Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Diamonds are for Fighting?

The other day my roommates and I watched Blood Diamond. It’s a fictional account of the conflict diamond trade in Africa, and specifically in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. The movie later prompted a conversation about diamonds and politically/socially conscious decision-making in buying jewelry. I should note that nothing in the movie was news to me, and that I had actually thought about this subject a lot already.

So, if you want to be socially responsible, what are the options?
(1) Do nothing. The Kimberly Process, which entered into force in 2003, is a voluntary process that is supposed to ensure that conflict diamonds are not traded in participating countries (including the US).
(2) Ask for documentation of the seller’s policy on conflict diamonds, and find out how they verify their suppliers.
(3) Get a certified conflict-free diamond (probably a diamond from Canada – yes, they have diamond mines there, they are really from Canada not just via Canada).
(4) Re-use an old diamond.
(5) Since it’s difficult to actually verify where diamonds come from and the major buyers (companies) may mix them together, offset part of the cost by donating to some NGO working to combat the trade in conflict diamonds.
(6) Get something else.

The last option merits further exploration. First of all, if you are going that route – do some research on whatever it is you are planning to buy. That said, it occurs to me that perhaps, for those who are concerned about this issue, buying a diamond, even one that is conflict-neutral or conflict-free, might present a situation of marat ayin. In other words, do I want to give other people the impression that I, a politically aware, socially conscious consumer am okay with buying a diamond that might not be clean? If not, the safest answer is not to have one. I actually overheard some girls at school discussing this idea (albeit with different vocabulary!) last year when one of them was explaining why she didn’t have a diamond engagement right because while she would’ve gotten a certified one, she didn’t want others to think it was simply acceptable as-is.

However, there is not a simple right-and-wrong sort of answer. Yes, the diamond trade tends to be exploitative of poor and conflict-prone countries. However, many developing countries also rely on those exports, and boycotting diamonds could be seen as unfairly damaging their economic prospects even when the particular country of origin is not the source of the problem. As with all my favorite topics, this one defies easy answers.

I am not intending to judge people’s decisions by posting this. Rather, if I have made you think and fomented discussion, I have succeeded. I know good people who have chosen each of the above routes (or a combination thereof). The secondary motive is that people have actually asked me for advice on this subject before, as their resident international relations expert. So having it thought-through and written down is a useful exercise. Along the way, I've included a lot of links with helpful information.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Rest is Commentary

Today I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, which dates to the 6th Century BCE. My mother told me that the thing that’s important to understand about Sun Tzu before delving in, is that it's like reading Talmud – it is published with the original text embedded with various commentaries.

This turned out to be very helpful advice. For example, let’s start at the very beginning:
Sun Tzu said:
War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

Li Ch’üan: ‘Weapons are tools of ill omen.’ War is a grave matter; one is apprehensive lest men embark upon it without due reflection.
I begin to see why this is still arguably the most important book on military strategy. And yes, that lasting impact is another parallel. 

In fact, thus far I have found Talmudic logic a useful corollary in several of my courses this semester. Another example is in comparative law, where we have been studying the development of civil law and the jus commune, which began with the glossators at the University of Bologna (11th-12th Century CE) expounding on the text of the Justinian (roman) codes with interlinear commentary.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sunkist Miss: Your friendly neighborhood translator

Today, after spending the ride home chatting with yeshivaBoy, I stepped off the T and into an alternate identity. Meet Sunkist Miss, your friendly neighborhood translator and local Latina.

I went to CVS and was minding my own business, when a little old lady came up to me and asked if I spoke Spanish. I rapidly recalled the last time this happened in CVS, but decided she probably wasn’t proselytizing and really did need help. This was the right decision. I helped her find the medication she was looking for. Mission accomplished.

[Note: the story referenced is from before I started the blog, I just posted it so you have the back-story if you are so inclined. I think it's entertaining.]

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Spell is Broken...

It is frigid outside. And I slipped and fell on ice on the way to shul yesterday. Everything aches. I miss my warm and dry native land. I hate the winter. All's right in the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Winter Magic

I know, I know. I said there was nothing good about winter. After all, I’m cold-blooded, or as Toyb says, endo-thermic. I don’t sustain my own body heat; I extract it from my surroundings. So come winter in Boston, I freeze. This is all still true. 

And, yet. Here I am, in January, shivering, and appreciating this crazy season! What happened? Well, it snowed, again. And actually, there is something quite magical about it. Watching the snow falling is something I will probably never get used to. It’s just such a novelty. Like, wow, what’s that white powdery stuff falling from the sky?! So on Monday, when it had stopped snowing, I dared to venture outside and see my city transformed into wonderland. And I did what every good Californian would do: I took pictures. After all, the best lesson I ever had in photography came from my mother, who told me, "when you go some place new, look around and observe what in your surroundings tells you that you’re not in LA." 

And the thing is, a few days later, the magic hasn’t quite worn off. I know it will this weekend when the temperature drops and the snow turns icy. And at that point I will return to my visceral hatred of winter and cold. But today, as I was walking home, I purposefully stepped off the sidewalk and into the snow. I know people were looking at me funny. But hey, it was still dry and fluffy and virtually untouched, and that feeling of walking on cloud puffs is so strange and irresistible. Like, totally!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The cultural event of the year

When I was home in Cali during winter break, not only did I get to visit my family and replenish a bit of my Vitamin D, but also I attended the annual Sunkist family cultural outing, which in this case was a trip to the Music Center to see The Color Purple. I'm not sure what I think about the Color Purple as a musical, but it was certainly beautifully done. Moreover, it truly was a cultural event, an LA happening. Sitting there, it was impossible not to feel the energy in the theater that came from watching this particular play amongst a wonderfully diverse audience. It was an experience. An LA experience. Being there reminded me for a moment of the unique experiences I had growing up in Southern California. It was a special opportunity, watching the Color Purple in that setting. It was also a special chance to reflect on my own upbringing. I don't know if I'll ever return to CA to live, but it has certainly shaped who I am.