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09 April 2008 @ 11:52 am
College: it's not just for future spoiled rich people!  
I'm probably something of a crank about this for personal as well as philosophical reasons -- my alma mater had infamously bad food. (And, probably, still has.) But this NYT article on fancy bourgeois food in college dining halls made my stomach churn. Is this what kids really look at when they're considering colleges? Everybody knew that my school had crappy food; the tour guides couldn't lie about it. No one was pleased about that situation, but the top-notch academics and rigorous honor code managed to pull them in anyway. I remember often wishing for better food, but it never crossed my mind that they should install a wood-oven pizza kitchen or offer lobster. That would be, you know, a waste of money, in comparison to things like laboratories, library acquisitions, and scholarships for poor students. I knew plenty of students who held work-study jobs in the dining hall, the little sandwich shop and the coffeehouse on campus (there was exactly one of each), because their families could not have afforded to send them to that school otherwise. I suspect that, if they had had to stand there and offer gourmet pizzas and whole lobsters to their more privileged classmates (yes, I was one of the latter) as part of the deal, they'd have had to swallow a lot more vitriol while calculating how many fancy meals equaled a need-based grant.
09 April 2008 @ 12:25 pm
On a totally different note (...or is it?) from my last post a few minutes ago, the city of Mahalla el-Kubra, the epicenter of the workers' strike on Sunday, was pretty much up in arms through Monday evening. (For all I know, this is still going on, but, as you might expect, up-to-the-minute information on anti-government protests in Egypt is hard to come by.) The government, seeing that they're running a real risk of losing control of the city altogether, threw some bones to the protesting textile factory workers, but this will likely do little to fix the problem, since it's not just the low wages that have people down, but the combination of low wages and the alarmingly fast-rising prices of subsidized staple foods. A great many people in Egypt are now calculating that, in short order, they will no longer be able to buy bread -- BREAD! -- to feed their families.

Quick poll for anyone reading this blog: How much does the cheapest government-subsidized bread cost, per loaf, in Egypt? (In US currency)

A. $0.009
B. $0.07
C. $0.18
D. $1.09

Answer: A. The rock-bottom price for subsidized bread from the cheapest bakeries is five Egyptian piasters a loaf, which is one twentieth of an Egyptian pound, and there are approximately 5.5 Egyptian pounds to the US dollar. Because the price of wheat flour has been rising lately, more and more Egyptians are unable to afford bread unless they buy it from one of the subsidized bakeries that sells it at this price. There are fears that, in the current flour market, the employees of these government-subsidized bakeries are profiteering some of their flour rations on the black market, making the cheap bread even scarcer. This helps us to understand the kind of emotional strain that people are under, and why riots break out at bread lines, and why at least a dozen people have died while lined up for hours in order to buy this bread -- some from exhaustion and the heat, others by violence.


I mention all this because I note that there is precious little coverage of any of these events in the US media. This is due, no doubt, in part to the Egyptian government's wariness of letting foreign journalists anywhere near the unrest, but our traditional lack of concern for things that aren't in our face isn't helping. Almost all the information I have to go on comes from bloggers and independent photojournalists who have been working guerrilla-style to grab what footage they can, since security forces aren't shy about beating the crap out of anyone with a photographic device in their hands. It's really too much to hope that these events will push the US government to re-think how it relates to its Egyptian counterpart, but at least I would like to keep my friends and family informed about a semi-major crisis here before the really drastic shit hits the fan and panicky headlines hit CNN's website.