I came across an interesting article on Yahoo!News, today: "Playstation 2 component incites African War." According to the article, one of the rare minerals used in the manufacture of modern electronics is Tantalum, which is mined as an ore called coltan (short for columbite-tantalite). And, the demand for electronics components created by the success of the PS2 drove up the price of tantalum, prompting the leaders of Congo and Rwanda to send newly-acquired POWs and children into the coltan mines of the East African Rift.
I had recently been wasting my free time doing the memory games at Sporcle, and could not for the life of me complete the Periodic Table. One of the elements that I always miss is Tantalum – Niobium I could remember, but Tantalum I couldn't. To my Western eyes, it was just another one of those forgettable transition elements in the wasteland between chemistry and nuclear physics – if you can find a use for it, good for you. To East Africa, it's a reason to go to war. As small as the world has become in terms of information and economics, we are all still pretty provincial in terms of information and economics. I won't forget Tantalum, next time I'm looking at the Periodic Table, but more importantly, the table looks different now; where else are suffering and injustice hiding in that pretty wallchart?