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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

April 29, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 17




global perspective A matter of essentials

by Pat Morrison, managing editor of NCR

The juxtapositioning of the two images in The New York Times could not have been more striking - or ironic.

On the left page was a large photo of some Iraqi Kurds fleeing from the northern Iraq town of Irbil last month. Fearing potential attacks from both Iraqi and coalition forces as the fighting neared their town, the few families appeared to be almost running as they came down a steep hillside. Younger people helped the elderly, mothers carried young children, older children had goats and sheep in tow. And in their one free hand, most of the people carried large black plastic bags stuffed with the only possessions they managed to take with them.

On the right-hand page (offering prime advertising placement and thus demanding a huge price tag) was an ad for an upscale New York department store. The ad showed a small bag, not much larger than your usual cosmetic bag. Above it, the ad's banner headline announced: "The Perfect Thing for Your Essentials." The ad copy went on to inform the reader that the trendy zippered bag was "just $75" with a purchase of another item from this coveted designer label.

"Essentials" is clearly a relative term. For refugees, what in other parts of the world would be a garbage bag becomes an impromptu suitcase to hold some items of clothing or cooking utensils, basic tools, perhaps some foodstuffs. For the fashionable who can fork over the $75 without batting a mascara-ed eye, the "essentials bag" might hold lip gloss, a mirrored compact, a purse-size parfum. Crammed to the zipper, maybe keys to the BMW - just the essentials, after all.

As I walked through a department store's electronics department last weekend, a handful of shoppers stood in front of a pricey plasma TV. They were riveted to CNN's coverage of looting in Baghdad. After 20 years of Saddam Hussein's oppression, coupled with a decade-plus of U.S.-led sanctions (that forbade importing powdered milk or anesthesia or anti-diarrheal medicine because the ingredients could be used to make chemical weapons), Iraqis were carrying off anything they could from government buildings - cases of bottled water, canned food, refrigerators, light fixtures, tables, chairs, lamps.

A woman turned from the $6,000 TV screen to comment to the man with her. "Can you believe these people?" she said with disgust, shaking her head. "They're so greedy. They just want everything."

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