Hail the Caravan
As an immigrant I know what it’s like to leave all you know for the unknown. We had visas, we weren’t penniless, we flew to the US and regardless I felt fear. When you emigrate everything familiar is gone and you don’t know how it will be replaced, nor do you know what will happen next. I heard and read about the caravan from Central America and I can’t help thinking about those courageous people who are willing to walk a couple of thousand miles or more in search of some safety, in search for some opportunities out of assured poverty and violence, in search of better lives for their families. They banded together to avoid the criminals who prey on migrants, the kidnappers, the thieves, the smugglers, they are walking because they cannot pay a smuggler what is often upwards of $9000. They are determined, they are willing, they are brave and still they are called criminals by far too many, and their right to an asylum is likely to be denied even before it is asked. We need to stop thinking of migrants as criminals, of those in the US as undocumented as criminals. Seeking safer conditions away from violence and a better life doesn’t make one a criminal. The US was founded on such a principle by people fleeing conditions they could no longer abide. The early Americans of settlements such as Jamestown were not much different than those in the caravans. Closing borders is not a lasting answer, certainly cutting off foreign aid is not. Anti-violence programs have been tried and shown success, yet they are ignored. What we must do before any answer can truly be found is make sure the harmful and erroneous rhetoric is rebutted if not stopped. The caravan members walk, alone or with their families; they must tire; they must know fear at the uncertainties ahead for them, frustrations at the obstacles they encounter; they must experience difficulties at finding food or sanitary facilities. Still they march and press onward. They deserve our esteem, our respect. They reveal a positive side of human nature, while those who cannot see their struggle, their reason for walking, those whose compassion is absent perhaps show us the opposite
Work of the Future and Reskilling
By 2025 machines will perform half of “all work tasks”—right now it is 29%. These are 2 of the figures from a report from the World Economic Forum, the elite group that meets in Davos every January. The report informs us that between now and 2022 75 million jobs will therefore be displaced. But, and just as important, the report also says that 133 new roles (note, not jobs, roles) will be created, thus a gain of 58 million new jobs—or roles, or positions. The reality is that while on a societal level there will be a gain, these facts spell much difficulties for the 75 million workers who hold these jobs at present and who will soon lose them. While data analysts and software developers will be in demand, data entry, accounting and payroll jobs will become redundant. The report highlights a new keyword, reskilling saying that 54% of jobs now existing will require retraining. And that’s where whether the future will be a huge problem or an opportunity will be determined. Employers, employees, governments, individuals and companies must take the needed steps. We haven’t heard much about reskilling and all it implies maybe because not enough attention is given to it. The hope is that since the World Economic Forum report tends to go to heads of corporations, decision makers and others who affect policy, the idea and what it means will be heeded. Still it is something we need to know, remember and use.
One Billion Without Toilets
This piece is about a subject we shun, open defecation, but the article it stems from touched my heart and I think it will touch yours. Andrea Bruce, now a freelance photographer was on a National Geographic assignment and her photographs on the subject of open were on exhibit at a photo festival in Perpignan, France in early September. Yes open defecation sounds like a topic we don’t want to know about, yet what it means is important to anyone who cares about the welfare of others. It means no sanitation, no sanitation means, no clean water, and no clean water means diseases like cholera. Almost one billion people in the world today do not have sanitation, about half of those in India. Some actually have to relieve themselves in open fields, making them prey to being raped. Many have to use community toilets which as the article shows often do not work. Lack of sanitation means young girls drop out of school when they start menstruating for lack of privacy and facilities. In Haiti, the problem can be severe, for the lack of sanitation is pervasive and in some instances difficult to resolve. It’s easy to dismiss the problem, to undermine its importance, and certainly because we have an access to sanitation which we can essentially take for granted, it’s hard to identify with how the lives of so many are affected. But caring about what happens to the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, the forgotten, is one of the traits that mark our humanity, and the lack of sanitation certainly evokes that caring.
Guns, Ammo and 3-D
Beginning next year in California, gun shops will be required to keep logs of ammunition sales. Gun rights groups have long fought laws on ammunition saying it is a way around the second amendment. But as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan reminded some 25 years ago, “guns don’t kill people, bullets do.” California already has more anti-gun laws than most states and now it is going after ammunition. For people like me who do believe guns need to be restricted in order to save lives and life altering injuries, such laws are welcomed. But what is even more welcome is the impact it looks it will have on 3D printed guns. True there are those who are working on 3D printed bullets, but that is way off in the future. Right now the plastic bullets from 3D won’t do much. But what is relevant for now is that 3D printed guns may not be as easy to use as some may say, and when they fire real bullets they may injure the shooter or break down right after it. Still harm with them is still possible and even more so in the future. That is because for now 3D printed guns are still rudimentary but those in the know say not for long. That is why laws regulating ammunition acquire even more importance.
Regulating ammo may sound like a simple solution yet one that is powerful beyond its simplicity. It’s a hopeful idea, an idea with a future if other states adopt it. Let’s work to ensure its potential.
DNA Testing and Errors
A recent NYT op-ed strongly alerted readers to a study that found errors in DNA testing. The National Institute of Standards and Technology gave the same sample of DNA mixtures to 105 US crime labs and 3 Canadian ones and asked them to compare it to the DNA of 3 suspects from a mock robbery. A DNA mixture is a biological sample of 2 or more individuals from which a DNA profile could be drawn. Today’s DNA testing is advanced enough that an analysis can be done even if someone has lightly touched an object. The labs correctly identified 2 of the suspects, but 74 got the third one, an innocent person, wrong. The implications for this are according to the piece’s author, Greg Hampikian, a professor of biology at Boise State University, alarming. Think of how often DNA testing is used and relied upon. Certainly it has freed the innocents, but that was when it was supervised by organizations like the Innocence Project. But DNA has also convicted many innocents. The use of DNA mixtures have become more common, and according to the author now make up 15% of DNA testing. This is apparently not the only study revealing errors with DNA testing, Hampikian also mentions the problems found in a similar study. What is particularly troubling to me is that when one further factors in the fact that minorities are more likely to be arrested and end up in jail, it would seem that people of color would be far more affected by DNA testing errors. The good news we are told is that computer programs exist to reanalyze old mixture and correct errors. But of course that means someone must first suspect an error, or what is far more relevant, an accused or convicted person must have a strong advocate.
Ode To Libraries
We have a stereotype of the spinsterish librarian and of the austere domain she (for it’s always a she) rules. Yet libraries are hubs of activities as the new Frederick Wiseman’s film “Ex-Libris: The New York Public Library” illustrates. Even more recently a NYT article by sociologist Eric Klineberg “To restore Civil Society, Start with the Library,” reminds us how much we owe libraries and how much they contribute. He says that libraries are valued and necessary but often influential people do not understand what he calls the expansive role they play in contemporary life. Years ago I heard the author Ray Bradbury speak about his love of libraries. As many might know He didn’t go to college instead he spent countless weeks in the library’s stacks and rooms reading and educating himself. My friend, the writer Sanora Babb, a friend of Bradbury, had lived in small towns in her youth and libraries were how she discovered and learned about writers and literature. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t forget the Klineberg article, because its point about libraries being so important to contemporary culture is one I believe needs to made and made loudly. Today’s libraries have adapted to digital culture. Large parts of collections have been digitized and I admit there’s still something I cannot take for granted about sitting at my computer and with a few clicks downloading a book to my Kindle. Libraries also make computers and the Internet available for many, hold lectures from authors and others, book discussions, children books readings, homework clubs… The article’s author cites the fact that while countless public officials declare and believe that libraries are obsolete he reminds us that “in New York and many other cities, library circulation, program attendance and average hours spent visiting are up.” Indeed every time I go to one of the two libraries I most use, I have difficulty finding parking.
To Ponder On
“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”