In Afghanistan

It’s easy to feel downhearted about Afghanistan. That’s why reading about some of the changes there since 2001 can place our feelings in better perspective. In 2001 no girls attended school and only a million boys did. In 2012 there were 7.8 million pupils including 2.9 million girls. To be fair some schools are tents or operate in the open and there aren’t enough teachers, yet a movement seems underway and 36% of girls are said to be enrolled, a feat given the resistance and the obstacles. The status of women has been ameliorated. More than a quarter of parliament and government employees are women including some in the police and the army. Although violence against women is still a big problem, British officers are helping to set up a military academy that will include the training of 100 female army officers per year. Other signs are that in a country of 31.3 million, in 2012 there were 18 million mobile phones and life expectancy has risen a little from 56 to 60 years old. To note also is an important improvement in access to safe drinking water, which has gone from 4.8% in 2001 to 60.6% in 2011. Sanitation too has improved, 37% now have access to some type of toilets. Despite the eradication of polio being a persistent problem, the number of cases is declining, 37 in 2012 to 14 in 2013. Although opium was still the country’s main export, there are still large undeveloped resources of minerals and natural gas. When added together, one can’t help the sense that as the movement towards education and women’s participation grows—underground in need be—there is hope.

The House of One

Berlin which as any WWII fan knows was divided into four sectors after the war, and which after that was divided by a wall separating East from West Berlin, is about to be the site of The House of One, a center with a central meeting place surrounded by a synagogue, a mosque and a church! Three religions in one space! The idea came from a priest who thought to build upon the site of St Petri’s church, which dated back to the 12th century, was badly damaged during the war, and which remains were later, after the Red Army liberated Berlin, destroyed by the East German authorities. The House of One is designed by architect Wilfried Kuehn, who actually won a competition. The project which has now begun fund raising will occupy Petriplatz in the heart of Berlin.

Kadir Sanci, the iman of the future mosque says that it will show the world that the great majority of Muslims are peaceful and hopes it shall be a place where different cultures can learn from each other. Rabbi Tovia Ben Chorin feels that the city where so much Jewish suffering was planned can now be the city where all three monotheistic religions can show how they shaped European culture. And Pastor Gregor Hohberg looks for it to be a place for dialog and discussion even including people without faith, hoping Berlin will become an example of togetherness.

Since Muslims worship on Fridays, Jews on Saturdays and Christians on Sundays, it does not look there will be much chance for interaction, yet given today’s religious strife, the mere fact Jews, Muslims and Christians can worship within the same space is more than symbolic, it holds significance, meaning and promising implications.

Psychiatic Hospital on Death Row

California state officials are opening a 40-bed psychiatric hospital on death row at San Quentin. Judge Lawrence Karlton said they had to. He ordered a psychiatric evaluation of all 720 inmates on death row and 37 already qualified for admission to inpatient psychiatric care pointing to the fact that additional space will no doubt soon need to be found. Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring commented that the order “was a measure of American greatness and American silliness….We are curing them to make them executable.” Courts have ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are not aware they’re being killed. The peculiar situation created by the order points to the fact that underlying issues go even deeper than the death penalty. Justin Helzer’s suicide which started this whole process was diagnosed as schizophrenic and delusional. He had helped his brother kill 5 people and throw their dismembered bodies into the Sacramento River. In 2010, while on death row he blinded himself with a pen and in 2013 hung himself in his cell with a bed sheet.

It may be that mental illness is a contributing factor—or a cause—behind the inmates’ crimes, and if not it may be that incarceration may be a contributing factor—or a cause—of their mental illness. The implication then would be that the death penalty, the criminal justice system and the mental health delivery system ought to be seriously reviewed to take in those realities. A 40-bed psychiatric hospital is but a way station

Maids In Brazil

Brazil has seven million maids, apparently more than any other country, and they have been the butts of jokes and denigration for ages. That’s why an anonymous Twitter account highlighting how poorly Brazilians treat their maids is worth noting. @aminhaempregada began re-tweeting examples of what people think and say about their maids, revealing attitudes with tweets like “My maid is really dumb. Sometimes I feel like chopping that fat of hers with a kitchen knife.” Within days of its beginning the account had 8000 followers. Some Tweets defended their contents, some shared they felt ashamed for having written them, and maids and their relatives tweeted stories of derogatory treatment.

The owner of the Twitter account is in Sao Paulo, in his 30’s, was raised by maids and doesn’t want credit for the site. He just wants to bring out the facts and make it easier for all to show love and respect to maids.

In India and in Middle Eastern countries maids fare no better than in Brazil. The U.S may have made progress, we no longer treat maids the way we did in the fairly recent book and subsequent movie “The Help” for example, but we still have ways to go before we can be a paragon.