The Might of a Software License

Giesecke & Devrient is a European company that has been providing Zimbabwe with paper. After pressure from the German government, itself pressured by the threat of protests, it cut off supplies to the African nation. Jura JSP is the Hungarian-Austrian company which supplies the software licenses and design for the banknotes. The program is said to be very technical, and not easily replicated. They too are reported to be withdrawing their contract. Zimbabwe has been printing money at will, which has led to the kind of inflation most of us can’t comprehend. One English pound last week was trading at 1.3 trillion Zimbabwe dollars. Without these two companies it can no longer do so. The UK Guardian newspaper reported that what it called a”knowledgeable source” had said the looming actions by these companies has created an air of panic. Some in the Zimbabwe government are in a panic because without the software they can’t print any money. The government has been paying the military and officials with this printed money. Without it and the purchasing power it gave them, observers wonder whether or not they will mutiny. As it is their income has not kept pace with the cost of living and these same observers suspect that many of these middle and senior ranking government officials have long stopped being enamored of the system.
While the international community debates what to do about Zimbabwe, while several things have been tried, e.g. a UN resolution, and many feel helpless about the human suffering, it could be that a software license may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. But more importantly perhaps, given the interconnectedness of the multitude of economic factors that makes up a given country’ economic life, it makes one aware of the fact that little things can bring down governments.
Despite ongoing talks between the two political parties, if–probably when–Mugabe’s government’s falls, there will be many explanations. Still one will be left wondering about that old story about David and Goliath, of how a software license kept a government from running.

What Would I Do?

I know nothing about Candy Spelling, only what I read in the article announcing her purchase of a 16,000 square feet, $47-million condo in Century City, thereby setting a record for $2848 a square foot. She may be a very generous person, may have contributed to a number of worthwhile causes, may be quite philanthropic. My comments are not directed at her as a person, only using what she represents to me. She is currently living in Los Angeles’ county largest house, a 123 room, 56,000 square feet mansion on six acres–one might argue someone has to own the largest house. But 123 rooms etc. is reminiscent of those palaces and lifestyle that preceded–or is it caused–the French and Russian revolutions. That kind of wealth is not only a historical occurrence, but a global one as well, making one think of sultanates and sheikdoms where opulence is common. Still, historical and global references aside, there is something very telling about the symbol of such a large house in a city which has a growing homeless population, where the differences between rich and poor can ( as they are in many U.S. cities) be a matter of just a few blocks, and often not even that, for I deduce with such a mansion Ms Spelling must employ many. Some of her own employees no doubt have problems coping with rising rent, fuel, food and other costs.
What strikes me most about this, is not the proverbial difference between the haves and have nots, but what would I do were I to be in her shoes? Would I share my wealth, and if so how? How would I justify to myself my having so much when so many have not enough, or nothing at all? Would I entertain such thoughts, or would I be smug and assume that because I give to charities, I am entitled to the rest? Would I feel guilty for living in opulence knowing millions are homeless? Would I be willing to go and see for myself how those who have so little fare? How would I react? Would I have the wisdom and the love to share, to satisfy myself with a fraction of what I would have and try to make a difference with the rest?
Of course I’ll never know for I won’t ever be the recipient of that kind of wealth. I can only hope I would have the courage of my convictions and practice sharing, since sharing in this way has to be a deep form of love.

Why Aren’t We Doing It?

The world’s population is said to be about 6.5 billion. Of these a new report says, 2.5 billion lack access to what is called improved sanitation. The word improved denoting no real bathroom facilities, but something however primitive . Of these 2.5 billion, 1.2 billion have no access to any kind of bathrooms and are forced to “defecate without sanitary facilities.” It is not a subject one likes to talk about, and rather unsavory to imagine what the implications of “without sanitary facilities” actually refers to. But two consequences are certain, one is the health threat to the communities involved and the second is how that leads to a contaminated environment that researchers directly link to diarrhea, one of the biggest killer of children under five.
The report released by UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) and WHO (World Health Organization) does cite progress. The percentage of the total population who are forced to practice what is called open defecation has gone down, from 24% of the total to 18%. As expected the problem is worse in rural areas. But contrary to expectations the continent that is worst hit is not Africa, but Asia. Seventy percent of the people living with broken down or nonexistent sewage system are in Asia, and 22% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr. Margaret Chan. WHO’s General Director, says, “We have today a full menu of low-cost technical options for the provision of sanitation in most settings. More and more governments are determined to improve health by bringing water and sanitation to their poorest populations. If we want to break the stranglehold of poverty, and reap the benefits for health, we must address water and sanitation.”
So the question arises, why then aren’t we doing it? Surely basic sanitation qualifies as a human right.

What It Says About Us

Sometimes we are removed from a decision, have nothing to do with it, and still it says something about us–the us that is part of that collective we call society. I had nothing to do with the decision to deny Susan Atkins a “compassionate release” from prison but it was obliquely at least done in my name, and so whether or not I like it, I am involved.
As part of the gang around Charles Manson, Susan Atkins murdered Sharon Tate in the 60’s. Now after 37 years in prison, 60 herself, she has brain cancer, had one leg amputated, is partially paralyzed, and was given 3 months to live. While the current Los Angeles County district Attorney wrote a letter to the parole board asking that the request be denied, the case prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, wrote on her behalf. He said the idea that “just because Susan Atkins showed no mercy to her victims, we therefore are duty-bound to follow her inhumanity and show no mercy to her” is wrong. He went on, “…what mercy are we giving her? It’s not like she has six months to live, and we’re letting her go home and she’s going to have fun with her family. My view is that anyone who opposes her request, other than relatives of the seven Tate-la-Bianca victims… is either being robotic or extremely callous. The mercy being requested now is almost too minuscule to speak of because she’s in bed and she’s going to die.”
The people who made the decision, and those who side with them and support it, no doubt think it speaks for justice, and feel entirely justified. But it seems to me that this decision says more about us than about justice. It says that we as a society are not able to exercise compassion, to know the difference between justice and harm, that we are blinded by notions of right that have nothing to do with mercy and love and those values that help us truly determine what is right. The social contract under which we all live may grant the parole board the right to have denied the request, but they did not speak for me, and I am glad they also did not speak for Mr. Bugliosi and others who agree with him.