Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How All of Us Are Supporting the Worst Humanitarian Crisis Since the Holocaust

I've decided that I need to learn about conflict minerals: minerals such as cassiterite, wolframite, coltan, and gold that are (quoting Wikipedia) "mined in conditions of armed conflict and human rights abuses, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by the Congolese National Army and various armed rebel groups, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda." (Cassiterite, wolframite, and coltan are sources of tin, tungsten, and tantalum, respectively.) Loot from these Congolese mines funds armed groups that have been responsible for millions of deaths and rapes since the beginning of the Second Congo War in the 1990s.

These minerals pass through several hands after they leave the Congo, ultimately finding their way to the world's manufacturers of mobile phones, laptops, mp3 players, and video game consoles: Intel, Apple, HP, Nintendo, Sony, Nokia, and many others. Basically, if you play video games, send text messages, or access the Internet, you are supporting (if only indirectly) the deadliest armed conflict since World War II. I'm not judging you, because I'm as guilty as anyone.

Before I continue, I should point out that, as of 2008, 5.4 million people had died and millions more had been raped or displaced due to the Second Congo War, a war fought, in part, over control to lucrative mineral mines. Though the war technically ended in 2003, the violence continues, as do rampant malnutrition and disease. The Second Congo War (including related postwar violence, hunger, and illness) is, without qualification, the worst thing to happen to human beings on this planet since the Holocaust. But no one pays much attention to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Moving on—One's first instinct upon learning that a product one buys is responsible for untold human rights violations is to stop buying that product. The problem in this situation is that abstaining from the guilty products means withdrawing from industrialized society. Few people who aren't Wendell Berry could swear off computers and mobile phones; and finding electronic devices free of conflict minerals is nearly impossible. Negative reinforcement (i.e. boycotts) won't work. Here are a couple solutions that might:

  • Legislation: Fortunately, a provision (introduced by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas) in the financial regulatory reform bill currently before Congress . . .

    . . . requires any publicly traded company that uses certain minerals to file reports annually with the Securities and Exchange Commission certifying whether the minerals originated in Congo or neighboring countries. It also requires them to report what steps the company took to ensure that the purchase of these minerals did not benefit armed groups in Africa.

    So that's a step in the right direction.

  • Positive Reinforcement: While it would be nearly impossible for consumers to punish offending tech companies, consumers could reward companies that take measure to ensure that their products do not contain conflict minerals. If we are willing to spend a little more or wait a little longer to support companies that eschew conflict minerals, maybe we could create a market for "peace computers" (or "happy computers"—it's the best I can come up with).

I'm in the market for a new laptop. I'd like to buy one that is free of conflict minerals or, at least, one made by a company that has taken steps to ensure that it will no longer support violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Take a few minutes to watch this video from the Enough Project:

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Thoughts on Conference Realignment

The Great Conference Realignment of 2010, which many people (but not me) thought would result in four 16-team superconferences, came to a halt (for now) on Monday when Texas decided to stay in the Big 12. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech—The News to UT's Huey Lewis—also stayed put, as did Texas A&M, who had been flirting with the SEC. Because Texas and friends decided that they weren't too good for the Big 12, the Pac 10 will not expand to 16 teams across three time zones, the leftover Big 12 teams will not have to join the Mountain West or rebuild their conference with Conference USA teams, and none of the other power conferences will be scrambling to keep up with the Pac 16.

Some other thoughts:

  • I'm mostly indifferent about Nebraska's move to the Big Ten. While I'm mildly interested in seeing the Cornhuskers play Iowa and Wisconsin and Ohio State in football, I was raised on Big Ten basketball. Nebraska never has won a men's NCAA tournament game and hasn't been invited to the Big Dance since 1998. Big-money sports aside, I'm looking forward to some epic Nebraska-Penn State women's volleyball contests.

  • According to CNBC's Darren Rovell, the cost of getting a women's soccer team from Lincoln, Nebraska to State College, Pennsylvania is $20,000. Imagine how much money it would have cost for Washington State to get its golf and track teams from Pullman, Washington to Austin or Norman. I wonder how many of the millions of new college football TV dollars would have been lost covering travel costs for non-money sports.

  • Texas envy, resentment toward the Big 12's unequal revenue-sharing arrangement that allows Texas to pocket several million more TV dollars than Iowa State or Missouri, nearly destroyed the Big 12. Appeasing Texas with another lopsided TV arrangement saved the conference.

  • I doubt that the Big 12 will add two more teams. Any additional teams would have to bring in enough revenue so that all of the schools would benefit more from splitting the money 12 ways than they already would from splitting the money 10 ways. (The reinstatement of the conference championship football game would account for some of this revenue.) If the conference were to expand, I would look for the Big 12 to add BYU and Memphis. BYU brings with it a national following and the large and rapidly growing Salt Lake City market. It also has a strong academic reputation. Memphis brings with it Fred Smith, the FedEx CEO who has offered $10 million per year to any BCS-affiliated conference that takes Memphis. (Smith's son is the quarterback for the Memphis football team.) Two Memphis-Kansas basketball games a year would also be enticing (but, as we all know, basketball money is negligible when compared to football money). I'd love to see the Big 12 add TCU and SMU, reuniting these universities with their old Southwest Conference brethren. But neither of these schools brings any real money to the table.

  • As I mentioned above, Fred Smith of FedEx will pay $10 million annually to any BCS conference that takes Memphis. Not to be outdone, I will pay $10 per year to any power conference that takes Evansville as a non-football school.

  • I expect the Pac 10 to invite Utah in the next couple weeks, and I think that Utah will be a better pick-up than Colorado. Utah has a perennial top 25 football team that is capable of bringing in big-time bowl dollars. While Denver is a bigger market than Salt Lake City, people in SLC care about Utah a lot more than people in Denver care about Colorado. Unlike Colorado and seven other current Pac 10 teams, Utah is not a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities, but UU has a good academic reputation (a Tier 1 National University according to US News and World Report) and (unlike Colorado) did not lose scholarships this year due to a poor Academic Performance Rating. Utah also has a better men's basketball program.

  • Last week, the Mountain West looked like a lock to get a BCS automatic bid in the next couple years. The dissolution of the Big 12 would have made the MWC a top-six conference, especially if it were to add the Big 12 leftovers. But, with the addition of Boise State, the Mountain West is still in pretty good shape—unless the Pac 10 takes Utah. Without Utah, the MWC has little chance of becoming a BCS automatic qualifier. Replacing Utah with Houston or Fresno State (both of which have football teams that do pretty well against tough non-conference schedules) and bringing in someone like Howard Schnellenberger to fix New Mexico's football program would slow the bleeding.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Tinleys Recommend Blocks and Marbles

Blocks and marbles has become a preferred activity in the Tinley household. Here's Meyer to show you how it works:

Click here to order the Blocks & Marbles super set from Amazon.

(And if you like our video, YouTube thinks that you might also like several videos of New Kids on the Block performing in Tinley Park, Illinois.)

Friday, June 04, 2010

My Two-State Solution

I'm not going to comment on this recent Israeli military kerfuffle involving the flotilla raid off the coast of the Gaza Strip. As far as I'm concerned, the leaders of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority long ago exhausted their moral capital. The powers that be on both sides have been and continue to be stubborn and hawkish, and they act like children—children with access to bombs and rockets. Obviously, these leaders don't rise to power in a vacuum. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are responsible for electing and re-electing these stubborn, hawkish leaders; and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are responsible for deciding that they would like Hamas to govern them. I must conclude that most of the people living within Israel's borders (including the Occupied Territories) are not interested in a peaceful resolution to this conflict so long as such a resolution requires their side to make any significant concessions. Thus dividing the land into two autonomous nations isn't really a viable option.

My solution involves creating a second state in some other part of the world. The purpose of the second state would not be to have separate Jewish and Arab countries but to have one country for stubborn, hawkish Israelis and Palestinians and one state for Israelis and Palestinians who want to live peaceful and productive lives without first eliminating or severely crippling the other side. Ideally, the mature, peace-loving people would get to keep the homeland, but asking the militants to move will only cause bigger problems. So the soldiers, settlers, and suicide bombers can duke it out on the banks of the Jordan while their brothers and sisters enjoy a peaceful life elsewhere.

Of course, there's still the question of the location of the second state. It would need to be an area that is sparsely populated and whose few residents would be on board with this plan or willing to relocate if they were properly compensated for their trouble. (We wouldn't want another situation where two groups of people feel as though they have a legitimate claim to the same land.) An area with a Mediterranean climate would be preferable, but those areas tend to be densely populated. I would suggest using land currently shared by Montana, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. That area is safe, sparsely populated, (somewhat) arable, and rich in natural resources; and the new state would border two stable, peaceful, and sympathetic nations.

But let me know if you have a better idea.

Image from the New York Times.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Is Your Dad Into Jesus and Sports?

Now that Mother's Day, Pentecost, Towel Day, Trinity Sunday, and Memorial Day have passed, you can focus your attention on Father's Day (unless you're really into Flag Day, in which case, I'll talk to you on June 15; if you celebrate Juneteenth, which this year falls on the day before Father's Day, you'll need to go ahead and do your Father's Day shopping while your planning your Juneteenth festivities).

If you need a great Father's Day gift, if your dad is a sports fan, and if your dad is a Christian or a Christian tradition-and-theology enthusiast, buy him a copy of my book, Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports. If you can find me between now and then, I'll even sign it.