No matter what it’s for, 50 billion dollars is a very large sum. And when it is the amount of money that migrants have sent home to their families in Mexico, it is astounding. Migrants in this case include legal as well as undocumented. The amount has surged during Covid, and the total for 2021 is expected—not all tallied yet—to pass $50 billion. Mexico is one of three countries along with China and India where total remittances are large enough to be a part of the economy. In 2020 those remittances represented 3.8% of the Mexican GDP and the percentage of households it reached was 5.1%. Bearing in mind that the people sending these remittances are often not high earners and the total is even more astounding. It evokes people making sacrifices for their family, enduring deprivations to share what they have. It means living in cramped quarters and foregoing little luxuries, or perhaps even something that’s a need. The money sent home usually goes for necessities, such as food and medical expenses. It also goes for items like a refrigerator, an appliance that actually helps people save money on food. Placed in context the existence of remittances is not a fact that is without issues, how long can sending remittances last? Or when will Mexico no longer be dependent upon them? Adding to the poignancy of remittances is also the fact that many of the families live in violence prone areas of the country and have to be very careful not to let it be known they receive money. They could then be prey for gangs and be kidnapped for ransom. Regardless of these issues, or perhaps even more so because of them, what jumps out to someone like me is the sheer goodness of the people behind the remittances, people who put their families first, people who undergo hardships to share what they have, people who are courageous, devoted, resilient, people we should honor a lot more than we do.
Decommissioned oil rigs look dull and lifeless as you drive by them or look at them from afar. Below is another story. There’s teeming life. There are 12,000 oil rigs worldwide, and at some point they stop being useful to the oil companies, too costly to maintain. Removing them is expensive as well as labor intensive and leaving them as they are can be dangerous to marine life. But as of 1984 with the US Congress National Fishing Enhancement Act the benefits of artificial reefs have been recognized. The Gulf states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas have converted some 500 rigs into reefs. In time the substructure rigs provide the skeleton for coral reefs. They become nurseries for certain species, and can be bountiful human made marine habitats for colorful fishes, crabs, starfish and mussels to congregate there. Sometimes they can be more protected from predators than they would be in other parts of the ocean. Converting platforms into reefs is an attractive options for oil and gas companies which can save them millions of dollars. Campaigners for decommissioning the rigs say that it is a win/win situation for those companies. They are allowed to spend half their savings for the state artificial reef program to maintain the platforms, marine conservation and education. In some areas in the Gulf of Mexico, the abundant marine life there have made them hot spots for diving, snorkeling and recreational fishing. As the world moves away from fossil fuels, a viable solution for decommissioned rigs needs to be found. I for one like the reefing one because it takes something that has been harmful to the environment and redeems it to be helpful.
We’ve all had to make so many adjustments to Covid, not all of them to our liking. And yet Covid has brought out a few good things, the change in the 8 hours work day for one. Another is our trust in science. The Wellcome Trust, a charitable organization based in London, commissioned an international survey of how people viewed science and scientists. One of their areas of interest is public health, one reason being that public health policy and programs which usually come from governments cannot succeed without the public’s trust in science. What was surprising to many in view of some of the reactions to Covid was that as a whole trust in science has increased. The report that was issued showed that 80% of people from 113 countries trusted science either a lot or some. Roughly the same, about three fourth of the people surveyed (119,000), said they trusted scientists also either a lot or some. The percentage of people who said they trusted science a lot rose about 10% in East Asia, including China, Latin America, Eastern Europe and South East Asia. In the United States, as one would expect, the picture is more complex. 54% of people said they trusted scientists a lot, an increase of 9% over the previous Wellcome Trust poll in 2018. While to no one’s surprise, trust in science follows party line, an important factor here is that more people trust science and scientists than trust government and what government say or ask. While that finding has big implications for policy makers, and I hope they will pay attention, the point is that trust in science is making small inroads despite our polarization.
That’s why I wanted to share this with you, because it’s easy to look at our divisions and not see the cracks where the light gets in—if I may borrow a Leonard Cohen’s lyric.
I needed a new phone and in the process changed carriers which means I needed my number ported from the old to the new. A process which normally takes no more than 3 hours and can often be done in minutes took 72 hours over four days, from Sunday afternoon until Wednesday 3pm. I dealt with several people at the store and each were trying to do their job, each was trying to deal with a situation they couldn’t understand along with a customer who kept asking where was the problem and pressuring them to resolve it. Each day brought a new crop of people, each with their own way of dealing with the issue. But none seemed aware of the huge background of technical inputs, processes and technicalities involved. They said first they didn’t have my correct zip code, when they did, but as I discovered it was probably entered incorrectly. Then they said there was 2 port requests, while the original carrier said there was not. At a loss for what was causing the delays they blamed the original carrier meaning it was out of their hands, they could do nothing. The point of all this is that whether with phones, or so many other daily necessities, cable, streaming, utilities, banking, all involve a technical backdrop which may be becoming too complex, certainly too complicated for the average person or the average worker. The people I dealt with were good with people, but unaware of potential issues behind the parameters of their jobs, not out of ineptitude or laziness, and I am not sure due to poor and inadequate training. They were knowledgeable within the confines of their very small sphere.
It’s easy to berate the tech support people we speak to on the phone, to get angry at those who are helping us when they give what looks like wrong answers, it’s easy to be angry at not being helped and be frustrated by the consequences, but the problem, I believe, is not the workers but the immensity of the technological grid. Each worker is tasked with the equivalent of a piece of the puzzle, and they do what they are to do, but there seems to be few who can see the whole picture. And as the picture continues to get bigger and bigger, it becomes an issue of concern. It is a concern that includes a lot more than the smooth functioning of our individual lives, but the functioning of a nation, its national security and relations with its allies. Several international issues relying on technology and its increasing ability to link, connect, compute, track… reveal the inherent complexities. Human trafficking is one where the technology can help but also add to the difficulties. It all points to the old issue inherent in the phrase too big to fail. Increasingly we need to keep asking when is big too big for our own good?