Ruth Pfau

Now that I’m older, I look at the obituaries more often. Sometimes you run into ones like this:

Dr. Pfau, while not widely covered in the Western media, was renowned in Pakistan for her efforts to stop the spread of leprosy, a bacterial infection also called Hansen’s disease that when untreated can cause disfigurement and blindness. Around the world, its victims have often been relegated to “leper colonies” and regarded as outcasts.

The Express Tribune of Pakistan once credited Dr. Pfau with having “single-handedly . . . turned the tide of leprosy in Pakistan and won the gratitude and personal attentions of people ranging from military rulers to elected ministers to the general public.”

She has a couple great quotes:

But diverted to Pakistan while waiting for her visa in 1958, she was to stumble upon leprosy, a disease she had never heard of in a country she did not know existed.

“Well if it doesn’t hit you the first time, I don’t think it will ever hit you,” she recalled, after first seeing leprosy during a visit to a makeshift dispensary built on a disused graveyard in Karachi.

“Actually the first patient who really made me decide was a young Pathan.

“He must have been my age, I was at this time not yet 30, and he crawled on hands and feet into this dispensary, acting as if this was quite normal, as if someone has to crawl there through that slime and dirt on hands and feet, like a dog.”


“Not all of us can prevent a war; but most of us can help ease sufferings — of the body and the soul.”

After helping Pakistan to become the first Asian country to have leprosy under control, she also:

She has also assisted the country’s many forgotten displaced people and rescued victims from the 2005 earthquake and floods of 2010.

Like Mother Teresa, she was a European nun working for decades among people with leprosy but she thought they weren’t all that similar:

She said her focus was on removing the root of the problem – not just dealing with its symptoms – the same ethos that has served her so well over the years in Pakistan when dealing with poor, displaced and marginalised people.

“The most important thing is that we give them their dignity back,” she insisted.

We need more people in the world like her.


It seems North Korea might now have nuclear weapons small enough to put on rockets:

A report in The Washington Post on Tuesday went further. The newspaper said U.S. intelligence officials have assessed that a decade after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion, Pyongyang has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, including by intercontinental missiles — the type capable of reaching the continental U.S.

Luckily we have a calm and rational person for our President:

‘‘North Korea had best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,’’ Trump said during a briefing on opioid addiction at his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey.

We are so fucked.

Some good news

Let’s break out the bad/Trump news with some good news out of Germany:

Lawmakers in Germany voted on Friday to allow same-sex marriage after a brisk but emotional debate in Parliament, setting the stage for the country to join more than a dozen European nations — including Ireland, France, and Spain — in legalizing such unions.

This would be even better news:

Approval of same-sex marriage in Germany could build momentum for similar legislation in other German-speaking countries, such as Austria and Switzerland, said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director of ILGA-Europe, a gay and transgender rights group.

To show how mainstream this now is, there are zero comments on this article in the Boston Globe. And:

By a margin of nearly two-to-one (62% to 32%), more Americans now say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry than say they are opposed.

Yay progress.

Trump wonders what US gets out of helping people

So, the US had a deal with Australia to take some refugees that were seeking to settle in Australia and Trump had a phone call with their Prime Minister. How did that go?

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief – a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Donald Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

Wonderful, what was that main point of contention?

‘‘This is the worst deal ever,’’ Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was ‘‘going to get killed’’ politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the ‘‘next Boston bombers.’’

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter, ‘‘Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!’’

The issue centers on a population of roughly 2,500 people who sought asylum in Australia but were diverted to facilities off that country’s coast at Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Deplorable conditions at those sites prompted intervention from the United Nations and a pledge from the United States to accept about half of those refugees, provided they passed U.S. security screening.

Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.

Trump needs there to be an advantage to him to help refugees? Of course he does.

Now I’m scared to see what he said to the Mexican President:

President Donald Trump warned in a phone call with his Mexican counterpart that he was ready to send U.S. troops to stop ‘‘bad hombres down there’’ unless the Mexican military does more to control them, according to an excerpt of a transcript of the conversation obtained by The Associated Press.

Ah, a war with Mexico, that sounds like something Trump would think about.

And how would a war under Trump go? Here’s (via here) a clue:

U.S. military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger than expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

Welcome to Trump World, I hope we survive the place.

Courage under fire

Two people died in the last week or so that exemplify courage. First is Lawrence Colburn:

Along with his pilot, Hugh Thompson Jr., and their crew chief, Glenn Andreotta, Mr. Colburn set out that morning on a routine aerial reconnaissance mission. When the men spotted wounded civilians — casualties in US ground efforts to root out the enemy Viet Cong — they dropped colored smoke to mark the victims’ location for the US medical units that they assumed were on the way.

As the men continued their surveillance, they observed that the injured civilians were not being aided, and were instead being killed.

‘‘It became obvious to us what was happening when we lingered by one of the bodies that we’d marked,’’ Mr. Colburn said in an interview on the PBS program ‘‘American Experience.’’ ‘‘It was a young female with a chest wound, but she was still alive. . . . We saw a captain approach the woman, look down at her, kick her with his foot, step back, and [he] just blew her away right in front of us.’’


Thompson first landed the helicopter near an irrigation ditch where women, children, and the elderly were sheltering. Thompson approached a soldier standing over the group and ordered him to help the civilians out of the ditch. The soldier agreed but began executing the group after the helicopter took off, Mr. Colburn said.

Later, from their air, Thompson and his crew identified a group of Vietnamese hiding in a bunker and a unit of US soldiers advancing on them. Thompson again landed the helicopter and confronted the lieutenant, then called on Mr. Colburn and Andreotta for help. Thompson said that he would personally remove the Vietnamese from the bunker to safety, and that if the Americans fired on them, Mr. Colburn and Andreotta should shoot them.

They risked their lives to save civilians from their fellow US soldiers, that takes a special kind of courage. They must have known they would not be rewarded:

When news of the massacre publicly broke, Thompson repeated his account to then-Colonel William Wilson[4]:222–235 and then-Lieutenant General William Peers during their official Pentagon investigations.[11] In late-1969, Thompson was summoned to Washington, DC to appear before a special closed hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. There, he was sharply criticized by congressmen, in particular Chairman Mendel Rivers (D-S.C.), who were anxious to play down allegations of a massacre by American troops.[4]:290–291 Rivers publicly stated that he felt Thompson was the only soldier at My Lai who should be punished (for turning his weapons on fellow American troops) and unsuccessfully attempted to have him court-martialed.[3] As word of his actions became publicly known, Thompson started receiving hate mail, death threats and mutilated animals on his doorstep.[5]

Thompson was vilified by many Americans for his testimony against United States Army personnel. He recounted in a CBS60 Minutes television program in 2004, “I’d received death threats over the phone…Dead animals on your porch, mutilated animals on your porch some mornings when you get up.”[12]

The second person is Marion Pritchard:

She was said to have fed, clothed, hidden, or otherwise aided as many as 150 people, many of them children. She insisted that she could not have done her work without the assistance, overt or implied, of neighbors, friends, and other members of the resistance. She observed, her son Arnold Pritchard recalled, that only rarely if ever during the Holocaust could one person single-handedly save the life of another.

Along with about 10 friends, she helped obtain false identity documents and hiding places for Jews. Despite severe food shortages, they scrounged up extra ration cards and provisions. She put her social work training to use by finding host families to take in Jewish children and prepare the families for the perils they faced.

At times, she performed what was known as the ‘‘mission of disgrace,’’ falsely declaring herself to be the unwed mother of a baby to conceal the child’s Jewish identity. A toddler spent several months with her before she found a safer home outside Amsterdam.

For nearly three years, Ms. Pritchard cared for a Jewish man, Fred Polak, and his two young sons and daughter, taking up residence in the country home of an acquaintance where they were hidden. In case of a Nazi roundup, they perfected a routine by which the father and his children could slip beneath the floorboards within 17 seconds. They gave the baby daughter sleeping pills to prevent her from crying.

One day, three Germans and a Dutch policeman came to search the house and left, having failed to detect the hideaway. Shortly thereafter, the Dutchman, who nonetheless suspected that something was awry, returned and discovered the hideout. Before he could make an arrest, Ms. Pritchard grabbed a small revolver that she had kept for such an emergency and fatally shot him.

Another person who was willing to risk their life for strangers. People like her, unfortunately, don’t come around too often.

The DR Congo and Cobalt

It seems that the Washington Post has found out about Cobalt:

The world’s soaring demand for cobalt is at times met by workers, including children, who labor in harsh and dangerous conditions. An estimated 100,000 cobalt miners in Congo use hand tools to dig hundreds of feet underground with little oversight and few safety measures, according to workers, government officials and evidence found by The Washington Post during visits to remote mines. Deaths and injuries are common. And the mining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.

The Post traced this cobalt pipeline and, for the first time, showed how cobalt mined in these harsh conditions ends up in popular consumer products. It moves from small-scale Congolese mines to a single Chinese company — Congo DongFang International Mining, part of one of the world’s biggest cobalt producers, Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt — that for years has supplied some of the world’s largest battery makers. They, in turn, have produced the batteries found inside products such as Apple’s iPhones — a finding that calls into question corporate assertions that they are capable of monitoring their supply chains for human rights abuses or child labor.

I first read it as Coltan, since this story is almost exactly the same as one I posted about back in 2008. I guess history does repeat but with minor variations. It seems the DR Congo isn’t in much better shape than it was back then.

Oh, and here’s Senator Clinton from back then:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Congo on Monday to push the Congolese government and the United Nations to end the longstanding bloodshed here, taking special aim at the illicit mineral trade that helps fuel the conflict.

“I am particularly concerned about the exploitation of natural resources,” she said, referring to Congo’s vast reserves of diamonds, gold, copper, tin and other minerals.

She said that illegal mining was one of the root causes of Congo’s violence and that armed groups were sustaining themselves off the mineral riches. “There is a lot of money being made in eastern Congo,” Mrs. Clinton said.

I wonder if Donald Trump has even heard of the DR Congo?

Italy and Louisiana

It’s always a good time to donate to help. The most recent compelling arguments are in Italy:

After a night of uninterrupted, flood-lit search efforts, firefighters and rescue crews worked in teams around the hard-hit area in central Italy, pulling chunks of cement, rock and metal from mounds of rubble where homes once stood, searching for signs of life.

Authorities say at least 241 people were killed and hundreds injured in the quake that struck at 3:36 a.m. Wednesday. At least 470 aftershocks have since rattled the area — one as strong as magnitude 5.1.

and Louisiana:

More than 7,000 people were forced into 37 shelters across a vast stretch of the state by the rainfall, which has been blamed for 17 deaths.

Unfortunately these are far from the only examples, so give and help.

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