Monday 3 April 2017

The Right Questions

In my travels around the internet -- here I am, with my flying goggles and cap:

Zoom! ... (courtesy of Pixabay) (yes, I know that's not a donkey) (try finding a donkey in aviator gear)

-- I sometimes sign up for emails from sites where I have previously found intriguing, helpful, reliable information, figuring that more of the same cannot hurt my brain. I am well aware that, as I age, the ol' brain cells are dying off faster than they're being replaced, so I am paddling hard, upstream all the way, to try to at least even out the flow, if it cannot be reversed. I believe I may have mixed a few metaphors there, but -- Tempus Fugit! -- I cannot stop to untangle the mess. Also, my bronchial ick is still affecting my thinking. Onward.

One of the weekly emails I receive is from and is called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week." Generally I find at least one of the article titles is interesting enough to pursue.

This week the title that I could not resist clicking on was "The Snack That Changed The English Language" and it was about the role of pies in history and from that role the ways that we now use sayings about pie to describe things, such as "humble pie," "easy as pie," and so on. While it was a half-decent article, it also made me a little gaggy because there was a photo of a sardine pie with the fish heads all poking out of the pastry. Now, savoury pies (including fishy ones) are not tops on my list of Pie I Dream About. That category is reserved for dessert pie such as apple or mincemeat (which in our household is about half raisin and half pulverized cooked roast beef, which makes it sound like a savoury pie but trust me, it's not).

Anyway -- to keep on doggedly trying to get to my point -- at the bottom of that web page there were a number of links to other articles, and THIS IS WHERE MY INTERNET AIRPLANE/CANOE HAS BEEN HEADED, for the purpose of this post. Finally.

The article I really wanted to talk about today is from BBC Future, an offshoot of that provides in-depth coverage of science, health and technology. 

BBC Future asked "a series of experts" what they thought were the grand challenges that matter in 2017. Here I would like to offer my opinion that some of the "experts" are not what I would have in mind when asking about the most important challenges facing the world -- for example, the last question in the list below is provided by the former corporate vice-president for research and development at General Motors, so it is not surprising that he has come up with this take on what the grand challenge is. That's not to say that the question he poses is not important; however, it does make me wonder how the contributors were chosen and why.

Be that as it may, the questions posed are interesting and diverse, and have made me think, which, as I have already stated, is never a bad thing.

Here they are, and here is where you can read the entire article, in case you are interested in a bit more information on any or all of the questions (it is not a long article):

How can we avoid resistance to antibiotics?
What can we do to conserve water -- especially in the face of climate change and urbanisation?
How do we fight "fake news"?
In an interconnected world, how do we fight global disease?
How will we deal with overpopulation?
How will the era of big data and artificial intelligence shape our health?
How can we safely use gene editing technology in humans?
How do we make cities more sustainable and pleasant for the people who live there?
How can we keep extending our life expectancies?
How can rapidly developing regions grow effectively?
How can we better inform people about natural disasters?
Car ownership continues to rise worldwide -- how will we accommodate this?


I find it highly interesting that nowhere on that list has anyone said "How Can We End The Suffering Caused By War?" or "How Can We End The Suffering Caused By Those Who Crave Power?" which I see as basically the same thing. How about simply "How Can We End The Suffering Of The Innocent?" This comes to mind more forcefully than usual as news reports surface of four famines that are on the verge of ravaging Africa (Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia) and Yemen. For more on that, see this article from the New York Times.

I don't know whether the leading minds in the world find these questions too impossible to answer, making them turn to other, more solvable questions, or whether BBC Future didn't ask the leading minds but rather conveniently available ones.

I don't know the answers, and I'm not sure I know the right questions, but I think we have to figure out the latter before we can figure out the former.

Welcome to my brain, where the air and/or waters are often turbulent. Mind the splashing if you get too near the paddle.

It was in thinking about the impending famines that my poem for Poetry Monday came into being. I thought about the famines that have taken place over the decades of my life. The one that pierced my heart the worst was the Ethiopian famine of 1983-5. Our first child was born in 1983 and the true cost to the most helpless of the citizens - the children - disturbed me deeply as I compared our baby's life and ours to the suffering of those souls.


The men have guns.
The women have babies.
The babies have nothing: No food. No water. No future.
And again.
And yet again.
And there
But for the grace
Of birth place
Go I.


Don't forget that Diane at On the Alberta/Montana Border and Delores at Mumblings are also writing poems for Poetry Monday. If anyone wants to join in, feel free to leave your poem in the comments at any of our blogs, or on your own blog and leave us a note in the comments so readers will know where to find you.


Elephant's Child said...

I might be being unfair and wearing my 'hard-hearted Hannah' hat but it seemed to me that those questions were all posed by people who have always been on the 'have' side of the have/have not equation. And are sadly lacking inconsideration/empathy/thought for those on the other side.
I love your poem.
And is a much more polished version of something I wrote aged 11 or so, which ran something like this.
Man,you make the same mistakes,
time after time.
Until you overreach yourself
and are humble.
For a while.
Till it starts again,
and again till you die.

baili said...


i love you for the raising those most important questions that spring up into the mind while reading the list of these questions actually eyes run fast on the list to find real questions but you know that all such questions are raised to misguide minds that what comes in my mind when i read this .

leadership of this world is has become most selfish and brutal thing on earth who is using it's power to operate the world like puppet .

all that is happening in this world can be seen and observe so easily .Biggest problem is Injustice which is raising anger among people .
People who have enlightened and educated minds [not only degree wise but real LEARNING] can feel the danger which is facing humanity ,the only solution is Justice and corruption free leadership.

your poetry made me cry!

gz said...

Not just sardine pie but Starry Gazy Pie!
Keep the brain cells going x

LL Cool Joe said...

Oh you can't beat a well cooked Steak and Ale pie, but I'd certainly pass on any kind of fish pie, especially if heads were involved.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

All good questions, but I think you raised the most important one. I think that there is no answer because humans, being humans, crave power and there is no antidote to that.

Your poem says it all.

Steve Reed said...

All good questions, and certainly pertinent. The overpopulation question is my big one, because I think most other questions -- medical care, refugees, environmental issues, resources, etc -- are contained within it. As for pies, I'm not really a meat pie person, but they certainly are a "thing" in England!

Red said...

Sometimes people need a pord to think outside the box. Maybe they should have been given categories to think about. I like the criticisms and suggestions you've made. some of these questions are irrelevant to our future. Bring on the peace.

only slightly confused said...

"The men have guns and the women have babies" yes ... and if the babies survive they too will hold the guns and carry on the violence. My question, "how do we teach the worlds population to just get the #%%^ along with each other. And yes, but for the grace of God go I for sure. I have so often thought that and wondered what a crotchety old woman could do to make it better elsewhere. Wonderful poem.

jenny_o said...

I agree - and I love your poem, EC. Imagine writing that at age 11 ... you had an earlier knowledge of empathy than many people. More than some EVER do.

jenny_o said...

Yes and yes and yes, baili. Good leadership is critical, and through it, social justice.

jenny_o said...

Aha - it sounds like you may have had this pie or at least are acquainted with it :) Sardines are supposed to be very good for a person but I've never been brave enough to find out!

jenny_o said...

Yes. Just yes!

jenny_o said...

It seems that the wish for power is in our genes - at least enough peoples' genes that we will never get out of this cycle. I hope I'm wrong, though.

jenny_o said...

Yes, I see overpopulation as the cause of so many other issues. And yet it is said that we have all the resources we need to provide the world with food, water, shelter, etc. if we only used them correctly. Then again, if the world's population keeps growing the way it is, how long would that be true? Gah.

jenny_o said...

I agree - they might have come up with different questions had the issue been framed differently. Peace is worth getting some opinions on ...

jenny_o said...

Thank you, from one crotchety old woman to another, Delores :) The only thing that gives me hope is that I KNOW there are so many other people who care and who are thinking about this and trying to solve it too.

e said...

Provocative post, wonderful poem, and you're right. There are many old ladies who wonder why we can't stop wars and learn to get along...

dinthebeast said...

No aviator gear, but I did find a donkey in a bee-keeper's suit:

Those questions seem to address the technicalities that surround the problem of getting along with each other, which I don't have a lot of hope about until we learn the lesson that respecting one another's humanity is a good idea and in our own interests.

I got a lot of my opinion on this subject from the writing of Daniel Quinn, who seems to think we can find many answers to "why do we do this" type of questions in our own evolution and the evolution of our fellow species in the animal kingdom. We're still hard-wired for tribal living, and often don't even recognize that the lack of a tribe is causing us deep seated problems until we bump into something that gives us that feeling and makes the bell go off in our heads. Then, far too often, we use that sort of jolt to our systems to divide us further instead of understand how we can have a place in the larger scheme of things, which itself has some evolutionary underpinnings that aren't easy to sort out.
Understanding how that works seems to me to be worth the effort, though, and has helped calm my anxiety about all of our futures a little.

Hope you are feeling better soon.

-Doug in Oakland

jenny_o said...

Thank you, e. And ... it shouldn't be so complicated, should it? My mother and I often end a conversation with "if we could just run the world for a day" ...

jenny_o said...

Oh my. A donkey in a bee-keeper's suit. I wouldn't have believed it had you not provided the link! And he's a working donkey!
Thanks for that.

I'm going to see if I can find Daniel Quinn's work. These divisions -- everything from local to world divisions -- make my head hurt, and I'd welcome anything that might help me understand the root causes.

Martha said...

What a great post! My mind wanders like yours. And my questions might include some of those but that wouldn't be where I would start. How about... How do we put an end to world hunger? How do we put an end to war? How do we rid the world of crime? How do we put an end to greed? I mean, really, who the heck needs 10 billion dollars? And on and on.

The one about the fake news seems got me thinking about a comment left by someone on some article last week. Some news media was reporting about some fake news that a government body was passing (I won't name names or point fingers but nudge nudge wink wink) and a supporter of this 'government body' actually wrote "Who decides what's fake news?" *shakes head* It seems that for some people facts are not important. If someone says it happened, it may very well have happened. No need for proof!

dinthebeast said...

The three books I'm talking about are "Ishmael", "The Story of B", and "My Ishmael". If you only want to read one of them, I suggest "My Ishmael", but last year I re-read all three of them, and they're all worth it, IMHO.

-Doug in Oakland

Lovenicky said...

What an insightful post! I suppose those experts had expected 'Wars' to be a given in our present, past and future. Thus they didn't bother asking that question. Sigh!

jenny_o said...

Thanks, Doug - that makes it easier to track them down. Looking forward to reading them.

jenny_o said...

I hear you. It's more important than ever that we consider carefully what is being reported and use common sense.

jenny_o said...

Exactly what I was thinking!!

Yorkshire Pudding said...

An interesting and rather thought-provoking post Jenny. Thank you.

May I submit my recent poem? You have already seen it...

City of Trees

From above, the city looked green
So many trees - such a marvellous scene
Trees to filter the fumes from the air,
Arboreal beauty everywhere.
Our City of Steel was a City of Trees
With songbirds hidden amongst the leaves
Then Amey arrived with their corporate silence
Basing decisions on pseudo-science.
To pollard or prune would reduce their profit
Though tax paying Sheffielders cried “Come off it!”
The vandals arrived in the early morning
Dressed in hard hats without any warning
With safety glasses that hid their eyes
And Hi-Viz hoodies to complete the disguise.
On their backs they’d stamped “Streets Ahead”
But surely this legend should have read
Something different like “Streets Behind”
For such was the vision they had in mind
A city of saplings and wooden stakes too
Bashed into our streets where giants once grew.

The Blog Fodder said...

Your question was far more relevant than the others. And your poem made me sad because it is so true. Famine is caused by war and insufficient resolve (or inability) to distribute foodstuffs to where they are needed. Food is a weapon.

jenny_o said...

Thank you for including your poem here, YP.

For anyone who is interested in the background on YP's poem, click on his name, above, to go to his profile and from there to his blog, and you'll get the full story.

jenny_o said...

You are so right, and it's cruelty through and through to use it as a weapon.

37paddington said...

Your poem is so moving and so true. And your questions to my mind are far more pressing than any of the questions on that list. I do believe once we solve the enmity between people based on superficials like race, religion, geography, we will be ably to solve everything else on that list.

jenny_o said...

Yes, just think if all the great minds in this world were focused on problem-solving!