Mac Students and the Rountable

Hello from Blogalviews!

This week’s topic:

Reflect on Macalester’s Roundtable Discussion: In what ways can we as Macalester students embody the lessons learned and envision the goals of a sustainable future?

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People

They say that you’re not a real Central American traveler until you’ve been super sick. Check.

I got some sort of intestinal parasites and learned that IV’s are truly wonderful things. But that’s not the important lesson here.

I had to leave one of my homestays to go to the hospital, so I missed out on a few days in the campo. As I was making my way back, I ran into some people from a different homestay who worriedly inquired about my health.

Not an hour after arriving back in the community, an earlier host father showed up to see me and ask how I was doing. I was blown away, but also confused how people in very disparate communities (two to four kilometers away, over mountains and tiny trails) had heard the news so quickly. Continue reading

What is poverty?

I’m just about half way done with my time here in Nicaragua, and I’ve now visited two of my three homestays. The experience has been eye-opening, challenging and rewarding. It has been far harder than I ever thought it would to establish those person-to-person relationships I talked of in my last post. This only reinforces my belief that it is the most important means by which I can affect change.

I’ve made an observation that I think is worthy of dialogue on this blog. I’ve noticed here in Nicaragua two distinct kinds of poverty.  I encountered the first in Granada, whose touristy nature attracts many homeless. Kids, adults, families and old folks live on the streets. They are hungry and sick and many have no shoes or teeth. They resort to begging tourists and wealthier locals for money, often asking for one córdoba (about $.05) at a time. The majority seems to be kids under 12 years old.  Continue reading

Talk to me

As I moved from bustling Managua to small-town Granada, the smallness of the world smacked me on the face and reminded me why I’m here.

Just when I was starting to feel a bit lonely and wondering why, exactly, I had decided to come to Granada all by myself, the world opened itself for me.

Within 24 hours I randomly met four – yes, four – different people who will ALL be in Ocotal the entire time I will be, are in some way associated with Grupo Fenix and were quite happy to talk, listen and make plans for the summer.

My lesson now is obvious: the barriers between us all are no harder to overcome than a few minutes of conversation. We talk at Macalester of Global Citizenship, civic engagement and internationalism, and whenever I philosophize about these concepts I think on a macro scale, nations relating with nations, entire ethnic groups finding common ground.

But my project this summer is grounded in person-to-person relationships, and it’s only going to be successful if I can forge them one at a time. No one of us can really expect to alter humanity’s course; but by intentionally affecting a handful of important relationships with the intention that everyone will pay it forward, we can all move together toward our common ideals.

Please, use this forum to explore how you’re going to do that. Remember: this only works as a dialogue!

Summer in Nicaragua!

In Central America it’s common for airports to be in the center of big cities, nestled in deep valleys. Airline pilots have to pass a special course in which they demonstrate their proficiency in approaching the runway at a 90-degree angle, then banking a 747 so severely that it pirouettes on its wingtip and drops onto a postage stamp runway, where the pilots clamp on the brakes and pray.

Landing in Managua, Nicaragua was not quite that severe, so I feel that I’ve started my summer research adventure on a good note! My checked bag made it here, customs took a mere 20 minutes and my Spanish was sufficient to get me to the hotel; all in all, Central America y yo parecemos de llevarnos bien! Continue reading

What went wrong: Subprime lending

This post is for those who still feel they couldn’t quite answer the question, “What went wrong with our economy?” It looks at one aspect of the problem, subprime lending.

The economy essentially has two levels – the real and the nominal. The real level is the production of real (actual) goods and services. The nominal level is the one that concerns money – its creation, use and exchange. (To help connect nominal with money, remember that money comes in denominations.) 

The real level and the nominal level interact, of course, whenever you use money to buy a real good or service. So, to sum, the two different levels of the economy are distinct, but connected. (In other words, the economy could operate with only the real level; we would just exchange goods and services for other goods and services – a barter economy.) 

So, what went wrong? To answer that, remember that there is one primary way to make money on the nominal level – that is, to make money with money: Lending. If you have money that someone else wants, you lend it to her for a fee. Say you want to buy a home. You go to the bank, take out a loan, agree to pay it back, plus interest, and this exchange is entirely on the nominal level. 

Continue reading

America’s chief Middle East export: Rigid Ideology

 

It’s been interesting for me to compare American attitudes toward the latest conflict between Israel and Palestine with American attitudes toward our own politics. Domestically, we have a largely black and white political spectrum: either you’re conservative Republican or liberal Democrat. With respect to the Middle East either you’re pro-Israel and its right to assert its regional dominance or you’re pro-Palestine and anti-Israeli aggression.

In reality, just as with our own political parties, the situation is much more subtly nuanced. I hope that the position I’m about to advocate seems as obvious to you as it does to me.

Let’s start with Israel.  At least four of its closest neighbors explicitly and repeatedly denounce its very right to exist, and advocate killing Israelis by virtue of their…existence. In 2006 the people of Gaza (not the West Bank) democratically elected a militant government whose stated aim is to annihilate Israel. Hamas makes good on its claim every day, launching dozens or hundreds of homemade rockets from residential neighborhoods into Israel. Though they rarely kill anyone, Israelis nonetheless have constantly to live with the sight and sound of rockets plummeting down on their homes. Continue reading

Less consumerism, same consumption

 

I’ve been taking the “Transformation” EXCO class this semester. It has been a wonderful experience if for no other reason than it is, necessarily, forward looking. The transformation on our minds – and most other Mac minds, I wager, is: how do we transform our global economy? Economic collapse aside, the mandate of modern capitalism to consume, consume, consume just isn’t sustainable. 

I’m an economics major. I very much enjoy the subject and I think that modern economics – as opposed to modern capitalism (consumerism) – is still the best way to explain our economy and an important way to formulate direction for our future. 

An assumption: Economics assume that the goal of any rational actor is to maximize utility. Utility is most often defined as consumption. Hence, more consumption = more utility. (Note: many economists use utility, happiness and wellbeing interchangeably.) 

I’m not so sure about this assumption. It makes graphing and explaining and model-building really easy. And, to a large extent, it explains Western economic behavior. I’m really not sure about it.  Continue reading

The dread of door knocking

It occurred to me recently that despite the number of times I’ve heard variations on the phrase “this election is the most important of your generation” it has never come across as condescending or cliché. I can only conclude that its truth frees it from such burdens; certainly all the signs point that way. Barack Obama’s “fierce urgency of now” has gripped me as thoroughly as it has every other liberal progressive and in so doing has created in me a terribly interesting monster.

I know – intellectually yes, but also in my gut – that to be successful we have to mobilize and organize and network on a scale never yet seen. I want to do my part. I need to know that I’m involved. I will help put Obama in the White House.

But I hate door knocking. I hate phone banking. I hate voter registration. I dread talking to perfect strangers with the goal of persuading them that my point of view is better. I dread these things and in doing them I’ve learned something incredible. Continue reading