Writing intermittently on life, politics, and society

Posts tagged “Good Reads

Language is our Tool

Meta-Culture has released the following paper in response to the Delhi Policy Group and Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue publication: Conflict Resolution: Learning lessons from dialogue processes in India. The paper highlights the need for clear terminology and an understanding of distinct conflict resolution modalities in order to draw lessons relevant to policymakers and practitioners.

Article here


World Development Report

Peeped the World Bank’s World Development Report for 2011. It’s being considered a significant development by people I know in the humanitarian field because the report seems to indicate a move from “just infrastructure and capacity building” to addressing the deleterious effects of violent conflict on development the field has long called attention to. Better writers have expressed some of my thinking on the report, so I’ll spare you my iffy prose.

I hope to  talk to the bosses about the organisation’s current role in assisting state actors with building the kinds of coalitions, mentioned in the report, required to bridge problems of low trust between societal groups and between the state and society. I think that’s a place where they’re keen on increasing the organisation’s presence.

They deal in answers, but ask no questions

Just read an excellent, excellent post on arguments equating abortion with slavery.

If you do take the time to understand the intertwined history of abortion and slavery, it becomes painfully difficult to assert that abortion is wrong.  Because then you must defend the slaveholder who wanted the enslaved woman to birth that child so that he could enslave them both (even as he probably used religion and morality, rather than economics and labor, as his excuse and defense for why one shouldn’t turn to abortion).  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she didn’t want that child to be a slave?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus because she physically could not bear the burden of labor and pregnancy?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus as a punishment to the man who raped her, barely fed her, barely clothed her, denied her religion, denied her liberty, and whipped her when she worked too slowly, made a mistake, or attempted to flee?  Who would be willing to fault the enslaved woman who aborted her fetus to protect her life and to save the evils of her life from those of her child?  To include the history of enslaved women in the history of slavery and then compare that history to abortion is not easy.

It’s all too easy when you have no interest in the experience of a whole swathe of your co-citizens beyond how useful it is as a cudgel with which to beat your political opponents.

Our overlords to be

I caught this interview with Chinese students of international politics on Channel 4 News last night that I thought was worth sharing, especially with my American friends who tend to be fed a steady diet of “the Chinese are coming to get you!” by their media and politicians.

I have issues with some of their arguments but I thought one student, Zhao Liang, had a decent analysis highlighting the difference between the perception and reality of China’s rise, it starts at around 4:00, here’s what she said:

Power is the ability to coerce or influence others. But what we see right now is only capacity but no power. Because although China is economically now the second in gross GDP, the Chinese government is facing so many problems domestically. When others see China they see: Oh, 8% (growth) per year. But when the Chinese see itself they see unemployment, they see inflation, they see the rising cost of households.

A good friend of mine has a post up on her site about what American Exceptionalism means to her. I noticed in the comments one person who was particularly concerned with US decline, claiming that the US is “fast becoming just another of the many”. It’s a sentiment I’ve encountered quite a bit. In spite of the fact that the vast majority of ordinary Americans still have standards of living that are the envy of the vast majority of the rest of the world.

The US is in a bad place right now. The fragility, and the real pain people are experiencing as a result of the economic crisis, have shaken many American’s confidence in their country. And stories about the growth of Brazil, India, and especially China, lacking nuance and complexity, only fuel the anger and anxiety.

Lib Dems, long game?

Caught this article by John Harris in The Guardian on the Liberal Democrats. I agree with his view that in the short term at least the outlook for the party is looking pretty grim:

The fleeting burst of Cleggmania during the general election campaign now looks like something from another age. Today, an opinion poll put support for the Lib Dems at just 7%. In a survey released just before Christmas, Mori found that in some regions of the UK, it was as low as 4%. To hear some people talk, the party’s broken promise on tuition feeswill haunt them just as much as Iraq haunted Labour, and there will be no decisive recovery for years.

And now they face what could be a very grim 2011. In May, there will be elections for local councils, as well as the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly – and the most positive prediction you can extract from senior Lib Dems is that things will be “difficult”. The referendum on changing our voting system has hardly fired the public’s imagination, and is widely predicted to be lost – which will lead plenty of Lib Dems to wonder what the point of partnership with the Tories actually is. Meanwhile, as the cuts finally bite, senior Lib Dems worry that their support could well plunge even lower, and the message to their activists boils down to that most hackneyed of instructions: keep calm, and carry on.

“Five months into a five year project”. Very well. Let’s see how they do.

Concerning that tax deal

Co-signing on Kevin Drum’s take:

You can’t pretend you’re willing to go to the mat against high-end tax cuts when there are half a dozen Democratic senators who support high-end tax cuts and Republicans know there are half a dozen Democratic senators who support high-end tax cuts. To fix this, you need more liberal Democrats, not tougher leadership.

I’ll add to that the difficulty of pretending to be willing to go to the mat when no deal means many desperate people will be denied some relief – over the holiday season no less. I too share Drum’s sympathy for compromise positions that help people in the here and now, though the thought that the cost of the continued tax cuts will most likely be paid by the working poor and middle class gives me pause.

Oh, and it cannot be said enough just how much the US Senate needs to be reformed. I understand that it slows things down by design, but I’m sure the filibuster shenanigans of late is not what the designers had in mind.

It looks a lot to me like a Culture of No, where Republican intransigence has given virtual veto power to lone dissenters within the Democratic Party, whose dissent is not aimed at encouraging an exploration of options, but defending parochial interests at the expense of the party as a whole… Yes, Senator Nelson, I’m looking at you.


How ’bout dem Leakers?

I’m pretty meh about Wikileaks, however as someone who believes in diplomacy, I do worry that this release of diplomatic cables will make it harder for officials to do their work. If I were, say a member of an opposition party in a country with a repressive regime, I may think twice about sharing my unfiltered opinions… Then I read things like this.

It appears, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the State Department did its best to obstruct investigations into the death of a Spanish cameraman, José Cuoso, killed in 2003 as a result of the mistaken shelling of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel by a U.S. tank; an investigation into the torture of Spanish subjects held at Guantánamo; and a probe into the use of Spanish bases and airfields for extraordinary renditions flights.

It wouldn’t take a super-sleuth to have guessed that there would be some pressure from the U.S. to stop the investigations. However the articles quoted at the link detail a highly coordinated  effort.

I have no problem with this being made known to the Spanish and American publics. My first thought is that if this is being done in their names then the officials behind the moves should be happy to be accountable, right?

Is information, or The Truth, always good? Perhaps not, however as Digby writes in her excellent post on the media’s reactions to Wikileaks:

If you are a person who believes our current system is working well and that the mandarins, technocrats and their wealthy benefactors are competent and righteous and that we can safely leave our futures in their hands, then you will not like what Assange is up to. If, on the other hand, you are a teensy bit concerned that these elites might not know what they are doing (or even worse, might know very well what they are doing and it’s clearly not in your best interest) then you may find it useful to look at the way the world is organized with a fresh set of data.

I guess I can kiss my chances of a career in Her Majesty’s diplomatic service goodbye.