jackfruit of the week (10.29.08): the U.S. elections

In six days, Americans will be rid of George Bush.

I'm pausing to let that sink in. It Sounds. So. Good.

Elections haven't always been a big thing for me. Eight years ago I failed the AP U.S. History test because my teacher spent an entire semester discussing hanging chads instead of Eisenhower and the Space Race. Four years ago I jumped on the Dean bandwagon, supported Kerry and almost stopped talking to my boyfriend, who voted for Bush. Unlike some more liberal friends of mine, though, I didn't care enough to show up to class on November 5, 2004 wearing this shirt:

We've managed (albeit barely) to survive the past four years, and this time around, I'm paying attention. And it's not just me — the entire world is paying attention:
Martin Perez lives in Parañaque, a suburb of Manila, an ocean and a few time zones from the United States. But when he gets up at 5 a.m. to get ready for work, the high school teacher goes online to read the latest news in the U.S. presidential race, study poll numbers, watch YouTube videos — and blog about the McCain-Obama showdown.

"The Election That Has the Whole World Blogging", Washington Post

Contributing to the global symphony of opinions is The Morningside Post, which is hosting a liveblog of the election returns. From noon to midnight EST on November 4, visit the site to see running commentary from international affairs and public policy students at ten different universities worldwide, from São Paulo to Singapore.

Also: if you're an American and you don't vote, may all of these wishes come true for you.

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Sam Gregory of Witness: Video and Human Rights

Sam Gregory, Program Director of the video-based human rights organization Witness, is in a class of mine today, talking about the use of video for human rights advocacy. Questions of effectiveness, ethics and accessibility below:

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jackfruit of the week (10.22.08)

Some research I'm doing on crowdsourcing in crisis is starting to take (nebulous, uncertain) shape via my Delicious account. Some highlights:
  • The "crisis mapping" section of iRevolution, the blog of Fletcher School PhD candidate Patrick Meier, is a glorious treasure trove of histories, plans and possibilities for digital mapping based on crowdsourced information in conflict early warning and prevention systems. Meier is writing his dissertation about the effects of the information revolution on social resistance movements in authoritarian societies. In other words, I would very much like to buy him dinner.

  • FrontlineSMS isn't exactly new (I first heard about it in 2007, when it was being used to help monitor the Nigerian elections), but the more I read about mobile phones, the more excited I get. Frontline allows anyone with a laptop and a phone to create a "central communications hub" that can use text messages to communicate with large groups of people: to send out an alert and get feedback on a specific crisis situation, for example, or to aggregate information during a natural disaster. The less altruistic could use it to organize flashmobs.

    Later today some friends and I are going to help advocate for Frontline by becoming an icon for them. Interested? Take a picture of yourself with your arms above your head, imitating the Frontline logo, and sent it to photo@frontlinesms.com with your name and country. They'll put it in a slideshow that will be used to generate awareness and support.

    FrontlineSMS supporter Erik Hersman becomes a Frontline icon

AfrigatorIn other news: this week I was named one of the top 45 female bloggers in Africa by Afrigator. I'm happy that two blogs about Uganda are included, but I'm sad not to see Tumwijuke, Antipop or Magintu on the list. If you're not a member of Afrigator, head over and register to submit your blog and to see what's happening all over the African blogosphere.

That's all for this week. Coming up next Wednesday: plans for quadricontinental liveblogging of the US presidential election returns at The Morningside Post.

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jackfruit of the week (10.15.08): blog action day 2008

Midterms are kicking in this week, and I'm trying to juggle six classes, SIPA's blog, Bayit life (including a three-hour dinner in our sukkah yesterday), research responsibilities and some other stuff I've probably forgotten. Among the fifteen tips my econ professor gave us for taking the midterm:
What to do if you freeze. I hope it does not happen, but rarely it happens. Let me know (I will be around). Leave the classroom for 5 minutes instead of staring aimlessly at the exam paper for 30 minutes. The bright side of freezing is that it happens only once. I have never had a student who froze twice.

Good to know there's a bright side of freezing during a three-hour test. In other, less panic-attack inducing news, today is Blog Action Day, an annual event geared toward getting bloggers around the world to focus for one day on a topic of global importance. This year's topic is poverty, and everyone from TechCrunch to my mom and dad has gotten in on the action.

Much of what I do at Columbia on a daily basis involves poverty, whether the discussion revolves around human rights or global imbalances or gender. A favorite topic of students and professors alike is microfinance, a system that involves giving loans to those with little or no credit, often to help them start or maintain a business. Loans can be given by institutions that specialize in providing financial services to the poor, by regular banks, or by you through organizations like Kiva, which matches prospective lenders to entrepreneurs around the world and lets both parties share information and track progress online. Another hot topic is fair trade, a movement to ensure that workers in the developing world — like coffee farmers and artisans — are given a fair price for the goods they produce.

In northern Uganda, an organization my friend Halle started is using fair trade to boost available job opportunities for women in northern Uganda. Called One Mango Tree, the organization works with women tailors in Gulu and two nearby displaced persons camps, marketing and selling their products in the United States and online. The women are trained by existing tailors and paid fairly for their work, and OMT uses part of the profits to equip them with bicycles and send their children to school.

I'm a huge fan of the work OMT is doing, as well as a proud owner of several of their initial product prototypes, including an early version of the original and the yoga mat bag. If you're looking for a way to help tackle poverty, why not do it by partnering with some amazing, talented women? Check out One Mango Tree for more about their history, goals and products.

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jackfruit of the week (10.08.08)

I ran into a friend of mine last Thursday. "I woke up this morning feeling like today was a holiday," she said, with obvious glee at the prospect of watching Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin humiliate herself yet again on national television.

I was going to make this the Palin Edition of Jackfruit of the Week, commenting snarkily on pieces like this:
The problem with Ms. Palin’s candidacy is that John McCain might actually win this election, and then if something terrible happened, the country could be left with little more than an exclamation point as president.

(from Palin's Alternate Universe)

And this:
Yet surely, more than most of us, politicians need to be able to think on their feet, to have a brain that works quickly and rationally under pressure. Do we really want to be led by someone who, when asked a straightforward question, flails around like an undergraduate who stayed up all night boozing instead of studying for the exam?

(from The sentences of Sarah Palin, diagrammed)

Then I ran across this:
Right now we’re in the middle of the Days of Awe, the stretch of time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when Jews are asking forgiveness. Not of God, but of each other. Because God can’t forgive you for the mean things you’ve done to other people. Only the people you’ve harmed can forgive you.

Good common sense.

I always enjoy it, this forgiving. Also the mulling and the brooding. I like going back over my year and thinking about what I might’ve done differently. And this year, I find that I owe an unexpected apology to someone I don’t even know.

Sarah Palin, I’m sorry—

Really, I mean this sincerely. I do.


Maybe you have wild post-partum swings. Maybe your other kids are feeling neglected. I bet there are days when you question the choices you’ve made. That’s not easy, I know. It’s hard to be a woman in the world today, hard to balance family and career. Hard to sacrifice the privacy of loved ones for a public life.

And even though you’ve chosen the spotlight, and even though reporters have the right to discuss your record, that doesn’t mean I need to be talking smack about another working mother’s personal life. You don’t need to be what I talk about at dinner. Or blog about cruelly.

See, I really do want to believe in hope. I want things to change. And part of that is wanting you and John, and Barack and Joe to rise above the mudslinging. I don’t want to hear about Bristol any more than I want to hear about Barack’s madrassa. But if I’m going to cross my fingers and say a prayer and expect YOU not to engage in Lashon Hara

Well, change starts at home, right?

(from Forgiving: An open apology to Sarah Palin. Really.)

Even though I enjoyed the first two pieces — I laughed out loud while reading them and promptly sent them to friends — the last one made a deeper impression on me. L'shanah tovah, Sarah.

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Hunger turns to anger: a priority of the United Nations?

Tonight the United Nations Studies Program at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs is hosting a panel on the world food crisis titled "Hunger turns to anger: a priority of the United Nations?" Jeffrey Sachs, UN Under-Secretary-General Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UN Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs Sir John Holmes, and International Federation of Agricultural Producers President Ajaykumar Manubhai Vashee are presenting. I've been tapped to cover the event for The Morningside Post, but I'll also be liveblogging below:

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