Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking for Defrosting Apathy?

We've changed our name to Awareness to Action and moved to! Please visit us there for up to date information on all of our plans and projects.

You may have also noticed, the Poverty Discussion Blog has been on an unplanned hiatus while we've been getting our new site together. In the future, we won't be adding as much too it as we had in the past, so please check out our new blog that discusses all kinds of global issues, including poverty, at!

See you there,

Monday, May 19, 2008

Social Justice and Public Transportation

Jacob Ohlhausen has been doing work this month on a social justice issue he has noticed in Santa Clara County, California. He isn’t receiving any course credit or financial gain for this project, so I was curious to talk to him about what made him spend time and energy on it. I interviewed Jake on Skype early in May to learn about his project and to see what I could learn about global citizenship and poverty.

He began our interview by explaining “I’m working on a bus paper, which is trying to show that the county of Santa Clara cares more about affluent residents and their needs than lower income residents, and this is shown in the direction they’re going with public transportation developments. Basically, the VTA is trying to create one system for the rich with the light rail, and one system for the poor with the bus and trying to keep them separate. It looks like most of their funds and energy are being directed towards the affluent riders and the light rail. Most of their future construction and plans are concerned with the light rail.

“Rich people use the light rail to commute to work. Some of them park and ride, but primarily the light rail is a power alley through San Jose, from Mountain View to San Jose and Campbell. So its connecting the sort of higher income cities to down town San Jose.”

I asked Jake why poor people didn’t benefit from the light rail. He continued, “I’m not saying they don’t benefit, I’m saying it is a hassle for them to get to the light rail. They’re cutting bus routes. They aren’t really putting any money into the bus. The light rail stops aren’t in convenient places for lower income people. They’re all on Tasman, where the Silicon Valley businesses are, or in down town Mountain View – these are affluent neighborhoods.”

After our carpool broke up when I left the United States, Jake began to take public transportation more frequently. He said he started because “I would be waiting forever for the bus. I was paying a lot of money for the bus. And I just realized how inefficient the bus was. So I decided to start interviewing my fellow riders and keeping travel logs to see if I could notice any trends... to see if what I was seeing was really happening of if I was imagining it. It was really to satisfy my own curiosity.

“The next step had a lot to do with Defrosting Apathy. It provided me with a forum where I could post something. What’s the point of writing something that no one is going to read? I just started collecting the raw data, you know. I was having all these observations while waiting for light rail and busses and doing transfers and things, so I decided to start doing interviews to see if what I was seeing was really happening or if I was imagining it. It was really only to satisfy my own curiosity. I’d notice, well, there’s a lot of Hispanics on the bus today, and only a couple of Asians. I noticed the same thing yesterday. I wonder if there’s a trend. Maybe I should write down the stats every day and see if I notice correlations.

“You were the one who was like ‘well, if you have all this data, you should put it together in a report and then you should put it on Defrost.’”

I think Jake likes to be modest; his mom said he’s always felt bad about class differences, but he said, “it wasn’t like a spark, it wasn’t like bam! I’m going to do something today to go make the world better. Unfortunately, I wish it was, but it wasn’t. You suggested it, when I was collecting the data, I didn’t have a goal in sight other than to make pie charts or graphs. I just thought people were getting a raw deal and it wasn’t right.”

We also talked about Jake’s progress so far and his next steps. He says, “I’ve informed a lot of people I interviewed. I made them aware, and I’ve given them VTA’s website to contact and complain if they want. I don’t know if they’ve done that. I’ve been in contact with a director at the VTA, made him aware of my concerns and the focus of my paper. He’s proved to be interested in my results and helpful in providing me with information. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my concerns – that they are aware of the same concerns I have. The problem is, I don’t really think they care. I feel that a lot of the data I collected they’ve already collected. A lot of our information was very similar, but I feel like they don’t really want to put their resources into making the bus more effective. They want to increase the light rail in size and in areas that they can also develop into communities for higher income residents.”

Jake continued, “this matters because its classism. Its trying to keep the division between rich and poor and keeping them separate from each other. I don’t think it was intentional that it happened this way, but now that they’re aware that this is happening, they’re just allowing the gap to grow larger.”

I asked Jake how VTA could solve this problem. He said, “They could put more resources into the bus. They can just put more financial resources into the bus instead of the pittance they’re putting into it.”

He continued, “this also matters because its not just lower income people. I think its because I lived in New York with the subway system. I want to try to create an overall better system for Santa Clara and San Jose because I think its hopelessly inadequate.”

He also adds, “they’re trying to encourage park and ride. The more you use park and ride, the less you need the bus. Its like they’re trying to make public transportation for people who own cars. And I believe we need to take the car out of the equation. Its ridiculous to… public transportation should be primarily for people who don’t have cars or for people who don’t want to use their car all the time.”

Doing global citizenship in your community? Email me ( - we'd love to hear all about it!

(Full disclosure: Jake's my guy. 6/12/2008.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Defrosting Apathy and the Global Poverty Blog are growing at an amazing rate. There are several extremely fantastic things happening that I hope you'll be involved in.

Inspired by Millennium Development Goal #8, "develop global partnerships for development," Defrosting Apathy has forged new partnerships with the student leaders of Silliman University in Dumeguete and the Knowledge for Development Centers (KDCs). KDCs are partnerships between the World Bank and leading private and state universities in the Philippines. As students, we have the power to affect global change. Together, we can create an even bigger impact than we could alone. My hope is to create an international team of students with diverse skills and perspectives. We will discuss one thing we'd like to change, and then design and implement a plan to create that change.

I hope you'll join us! Share your ideas for a better world at

I'm really excited about this project. I think once we get rolling, we're really going to be able to do something powerful. I'm sure it will be difficult at first, and we'll have a lot of disagreements - I hope we have a lot of disagreements, but I think we'll all be able to learn important skills and lessons.

That brings me to the Philipinnes. The report from my trip will be available online very soon. I'm waiting for final comments from one last person before it becomes a public document. This has inspired and required an update to the site, but I think its better if you're surprised.

We will also be welcoming two new friends to Defrosting Apathy. Matt Peng, an econ student at San Jose State University, will be translating economics for us. His first article might be about "why economic development?" but Matt has complete creative freedom so maybe he'll change his mind. Joseph Johnen, also a student in San Jose (sorry, I forgot what school), is great at computer stuff. He'll be helping me photoshop all of my awesome Philippines pictures - like with cropping at sharpening and whatever else he thinks should happen.

If you would like to work on Defrosting Apathy, please email me - if you have your own idea that would be cool, or you could do something on my list of things to get around to, which would also be nice, as I am living a double life.

(Edited March 27, 2008 for crazy formatting issues. Mac and Google hate each other now, and its so inconvenient.)

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Some Water Issues

I will be going to the Philippines Tuesday as a short-term consultant with the World Bank! It will be my job to document some of what the World Bank is doing and how it impacts people on a local level, giving the issues a human voice and perspective. It should be very interesting, and I'm creating a new section of Defrosting Apathy to share it with you. In the meantime, I've been getting a lot of travel advice. The thing everyone seems to say is not to drink the water.

I even attended a meeting for travelers (my Austria trip looms as well), in which a local health official laughingly made reference to "Montezuma's Revenge."  I've since had a change to discuss it with the hosts of the meeting, who agreed that "ha ha ha, we can't drink their water because they're poor" was inappropriate.

At first "why not?" seemed like a stupid question.  Further, is there a "Washington's Revenge?" - Do people in other parts of the world have trouble drinking my water?  I also wondered, do locals drink the water? Do they suffer as a result, or have they built up an immunity to the bugs that live in it? Does it hold back the Global South?  Can something be done, like creating more infrastructure?

Up to Date Patient Information: General Travel Advice says travelers can get infectious diarrhea (traveler's diarrhea), hepatitas A, and trichnellosis. They also say don't drink, make ice cubes with, or brush the teeth with local water. Drink boiled tap water. Don't eat unpeeled fruit or raw vegetables. I knew most of this -Thomas Mann's character Aschenbach died as a result of eating the strawberries that represented the lure of the Global South.

The Center for Disease Control discusses the science behind traveler's diarrhea, and the implication is that the traveler should be wary, but not the local. They also include an unsurprising map:
Focusing on travel diarrhea implies that its a travel issue, that in fact locals are able to adapt to non-potable water.  However, UN Millennium Development Goal #7, ensure environmental sustainability, includes a stated goal to reduce by half the number of people living without sustainable access to clean drinking water.  

The World Health Organization notes some interesting H2O statistics in a fact file:

- 4 in 10 people globally live without access to clean drinking water.  This is "getting worse because of population growth,  urbanization and an increase in domestic and industrial use."
-By 2025, 2 billion people will live with a water shortage. 
- The WHO recommends a level of 500 cubic metres of water per person per year, for healthy and hygienic living.
- Water scarcity means people rely on unsafe sources of drinking water.
- "Poor water quality can increase the risk of diarrhoeal diseases including cholera, thyphoid fever, salmonellosis, other gastrointestinal viruses, and dysentery.  Water scarcity may also lead to diseases such as trachnoma, plague and typhus.  Trachnoma, for example, is strongly related to a lack of water for regular face washing."
- "Water scarcity encourages people to store water in their homes.  This can increase the risk of household water contamination and provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes - which are vectors for dengue, dengue haemorrhagic fever, and malaria and other diseases."
- Good water management reduces breeding sites for disease vectors, reducing disease.

So to answer some of my earlier questions, no, I can't drink the water there.  People who come to the US don't face issues with our water, despite what the government of San Jose is having difficulty realizing.  Locals really shouldn't drink the water there either, but they have to.   There is no immunity, it does hold back the Global South, and something can be done.  However, there is not enough water to go around, so it will become increasingly difficult to keep what we do have clean.  

The answers raise an important new question: how do you live and care for your family without clean drinking water?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Visited the Dump Today

My friends were taking stuff to the dump today, and I decided to tag along. I had piled up some stuff thinking I'd use it again some day, but after months and years I realized it was time to clear it out. I felt guilty at first because it seemed wasteful and I hate the idea of sending things to a landfill, but then I realized that wasn't a good reason to turn my house into a landfill either. Next time, I'll try to buy stuff that will last longer - for example, we tossed out a mop without a removable mop head. A smarter purchase would have let us reuse most of it.

Anyway, it was a great chance to see what happens to stuff when we're done with it. Apparently, photography isn't allowed at the public dump, so I have blurred out a lot of identifiable information about which dump it is and so on.

Here are my three favorites:

If you want to see more of my illicit dump photography, check out my album.
At the Dump

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Relationship Between the Core and Periphery

I was talking to Drs. Reckmeyer and Fried the other night about the gap between the core and periphery countries. One of the things Reck always says is that we need to close the gap between the two groups for humanitarian and security reasons. Dr. Fried pointed out that in any arrangement, the core needs the periphery to be more inventive, while the periphery needs the core to hold on to traditional approaches, so that there can be realistic give and take between change and stability.

So, I was reading the internet like my grandfather must have read his morning newspaper when I came across this essay about how to improve Manila by Patricia Faustino.

I thought this was a really great thing. The World Bank had an essay contest about improving a city. Local people responded with great ideas. These ideas are on the internet for me, and presumably for the agents in the Philippines with the power to make a difference, to think about. Maybe knowing the international community is listening to these ideas will further affect them.

But more than that, I think Faustino's essay connects to what we were talking about the other night. And what Hash wrote about here in response to an article saying Africans don't need or deserve computers. His response to the rest of his community was, "Try this on for size: as an African, you are more of an expert on what your part of Africa needs than any self-prescribed expert from the west." Bill Thompson even wrote a thoughtful response, agreeing with Hash about the need for Africans to speak for Africa.

Its not just that peripheral solutions are better for peripheral problems because its a convenient way of avoiding personal responsibility. Certainly, I don't have the tools or the experience to know what a child in southeast Asia or sub-Saharan Africa needs or wants. But its not like we're all so different that if it came down to it, I couldn't come up with some ideas, however culturally inappropriate.

Really, they're better because they demonstrate who is responsible for the community. If a western construction crew showed up and built everything before Faustino had a chance to imagine it, it would be very unsatisfying. Winning a World Bank essay contest is far more fulfilling to the individual and community. Had the construction crew simply showed up, no one would have bought into the idea of public space, which would have then perhaps been destroyed. And, it would have pissed off well-intentioned donors in the west. Faustino's point about how important it is for citizens of Manila to imagine a better world is really well put.

Moreover, the core needs these frontier ideas in and of themselves. Not for humanitarian reasons or to empower the voiceless, but for the genuine betterment of everyone. These problems challenge core communities to put their best efforts towards something other than stagnation and decadence.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Nobel Lecture - Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing's Nobel Lecture was beautiful and important. There is really nothing to add.