Monday, September 24, 2007

The Sinister Story Behind Chocolate

This story might be regarded as bad news for those chocaholics among us...

originally published in The Age, September 18, 2007

Chocolate is regarded as a treat, a sweet luxury often given as a gift. But that is only part of its story. The rest is more sinister. Two hundred years after the British Empire abolished the slave trade, nearly half the world's chocolate is made from cocoa grown in Ivory Coast, West Africa, where tens of thousands of children are forced to work on plantations as slaves.

A 2002 study estimated that at least 284,000 children were trapped in forced labour in the West African cocoa industry, the majority of these — some 200,000 — were to be found in Ivory Coast. Even the most conservative estimates, including those by the chocolate companies themselves, concede that the number of chocolate slaves is at least 12,000.

These children are forced to apply pesticides without protective clothing and to work for up to 12 hours a day on the plantations for little or no pay. Their toil helps the giant chocolate makers produce the chocolate we find on the shelves of our stores.

Parliamentarian and social justice crusader William Wilberforce, whose life-long crusade resulted in the abolition of the slave trade — which then formed a critical part of the economic foundations of the British Empire — would be horrified. A recent feature film, Amazing Grace, heralds Wilberforce's crusade to free the slaves, yet the tragedy is that more people are ensnared in slavery today than in the entire 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Human trafficking generates $A37 billion annually and enslaves at least 12 million around the globe. Some estimates even put the number of people enslaved as high as 27 million. And the epicentre of today's slave trade is in Australia's backyard — South-East Asia.

The tragic nature of this industry is evident when you realise that the average age of a girl locked in sexual slavery in South-East Asia is 12 or 13.

However complex this trade in people, it is inescapable that there is a strong and foundational link between poverty and modern-day slavery. People who are poor are more vulnerable. We can't fight slavery without fighting poverty.

Overseas aid is critical to developing better public justice systems but it is also important in providing livelihoods for emancipated slaves.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, people trafficking is the world's fastest-growing crime, already bigger than the international drug trade and second only to the illegal buying and selling of arms.

But action is being taken. Stop The Traffik, the organisation I founded three years ago, now has more than 600 member organisations in 60 countries around the globe determined to raise awareness of the problem and to demand action at all levels to bring it to an end. One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal is as consumers. In 2000, the chief executives of the major chocolate makers were hauled before the US Senate and a bill was proposed that would require the chocolate industry to certify all their chocolate as "slave-free".

The cocoa industry successfully lobbied against this, arguing that the supply chain for cocoa was complex, with middlemen buying the beans and mixing them before selling them on to conglomerate buyers.

But such major companies control the market and they can determine under what conditions they buy their cocoa beans. Unless the industry can guarantee that our chocolate is not made from beans picked by trafficked children, then we will never make progress. Industry must be able to tell people which farms beans are from and must guarantee no trafficked labour.

Consumers for their part should buy chocolate only from those companies that give this guarantee. It is a practical way we can all contribute to today's crusade to end modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking is a global problem that requires a global response. At the end of his life William Wilberforce referred to the battle against slavery as "unfinished business". Today, working together, we can complete the task.

Steve Chalke is founder of the global Stop The Traffik campaign.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Nifty Computer Tricks

Here's a few nifty little computer quirks which you can use to amuse and confound... Some conspiracy theorists might get some ammunition in the process!

#1 An Indian found that nobody can create a FOLDER anywhere on the Computer which can be named as "CON". TRY IT NOW, IT WILL NOT CREATE A "CON" FOLDER

#2 For those of you using Windows, do the following:
1.) Open an empty notepad file
2.) Type "Bush hid the facts" (without the quotes)
3.) Save it as whatever you want.
4.) Close it, and re-open it.
Noticed the weird bug?

#3 This was discovered by a Brazilian. Try it out yourself...
Open Microsoft Word and type
=rand (200, 99)
then press ENTER and see the magic.....!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Study: Iraqis May Experience Sadness When Friends, Relatives Die

July 25, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, NC—A field study released Monday by the University of North Carolina School of Public Health suggests that Iraqi citizens experience sadness and a sense of loss when relatives, spouses, and even friends perish, emotions that have until recently been identified almost exclusively with Westerners.

An Iraqi study group reacts to a car bombing. Researchers (not pictured) gathered data from a fortified observation booth.

"We were struck by how an Iraqi reacts to the sight of the bloody or decapitated corpse of a family member in a not unlike an American, or at the very least a Canadian, would," said Dr. Jonathan Pryztal, chief author of the study. "In addition to the rage, bloodlust, and hatred we already know to dominate the Iraqi emotional spectrum, it appears that they may have some capacity, however limited, for sadness."

Though Pryztal was quick to add that more detailed analysis is needed, he said the findings cast some doubt on long-held assumptions about human nature in that region.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that Iraqis do indeed experience at least minor feelings of grief when a best friend or a grandparent is ripped apart by a car bomb or shot execution style and later unearthed in a shallow mass grave," Prytzal said. "Last December's suicide-bomb killing of 71 Shiites in Baghdad, for example, produced unexpected reactions ranging from crumpled, sobbing despair to silent, dazed shock."

Iraqis have often been observed weeping and wailing in apparent anguish, but the study offers evidence indicating this may not be exclusively an outward expression of anger or a desire for revenge. It also provocatively suggests that this grief can possess an American-like personal quality, and is not simply a tribal lamentation ritual.

An Iraqi mother expressing American-like grief at the loss of her son.

Said Pryztal: "When trying to understand the psychology of the Iraqi citizenry after four years of war, think of a small American town roiled by the death of a well-known high school football player."

According to Pryztal, the intensity of the grief does not diminish if the mourner experiences multiple bereavements over time. "If a woman has already lost one child, the subsequent killings of other children will evoke similar responses," he said. "In the majority of cases we studied, it appeared as though those who lost multiple kids never actually got used to it."

Though Pryztal expects the results of the study may be of some interest to students of Arab psychology, he did concede that the data may not be entirely accurate because it was gathered directly from Iraqis themselves.

"Almost all the Iraqis we interviewed said the war had ruined their lives because of the incalculable loss of friends and family," Pryztal said. "But to be totally honest, these types of studies can be skewed rather easily by participant exaggeration."

Psychologists and anthropologists have thus far largely discounted the study, claiming it has the same bias as a 1971 Stanford University study that concluded that many Vietnamese showed signs of psychological trauma from nearly a quarter century of continuous war in southeast Asia.

"We are, in truth, still a long way from determining if Iraqis are exhibiting actual, U.S.-grade sadness," Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist Norman Blum said. "At present, we see no reason for the popular press to report on Iraqi emotions as if they are real."

Pryztal said that his research group would next examine whether children in Sudan prefer playing with toys or serving as guerrilla fighters and killing innocent civilians.

...gotta love The Onion

Friday, September 14, 2007

World Vision's Triennial Council

Jim Wallis makes some interesting and encouraging reports on the most recent World Vision triennial council in Singapore.

A World of Hope (by Jim Wallis)

Last week I had the great blessing of participating in World Vision’s Triennial Council held in Singapore. It drew together almost 500 people—World Vision’s country directors and many staff, board chairs, and members from every region of the world, as well as the international board of directors who will guide and govern what has become the largest relief and development organization in the world. World Vision has grown enormously, especially in the last several years, and is seeking to determine its future direction. The organization serves 100 million people in almost 100 countries, with 23,000 staff members and an annual budget of $2 billion. It was indeed a privilege to deliver the opening and closing addresses and to have many opportunities to interact with this extraordinary and significant group of people each day of the conference.

I saw an organization in the dynamic process of moving from alleviation to transformation. I felt the passion of an international community of humanitarian faith-based workers who care deeply about the poorest children of the world, and who clearly yearn to embrace a God of justice, not merely a God of charity. That was the call they responded to in Singapore. The response was especially powerful from those from the global South, where the churches are growing dramatically and the conditions of life for so many have forced the people of God to address the issues of global justice.

The response of World Vision to the Asian tsunami was especially impressive, along with so many other places where natural disasters and human conflicts have caused so much suffering over the last three years. But we talked about how the greatest “disaster” in the world today is the very structure of the global order itself, and how disasters such as the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina only serve to reveal these underlying injustices. If we are to be faithful to the biblical vision, we must judge those global structures to be unjust.

Organizations such as World Vision have the choice of merely being the beneficiaries of the guilt of the developed world in serving the victims of an unjust global order, or they can serve the poor in a way that shines a spotlight on global injustice and the moral imperative for transformation. It is more and more clear that World Vision desires to make the second choice. Many from the global South told me they had never heard an American speak this way, but the Americans at Singapore were also clearly in sync with the need for World Vision’s prophetic vocation.

We must be Christians first, the World Vision delegates strongly affirmed, and citizens of nations and members of tribes second. Today, globalization seems to have an inevitable logic, but no comparable ethic. But international bodies such as World Vision, which know no geopolitical boundaries, could help create the ethics and values that globalization now lacks.

World Vision now has three organizational pillars: relief, development, and advocacy. Advocacy is the newest and most controversial pillar, but the imperative to deal with the root causes of human suffering, with the injustice that leads to disaster for so many, and with the policies of nations and international organizations that obstruct real solutions to poverty, has developed a real momentum within the organization. And rather than just becoming another lobby group, their deepest response was to the vocation of “changing the wind” of international politics and priorities.

“World Vision changed this week,” many people said to me as I departed. We could all feel it. It seemed that what has been growing within the organization for some time took a great leap forward during those days in Singapore, and there is no turning back. World Vision will not just be a collector of a guilty, affluent world’s donations to sponsor poor children, but rather a catalyst to help build a global movement for spiritual and social transformation. World Vision’s size, influence, and credibility positions the organization very well to be a prophetic leader in that movement for justice on the global stage that speaks truth to power—not just as a service provider when disaster strikes.

On the last day we spoke about a biblical theology of hope in a world of pain, and how hope, backed by faith, was the key to bringing about the global sea changes we desperately need. The choice today is less between belief and secularism, but between hope and cynicism. The theme of the final day was “A World of Hope,” and what I saw and felt at World Vision’s Singapore Triennial Council made me very hopeful indeed.

Sav Rocca's "Welcome to NFL"

This commentator has obviously never seen an AFL (Aussie Rules) game! Watch how Rocca just brushes it off as inconsequential...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dawn Rowan Update

The Australian Government continues to pursue Dawn Rowan to bankruptcy, not responding to any pleas made on Dawn Rowan's behalf. Minister Mal Brough, who has responsibility for the case, is stonewalling in the face of thousands of submissions. Today Tonight in Adelaide included an update on August 23, the night before Dawn's most recent court appearance. This is the first video.

The second video is an updated report from Adelaide's Today Tonight on August 24, detailing the surprising response from Dawn in court.

Visit for regular updates. Write to Minister Brough to make your submission on Dawn's behalf.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It doesn't take a genius

MENSA is an organization whose members have an IQ of 140 or higher. A few years ago, they had a convention in San Francisco, and several
members lunched at a local cafe.
While dining, they discovered that their salt shaker contained pepper and their pepper shaker was full of salt. How could they swap the contents of the bottles without spilling, and using only the implements at hand? Clearly this was a job for Mensa!
The group debated and presented ideas, and finally came up with a brilliant solution involving a napkin, a straw, and an empty saucer. They called the waitress over to dazzle her with their solution.
"Ma'am," they said, "we couldn't help but notice that the pepper shaker contains salt and the salt shaker.."
"Oh," the waitress interrupted. "Sorry about that." She unscrewed the caps of both bottles and switched them.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Sponsored kids unionize for better terms

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — John Randall and family recently received a letter from their sponsor child in Honduras. But instead of offering an update and gratitude for their continued support, 11-year-old Maria Salvador told them she was boycotting them.
"She said it was nothing personal, but her sponsor child union wanted better terms," says Becky Randall, 34. "She asked us to please remove her photograph from the refrigerator and cease all communication with her until the strike is resolved."
In a new wrinkle for child sponsor ministries, sponsor children in several countries have united to demand better terms. They are asking for $45 a month, up from the standard $28, plus a 7 percent annual increase, new uniforms, better medical care and more frequent gift packages from sponsors.
"American sponsor organizations can’t exist without us, and we want a better deal," says one child union representative.
The strike organizers are mostly older teens who grew up in sponsor programs, but have been influenced by resurgent socialist movements in South America. The newly created Union of Sponsored Children is demanding that Americans "pay a fair price" for the "privilege of supporting the children of the revolutionary worker-citizens of South America."
One girl, Carlota Garcia, 12, of Venezuela says she was always happy with the gift packages that included dolls, hair bows and school supplies from her sponsor family. But after attending a union rally she now believes she has not been getting her fair share.
"We deserve better," she says. "We aren’t pets that will be happy with cheap toys."
The Allen family of Pittsburgh, Pa., was bewildered to learn about the boycott from their sponsor child, Guillermo Montez, 9, of Bolivia.
"Our kids cried a bit when we got the cease and desist letter," says father Jeremy. "I had to tell them it was just business, and we’d get Guillermo back when the strike ended."
Jeremy, a former steel worker, says he felt proud that the sponsor kids were unionizing and "seizing their own destiny." He has already complied and is sending $45 a month to Guillermo.
Sponsor organizations are scrambling to negotiate an end to the strike by Christmas, when they sign up the majority of their sponsor families. But the child unions say they will hold out “however long it takes."