As I Am

October 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

As I Am from alan spearman on Vimeo.

“Chris Dean’s heart stopped when he was two. He died but he came back. When Chris was five, his father was murdered, riddled by more than 20 bullets in a gang shootout. At age 18, Chris gained national attention when he introduced President Barack Obama at his high school graduation. Chris is an observer and philosopher who has always had a few things to say about life from his vantage point in South Memphis. He and Emmy-Award winning filmmaker Alan Spearman walked the neighborhood for eight weeks observing and recording what became the script of As I Am. This film floats through this remarkable young man’s landscape, revealing the lives that have shaped his world. Poetic and powerful imagery, captured by Spearman and cinematographer Mark Adams, combines with the young philosopher’s trenchant observations about life.”


October 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

We’ve started a new blog via the Evidence-based Social Intervention program at the University of Oxford. There aren’t many posts yet, but stay tuned for evidence-based news, policy analysis and general discussion.

Evidence-based Social Intervention

The Cochrane Collaboration is “an international network of more than 28,000 dedicated people from over 100 countries, who work together to help healthcare providers, policy-makers, patients, their advocates and carers, make well-informed decisions about health care, by preparing, updating, and promoting the accessibility of Cochrane Reviews.” So far, Cochrane has publised over 5,000 reviews online in theCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, which is part of The Cochrane Library. Cochrane also has one of the largest databases of randomised controlled trials in the world, called CENTRAL.

Here are some links from the recent Cochrane Collaboration Colloquium in Auckland, where you can view some of the talks and posters. Many of these are  excellent and speak to core issues in Evidence Based Policy and Practice that link to both the EBSI and CSP courses at the University of Oxford.

Plenaries from this colloquium are available for viewing here.

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Young Female Activist Shot on School Bus

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

“KARACHI, Pakistan — At the age of 11, Malala Yousafzai took on the Taliban by giving voice to her dreams. As turbaned fighters swept through her town in northwestern Pakistan in 2009, the tiny schoolgirl spoke out about her passion for education — she wanted to become a doctor, she said — and became a symbol of defiance against Taliban subjugation.

On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen answered Ms. Yousafzai’s courage with bullets, singling out the 14-year-old on a bus filled with terrified schoolchildren, then shooting her in the head. Two other girls were also wounded in the attack.”

The New York Times recently did a short documentary on Malala and her family. You can watch it here, along with the article cited above.
Malala is now in stable condition, after four hours of surgery on Tuesday.

Some feel that Malala was put in danger by her media exposure. That she is only a young girl and shouldn’t have been used so prominently as a poster-child of civil disobedience. But this places the blame on those speaking out for freedom. And it cheapens Malala’s courage and understanding of just how dangerous her world had become. Even with her short life experiences, her diary notes depict that she understood the situation very well. She was brave.

We send our daughters, our sisters, our nieces, and perhaps ourselves off to school without fear of their harassment or targeted and imminent death. We watch them board the school bus without concern that masked gunman will do the same, looking for them. I knew previously that others do not have this luxury–that each day of female education is an act of courage and disobedience for them–but the story and documentary of Malala and her family reminded me of that unjust reality.

I now live and work in the realm academia. I only hope that I would be so courageous if, one day, I had to fight to stay there. 

I take too much for granted. 

The Bell Tolls…

The Danger in One Story

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

“If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner.”

– Nigerian Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This frustration with the single-sided portrayal of Africa has been voiced before, and before. But here it is again. And yes, I think we need to hear it again.

The Endless Knot of Abortion Dialogue

October 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Endless Knot is representative of many things : the unity of wisdom and method, the intertwining of wisdom and compassion, emptiness, the mutual dependence of religious doctrine and secular affairs, the endless cycle of suffering or birth, death and rebirth, and (of course) endlessness itself. But in all of these symbolic interpretations (and particularly when they are all assumed together) I find that the Endless Knot is also representative of our modern debate on abortion.1

In a recent panel, On Being broached this topic in hopes of finding common ground between the pro-life and pro-choice poles. Although, as one panelist pointed out, there is no ‘safe place’ for such a discussion, On Being at least fostered a respectful ambiance for listening and questioning.  Everyone, be they religious, secular, political, radical or hither-to-uninterested in the topic, would likely find the discussion thought-provoking.2 David Gushee and Frances Kissling were the discussants, with with Krista Tippett moderating. Gushee is Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, and Kissling is president of the Center for Health and Social Policy (previoiusly long-time President of Catholics for Choice).

In an election year, when many voters will decide on their candidate based partially, if not completely, on this one topic, such an honest and articulate investigation as the one depicted above is very welcome. After all, most Americans lay scattered between poles of pro-life and pro-choice, but can rarely find a nuanced debate in their mainstream rhetoric.  To this extent, I agree with Gushee that the topic has become a bit of a political shibboleth; candidates merely adopt the relevant stance to gain votes, while simultaneously betraying the inherent complexity of the truth. As Gushee describes it, such a situation is “very crass for something so profround as this. Something so human as this.”

And so, in climate this stale and bifurcated, Gushee and Kissling presents something fresh. Here is a highlight:

Although both panelists represent an ‘incrementalist’ perspective (i.e. neither clings to either pole of pro-life or pro-choice), the moderator at one point asks them to articulate a concern that they have with the pole they most associate with. Gushee (pro-life) expresses his concern that “what the main activists in pro-life/anti-abortion community want is an overturn of Roe v Wade,” but that he is “not at all convinced that, if [this] were to happen, they would at all like the world that they would see on the other side… especially if there was a shredding of the social safety net at the same time.” (Such concern is particularly interesting if applied [beyond Roe v Wade] to a global perspective that includes HIV/AIDS epidemics, entrenched poverty and rampant food shortages).

On the other side, Kissling (pro-life) expresses her discomfort with the “one value” approach of the fundamentalist pro-life activists. In short summary, Kissling is not comfortable with the argument that “the only value that needs to be considered in both moral decision making and in legality is what the woman wants…and whatever the woman wants… no matter what difficult situation comes up” (emphasis added). For her, abortion for sex selection, abortion very late in pregnancy, and abortion of disabled fetuses are all “very very complicated questions.”

I encourage you to listen to the discussion in its entirety, and to pose questions about your own stance on abortion, and on sexuality as it is inherently tied to it.

In the end, you may likely hold your same belief, but you will have (vicariously and internally at least) engaged in a dialogue with the other side. And as Kissling points out, such a willingness to engage in dialogue is also a willingness to change….not because you must in order to make compromises, but because you will in order to honestly acquire new information and perspectives.

1 The methods, of course, have always been a firing point on this issue; the debate can depict at least two perspectives on when and to whom compassion should be extended–so that the wisdom is ambiguous; it is a topic, of course, inherently about life and death..and some could argue rebirth; there is no doubt that religion and secular policy must converge in the public domain for solutions to be made (one way or the other); to negate the feeling of emptiness that a woman may feel is absurd, but inordinately common; there is also the possibility (a strong possibility) that our conversations have become empty…and endless

2Random footnote commentary : the panelists suggest that there is a mutual mistrust between the pro-life and pro-choice parties, and that this mistrust incubates a fear in each side that if one concession is made, than another will be requested, and another, and another, until the slippery slope causes all to be lost. This fear, they intimate, makes it so that neither side is willing to give even a single concession.

Although I commiserate with the point, I’m not sure that it depicts the entire, or even the correct, picture. It could be (as is often the case with sacred values–such as abortion can be on both sides of the spectrum) that individuals believe that any equivocation or concession on their part would negate their stance completely. Such a boldness and unweaveringness of belief and standard has at many times and in many contexts throughout history been rightfully praised—but it doesn’t make for good compromises.

Where Am I?

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