Friday, January 30, 2009

How About Trying a Cup of Kopi Kuwak for a Change?


As a person of habit I do not miss an opportunity to have a cup of hot coffee in the morning. As I can not always have the luxury to sip my “cafezinho brasileiro” (the Brazilian version of the espresso coffee) I settle for a café latte from Starbucks or a Panera Bread hazelnut coffee. As much as I enjoy the black stuff pure or combined with milk, I would definitely live without it if I found one day that I would have to pay as much as fifty bucks a cup, or about seven hundred per pound. Somehow, based on the cost factor alone I would not be able to enjoy coffee as much as I do now.

There is more to it than just pricing. One particular product is called Kopi Kuwak, an exotic coffee produced on the Islands of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi in Indonesia. What makes it so special is the way it is processed. The ripest and the reddest Arabica coffee berries are eaten by an animal called the Asian Palm Civet, which lives in tree tops and is commonly found in that region. The berries pass through the animal’s digestive system and are easily broken down by the action of acids and other enzymatic factors. The beans whithin the berries are not digested and are eventually expelled in the animals feces.

Those beans are then harvested in the field in a very meticulous way by qualified professionals. They are washed, then roasted and ready to serve. Eventually the product will end up in the cup of some privileged individuals, who can afford to have such exotic pleasures.

From the perspective of my culture that is something quite “different” and hard to understand. I have great respect for the person who enjoys this rarest coffee delicacy. All I can say is that knowledge makes all the difference in the world. If somebody offered it to me without giving me the history behind it I might have drunk it and enjoyed it as much as I would enjoy drinking my regular Starbuck’s coffee. I do not think I will be willing to try it any time soon but if I change my mind I will let you know.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Racial and Social Inequality

Contrary to what one would think, many of us are unconsciously racist. At least that is what a study published recently in the Journal Science says, according to an article that came out on CNN Website last Thursday. The study suggests that in general, blacks are largely perceived in a negative light by non-blacks who consider themselves tolerant and egalitarian.Just for the record, the study which was conducted by Dr. Kerry Kawakami, an associate psychology professor of York University of Toronto, Ontario, used blacks and non-blacks as subjects to conduct her experiment.
One comment made by Dr. Kawakami with regard to the study is that “Some people might think that they are very egalitarian and they don’t have to deal with their prejudice, and that is not related to them at all, when in actual fact they may hold these hidden biases”. In general when one thinks of prejudice there is an immediate association with the color of the skin. However, prejudice is an evil of multiple faces which encompass more than just the color of the skin. What I gather from Dr. Kawakami’s study is that regardless of what one says about himself with regard to racism, there is still a tendency to behave in a discriminatory way. It appears that people just do not let this tendency rule their behavior so much because it is not politically correct and is perceived as an unacceptable behavior by society.
Exteriorizing racist views even in a humorous manner could easily get someone into trouble and lead him to face unwanted consequences. In that light, I find it wise to always respect differences regardless of whether I am agreeable with them or not. In industrialized nations where a vast majority of citizens have higher education and better standards, prejudice attitudes are attributed more towards ethnical than social differences. It appears that in every society that has migratory history there may be hostile behaviors associated with racism. It is natural that humans will be in conflict when faced with something that is considered abnormal or different. I may be wrong but, in regard to Dr. Kawakami’s experiment; color of the skin was the main factor that drove the study. I assume that subjects were hand picked to match a certain criteria.
Is it possible that the people involved in the study have higher education, hold a decent job, have family and live a regular middle class life? According to National Urban League’s report, an article on Racial Inequality, publicized by ABC News in March 2008, in real life“…blacks were much worse off than whites across a range of economic indicators, including measures of employment, poverty, housing, income and wealth”. Inequality definitely intensifies the drama of racism even farther.

As I was reading through those articles I started thinking of how the problem of racial inequality affects other societies specially those from developing nations around the world. Factors like, social status, religion and ethnic differences all contribute to discrimination the subject of exclusion. Dr. Kawakami’s experiment was conducted in a totally controlled environment and looked at racism at a mild way. From such an experience one can just get a glimpse of the problem of intolerance. From a global standpoint, the most serious examples of intolerance is due to social differences. It is known that poverty levels have grown dramatically as the world population has sky rocketed over the years and that has contributed largely to all kinds of issues in urban areas such as: high crime rate, drug dealing and the creation of parallel power, inability of governments to provide health care and other basic needs to citizens, just to name a few.
According to Global Issues, an entity that deals with Social, Political, Economic and Environmental Issues, “nearly a billion people around the world entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names”. That is especially true about countries from Southern Asia , sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Such uncontrollable growth usually leads to disastrous outcome for those societies. The inability to fight inequalities has put them in a state of emergency as they metaphorically grow a monster in their own backyard. A monster made of hatred and distrust which may turn each citizen into a victim, regardless of social status. Exclusion literally hurt the poor and the rich alike and there is no easy way out.

Morumbi Slums, Sao Paulo, Brazil


When I see masses of people who live in total disbelief of society’s ability to create mechanisms to relieve them from a profound state of misery makes me wonder how exactly we made this destructive path? What kind of corrective measures can be taken? How can the situation be reversed or at least minimized? More education, dissemination of information, more structured legal, justice and law enforcement systems, more aggressive government incentives to social programs? All these items may be a good starting point and may be in place already in many countries but, are these enough? The fact of the matter is that whatever is being done currently falls short of resolving the mounting problems of inequality. The situation is complex and there is no quick fix to address all the burdens that modern society has to face.
There is no cheap solution either. It may cost a fortune for the local governments and other institutions to take a course of action to put a plan into action that actually works. However, such cost is infinitely less than the high price society has to pay for the burdens of illiteracy, ignorance and complete exclusion. I really believe that the major obstacle for making the world a fairer place for every citizen comes down to one thing: the unwillingness on the part of all parties that are in the position to make a difference in the process of change and the unwillingness on the part of a vast majority of individuals who are affected by it. I am a believer that things can turn around when there is good will and when multiple voices strike the same tone. I believe that change can only take place when each single individual gets bothered enough to get involved and do something about the issues.

The world is nothing but a perfect and romantic place. We are governed by good and evil, as we strive for our own survival. We treasure our uniqueness but we can not forget that we live in a world of diversity. Each individual is unique regardless of the color of his skin or social status. Blacks and whites and everything in between have to coexist in order to protect common interests. It is important to learn to be tolerant and willing to compromise for the benefit of all. That is true in regard to ethnic or social differences because in the crevasse of inequality, every single citizen is a loser. There is no safe haven for anyone. The apparent success of the rich is overshadowed by the fear he carries inside. His home becomes a bubble surrounded by layers and layers of security systems. The poor are victimized many times and in multiple ways. Pistols suddenly find their way to the hands of children. Lost bullets become a reminder that life is too shallow and meaningless. And the cycle of human tragedy goes on and on until it becomes almost natural. That is my greatest fear.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge


"The Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge is one of Boston's beautiful post cards. This cable-stayed bridge was built during The Boston Big-Dig Project and it was named after the civil rights activist Leonard Zakim".

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