Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wanderers 2012.3.20


Peter Miller, newly back from a brief excursion to Myanmar (Burma), graciously agreed to come address our little group, recapping some of what he'd covered with Thirsters in last week's debriefing.

Quoting from the Thirsters list, John Dougherty reporting:
Peter returned from Myanmar on Tuesday, March 12th and presented fresh views of the social and health services sector there.  He was invited as a representative of The Population Council by the Myanmar Ministry of Health.  Peter said that the health system in Myanmar was functional but survived on minimal resources that have increased in recent months, but that the government and health providers are committed to increasing the quality of health services.  USAID was invited to [the] country about 6 months ago.  Social indicators are strong:  95% of girls and boys attend school, fertility rates are about 2.0 (replacement level), and infant mortality in the first year of life has fallen by more than 1/3rd in the past 20 years to below 50 per thousand live births (the rate in Thailand is 16) [ Source ]
Peter was humble about his understanding and did not try to sound like a know-it-all, always refreshing.  Our group peppered him with questions.

I was especially interested in commercial billboards and whether cigarette companies were aggressively declaring war on the health infrastructure.  Peter did not feel bombarded by cig ads, though ads were in evidence.  Korean youth culture seems to have captured the imagination of many Burmese, with an image of a softer, gentler society with many technological advantages.

We were interested in the sex trade, drug trade, refugee camps, religious strife, non-Burmese cultures, and several other topics.  We talked about museums holding stolen artifacts, sometimes preserving them, and about the Doctrine of Discovery and papal infallibility.

I came away again thinking that "globalization" is not strictly a "westernization" phenomenon as Asia has absorbed and continued with western memes, many coming full circle as Europe used to look eastward for its culture (still does).  Asian cultures have their own momenta.

Burma reminded Peter a lot of Sri Lanka some years ago, in part for the piety of its Buddhist population.  Tourists come from around Asia to these temples, not so much to take pictures of one another as to pray, to worship.  I talked about Alan Potkin and his scholarly wife.

Peter has had an interesting career.  We talked at length about his work with rural Pakistani women, especially with TBAs i.e. Traditional Birth Attendant (midwives and such).  He felt their curriculum had made quite a big difference owing to several factors, as evidenced by lowered mortality rates.  He brought a healthy skepticism to any statistics though, as a seasoned demographer.

One does what one can, with hazy measures.

He felt oxytocin had been misunderstood by many TBAs, as they administered it during birth instead of afterwards.

Back to Burma, Peter gave us an abbreviated history, stretching back into the misty past.  The current narrative, for several decades, has focused on a military regime versus a popular movement focused on the daughter of a national hero, and Nobel Prize winner in her own right, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Whereas he wasn't actively countering this story, he was complementing and supplementing, as a lot of what's happening goes undetected if the story is focused too narrowly.

Don was interested in talking about the US flag as deriving from the East India Tea Company flag, something Bucky Fuller talked about as well (see Critical Path, St. Martin's Press, 1981).

I ducked out towards the end to run an errand, returning later to take the above picture. Five of us adjourned to Cup and Saucer after the talk.