Is Google Dulling Us?

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On his return from a vacation in Canada, a US attorney was asked by his dad, who barely finished elementary school, if he visited ‘Ottawa’, Canada’s capital? The attorney said no, that he didn’t visit the city. He didn’t tell his dad the whole truth; he had never heard of the city. Also a few months ago, a reporter conducted an impromptu interview in Harvard where he asked some students to name the capital of Canada. Only a Canadian student knew the answer. It appears Ottawa is not the only obscure capital. Miss USA made headlines recently when she couldn’t name the capital of her home state, Nevada.

Growing up, we were made to ‘cram’ our heads with Nigeria’s 30 states (now 36) and their capitals. A day in school would be incomplete without a chant of: Abia-Umuahia! Adamawa-Yola! Akwa Ibom – Uyo!…Yobe, Damaturu! Before GSM became popular, it was common to know up to twenty phone numbers by heart; it saved one the inconvenience of reaching for crumpled papers to make a call. Likewise, people had to pay attention when going to unfamiliar places or they would miss their way going back home. Now, Google, phone contacts and GPS do all the work for us.

Many of our parents could not afford dictionaries when they went to elementary schools. They compiled vocabularies in their notebooks and made time to visit the library (if they had one) to find their meanings. When I went to school, I too kept a ‘Words and Meaning’ book but it didn’t take a trip to the library to find their meanings; I had a dictionary. With smartphones and Microsoft Word’s synonym feature, I doubt that my little niece has need to maintain a vocabulary book. A click of the button will give her what she needs anytime, anywhere. With Auto correct, I don’t know if she would bother committing spellings to memory.

Could the ease with which we get knowledge make us value it less than our parents did? Severally, during episodes of Frank Edoho’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire my dad earned my respect when he got the correct answers to questions I, with a University education, had never encountered. Sometimes, I need a dictionary to find the meaning of some words he uses. I guess people who waited days and walked miles to find the meaning of ‘Lackadaisical’ are less likely to forget it than those who google it with smartphones.

Certainly, Google makes life easier. Technology does help us concentrate on more important things. It also enables us accomplish more tasks in less time. With a technology like Google, we work more efficiently with increased productivity. I can imagine how much more difficult it would have been to, for example, blog before the internet era. With Google, I simply take care of the substance of my writing and rely on technology to fill in the details; Wikipedia saves me from having to dust volumes of encyclopedia. The analogy can be applied to all areas of life. Truth is that the concerns being raised about this internet age must have been raised too when calculators were invented. If it is any consolation, a popular scientist(?) was reputed to not have known his phone number by heart. He said he needed his brain for other things.

However handy technology comes in making life easier for us, we must realize that there are still occasions when Google cannot come to the rescue. Job applicants still get asked current affairs in interviews and law students still have to commit hundreds of cases to memory to pass law school.

That said, we will make more effort to know our trivia if we can commit to memory (pun intended) the saying that knowledge is power. Still not convinced? Ask Jeopardy's Ken Jennings (US) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire‘s Aroma Ufodike (Nigeria) and they will tell you that knowledge is also money.

On a lighter note, there is a hilarious scenario I see in the future. When Google’s self driven cars are finally produced in commercial quantities, I can see them impeding traffic (a ‘dulling’ I absolutely welcome) to the frustration of humans who seem to be programmed to habitually exceed posted speed limits. It will be fun to watch humans honk irritably at the robots which won’t give a damn because they (the driverless cars) are bereft of emotion and common sense.

Finally, having judged (I did) the subjects at the beginning of this article, let’s see how we will fare ourselves. Depending on whether you are in Africa or North America, do let me know in the comments section the capital of Cameroon or Mexico. As for me, I just googled to find the answers.

The Price for Nigeria’s Indifference to Maintaining Records

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An Alleged Rogue Doctor, a Federal Licence

When I was practicing as an attorney in Nigeria, a certain medical doctor frequented the courts. Before then, I knew him for his successful medical practice. I passed his five-story building at Okigwe Road each morning to get to work. But then, I would see him in court, seating on one of those hard uncomfortable benches. He had fallen so low, from grace to grass.  It was rumored that the Catholic Church had stripped him of his honor as a knight of St Mulumba. His wife had divorced him. He was being investigated for human trafficking, for harboring unwed pregnant teenagers and  paying them money for their babies which he subsequently sold to wealthy couples. A different version of the story had it that he actually encouraged and enticed the young girls to get pregnant for his profitable venture while posing as an orphanage that offered succor to pregnant teenagers with unwanted pregnancies.

That was about five years ago. Recently, I read that the Doctor had been arrested for child trafficking in Owerri. My first thought was: Again?  I scoured many sources to confirm it was a recent incident, that it was not the one from  five years ago. It was indeed recent. The police in Imo State raided his ‘Homeless Babies Home’ in Owerri where sixteen pregnant teenage girls found living in two rooms in unsanitary conditions were rescued. The young  girls were said to give birth without pain relievers and sometimes labor was induced prematurely to satisfy waiting patrons. After delivery the girls were coerced to give up their babies for between N50,000 to N200,000. While all the articles I read on the incident did well in giving graphic details of the event, none but one mentioned that he had previously been indicted for the same despicable enterprise in Aba,  a city less than 30 miles from Owerri. He relocated to Owerri after his brush with the law in Aba, then got a license to run the home. How did someone who had been investigated for child trafficking in Aba successfully get a Federal license to run a homeless babies home in a neighboring town? Either there was a corrupt official involved or there were no background checks done. From my experience, it is unlikely there is a system in place for the latter in Nigeria.

I do not know the doctor’s motivations when he opened the home in Owerri. It could well be that, on the advice of his lawyers, he got the license after his indictment in Aba to comply with the laws on adoption in Owerri. However, with the subsequent police raid of the homeless babies home and the findings made, it is obvious there was lack of due diligence in the issuance of the license.

 

Getting a Nigerian Passport

When I applied for a Nigerian Passport, I didn’t need to prove my citizenship. Once the officials talked me into paying N18,000 for express service, N8.000 above the oficial fees, they couldn’t care less if I was from Mali or Ghana. There was no way for them to find out anyway since most Nigerians have no birth certificate issued to their parents at birth.

Nigeria has no record, no database of its citizens, we are all undocumented and that is why corruption will continue to be our undoing. Without fingerprints to identify its citizens, Nigeria will continue to be home to terrorists, hoodlums and yahoo boys. Any one can open multiple bank accouts with different names and swindle single white women of their hard earned money.

A Convicted Cashier, a Nigerian Governor

A few years ago, facts came to light that a sitting governor had been convicted for theft by a Nigerian court – a fact that if true would have disqualified him from contesting the governorship election in the first place. His opponents sought to impeach him. The only evidence they had was the magistrate that reportedly convicted him: his testimony that from his recollection, the governor was in fact the man he convicted years ago. Does it mean that Nigeria doesn’t keep record of even images and date of birth of its prisoners? The governor’s attorneys successfully argued in the court that heard the case that sought to remove him from office that the only proof that was reliable enough to prove identity was fingerprints. The Nigerian Prison Service could not produce it. The governor continued to be in office in Nigeria. It was later discovered, in an unrelated event, that he had been convicted in UK twice, once for involvement in theft from a store he was working and another time for handling stolen credit card. His forgery of a new birth certificate and passport to cover his past crimes were uncovered through a fingerprint check by European authorities.

Needless to say that our ineptitude at keeping records jeopardizes the efforts of other foreign governments who take their duty to fight crimes seriously. Unfortunately, foreign countries have to rely on our unreliable police reports to decide people who are eligible to visit their country. I doubt that any such Nigerian Police Clearance Report has returned unfavorable to an applicant. There is hope in the horizon as foreign governments are stepping up and doing what they can to curb corruption globally. United Kingdom in 2012 sentenced James Ibori, the ex-convict turned governor, to 13 years in prison for money laundering in connection with his corrupt practices while a governor in Nigeria.

And Still…

While writing  this article, I checked online to see if Nigeria prisons now fingerprint inmates. I didn’t find the information I needed. I contacted someone who works with the Nigerian Prison and he told me that inmates do get fingerprinted. I was elated but only for a while as further inquiry revealed that the fingerprints are done on paper with ink and that Nigeria Prisons do not collaborate with the Nigerian Police Force to maintain a record that can be referred to when there is need for background check.

When the former Central Bank of Nigeria governor Sanusi Lamido mandated all banks to operate a biometric data identifiaction for all bank customers, I thought that finally, Nigeria was making effort to solve its identity problems. But just few months after the announcement , the governor was removed from office. If the past is anything to go by, that initiative will die with the exit of the former CBN governor. Although there is indication that the program is scheduled to go on anyway, one hopes that whoever is currently in charge has the adroitness and integrity to see that the exercise is successful and doesn’t end up being a sham like the National Identification Card project was.

Finally

On a personal note, I have ditched my old habits of sending receipts and bills to the trash since migrating to a country where you are doomed if you don’t keep records . For example the US govt in 2012 rolled out a program that grants a deffered action for undocumented immigrants. It involves among other things proving applicants have been living in the US since 2007 and that they came into the United States when they were under the age of sixteen. Many people who qualify are not applying because they don’t have the documents to prove their eligibility. So before you throw away that old receipt, you may want to think twice.

KNOW IF YOU QUALIFY FOR DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an initiative of the Obama administration which gives certain undocumented immigrants reprieve from deportation. Although it does not confer legal status on the beneficiaries, it grants permission to eligible applicants to work in the United States. It benefits only those immigrants who came into the United States illegally while they were still children. To ensure that only such young people who are responsible members of the community benefit from this Order, certain criteria were established to determine eligible individuals. As at May 2014, more than 500,000 applications for DACA has been granted by the USCIS. Since a deferred action granted is only valid for two years, beneficiaries are required to apply for a renewal within four months before the expiration of their current deferred action.

To qualify, an applicant must prove the following to the USCIS:
1. That he is under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
2. That he Came to the United States before reaching his 16th birthday;
3. That he has continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
4. That he was physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making his request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
5. That he entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or his lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
6. That he is currently in school, has graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, has obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
7. That he has not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and does not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Also note that one must be at least fifteen years to apply for DACA. However people who are already in removal proceedings may apply for DACA without being up to fifteen years of age.

After determining that he qualifies for DACA, an applicant must fill the necessary forms, pay the required fees and assemble the relevant evidence to prove his case. Thereafter, he must mail his application to the USCIS and wait for further instruction from them.

USCIS offers only one opportunity for each applicant to prove his case. If an application is rejected, there is no provision for appeal. For help filling your application, whether for the initial application or renewal, consult an affordable attorney at 310-920-6751.

Of Senseless Wars, their Helpless Victims, and Our Indifference

‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me’.

-Martin Niemöller

The picture above is from the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). I teared up while looking at Getty Image’s archives of the war. I wondered if someone I knew was among these kids. Both of my parents lived through the war and seeing these pictures made me appreciate more how horrible the war must have been. My parents hardly tell us about that time. They only discuss it in snippets: “We ate that during the war”, they would say about a leaf we consider poisonous today; ‘He died of kwashiorkor  during the war’, they would say in reference to an uncle I never met.  And about an Aunty’s husband who had long been assumed dead they would explain: ”He went to Lagos during the onset of the war but never returned”. The only time I came close to understanding what happened during the Biafra war was  when I read Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun.

What prompted me to write this blog however  was NBC’s News yesterday (March 12, 2014) on the unrest in Syria. It reminded me of how blessed I am to have the things I take for granted; made me realize that being sad because I don’t have a job is being insensitive to the plight of a woman who fled Syria and just had a baby in a refugee camp in Lebanon where she lives in a tent seated on mud with her husband and young kids.

Seeing that news made me reflect on the injustice in the world: that innocent children would die and be orphaned because of the pride and arrogance of a few men who by the way first make sure their immediate family members are kept out of harm’s way. The news also stirred me from my slumber and indifference to what goes on around me. It is  interesting how we tend to notice things we previously ignored only after we raise our consciousness to them. This morning was the first time I took notice of the tag #ChildrenofSyria on twitter and an online petition requesting signatures for a call to action on the crisis in Syria.

How the world can go on while thousands of children keep dying from the hostilities in Syria is beyond me. It is so easy to look away, indifferent to the sufferings of others. But the truth is that while the UN continues to try to not interfere, to respect Syria’s  sovereignty,  Al-Assad  will continue to orphan and kill tens of thousands of children in Syria. He will continue to block international aids to the opposition just to get them to surrender .

I am happy that as I write, nineteen U.S. senators have introduced a resolution calling on President Barack Obama to develop and send to Congress “a more robust U.S. strategy for addressing the Syrian humanitarian crisis.”

And for my non-senator reader at home, here are a couple of things you could for  #ChildrenofSyria: donate to humanitarian agencies who have access  to them, and pray for them.

To prevent future wars, we could start by teaching our children how to not be bullies at school. We could also teach them how to dialogue, how to make compromises, how to respect and try to see things from other people’s perspective. Because the truth is, we needn’t fight for there to be peace.

And as for my home country Nigeria where a war is currently brewing, it is time history on Nigeria civil war is introduced in schools. That way, violents youths in the country will learn that in the end, what is lost in a war almost always outweighs what is gained.

Lessons From The Facebook, Whatsapp $19 Billion Deal

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As the euphoria that met the deal between Facebook and WhatsApp gradually ebbs, it is time to reflect on the deal and what it  portends for large corporations, and what lessons employers, the workforce, job seekers and budding entrepreneurs can learn from Jan Koum’s tale of grass to grace. 

1. Doomsday Looms for Corporations

With a service that allows users to exchange free instant messages and pictures, phone service providers must be bracing for the impact the popularity of WhatsApp will have on their bottom line. This is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that a small company has emerged with a free service that competes with a service hitherto provided by bigger companies at exorbitant prices to consumers. There is Google Voice which some households have used to replace their house phones. There is WebMD  stopping people from going to their doctor’s to check out that red spot on the neck, not to mention attorneys who are losing their clients to websites  peddling legal forms and advice.

Although it is obvious that some of the free services mentioned cannot compare to those traditional businesses and professional providers, there is panic in various industries and businesses are adjusting by buying their competitions and changing their business models so that they will continue to be relevant by offering affordable services to their customers. However, given how much innovation the internet has brought, time will come when traditional businesses, as we know them, will lose their relevance and be forced to close up shop(s).

2. Chance Favors the Prepared

Often, when news like the one of the Facebook-WhatsApp deal breaks, we are inclined to think of how fortunate and lucky the beneficiary of what we like to believe is a windfall is. However, it is much more than luck. It is reward for years of hard work and perseverance. In this article Forbes gives us insight into the many hurdles Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s owner, had to jump to get where he is today.  Born in a small village near Ukraine, Jan faced hardship growing up and at 16, migrated to the United States where he and his mother lived on government assistance collecting food stamps. Remembering his roots, Jan signed his contract with Facebook in a building in Mountain view California where he once stood in line to collect his welfare. I know these rag-to- riches tale are becoming all too common but they go to show that the lion was once a cub and that it takes persistence to reach our goals. 

Stories like this teach us that success is more like 90% hard work and 10% luck. Without hard work, one will have nothing to give in exchange  for an opportunity when it presents itself.

3. For Some Professions, the Nerdier, the Better

The third lesson is that sometimes the most talented people do not know how to market themselves. Jan Koum, who is known to avoid the press and from all indication appears to be reserved, once applied for a job at Facebook and was rejected. While I do not know why Facebook didn’t offer him the job, it is apparent he didn’t market himself ‘good enough’ for Facebook to take notice of his capabilities. Getting a job requires the skills of a salesman because you have to effectively sell yourself to prospective employers before you can land that highly coveted job. In today’s economy, even with an impressive resume and  credentials, talented but socially inept people may find it hard to get a job because employers fail to see beyond the weak handshake, lack of eye contact and slumped shoulders. The truth however is that for some professions, introverts, who by the way  are more likely to display these body languages, fare better than their counterparts on the job. It is common knowledge that most computer geeks, writers, scientists and many people whose job requires some creativity are introverted and may not be able to impress employers during job interviews. While one cannot ignore that there are some jobs, like customer service jobs, that require  people who are friendly and people-oriented, employers should know when a job doesn’t require social skills and give candidates who lack them but know their stuff a chance.

4. Courage to Budding Entrepreneurs

It is easy to get discouraged after months and sometimes years of tens of job applications that don’t get even as much an acknowledgement. Also, self-doubt usually  set in, and job seekers may tend to think that they are no good. But sometimes, disappointment paves way for greater things. In fact, most great people were forced to greatness by harsh circumstances. When left with no prospects, we are more inclined to work harder than when we are in the midst of comfort and wealth. Jan developed his App during his period of unemployment. He didn’t give up. Is it not ironic that Facebook which was reluctant to offer him a job that may not have paid six figures now excitedly gave $19 billion dollars to him. Had Facebook hired Jan and he developed the App as their employee, what we know as WhatsApp may have been yet another feature on Facebook and Jan might not have received any personal credits, not to mention billions, for having developed it.

Having watched people I know go from being unemployed to building successful businesses, I have learnt that if we set our minds to it, we too can build something out of nothing and even become employers ourselves. And when we do, who knows who will come knocking at our doors?

Of Trained Hands and Untamed Tongues

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Every profession has one: the dental hygienist who scowls while cleaning a patient’s teeth and prattles on about the patient’s bad breath  once at the nurses’ station; the nursery school teacher who chatters about a child’s unkempt hair; and the female bank teller who wonders aloud how a bank customer with so little money in his savings account has the audacity to proposition her.

In “Acetone and Acid Tones”, Anh Do, writing for Los Angeles Times, told a story of her visit to a salon where some Vietnamese salon workers gave their unvarnished opinions of their patrons while varnishing their clients’ nails. The nail technicians gossiped about  how a client who had revealed his toe nails was actually dirty despite his neat appearance; marveled that  a lady who drove a Mercedes yet haggled for a better price could be so cheap ; and pointed out that a lady with a calloused hands was holding an expensive purse. They spoke in their native language unaware that the author, whose ‘rough’ hands they noticed and labelled a gambler’s hands, understood Vietnamese. While reading the article, I reflected on  how vulnerable people are when they go to the gynecologist for a pap smear, confide in a tax attorney that the sister  they claimed as dependent in their tax return is in fact living with an uncle, or make those confessions to a priest that their family and friends do not know about.

After musing on the subject, I felt a certain relief knowing that attorneys vow to ‘hold inviolate the confidences’ of their clients; that doctors promise that ‘all that may come to their knowledge in the exercise of their profession which ought not to be spread abroad, they will keep secret and will never reveal’; and that it is a crime for a catholic priest to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reasons. But for this rein on these professions, the very essence of their calling will be destroyed.

Knowing that I do not have to worry about my physician, my attorney or my confessor saying a little too much, my musings turned on my subway sandwich artisan. With the advent of sophisticated mobile phones with camera and video recording features, I have had to cringe severally at things people post online. There was the subway artisan who posted a picture of a sub he made for a regular customer  who prefers rather messy subs. And there was the waitress who lost her job for posting online the receipt containing the signature of a patron who wrote on the receipt that she wouldn’t tip. Similar stories abound.

While I understand that it will be hard to mandate every worker keep mute about what they see in their line of work, it is important that employers teach their clients of that dignifying art of silence. One shouldn’t resist ordering a subway sandwich with all the vegetables on it for fear that the artisan will spread a story of how greedy he was. Nor should one engage a cleaning agency to come to his house only to overhear them idle chat about how the bathroom they are hired to clean make them want to puke.

I do not know if Anh Do continues to visit that salon. But I am sure that not all the patrons will take it in their stride if they knew that the very people they trust to enhance their looks leave them with a social scar. Many of us are indeed sensitive. It is not much to ask that people who render service to the public do so with quiet dedication. Or is it?

Finally…

For some time now, I have been considering starting a blog. Apart from the fact that writing makes me feel good, headhunters insist that having an online presence is the only way to land that highly coveted job, and what better way to establish and maintain an online presence than blogging. Moreover, whatever I am today, and whatever I am ever going to become, and I have a feeling I will do fine, is mostly because of my long time romance with the world of books. Knowing how much power the written word has to inform, transform and lead people to perform, I decided I was going to add my writing to that of so many others.

So What Will I be Blogging About?

Several things. I have toyed with many ideas, all having to do with one aspect of who I am: a child of God, an attorney, a wife, a mother, and so much more. So it was that yesterday I decided to get  started anyway, with anything. I went over to WordPress to open a blog: ‘Talesofkindness’ – a blog that was going to be a forum for people to tell stories of kindness and good deeds they received from others. It was going to be my attempt to inspire more good deeds from my readers.

I didn’t start a blog with that title. When I entered my blog name: Talesofkindness. WordPress suggested ‘.co’ not ‘.com’ as the domain name. I knew instinctively that someone was already writing my blog. A quick Google search of course confirmed my hunch. My blog already existed and it is a website (talesofkindness.com)  that provide a forum for people to tell  stories of kindness and good deeds they received from others. I was happy someone was already doing what I had in mind but I was left with that feeling I often had in high school when I hesitated to answer a question in a class only for another more courageous student to give the answer I had in mind – and it turned out to be correct – to the admiration and praise of the teacher. I had the feeling again when this morning I decided to blog about Immigration law with a title: Immigrationmatters, only to realize that Immigrationmatters.co.uk already existed.

So after yesterday and this morning, I resolved to procrastinate no more. I decided I wasn’t going to let someone else start every idea I have in mind before I get around to starting it. I decided to be the student who stood up to answer the question. So, I am going to be blogging about the private musings of this christian attorney who also happens to be an immigrant in the United States.

I will do my best to maintain this online presence hoping that from time to time, I will write something that will inform, transform, and hopefully move you, my dear reader, to do some good.

And by the way, I also hope my blog comes up when those headhunters google my name.

Ride along with me. I promise it will be a fun ride!

Anne Mmeje