confusing me with some liberal. I am not. I am African.

Worst wishes, no love and hope to never see you again,

Angry African (on the Loose)

I have worked with some good souls throughout my life. All deeply caring people. Doing the right thing. Fighting poverty. Fighting diseases. Fighting injustice. Always fighting the good fight. Without guns. And I don’t judge them for what they do. They mean well. But sometimes I wonder if they do it for the right reasons.

Or rather for the right person. Are they really doing it to make the world a better place? Or are they doing it to make themselves feel better? Is this important? Does it matter? I don’t know. But it does make a difference in how you do your work. How you try to make the world better.

It matters because it will tell me who “owns” the fight. Is it us, together? Or is it you? Is it about the “me” or about the “us”? It’s a subtle difference. But it plays out differently. It can mean the difference between success or just throwing some money on the fire. I see too often that people want the personal glory. The recognition that they alone deserve the credit. Or at least a little bit more than the next person… You know, that if it wasn’t for “me”… That they own the problem and the solution. A new Foundation. A new personalized cause made to fit your persona. Or your company. Not about the partnership we need to solve the problem. Not equal partnership. But rather you telling me how you will solve the problem. How you are the saviour. The knight in shining armour. Coming to Africa to save our sorry souls.

I felt this amongst the Brits more than anywhere else. Americans do it as well, but they are more open about it. (Remember, I am making a HUGE generalization here.) But in the UK I felt it in every conversation and in every campaign. Colonialism is alive and well – you just don’t know it. Even if you don’t mean it that way. Here, let me help you out a bit. The Oxfam Make Trade Fair Campaign. The Oxfam Coffee Campaign. The Blair Commission for Africa. The Bob Geldof Live 8. The Bono G8 speech. I know that many of them don’t do it for personal glory, but rather to use their influence and status to highlight the problems. I mean really, life could be so much easier for Bono if he didn’t have to do this – and concentrate just on his music. I just use them as examples – not judgement.

But so many individuals and organisations and companies want their own piece of the pie. Their little piece they can own and get the glory and “ain’t he/she a good guy/girl” comments. Of course they need the pretty picture or trophy to go with their “emotional struggle and commitment”. And then they’ll just drag in the poor African farmer struggling/Aids sufferer/hungry kid. To be paraded. And maybe if they are lucky they will be asked to make a short speech before the big boys come up on stage to say how they have helped them and how you can help them help those who suffer. And the African melts into the background…

Oh how many times do I have to hear how far ahead the UK is when it comes to humanitarian work. And corporate responsibility. And sustainability. How much better their government is about doing their bit for the world. And the companies that care so much. And the people who give so much. The UK. Rule, Britannia!

And the BBC will go off to make a documentary of a white guy going to some village and tell a story to make you cry. And collect a few pounds. And hand out a few pennies. Or maybe some food to go with it. Highlight the good work some organization/company/government department/aid agency from your home country is doing in these poor African village. It makes you feel good. Good about yourself. Good about your countrymen. But it is a good feeling inside yourself.

But it doesn’t tell you that poverty doesn’t define who these Africans are. That being ill doesn’t make them less lively. Or less happy. Or less hopeful. Or that they have a few ideas themselves. Or that maybe they havea few solutions already thought out. Because it is the BBC. It’s not an African crew with and African investigative reporter and producer. Or even an African celeb.

But maybe it just makes you feel better. Makes you feel that you are doing something good on our little earth. That it will get you into heaven or whatever your religion calls the next “stage” – if there is a next stage. But it is still about you. The “me”. Just for different reasons.

But here is the problem. You might not even know that you look at the world in this way. But we know. We can see it in your eyes. You feel sorry for us. You want to help because you “just know the answer”. Even if you don’t believe that you do it for these reasons. Even if you don’t think you feel this way towards us. We know it when you come up with “solutions” without really engaging us. Only parading us and lying to yourself that you really are interested in working “with” us. We feel it when you come and hand us some money or medicine or food. We hear it when you talk down to us without even knowing you are doing it. We see it when we look into your eyes and into your heart. It’s there. It is there.

Here. Take my hand. Let’s walk this rocky road together. Hand in hand. Next to each other. I am no better than you. You are no better than me. Together we can do it. Make this world just a little better. But I don’t have the answer. And neither do you. Because it isn’t about me. Or you. It is about the “us”. Together.

Maybe I am wrong on this one. I wrote everything up to here on the way home on the train. It was so clear back then. But now I am home. I had time to think a little bit more. And it is all cloudy right now. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I don’t know. Is there a point to this?

In actual fact. I don’t really care why you do it. Just do it. Stop throwing stones and moaning and bitching. Stop looking for excuses. Or reasons to hate. Just do something to make the world better. Peacefully. Without the guns. And without the stones. And without the violence. I don’t care why you do it. Really I don’t. I’ll use it against you anyway.

Because it gives us an angle. An opening. We’ll “prey” on your good feelings. On your ego. On your “me”. We’ll look into your eyes and figure out why you are doing it. Or anything. What makes you tick. Your weakness. And then we will feed that weakness and make you do what we want you to do. But we will make you think it was your idea in the first place. And we will let you get the praise. And the glory. Because we don’t care. Because we know it is not about “me”.

It’s about us. And making it better. Together. Anyway possible – without strings or violence attached. As long as we do it together. Hand in hand. For others. Because we know. I am because of others. And that is really all that matters. In the end. Here. Take my hand.

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A few headlines and stories made me sit up this week. Some made headline news and some not. But they triggered my interest. Just a few short notes on some of these.

1. Outside Magazine: The Green Issue

It’s apparently a good one. Treehugger told me so. And Treehugger can never be wrong when it comes to green stuff. But it made me think a bit. Outside magazine? I get it when Vanity Fair or Vogue go green. They never do green stuff other than an odd article here or there. And then they bring out a green issue to educate their readers a bit. You know, bring them up to speed with the latest in green fashion and celebs. But Outside magazine? I know I am new here so I don’t know the magazine that well. Just a bit from the Jon Krakauer books I have read. But shouldn’t they be green in each issue? Tell people how to enjoy the outside world and respect the outside world? Maybe not. I know – they are just trying their best to focus one issue on green only stuff. Good for them. But maybe they should bring green to the heart of what they do and integrate it into all the work they do and write about. Just an idea. But I guess a green issue is better than no issue. Or maybe not. No issue – no impact. The Green Issue – online only.

2. Africom to focus on military role

That was how the UN IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Network) reported on the briefing to Congress by General William “Kip” Ward, head of the US Command for Africa, Africom. Or more specifically, how he only talked about the humanitarian work of Africom for 15 seconds out of his almost 5 minute briefing. Now I have to be honest – I like the UN and especially IRIN. They bring me news from Africa. And the UN is full of flaws. But imagine a world without them. More wars and more injustice. But really, this is a bit much. What did they think Africom was going to do? They are a military command centre for Africa (based in Europe). A military command centre people… Doing military stuff. You know – guns and stuff. The killing bits. And handing out food and doing humanitarian work has never been a great strength of any military force. Sorry to disappoint you. Africom was always going to focus a tad more on the military stuff than the humanitarian stuff. Shocking I know. But true.

3. Obama invents a new religion

The week started off with more rumours about Obama being a Muslim. Nothing new there. It’s just McCain setting some attack dogs on Obama. Of course he didn’t tell them to say that – I hope. He wouldn’t do something like that after it was done to him by George W would he? But he didn’t do anything to stop people from spreading rumours either. No. Rove must be closer than what we thought. But then they got their next angle on Obama. He is from a radical Christian group. Yes. The Wright story. And of course Fox was quick to show the interview they had with Wright a few years ago. After mutterings of him being a Muslim didn’t get that out of them earlier. But that is Fox. So is Obama a Muslim influenced by a radical Christian? WTF? How does that work? Haven’t seen that since. No. Have never seen that. Maybe Obama has done something no one has ever been able to do. Become a Mustian or Christlim. You know. A guy who believes strongly that the best way to become a Muslim is through accepting Jesus as your saviour. Man, he is even better than what I thought. He really is the change he talks about. That’s one hell of a change – no pun intended. If not – then please Fox & Fiends and Mac & Cheats – make up your bloody mind. Don’t just throw everything and hope something will stick. At least make it somehow seem a little bit more plausible. Obama can’t be both. Even you can’t spin that one can you? Oh sorry – you can. I forgot. You called Florida for Bush. Making a loser a winner. But the snag – it came to bite us in the… hum… backside. We ended up with a loser in any case.

4. Bush says the economy is basically strong

From the man who brought you Mission (Un)Accomplished and years later are still in sh*t street in Baghdad and who told us about the (missing) link between Sadam and Al-Qaeda and who are still looking for the WMDs (Weapons of Missing Deconstruction) comes the latest insight of wisdom. Don’t worry about the economy – everything will be just fine. What problem? Gas a problem – cut down on the beans and drive that pickup. What problem? We’re just handing out the $600 so you can have a nice little break in summer. You deserve it. Take your mind off the elections and war. It is so tiring – I know. No strings attached. What recession? This economy is fundamentally sound. Sorry George W – you are fundamentally wrong. Again. Snake oil.

5. Mugabe set to lose the election

That’s a good one. Mugabe set to lose the election. And the English can really win the World Cup (you make your pick of soccer, rugby or cricket). Ain’t gonna happen. George W will kiss Hillary with an open mouth before Mugabe loses an election. No. Let me rephrase that. Mugabe will be President after the elections. No matter what the results. The “projection” is based on a poll done by a Zimbabwean academic. And he admitted that people are too afraid to say who they will vote for. And it helps that the chief of the army and the chief of the police both said that they will not allow any “puppets” to take control in Zimbabwe. And the head of prison services chipped in some support as well. Read… no one but Mugabe will lead. And they know what is waiting for them if Mugabe stays in power. He just passed a law to allow him to nationalise any company in Zimbabwe. And give it to anyone he wishes to give it to. White owned companies only. Yes. Racism goes both ways in Zimbabwe. Oh, I almost forgot to add. Mugabe also gave public servants a big fat raise. That might help. Especially because the price of everything just doubled overnight. I am not joking. Just follow this link here. Sorry buddy. Old crazy uncle Bob will be there after the election. Come hell or high water. In this case. Hell is there already.

That’s my views on some of the weekly news. Not much. But then news never really is when you’re watching, but not seeing.

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I have been on the road for the last few days. One conference after the other. And it has been interesting. Okay, sometimes it was interesting. One of the conferences I attended was in DC and was hosted by the sustainability guru John Elkington. John founded… hum, SustainAbility. Catchy phrase nowadays. But it wasn’t when he started it back 20 years ago. John is a good guy. I know him a bit and went to DC to catch up with him and a few other people I knew I would meet up with at the meeting – the usual suspects. Jane Nelson works in the same city as me, but we only see each other at conferences. And, of course, we always promise to get together for a cuppa when back at work. But we never do – just share hugs and kisses when we meet up at the next conference. But us Africans need to stand together – even if it is at conferences. We are generally the only Africans in the room. She’s from Zim and I am from a little further south. Again, I digress. But I had to do a bit of name dropping first.

John and his gang did some research with Globescan on the perceptions people have of the environment. And one of the many findings was that people in developing countries are more hopeful than those on developed countries. Yes, Africans are more hopeful of the future than Americans. And everyone was puzzled about this. How could this be? Americans have everything – big cars, big televisions, big meals and big egos. Well, I was tired by this time as I have been on the road for a few days. And they made the mistake of asking me (and others) to comment and interrupt whenever I felt like it. Yes, now they had an angry and tired African on their hands. So I decided to use the chance and interrupt at every possible occasion. That meant I interrupted on every new slide they showed us. But for now I will focus on this survey result that had them baffled.

Like a good African I scribbled a few thoughts on a piece of paper and offered my infinite wisdom. (You could hear the crowd do a single large sigh – an unbuntu sigh). John humored me though. So why are Africans more hopeful than Americans about the future? Not that difficult. Let me try and give you four reasons. I am sure there are more – so feel free to fill in the gaps. And you might not even agree with me. So throw them my way as well.

1. Lower expectations.

Yep, we have lower expectations than others. We just don’t expect politicians to solve our problems anymore – not after so many years of not getting the results we expected from our elected leader. Many of us live under politicians that won’t solve our problems. And we have become aware of this. We don’t live under the illusion that they will provide running water, electricity, food, healthcare or stop fighting. Okay, Americans and other Westerners have had a few stinkers for leaders as well. But at least a few harmless politicians pop up every now and again. We suffer from political leaders that just won’t do the right thing. Make no mistake – we have some excellent leaders in Africa. But even their hands are tied. Where are they going to find the money to even start solving the problems? And if they try and get money? They have hell to pay through privatization and selling off the crown jewels. And it is not only the politicians – we know we will get even less form those outside Africa. All help will come with strings attached that will only pull us further down. No. We have low expectations because we know that others will not solve our problems.

So how does this translate into more hope? Easy. If your expectations are this low you know that tomorrow can only be better. You expect nothing so hope can’t get any lower. We start off at a low expectation, and there is only one way from there – up. Do you expect tomorrow to be better than today? Of course, because I expected nothing from today and got nothing. Tomorrow won’t be any worse.

2. Nothing to lose.

Of course Africans are hopeful of a better tomorrow because they have nothing to lose. Very similar to the expectations argument. No luxuries like televisions, cars, ample food, health, jobs or safety. You know that tomorrow will be beter, because it can’t be worse than today. You have nothing today. So how can tomorrow be worse?

It’s the problem with having such a strong middle class like in America – too much to lose. Any threat to what they posses – and hope goes out the window. The middle class will feel that tomorrow will be worse because the housing market is down and they could lose their jobs in the unstable economy. But if you don’t have that house and that job? How can tomorrow be worse?

(This relates closely to my argument that any revolution will only be successful if driven by the poor. Because they have nothing to lose but life itself. But so much more to gain – like life itself.)

Of course expectations and nothing to lose are closely tied together in hope. We don’t expect anything and we don’t have anything. But tomorrow can only be better. Because we might actually get that clean water from a tap and not have to walk for miles. And we might get that medicine instead of seeing our people die. Or the rain might come and save our crops. Our politicians and foreigners wanting to help might get it right and actually give us something to fish with. And the school might open for our kids to have a future. That’s the hope – our kids can’t possibly have it any worse than us. Can they?

3. Natural entrepreneurs.

We see it every day. Woman sitting next to the road selling their fruit and veg on the roads in Africa. With a hundred competitors on each side. And feeding a large extended family. Feeling sorry for her? Don’t. See Bill Gates. She is running a successful business with no financial support from anywhere. No business training. Hardly any schooling. She has everything working against her. But she runs that business like Bill can only dream of running his. Cost effective to the last cent. She is Africa. She is an entrepreneur. And entrepreneurs always see a better tomorrow. Always plan for a better tomorrow. Because tomorrow we trade. Without aid.

4. Ubuntu – we care for each other.

We know tomorrow can’t be any worse. Why? Because today wasn’t that bad to start off with. I have my neighbours and my friends. We look after each other. We live and breathe for each other. We hide each other when the warlord comes. And we look after the children of the dead when death comes. We have ubuntu. We are one. That is the greatest hope we have. That when tomorrow comes we will still be standing next to each other. Looking after each other. Sharing the pot with my neighbour. And we will all eat from that pot. Share the last bit. Because I am nothing without them. That is the hope. That being together brings tomorrow. And tomorrow can’t be that bad if we still have each other and can still live and play with each other a bit longer.

And in the West? There they live for themselves. Their closed off properties with the doorbell to ring. And the telephone to warn them we want to come and visit. And their television fence that keeps them indoors and away from others. And their cubicle jails at work. Just them by themselves. They don’t need others. That’s what they believe. But can they live like that and still have hope? Hope for what? Thank God the writer strike is over. Hope might be linked to that pen for them.

See – not rocket science. Africans have more hope than Americans. Easy as pie. We have nothing, but we share with others. Because tomorrow I will have because other will have. And maybe. Just maybe. Someone will get that bloody water to run from that tap they promised. Or the rain will come. And the medicine will arrive. And our leaders will listen to the sound of hope. The sounds of women selling their goods and the children playing in the street.

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