Tuesday, June 29, 2010

All the stuff we can't live without

Gotta have me an iPhone.

Ooh! Ooh! And an iPad.

And a smart phone! And an iPod! And a digital camera . . . and a laptop, too!

There's a lot of stuff we can't live without today -- despite the fact that we of a certain age all lived quite nicely without every single bit of it just 30 years ago.

TROUBLE IS, says Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, lots of people in the Congo can't live in peace -- or at all -- because of all the stuff we can't live without:
I’ve never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo’s, and it haunts me. In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.

Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think “sleek,” not “blood.”

Yet now there’s a grass-roots movement pressuring companies to keep these “conflict minerals” out of high-tech supply chains. Using Facebook and YouTube, activists are harassing companies like Apple, Intel and Research in Motion (which makes the BlackBerry) to get them to lean on their suppliers and ensure the use of, say, Australian tantalum rather than tantalum peddled by a Congolese militia.

A humorous new video taunting Apple and PC computers alike goes online this weekend on YouTube, with hopes that it will go viral. Put together by a group of Hollywood actors, it’s a spoof on the famous “I’m a Mac”/”I’m a PC” ad and suggests that both are sometimes built from conflict minerals.

“Guess we have some things in common after all,” Mac admits.

Protesters demonstrated outside the grand opening of Apple’s new store in Washington, demanding that the company commit to using only clean minerals. Last month, activists blanketed Intel’s Facebook page with calls to support tough legislation to curb trade in conflict minerals. For a time, Intel disabled comments — creating a stink that called more attention to blood minerals than human rights campaigners ever could.
AS I contemplate this, and reflect on how complicated and pampered our Western lives have become, I'm thinking of Maude. Yeah, Bea Arthur's character in the '70s Norman Lear sitcom.

Whenever her husband, Walter, did something to irk her, she always rolled out what became her catchphrase:
"God's gonna get you for that, Walter."

We're Walter.

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