Books, Society

Selling Off the UK Government to the Lowest Bidder

Government outsourcing–contracting private companies to provide public services–can produce amazing results. The process links government revenue with business tools. When a government’s own in-house capacity is limited, contracting private companies can be an essential solution, whether it’s providing stationary or building bridges.

Outsourcing can also be a stressful exercise, as John Glenn, American astronaut and the fifth person to go into space, responded when asked how he felt sitting in a space capsule getting ready to launch and listening to the countdown: “I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts — all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.” Continue reading

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Books

Bringing Hell to Syria

More than 400,000 deaths.

Four million refugees plus 7.6 million Syrians displaced within their country.

Widespread bombardment of cultural heritage sites and urban centers.

Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe by Charles Glass Verso 177 pp.

Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe
by Charles Glass
Verso 173 pp.

These are some of the costs of the war in Syria. A war that has now waged for over five years and doesn’t appear to be stopping. The human cost is tremendous. And the causes are many. In the book Syria Burning: A Short History of a Catastrophe, Charles Glass looks at how this war came about. The current conflict traces its roots to over 100 years of external influence, such as the Sykes-Picot Agreement which saw French and British powers drawing the borders of present-day Syria. Glass summarizes this history succinctly as evidenced below. Continue reading

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Books, Society

A Critique of Sport

“Sport is war minus the shooting,” wrote George Orwell.

For a long time, I have been thinking about sport and its role in society. It can be like simulated warfare, as Orwell notes, with teams commonly attacking each other, injuries abounding. It can also seem like a religious experience, with fans idolizing players and dogmatically watching every game available.

Foul Play: What's WRONG with Sport by Joe Humphreys Icon Books, 271 pp

Foul Play: What’s Wrong with Sport
by Joe Humphreys
Icon Books, 271 pp.

It seems to be a mixed bag of the best and worst in society. Sports are found nearly everywhere and played by nearly everyone at some point in their life.

These are some of the intersections that Joe Humphreys explores in his book Foul Play: What’s Wrong With Sport. Largely based on his football fandom, Humphreys describes in six chapters the virtue and vice of sport. I found the book to be a timeless expose of a world unable to face criticism. Recent news from the world of sport, like fighting between football fans at Euro 2016 or doping at the Rio Olympics, point to the continued challenges found in competitions around the world. I will explore some of the book’s topics below. Continue reading

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Books, Society

The Business of Good Intentions

While working in Ghana back in 2012, I witnessed a distribution of Toms Shoes (here’s my blog post about it), also known as a “shoe drop”. Back then, I assumed their intentions were good and that they might be making a positive difference. I think now is a good time to reflect on this view.

Clothing+Poverty-+The+Hidden+World+of+Fast+Fashion+and+Second-hand+ClothesI found Andrew Brooks’ book Clothing Poverty and the podcast Tiny Spark useful in this process and have used their research below. I highly recommend both of them!

Clothing Poverty shows how recycled clothes are traded across continents, the companies behind clothing donations, and the myths of ethical fashion, such as Toms shoes.

Hosted by Amy Costello, Tiny Spark investigates the business of doing good. Beyond their episode on Toms shoes (which I’ve embedded below), Tiny Spark investigates the world of philanthropy, international aid and development.

After gaining a better understanding of global development and the complexity of tackling global poverty, I am far more critical of Toms Shoes and similar companies espousing ethical consumption. I will focus mostly on their shoe distributions as this is what Toms is most known for and an aspect I witnessed first hand. Continue reading

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Books, Society

Unfair Trade and Unconscious Consumerism

I was first introduced to the idea of fair trade while volunteering with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). Promoting fair trade products – coffee, teas, chocolate, bananas, and other commodities from the Global South – was a central platform for many EWB chapters across Canada. I even ended up helping with the weekly Fair Trade Friday events, whereby fair trade coffee and teas were given out for free and we tried to encourage students to adopt fair trade purchasing into their buying. A few years later, the city of Edmonton (like many others across the world) became a Fair Trade City.

Fair trade sounded like a brilliant idea. Ensure farmers in developing countries received a minimum cost for their products, helping to bring them out of poverty. The trouble was that when I began to educate myself there was very few books or news articles providing a balance assessment, let alone critiquing the idea. Books like The Fair Trade Revolution and others were written and/or directly supported by the regulating organisation Fairtrade International. How can they provide an impartial look. Continue reading

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