Friday, August 26, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: You Are Who You Eat

First of all, a little notice. I am perfectly aware that the Frankenmonster of an opposition that we have is headed for a full-bull encounter with my stubborn and frightened state security system. There will be more than enough time, with Government The Fifth, to talk about it. 

So this week was the second segment about weird future stuff that I am into and I made a mistake. I crossed the streams. I wrote about food! Ugh. It has not gone well, to be honest. I love food. I love tech (what I can understand about it) and I love sci-fi. Putting the three of them together for a staid, middle-aged regional newspaper though? Was not a good idea. I blame it on the fact that I have been watching Mr. Robot. Things will be better next week. In the meantime:
"The world can feed herself and have plenty left over but we don't, because of politics and power. Tanzania can feed herself and have plenty left over but we don't because of politics, money and power. Well, you know what they say. If you can't stand them, join them? Outside of the nefarious world of terminator seeds there are interesting things going on with GMOs that are worth some contemplation. Two recent innovations that are fun to speculate about are the advances in 3-dimensional printing and the manufacture of meat grown in laboratories."

See you next week and remember that we really are who we eat. That's not a grammatical error. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Let's All Get Scared Together

This week it is about the potentialities of CRISPR technology, except not really because my mind doesn't quite work that way. It is more a freakout about the social consequences of genetic manipulation and what the future holds. 

Heh. Okay, nothing ever works out the way we imagine it will. Leonardo da Vinci would soil his toga at the sight of an Airbus 380. Even Elon Musk hasn't been able to deliver the Jetsons' flying cars and it's 2016- we've only gotten to self-driving. We've eradicated diseases except antibiotics are starting to  lose the biological warfare race and things are starting to come back that shouldn't. Futurology is a weird and unpredictable unscience. But it is fascinating. Oh, genetically modified humans are here, people. I can't wait to see world religions handle this one:

"...okay, what's this. What is this thing? And most importantly: what does it mean for Africa, Africans, East Africans and Tanzanians in particular. Will it harm the children? Are our babies going to be okay? I do not know. Nobody knows yet. Which is why this essay is now going to turn into a discussion about the importance of education and what we think it means. We need a generation of people who might be able to answer these questions.
For the longest time we have embraced the outmoded British thinking that Arts and Sciences are separate crafts. They are not. Science, when done right, requires not only rigor and persistence but imagination. Arts, when done right, require discipline and intellect and range and of course imagination. And both of those, done right, will probably be based in a spiritual or philosophical examination of what life means to begin with."

For the record: there is definitely a good side to this technology. The problem is, well, humans. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This Writing Life: Context Is Everything.

Here is a story, but first let me emphasize that the biggest take-away from this experience is that the people of Zimbabwe offered grace and friendliness and most importantly a wonderful sense of humor. In the few hours I spent in Bulawayo I made a couple of new insta-friends, was greeted with many delightful attempts at learning how to say hello in Kiswahili and enjoyed mutual political curiosity.*

And then I had to leave because I had foolishly stated “media consultant” on my immigration form under “occupation.” In August of 2016. In Bulawayo. Immigration wasn't having none of that mess, thank you very much. People: context is everything. If I was paying even a bit of attention, I would have put down 'development specialist' or 'NGO consultant' or any number of dubious two-word terms to describe whatever it is that I do. But... I didn't. Foolish!

On the bright side, I am now a member of the club of people who have been honored with a request to leave Zimbabwe for lack of the right press accreditation. Did I tell you about that time I went to Pakistan? Yeah. “War” stories, baby, buy me a double of mid-shelf firewater and I'll tell you some. But I am still not a journalist, even if the Government of Zimbabwe is being overly broad in its definition.

This is the point at which I tell you that the authorities took me into a back room and beat the truth out of me with a chain-wrapped tractor tyre until I confessed to having eaten my fraternal twin while in utero. In keeping with the idea that critical cranks like me are always out to vilify governments, and that repressive regimes are run by thuggish bureaucrats in ill-fitting suits.

The Zimbabwean authorities I interacted with were polite. Every refusal was issued with an occasional smile and an apology about the official's inability to help with the situation. Who wouldn't fall a little bit in love with a country where the people are so determined to practice the idea that laughter is the best medicine? Even if the laughter is sometimes only implied, due to the constraints of the circumstances?

I hope to come back to visit sometime. Perhaps when things are a little more relaxed, and maybe for pleasure rather than work. To putter around some stone buildings and enjoy a few beers with people with a deliciously wry perspective of life. Whatever might be happening politically is not something I need to comment upon- everybody goes through tough times. I'm just glad I got to experience, first hand, 48 hours of Zimbabwean hospitality.

So well-met, friends, and thank you for the street cred. Now I can hang out with baby journalists and exaggerate about that one time I was thrown out of Zim and watch them swoon with envy. As per tradition. Stay well.

*Africa: what is it with you guys and the crushes y'all get on Tanzanian Presidents? We've got three retired ones to spare, feel free to adopt one (except Mwinyi. We need him for powerwalking fundraisers). Jay Kay likes to travel:  think of all the gorgeous smiling you would get in exchange for footing his  wanderlust. Any takers? AU? Hmmm?  

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: Hidden in Plain Sight

Almost a year ago exactly I asked some American citizens what they thought of Donald Trump vying for the Presidential candidacy of the Republican party. The answers ranged from dismissive amusement to...actually there was no range. Just dismissive amusement. And here we are, today. 

Reading around I found out that not only is this not Mr. Trump's first attempt at the Presidency but that a cartoonist- of course- actually envisioned his campaign 29 years ago! As much as I respect academics, they never quite seem to be able to see beyond the event horizon in quite the way that the creative class does. 

It was with this in mind that I chose to broach the idea of a President-less Tanzania for the week's column. Primarily I am just doing this to play with the idea of a state that looks different from what we have now. All things considered, Africa shouldn't be all too scared of experimenting beyond the strongman habit: what do we have to lose? And no, I don't mean the horrendous vacuums left when despots die so much as evolving the state by- you guessed it- devolving power:

"I consider public servants of all echelons analoguous to doctors. Yes, they are experts at what they do but at the end of the day you have rights. You should ask questions and always seek to understand and participate in your own care to the best of your ability. In Tanzania this is guaranteed to annoy most clinicians and all politicians. Yet they work for our benefit and we are paying them, however little, however much." 

I'm also doing this because whereas I was generally opinion-less about Magufuli in spite of his every attempt to charm by playing those drums, I no longer am. This piece by Chambi Chachage puts it well, I think. This incumbent is testing our democracy, and not in a good way.  

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Weekly Sneak Problems of American Imperialism

The Black Lives Matter movement is one which I don't think should remain an American one alone. This is a watershed issue that is kicking up all of the racial silt laid down through centuries not only of American imperialism but the colonialism that preceded that. It has deep roots in this thing we call globalization, and maybe it is time to acknowledge that globalization's history has been a bloody one. 

"Global citizenship is a hard concept for the United States of America. How can it not be in a country at war with itself? Black Lives Matter is a movement with deep historical roots, and an essential lesson in power and it's misuse. This is not the only, or even maybe the main story of American civic illness because the Native American experience doesn't get nearly enough attention. But in all honesty, the Africanist in me makes it hard not to gravitate towards this particular fight. 
Racism is wrong in all of it's iterations. It has no discernible function outside of justifying the worst of human behavior. I can't help but think that if America is going down the path of Strange Fruit, yet again, it might be the global community's responsibility to rectify that. America probably needs economic sanctions for it's wars against its own civilians as much as South Sudan does. And no, that' not a joke: I am not that funny."

Seven hundred words of commentary isn't nearly enough to even begin this particular conversation... 

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Weekly Sneak: How to Curmudgeon

As the last piece in a series about the internet, privacy, freedoms etc I really got to let fly about my perspective on these technologies. To which La Dee said: do you realize you have turned into a grumpy old lady? Yes, I have. And yes, I know. My defense is that it is harder to catch a pessimist off-guard than your average bear:

"In the relationship between woman and machine I am firmly on the humans' side. Sometimes this means being a very careful non-consumer. I don't respond to advertisements voluntarily, and take pains to avoid too much capitalistic stimulus. It means being content with the limitations this places on my life, and it is liberating. Having no need for the latest newfangled doodad is salutary: it means that marketing departments can't exploit my self-esteem to make me a cash-spitting zombie. 
More importantly, I think, is that it keeps life rich. I am coming to believe that the more convenient life is for us, the less complex, then the worse off we are. It is a contradiction of modern life: never have humans been smarter as a species. But then again: never have we been more violent to the environment nor more subject to the manipulations of economic elites."

And I didn't even get to the parts about Net Neutrality wars etc so had to do it by implication. I figure there is only so far down this road I can go before I get a polite call from the Men In Nairobi about perhaps taking a chill pill. 

Anyways, a propos the topic of the column let me leave you with this lovely piece of news I just found thanks to Reddit:

Ah, the joys of modern life. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Will Brexit Affect My Favorite International Broadcaster?

So I'm using the BBC to keep abreast of the Brexit story. The BBC happens to be the "inventor," if you will, of the public broadcaster genre, and if you want you can read about it in David Attenborough's* biography. 

Before they ventured forth, nobody really used the new technologies of Radio and subsequently Television in the manner we have become accustomed to in this day and age. They pioneered public broadcasting as well, because heck, si there was a whole Empire right there to talk at? And so with their British can-do attitude off they went to colonize the airwaves. You see that word 'International' appended to any of your favorite channels? Guess who you have to thank for it.

To this day, they remain a rock-solid brand that commands respect from competitors and detractors alike. One may accuse them of having biases all one wants, but nobody dismisses the Beeb outright. I grew up knowing the tune of Rule Britannia (sadly I can still sing the first few bars) and I still "fact-check" major global stories with the Beeb- especially if the story has been broken by an American newsroom. (CNN International? Ptuh, ptuh).** 

There are other newsrooms now that do incredible work and whom I consult on a range of issues. But nobody documentaries like the BBC, to date. I mean, I am a completely zealous convert to the Vice media empire, but still. If I want to know about a subject and there is a BBC documentary about it, then it gets watched first.

As an Africanist I have absolutely no problem being anglophilic about certain things, the BBC being one of them. They gave Tanzania the likes of Tido Mhando, Zainab Chondo, the delicious Salim Kikeke and on and on- there is a list of superb Tanzanian broadcasters who have passed through the BBC's hands. Idhaa ya Kiswahili ya BBC is one of the pilgrimage spots that I would like to visit some day, Inshallah.

This morning as I was catching up on the Brexit issue, it occurred to me that the BBC is a public institution with a penchant for independent thinking. Now that the conservatives have so much sway over the country's fate, what will become of them? I like to think that the institution is safe- it is too big, too old, too majestic to be messed with. But I know this is just wishful thinking. A conservative government that would happily cripple its own public healthcare system is a government that just might mess with anything else that is good about Britain.

Understand: I certainly dodged paying the TV license (tax) as a student in Britain out of solidarity with my fellow broke housemates. When one is young, one must sail the seas of piracy with bravado, knowing that you are only stacking up debt for further on in life. Did this mean we didn't watch the hell out of BBC products? Nope. We watched the hell out of BBC products, especially those of us who were not British and who needed news of the world beyond the little isle.

So in a way I guess this is me making up for it a little bit. Of all the institutions and practices that Britain has offered the world, the BBC is by far my favorite and always will be.*** If anything could impassion me about the Brexit saga, this would be it. Don't nobody mess with Auntie.

*Speaking of awesome institutions, David Attenborough's gorgeous curiosity about the natural world has probably done more to educate the English-speaking world about nature than anyone else I can think of. Between him, Jaques Cousteau and National Geographic magazines you can literally give your kid an amazing education about this planet while instilling deep respect for it and for science.

**I love what Shaka Ssali is doing on VoA but let's just admit he is a lone hero stranded in a country that just doesn't even begin to understand how important this kind of work is. I am perpetually horrified that PBS and VoA are run on donations and would totally donate to their excellent causes if my Tanzanian debit card were acceptable unto them.

***That is saying a lot considering the competition: Smarties, Sunday pub lunches and the romance novel genre thanks to one Austen lady. Not forgetting Builder's Tea and the glorious F-word as noun, adjective and everything in-between.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Day That Britain Left Europe.

So #Brexit happened, by a tragically thin sliver. Just a wee two percent difference in the Yes/No vote and kaboom! everything changed. You would think something this dramatic would at least warrant dramatic poll numbers but apparently reality is not scripted by Hollywood. 

The most interesting information to come out of the polls has to be the generational difference in opinion about the EU. The majority of young Britons wanted to stay, the majority of old Britons did not. Guess who gets to live with the consequences of their elders' choices, watching their future get knocked in an unwanted direction in the space of 24 hours? As someone who suffers from immense frustration over the undue concentration of power in elderly hands in my own country, I feel for young Britain. 

In light of this, I would like to raise the issue of weighted voting* in my own Republic's democratic design. Perhaps not for all votes, but the idea would be to concentrate influence in the hands of the demographic most affected by a policy. "One thing which could be done is to give those under 30 more votes than those over, for example, 70. This would be done to give young people more say in their futures than older people."

I think it a brilliant way in which to address the Tyranny ya Wazee that is constantly shafting young Tanzanians and getting in the way of a reasonable standard of living for all.

* a quick search will show you that this area of democratic philosophy is well-developed in terms of literature. Honestly if I was to do PoliSci at UDSM I would probably be a bit more interested in a course that discusses this sort of progressive thinking than revisiting of the glory days of our African Socialism experiment. 

A little birdie told me...

Follow MikocheniReport on Twitter