Thursday, July 07, 2005


I generally don't watch the TV news. I'll read the paper at home, listen to NPR in the car, and check out occasional headlines on the Web. I didn't hear about the bombings in London until I was driving home from a meeting. Turned on the radio expecting to hear classical music before the usual 4:30 start time of "All Things Considered."

I heard commentary instead. Knew something was up. When I got home I clicked on the TV and switched back and forth between CNN and the Weather Channel. When CNN started repeating itself I came here.

A friend of mine is staying in a hotel that is now inside one of the police cordons, and I'm very relieved to hear he's all right. He's a relative newcomer to e-mail and couldn't have gotten his account at a better time -- I turned on the computer to find he'd already left a message.

My mother had taught in an inner-city high school in the 60s and 70s. She used to tell me about a trio of girls -- Muslim, Jewish, and African-American -- who were best friends. During the '67 Arab-Israeli war they said, "We get along; why not the rest of the world?"

Simplistic, yes. But basically sound.

About 20 years ago I took a course in sociobiology and often sat over coffee with two classmates: a Muslim and a Lebanese Christian. I'm Jewish. We got along fine, comparing notes and debating over class materials that raised the question about whether humanity was inherently aggressive and exploitative. Our professor seemed to think so; we tended to disagree. But a modified version of the question could ask, "Under what conditions?" Otherwise peaceful rats crowded into a cage past a certain critical mass turn on each other.

Recently I watched for the first time a PBS series called "The New Heroes," which I would love to see in prime time and on the commercial broadcast channels. From the website: "The New Heroes tells the dramatic stories of 14 daring people from all corners of the globe who, against all odds, are successfully alleviating poverty and illness, combating unemployment and violence, and bringing education, light, opportunity and freedom to poor and marginalized people around the world."

The show I watched profiled three pioneers. In the first segment Albina Ruiz set up a micro-enterprise of garbage collectors in response to a Peruvian community living for all intents and purposes inside a garbage dump. These folks worked cheaply and efficiently and resided in the neighborhoods they served. Her simple business model, turning around years of failure and filth, is being adapted across Peru and studied by other Latin American countries.

The second segment profiled Maria Teresa Leal, whose sewing cooperative Coopa-Roca, located in Rio de Janeiro's largest slum, uses the expertise of local women from low-income families to create high-end fashion pieces. Coopa-Roca now has a contract with the European clothes manufacturer C&A. The segment showed women working on a tight fashion show deadline while a gang war peppered the air with gunshots and a police helicopter sped toward the melee.

The third and last segment I watched profiled Muhammad Yunus, whose Grameen Bank uses a micro-credit system to help people lift themselves out of poverty in rural Bangladesh. When he first asked the people around him what they needed, their requests equated to a cost of twenty-seven dollars. So far the bank's 1,417 branches have provided $4.7 billion dollars to 4.4 million families in 51,000 villages: three quarters of all the villages in Bangladesh. Yunus's model is now being used in nearly 100 countries.

That's what I call a reality show. That is what, on days like this, balances out the more brutal side of our species.


Post a Comment

<< Home