Monday, September 19, 2011 4:10 PM
We’ve learned, time and time again, that damming rivers causes all sorts of problems for both nature and society—and yet we keep building dams all over the world. World Rivers Review, the quarterly magazine of the advocacy group International Rivers, reports on the state of the world’s free-flowing rivers—those that remain, that is:
Of the world’s 177 largest rivers, only one-third are free flowing, and just 21 rivers longer than 1,000 kilometers retain a direct connection to the sea. Damming has led to species extinctions, loss of prime farmland and forests, social upheaval, loss of clean water supplies, dessicated wetlands, destroyed fisheries and more. …
Unfortunately, the nations building the most dams—India, China, and Brazil—do not have legislation to protect the free-flowing status of their rivers, and are not using the laws they do have to protect important rivers.
Writer Parineeta Dandekar singles out for praise Canada’s Heritage Rivers System, Australia’s Wild Rivers Act, Sweden’s National Rivers program, and the United States’ Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, suggesting that river advocates in other nations emulate these examples to keep their remaining rivers undammed and undeveloped:
Free-flowing rivers have become so rare that they would be classified as an endangered species if they were considered living things rather than merely support systems for all living things.
Here in the United States, we’ve learned a few lessons the hard way—our favorite method, it seems—and have been dismantling some particularly destructive dams in recent years. In fact, the largest dam removal in U.S. history has begun on the Elwha River in Washington state. High Country News reports on the Elwha restoration in its brand-new issue, and the Los Angeles Times offers a cool interactive visualization of the deliberately slow process of taking down the Glines Canyon dam.
Sources: World Rivers Review, High Country News
(story available only to subscribers),Los Angeles Times
, licensed under
Thursday, September 08, 2011 4:21 PM
“Except for the occasional vehicle, Barbulesti resembles Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel’s paintings of 16th-century peasant life: Animals and humans wander along rutted dirt streets lined with wood and stone houses. It is in these impoverished, tucked-away places that the Roma are most often found.”
The village of Barbulesti is where writer Ben Judah begins his profile of the modern Roma people, also known by the pejorative “gypsies.” Judah meets teenage Roma deported from France, families “living like the last survivors after a nuclear holocaust—in the middle of a functioning E.U. welfare state,” and odd “traditional leaders” including the “emperor of the gypsies on a throne in a dingy corner next to a buzzing refrigerator.”
Judah paints a sad picture of a people who seem to have been forgotten at best and at worst intentionally pushed aside. His portrait, which appears in Moment magazine, is not unique. Last fall in The Virginia Quarterly Review, J. Malcolm Garcia wrote a similarly bleak, if not more depressing, account of the Roma living in the Osterode Resettlement Camp where “cold winds carry lead-filled dust from a nearby slagheap, a hundred million tonnes of toxic tailings, and scatter it on clothes hanging from laundry lines, on open buckets of drinking water, on the dirt children play in.” He continues:
[A]lmost everyone agrees that moving Roma families next to a toxic slagheap, onto land highly contaminated with lead, zinc, arsenic, and other metals, has caused dozens of families to suffer severe health problems and spawned a generation of brain-damaged children.
Lead blackens the children’s teeth, blanks out their memory, and stunts their growth. Other symptoms of lead poisoning include aggressive behavior, nervousness, dizziness, vomiting, and high fever. The children swing between bursts of nervous hyperactivity and moody depression; they have fainting spells and epileptic fits.
While Garcia’s account of the resettlement camps and the toxins slowly poisoning the people who live there will turn your stomach, Judah’s tale will leave you dizzy, wondering, as the writer does, just where the Roma belong in the modern world. “Europe continues to march into the future,” Judah writes, “but the Roma road seems to be veering in its own direction, neither forward nor back.”
Source: Moment, VQR
Image by evib, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:00 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best international coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
NACLA Report on the Americas
covers Latin American people and politics with a depth, nuance, and historical context rarely found in mainstream media coverage of the region. From elections to revolutions, this bimonthly is on the front lines.
weighs the world on the scales of justice. By tapping into a vast global network of activists, the compassionately written and tightly edited magazine breathes life into the stories of people who are working to build a better planet.
is an essential touchstone for anybody seeking an international perspective on current events. The British weekly allows American readers not only to look out beyond their borders, but also to envision standing outside those borders.
On the pages of Britain’s Prospect, witty screeds sit beside far-flung travel writing, fresh fiction beside wonky policy analysis, knowledgeable criticism beside provocative political essays. Most crucially, complex issues of the day receive ample space and a nuanced treatment.
deepens its readers’ understanding of Europe and developing countries, where local politics have global consequences. Whether on the beat of economic protest in Warsaw, agricultural reform in Brasília, or the rise of Scottish socialism, the magazine’sactivist reporters get fists pumping and crowds chanting for justice.
There’s no room for sensational headlines or ideological bombast on the densely packed pages of The Wilson Quarterly. There are too many new ideas and essential issues to cover, from China’s economic future to Israel’s inner life. And the peerless editors ensure that the prose is as tight as the analysis.
“A journal of ideas and debate,” World Affairs, founded in 1837, burrows beneath the headlines to lend a historical perspective and an open mind to those international issues that promise to dictate our political, cultural, and economic future. The answers aren’t easy, but the questions demand forward motion.
rage is as righteous as it mission. Examining the United States’ behavior around the globe through the lens of race, gender, and class, the monthly’s radical rabble-rousers refuse to take refuge in easy slogans or dusty dogma. And no one person or ideology escapes scrutiny.
See our complete list of 2011 nominees.
Image by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the BPL, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 25, 2010 12:04 PM
Ecological Internet is the most radical green group you’ve never heard of, and for years it has been achieving “major successes … below the radar of big conservation groups and mainstream media,” writes Jeremy Hance on the rainforest conservation site Mongabay. The organization harnesses the power of the Internet to run online campaigns that have hindered or stopped unsustainable and/or illegal logging in the South Pacific, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea, and it also provides IT services to other groups for “global grassroots advocacy.”
Ecological Internet leader Glen Barry and his group earn their “radical” tag in part because of their unsparing criticism of greenwashing in wood certification programs, especially the widely used Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label, and of the green groups who support FSC, such as Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network. Ecological Internet estimates that 60 percent of FSC-certified products come from primary forests, the most ancient and biological diverse type of rainforest. “The FSC, for its part, has not released data related to this issue,” writes Hance.
Barry tells Mongabay:
“[The] whole idea of certified forestry was completely usurped and the term made relatively meaningless, much like sustainable development has become, by the industrial logging as usual […] FSC logging is still the first-time logging of primary forests that are ancient ecosystems that contain the genetic and biodiversity materials that are very important for our and all species’ survival,” explains Barry, who has seen the process firsthand while working as the Papua New Guinea World Bank rainforest specialist for four years.
“I just reached a point personally where if I was going to work on this for any longer, I was going to work to end this desecration of 60-million-year-old rainforests for, in some cases, toilet paper and lawn furniture.”
Mainstream environmental groups like the World Wildlife Foundation, Greenpeace, and the Rainforest Action Network “embraced” the Forest Stewardship Council in the early 1990s, says Barry, “and then the sort of dirty secret that no one would ever talk about is that FSC is primary forest logging. We challenge Rainforest Action Network, we challenge Greenpeace, to sit down and have a debate on this.”
Barry says Ecological Internet takes a “deep ecology, or biocentric approach” and describes what drives the group:
“[Ecological Internet] is very, very concerned about the state of the planet. It is my analysis that we have passed the carrying capacity of the Earth, that in several matters we have crossed different ecosystem tipping points or are near doing so. And we really act with more urgency, and more ecological science, than I think the average campaign organization.”
Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention in this forum that Barry says he was the first blogger. Take it from him:
“I was the inventor of blogging. I was the first person to comment upon other web materials, link it, and then list it reverse chronologically. There is some debate over who the very first one was, but I maintain that I am. It’s still on the web, and has been there since 1995; it’s very clearly there. But if not the first one—there may have been someone musing about their personal lives—at least I was the first political blogger: the first instance of an individual citizen harnessing the power of the internet for political commentary, and being able to publish that just like any large corporation could.”
Sources: Mongabay, Ecological Internet
Image courtesy of Ecological Internet.
Thursday, June 03, 2010 11:10 AM
The Los Angeles Times’ book blog Jacket Copy has an update on the imprisonment of Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo:
On Christmas Day last year, Chinese writer Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in prison for his part in creating Charter 08, a document calling for greater freedoms and democratic reforms in China. On Tuesday, the international human rights and literary organization PEN announced that it has learned that Liu Xiaobo has been moved from a detention center in Beijing to Jinzhou Prison in Liaoning.
(Thanks, The Rumpus.)
Source: Jacket Copy
Image by waffler, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 28, 2010 3:14 PM
There’s a lot of talk about sustainable architecture—but one day in the not-too-distant future, sustainability will be an integral part of the practice rather than a special feature. And as usual in green thinking, Europe is leading the way. Both points are the contention of Robert Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, speaking to Environment: Yale magazine:
“I don’t think sustainability is a design aesthetic, any more than having electricity in your building, or telephones, or anything else,” says Stern. “It’s an ethic, a basic consideration that we have to have as architects designing buildings.” American architects, designers and builders are “in an early, slightly naive phase” in coming to terms with sustainability, he says, and “we have to get everybody’s attention.” But they will catch up fast enough, Stern argues, so that “in 10 years we’re not going to talk about sustainability anymore, because it’s going to be built into the core processes of architecture.” Advertising sustainability, he says, will be like an architect getting up in front of a room to “proudly proclaim how his buildings didn’t fall down.”
Source: Environment: Yale
Image by Schlüsselbein2007, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010 2:17 PM
On an island in the Baltic Sea, Finland is building what it calls a permanent underground repository for spent nuclear fuel—but that depends on your definition of permanent. IEEE Spectrum writer Sandra Upson takes a trip to Olkiluoto Island to report on the construction of the Onkalo facility, bringing a science-literate but smartly skeptical view to her topic:
Posiva, the Finnish company building an underground repository here, says it knows how to imprison nuclear waste for 100,000 years. These multimillennial thinkers are confident that copper canisters of Scandinavian design, tucked into that bedrock, will isolate the waste in an underground cavern impervious to whatever the future brings: sinking permafrost, rising water, earthquakes, copper-eating microbes, or oblivious land developers in the year 25,000. If the Finnish government agrees—a decision is expected by 2012—this site will become the world’s first deep, permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel.
The plan has its doubters. “It’s deep hubris to think you can contain it,” Charles McCombie, executive director of the Switzerland-based Association for Regional and International Underground Storage, tells IEEE Spectrum.
Upson notes that the island’s residents welcomed the storage facility and the jobs it will bring, but also that
Their confidence that the project will be safe and well managed is unusual and not strongly supported by the historical record of government handling of other forms of high-level nuclear waste.
The United States, Upson points out, has finally canceled funding for a storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (even as it hands out new nuclear plant loan guarantees), and Sweden is building a “less advanced” facility—leaving the Finnish site as a leader and a bellwether for the success of such repositiories worldwide. The $4.5 billion project, she writes,
will either demonstrate that the technical, social, and political challenges of nuclear waste disposal can be met in a democratic society, or it will scare other such countries away from the repository idea for decades to come.
Correction: This post was revised since it was first published to correct an error. The third through fifth paragraphs are new.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Friday, February 05, 2010 4:32 PM
In the new issue of In These Times, John Ireland profiles a gay blogger who’s telling his story from one of the most GLBT-unfriendly countries in the world: Uganda, where a draconian “anti-homosexuality bill” was introduced last October. The proposed bill, which would mandate the death penalty for cases of “aggravated homosexuality” and require Ugandans to report any known GLBT people to the authorities, has been widely condemned by Western leaders, including President Obama.
Despite the tense, dangerous environment—and the fact that he was publicly outed in a Ugandan newspaper in December—this blogger, who uses the pseudonym “Gug,” continues to post dispatches on his website (GayUganda.blogspot.com) and Twitter account (Twitter.com/gayuganda). “It’s a risk that I have to carry,” he tells In These Times.
Closeted life is similar the world over. Gug finds a comfort zone and a way to “pass” that has kept him safe so far. He can relax within a tight-knit group of other “kuchus” in bars, after the early evening crowd leaves. He tweets:
like a change of guard. football fans out. us partiers in. and the night is young… its pleasant to be in a place of safety. where i and other kuchus can interact in relative safety. a heavy cloak lifts.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is transforming his circle of friends, forcing them to make difficult choices. He describes [via Twitter] how he and his partner are drawn into the battle, sometimes reluctantly:
“he is on the phone. counseling. someone being blackmailed. yeah, a kuchu. life, as normal”
“some weighty decisions on my mind. personal. I tend to mull them over.. and i have”
“would i ever leave kampala??? or uganda? not by choice. this is home”
Source: In These Times
Image by FredoAlvarez, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 28, 2010 3:06 PM
Over the past ten or so years, the city of Medellín, Colombia, has undergone a high-profile transformation, shedding its reputation as one of the world’s most violent cities. In an interview with architect Giancarlo Mazzanti in the art magazine Bomb, former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo discusses the vital role of architecture and design in the city’s renewal, which he explains was driven by the concept of “the most beautiful for the most humble”—a departure, or “rupture,” he says, from the notion “that anything you give to the poor is a plus.”
As we reported in November, during Fajardo’s term as mayor (from 2004 through 2007), any reduction in violence was immediately supplemented with a “concrete community improvement.” So as Medellín’s murder rate plunged, many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods became home to sparkling new schools, housing, community spaces, and “library parks” (the Parque Biblioteca España, designed by Mazzanti, is pictured above, at left).
“From the time I was a child, it was clear to me what aesthetics meant as a tool for social transformation, as a message of inclusion,” Fajardo, whose father was an architect, tells Mazzanti. “That is something that is often misunderstood here. Underneath it all is the most important word in all of those urban interventions in which architecture plays an important role: dignity.”
It was clear to us that we were going to have to confront a unique mixture of problems in Colombia: social inequality and deep-rooted violence. How can we diminish violence every day, but also deliver social opportunities with each individual elimination of violence?
Many people in our society have a solid wall in front of them: at one end is a door to enter into the world of illegality. Drug trafficking has taken on some extraordinary dimensions, more so in Medellín than anywhere else. Another door leads to informality and homelessness. Our challenge has been to open doors in that sealed wall, doors so that people can pass through and go on participating in the construction of hope. What is hope? When someone in the community sees a path they can follow. If they are living with only a wall in front of them and can’t see any options other than illegality and informality, they have no real alternatives.
At one point, Fajardo says, he was advised to bring in international consultants to improve the city’s dangerous image. “It was always very clear to me that the problem in Medellín was not branding,” says Fajardo (who, it should be noted, is running for president in this year's Colombian elections). “We didn’t need to come up with a style campaign: ‘Medellín, life-shaking natural beauty.’ Our trademark is the transformation of the conditions we had and showing that you can take a chance, that we’re capable of doing it, building it, and turning it over, and reaching out to an entire society to build hope.”
Only a short excerpt of the interview is available online (unless you speak Spanish, in which case you can enjoy the entire exchange).
Images by Sergio Fajardo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 12:09 PM
It’s clear from the outcome of the Copenhagen talks that the world’s political leaders are not going to lead the way in fighting climate change. What is needed instead, Fred Branfman writes in Sacramento News & Review, is a broad-based “human movement” in which ordinary people recognize the urgency of acting now to avert catastrophe.
Branfman’s essay, “Do Our Children Deserve to Live?,” was in fact written and published in early December, before the Copenhagen summit began, yet the writer boldly—and correctly—predicted the talks would fail. He already recognized that there simply wasn’t enough societal pressure and self-awareness of our grim predicament to effect broad change:
Our basic problem is that the sudden advent of the human climate crisis invalidates our basic beliefs about humanity built up over millennia. We cannot yet see that we are no longer who we think we are. That today:
though we believe we care for our offspring we do not;
though we wish to be remembered well we will be cursed;
though we believe we love life we embrace death;
though we hope to make history we are annihilating it; and
though we seek to contribute to our communities we are destroying them.
Our greatest challenge is to adjust ancient belief systems to the new climate realities that have undone them. If we can break through our fog and clearly see the existential threat we pose to our children, presently unthinkable actions to save them may become possible. But if not, we will remain locked in our cognitive cattle cars, moving inexorably toward the loss of everything we hold dear.
Branfman’s essay, though it unfolds slowly, is ultimately one of the most powerful and articulate calls to action on climate change that I’ve yet seen. It has kicked off a vigorous discussion at the News & Review and at Alternet, where it was reprinted, and Branfman is now exploring ways to actually build the “human movement” he outlined in the piece. (E-mail him at fredbranfman[at]aol.com if you have ideas to share.)
My only reservation is with the child-centric framing of his main point. While I’m a father myself, and “doing it for the kids” is a time-tested method of attracting sympathizers, I worry that it leaves out of the picture everyone who doesn’t have kids—by choice or not—and it might even have the effect of alienating some of them. We need all hands on deck to make the sort of change Branfman is proposing, so I think it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not just about children per se—it’s about the very fate of the whole human race.
Source: Sacramento News & Review
Thursday, January 14, 2010 11:20 AM
If you are into absurd but irresistible solutions to major urban problems, you’ll want to check out Martin Angelov’s award-winning proposal for a bike lane in the sky.
“The first crazy idea which came to my mind was to make flying bicycle lanes,” he explains to ArchDaily, “using steel wire, something like ski lift but working on the opposite principle in which the wire is static and it doesn’t need electricity.”
Yes, he’s serious. And yes, it’s awesome.
(Thanks, The Rumpus.)
Monday, December 28, 2009 12:22 PM
It's beautiful, durable, and illegal. It shouldn't be possible for an American to purchase Burmese Teak—U.S. sanctions against the military junta there prohibit it. It's out there just the same, available online to anybody who can afford it. Global Post examins the "conflict timber" problem, highloghting the fact that, "In 2007-08, timber was the junta-run government’s fourth largest export."
So who sells this wood? According to Global Post, "As of December 2009, many U.S. companies were openly selling wood labeled as 'Burmese' online. They include Floors To Go’s line of 'Ulysses Burmese Teak,' CanTrust Hardwood's 'Solid Burmese Teak' and Corona Hardwood’s 'Burma Mahogany.'"
Can you buy teak without sending money to a repressive regime? Again, Global Post: "Yes. Harsh laws and a dwindling teak supply have given rise to “plantation” teak, often grown in tropical climes around Central and South America. Though this teak is considered more sustainable and eco-friendly, some boat makers and furniture dealers say it just can’t match the quality of old-growth Burmese teak."
Source: Global Post
Image by Omni1, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 11, 2009 4:21 PM
The latest in sustainable foodie-ism: hopping right into the food chain to help thin out an invasive—and mighty tasty—variety of crab. Reporting for the Air Canada magazine EnRoute, self-proclaimed “predatory foodie” Amy Rosen travels to Norway to catch (and eat) some of the country’s red king crabs, which aren’t indigenous to the area—it’s a long story that begins with Stalin and ends with millions of crabs infiltrating the Norwegian coastline—and which, some fear, might continue to migrate south and do further damage to the ecosystem’s balance.
“Whereas locavores simply nibble on fresh carrots and beets from area farms and backyard veggie plots,” Rosen writes, “predatory foodies put themselves between the invasive species and the less dominant ones, trying to redress the balance in the natural habitat.”
I’m a killer. A crab-catching, crustacean-jabbing, pot-boiling predator. But I come by it honestly. After all, my red king crab spree is all in the name of environmentalism. Really.
Nose-to-tail, slow food, the 100-mile diet, organic... changing what we eat can change the world, and I’m totally on board with that. But then there are those of us willing to take things a bit farther by heading off to northern Norway, slipping into an orange survival suit and inserting ourselves right into the food chain.
Yes, I’m here to help. And I’m going in deep.
Image by jonnyr1, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009 11:11 AM
Perhaps you’ve heard about the vast high-level conspiracy to unite the United States, Mexico, and Canada in a single powerful mega-state, the North American Union? Well, apparently the environmentalists are in on the plot, too. The three countries recently formed a pact to cooperate on wilderness conservation measures, reports National Geographic Newswatch.
The news came without much fanfare (coincidence?) out of the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico, on November 7. The countries’ “memorandum of understanding”—basically, an agreement to seek agreement—has provisions that address ecosystems, migratory wildlife, and natural resources that cross geographical boundaries; encourages cooperation on scientific research; and recognizes the importance of wilderness conservation amid climate change.
At the same time, the memorandum “respects native approaches to conserving wild nature, accommodation for indigenous customs, priorities for species survival, and national environmental policy,” according to a statement from the World Wilderness Congress.
On the bright side, the agreement may help address important issues such as the impact of border fences on wildlife and overfishing in international waters. But just wait till the N.A.U. conspiracy crowd gets wind of it. They’ll want to send those illegal-alien monarch butterflies back to where they came from and prevent Canadian grizzlies from forming sleeper cells in the U.S. Rockies.
Sources: National Geographic Newswatch, World Wilderness Congress
Thursday, November 19, 2009 4:42 PM
How much do you know about what the world thinks? The Pew Research Center has created a quiz to test how much people know about global attitudes toward the United States, democracy, and international policy. I took the quiz and did embarrassingly bad. Among the questions I got wrong: “Where are people more likely to say their culture is superior to others? United States, Germany, France, or Italy?” Visit the quiz to find out the answers.
Pew Research Center
Friday, October 09, 2009 5:10 PM
The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decisions are always scrutinized—and today, Foreign Policy is on the ball with a historical list of “Nobel Peace Prize Also-Rans.” Looking from Eleanor Roosevelt to Ken Saro-Wiwa, the venerable monthly profiles seven visionary people who never won a Nobel Peace Prize—but should have. Who do you think has been overlooked?
Source: Foreign Policy
Friday, October 09, 2009 4:39 PM
Writing for The American Prospect, Arlie Hochschild tenderly unpacks a burgeoning field of medical tourism: international surrogacy. The practice has blown up in recent years—since India made surrogacy legal in 2002, for example, over 350 clinics have opened to serve domestic and foreign clients—and with it comes a host of perplexing legal and ethical questions.
Global inconsistencies in regulation currently make surrogacy a “highly complex legal patchwork,” Hochschild writes. “Observers fear that a lack of regulation could spark a price war . . . with countries slowly undercutting fees and legal protections for surrogates along the way.”
Legal issues in mind, however, it’s the trend toward “increasingly personal” global service work—and its ramifications—that Hochschild throws into the starkest relief. “Person to person, family to family, the First World is linked to the Third World through the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and the care we receive,” she writes.
“That Filipina nanny who cares for an American child leaves her own children in the care of her mother and another nanny. In turn, that nanny leaves her younger children in the care of an eldest daughter. First World genetic parents pay a Third World woman to carry their embryo. The surrogate’s husband cares for their older children. The worlds of rich and poor are invisibly bound through chains of care.”
Source: The American Prospect
Friday, August 28, 2009 12:36 PM
The walls of Walid al-Ani’s plastic surgey clinic in Fallujah, Iraq are scarred from years of gun battles and American bombardment. He’s a popular guy these days, according to a piece by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on the surge in demand for plastic surgery in Iraq’s war-torn Anbar province, known to most Americans as the “Sunni triangle”:
Saad Nasir, a 44-year-old bank employee, recently took his wife to see Ani for skin grafts. In March 2006, she suffered severe burns on her back when the US military dropped flares during clashes with insurgents. One of the flares set their house alight. At a cost of 3,000 dollars, the grafts “are not risky, but they are expensive,” Nasir said.
…According to a report released in July by Anbar’s health directorate, an estimated 100 people with war-related injuries undergo reconstructive surgery in the province each month. Between 130,000 and 250,000 US dollars is being spent on the procedures in Anbar monthly, the report said. Most of the patients are women.
Source: Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Monday, August 24, 2009 8:14 AM
Two young architects are taking a novel approach to housing in one Indian slum: They’re working with the community to improve its houses gradually and organically, based on design input and support from the people who live there.
This may not sound radical, but it is, reports Canadian architecture and design magazine Azure (article not available online). The magazine spotlights Filipe Balestra and Sara Göransson, whose incremental housing strategy is quite a departure from most slum “improvement” projects. “Upgrading a slum usually means tearing everything down and building housing blocks,” Göransson told Azure. “We wanted to improve their living conditions and allow them to keep their neighbors and social networks.”
Göransson and Balestra are working with architects and nonprofits in India to roll out the project in Netaji Nagar, a neighborhood within a large inner-city slum in the city of Pune. After a series of community workshops (pictured below), they settled on three different house prototypes, all of which are easy for families to expand or change in the future. One of the prototypes leaves a “void” on the ground floor, so that the space can be easily used as a shop, to house livestock, or store a rickshaw.
Construction is scheduled to begin after the monsoon season, probably sometime in September. Read all about the project on Göransson and Balestra’s website, which houses tons of fascinating details and beautiful photos, illustrations, and maps.
“The poor really need architecture, but they cannot pay,” Balestra told Azure. “We want to contribute.”
Image courtesy of Filipe Balestra.
Monday, August 17, 2009 1:34 PM
Ten years ago a Dutch organization called Women on Waves devised a solution for women seeking abortions in countries that ban it: an abortion clinic on a ship where doctors would perform the delicate operation in international waters under the jurisdiction of The Netherlands.
All told, only a symbolic number of abortions have been performed on the boat, and now that Dutch law is leaning conservative on abortion the ship is docked—for now.
Paul Ames interviews Women on Waves founder Rebbeca Gomperts for Global Post:
Gomperts said WoW's biggest achievement was perhaps a 2004 campaign in Portugal where warships were deployed to prevent the Dutch ship Borndiep from approaching the coast.
No women were able to come aboard for abortions, but Gomperts said the publicity generated helped win over Portuguese public opinion in a referendum that voted to legalize abortion in 2007. Early in 2009, WoW won a case at the European Court of Human Rights against the Portuguese navy’s action.
"We have been able to help a symbolic number of women in order to create a better awareness about the social injustice that is created by illegal abortion and the suffering that is caused for women," she said. "The ship is never a solution … It has been a very important tool to mobilize women's organizations, and other groups, doctors and lawyers, around safe and legal abortion."
…While political developments have hampered the movement, Gomperts said medical progress has made abortion easier and safer, with the widespread availability of pills like mifepristone and misoprostol. The use of such drugs in so-called medical abortions removes the need for the traditional intrusive procedures which, when carried out illegally by backstreet abortionists, kill almost 70,000 women every year.
Source: Global Post
Image by Women on Waves.
Monday, August 17, 2009 12:51 PM
The detention, torture, and murder of lesbian, gay, and transgendered people in Iraq is the subject of a Human Rights Watch report released this week. We've reported on the slow response of the human rights community to sexual cleansing in Iraq, and we've reported on the brutal torture techniques captured on video and distributed via cell phone as a warning to members of what some iraqis call the "third sex." The Human Rights Watch Report, They Want Us Exterminated: Murder, Torture, Sexual Orientation and Gender in Iraq, contains several terrible survivor stories and implicates the militias, political, cultural, and religious leaders, and the Iraqi government in no uncertain terms.
The horrors detailed in the report are numbing. Here is an excerpt from the testimony of a man we only know as "Nuri":
I was in a taxi in the middle of Karada when special police stopped the car, asked me for my ID, and searched me. They took my phone and my wallet, and handcuffed me. They put a bag over my head, hit me and put me in a car. They took me to the Ministry of Interior.
They put me in a room, a regular room, took the bag off my head, and there I was with five other gay men.
…They separated us and put each in a room … a police officer came and said. "Do you know where you are? You are in the interrogation wing of the Ministry of Interior." He told me, "If you have ten thousand US dollars, we will let you go."
I said I didn't have that kind of money.
The next day at 10 a.m., they cuffed my hands behind my back. Then they tied a rope around my legs, and they hung me upside down from a hook in the ceiling, from morning till sunset. I passed out. I was stripped down to my underwear while I hung upside down. They cut me down that night, but they gave me no water or food.
Next day, they told me to put my clothes back on and they took me to the investigating officer. He said, "You like that? We're going to do that to you more and more, until you confess." Confess to what? I asked. "To the work you do, to the organization you belong to, and that you are a tanta" [queen].
"They knew the name 'Iraqi LGBT'-and they knew it helped mithliyeen [homosexuals] financially. They knew about the safe houses. All they wanted to know was, 'Who's paying? And why are they helping you?'"
When I was questioned, they said, "You have to confess." And I said, I have nothing to confess. Then they showed me a police report. I read it and it showed everything about me from 2005 until the day I was arrested. ... They knew personal details, through gay informants. And then they took me into another room, and began torturing me again.
One day, they took me up to the top floor, where there was a little window, straight onto the courtyard. They gave me binoculars to look. I could see: there were the five men from the cell when I was first arrested. They were lying dead. They'd been executed.
Source: Human Rights Watch
Image by Stephanie Glaros.
Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:54 PM
In 1996, shortly after Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was released from her house arrest she met with a visiting journalist and told him: “I'm afraid that countries and events keep slipping from the headlines, and we have slipped.”
Suu Kyi’s freedom would be short-lived, and today Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi are in the headlines. The European Union is broadening its sanctions against the murderous Burmese regime, and this weekend, as the Obama administration mulls its response to yet another house arrest sentence for Suu Kyi, U.S. Senator Jim Webb will become the first senior U.S. official to meet with Burma’s leadership. Ever.
Burma’s constant media blackout, enforced by the regime, makes keeping up with current events in Burma is difficult enough. Learning its history is another thing altogether. John Pilger attempted to write some of the unwritten history of Burma in 1996, and we reprinted his dispatch from the country in the pages of Utne Reader. It’s a history of inspiring grassroots action and terrible government violence. Here’s Pilger recounting the dramatic events that led to Suu Kyi’s first house arrest:
Few outside Burma know about the epic events that took place here between 1988 and 1990. Few have heard of the White Bridge on Inya Lake in the center of Rangoon, now known to foreign businesspeople as the site of an "international business center." Yet it was here that an uprising as momentous as the storming of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was sparked. On March 18, 1988, hundreds of schoolchildren and students marched along the bridge, singing the national anthem, signaling that they wanted no more of the authoritarian rule that had been in place since a 1962 military coup. The march was as joyful as it was defiant. When suddenly they saw behind them the steel helmets of the Lon Htein, the "riot police," they knew they were trapped.
According to eyewitnesses I have interviewed in exile, the soldiers systematically beat many of the protesters to death, singling out the girls. A few protesters managed to escape into the lake, where they were caught, beaten, and drowned. Of those who survived, 42 were locked in a waiting van parked in the noonday sun outside Insein prison, where they died of suffocation. At the White Bridge fire engines were brought in to wash away the blood.
This state-sanctioned violence did not put an end to the protests. On the contrary: After months of rising popular confidence, the moment of general uprising came precisely at eight minutes past eight on the morning of the eighth day of the eighth month of 1988. This was the auspicious time the dockers chose to go on strike, and the country followed: teachers, journalists, railway workers, weather forecasters, grave diggers, even prison warders and police. The massive demonstration, soon joined by students, numbered more than 10,000 protesters.
When Ne Win, the now-retired chairman of the ruling junta, kept his promise to "shoot to kill those who stand against us," there were no television comeras linked to satellite dishes, as there were during China's bloody response to the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square the following year. Over the next four days several thousand Burmese died in the streets and in the prisons, under torture, and even in their homes as the army stormed the crooked lanes, firing at random into flimsy homes. Anyone with a camera was a target. Perhaps the world really took notice only when a charismatic woman, Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the national hero Aung San, was placed under house arrest in July 1989. Thereafter, so the junta calculated, they could proceed with an election that, without her, they were certain to win and that would legitimize their dictatorship. In fact, they lost spectacularly: Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won 82 percent of the parliamentary seats; she even swept the board in principal army cantonments.
Shocked, the generals (who had renamed the regime the State Law and Order Restoration Council, known by its Orwellian moniker SLORC) threw most of the newly elected Parliament into prison and turned Burma into what Amnesty International has described as "a prison without walls." Since then, year upon year, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has translated Burma's tyranny into the following catalog: "Torture, summary and arbitrary executions, forced labor, abuse of women, politically motivated arrests and detention, forced displacement, important restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association, and oppression of ethnic and religious minorities."
Read the rest of Pilger’s dispatch, Burma: Slave Nation.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:25 AM
Breastfeeding is a natural act, but in the United States in recent years, it has often turned into a political one: Breastfeeding mothers have been kicked off planes, intimidated by restaurant managers, even singled out by Barbara Walters as an affront to decency. The response from the pro-breastfeeding community—call them “lactivists” if you must—to such snubs has often been swift and vigorous, and some moms have even organized public “nurse-ins” to publicize their right to feed their babies.
So it was refreshing to read “Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan” in the July-August issue of Mothering, in which Canadian-born Ruth Kamnitzer writes about Mongolians’ distinctly different attitude toward the practice. Living in Mongolia while nursing her son, she soon learned she didn’t have to take pains to be discreet:
In Mongolia, instead of relegating me to a “Mothers Only” section, breastfeeding in public brought me firmly to center stage. Their universal practice of breastfeeding anywhere, anytime, and the close quarters at which most Mongolians live, mean that everyone is pretty familiar with the sight of a working boob.
Kamnitzer still felt a bit out of step with cultural norms—but this time, roles were reversed. She had to learn to become comfortable with much looser standards about who should be drinking breastmilk:
If weaning means never drinking breastmilk again, then Mongolians are never truly weaned—and here’s what surprised me most about breastfeeding in Mongolia. If a mother’s breasts are engorged and her baby is not at hand, she will simply go around and ask a family member, of any age or sex, if they’d like a drink. Often a woman will express a bowlful for her husband as a treat, or leave some in the fridge for anyone to help themselves.
Sources: Huffington Post, Blisstree, New York Times, Mothering (article not available online)
Image by maessive, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:43 PM
Young men waist-deep in liming baths, or dragging hides from chromium baths with their bare hands, or covered in carcinogenic dust. This is how leather is made. At least in the Indian state of Jajmau, where illegal tanneries work with the agents of international retail empires to keep the world's markets and malls stocked with leather goods. Photographer Alex Masi has done an incredible job of documenting the abhorrent working conditions in the tanneries, and he is damning in his critique: "The misconduct of the Indian capitalist elite, a complicit government, and unethical foreign companies ought to be exposed to international consumers with the goal of redressing the violations through persuasive economic and political pressures." Masi's slideshow is as good a place as any to begin this process.
Tuesday, July 07, 2009 1:17 PM
Millions of tweets sounded off in support of Iranian protesters in Tehran last month, but nary a Washington-borne tweet has sung out from the recent healthcare hearings in Congress, or in political protest of Obama’s actions in Afghanistan, writes Alexander Cockburn for The Nation. Nor did the Twitter phenomenon (aka: “Twittergasms”) come to the aid of the estimated 20,000 killed and hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamil people of Sri Lanka earlier this year.
Could it be because Iranians are better looking, asks Cockburn? He writes:
I don't recall too many tweets in Washington or across this nation about a methodical exercise in carnage. But then, unlike those attractive Iranians, Tamils tend to be small and dark and not beautiful in the contour of poor Neda, who got out of her car at the wrong time in the wrong place, died in view of a cellphone and is now reborn on CNN as the Angel of Iran.
Source: The Nation
Thursday, July 02, 2009 12:33 PM
In June, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his support for the banning of wearing burqas in public. Speaking to the French National Assembly, Sarkozy said that “The burqa is not welcome on French territory. In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity...It is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement. It will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic.”
Needless to say, in the blogosphere these comments have set off a round of fiery debates reminiscent of the conversations about the 2004 French law that banned Muslim head scarves, Jewish yakamas, and large Christian crosses in public schools.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Liesl Gerntholtz, the director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, argues that we need to look beyond controversial burqas: “Women's oppression is universal. Those who want to help address this sorry state of affairs should start not by telling Muslim women how to dress, but by tackling the root causes of this oppression both at home and abroad: discrimination, lack of access to services, and unequal economic opportunities.”
Newsweek senior editor Lisa Miller and a professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, warn on the Washington Post blog On Faith that any government decision about which religions’ traditional clothing is offensive and very dangerous.
Over at the fantastic blog Muslimah Media Watch, Krista points out that the problems surrounding sexual oppression aren’t going to simply go away with the burqa:
So when these women make the “choice” to wear the burqa, they are not necessarily choosing between imprisonment and freedom, or between subservience and empowerment; they may be making this choice between multiple forms of imprisonment (symbolic or otherwise), or multiple options that still place them in subservient positions, or they may even be making this choice in a context where the burqa represents the positive side of those dichotomies.
Sources: Huffington Post, Newsweek, Washington Post, On Faith, Muslimah Media Watch
Image by fabbio, licensed by Creative Commons.
Monday, June 22, 2009 3:24 PM
Conservatism is alive and well in Europe, thanks to anger over the recession and some good, old-fashioned fear-mongering. The recent European Union (EU) parliamentary elections saw major gains for center-right parties, as well as the groundbreaking election of a few far-right candidates. The Huffington Post reported that across Europe, “voters deserted left-wing parties in droves,” sparking some serious soul-searching among the Left.
According to Huffington Post, parties that gained seats included the following: Hungary’s “anti-immigration” Jobbik Party; the Greater Romania Party, “which is pro-religion, anti-gay and anti-Hungarian”; the Netherlands’ Freedom Party led by Geert Wilder, who “has called Islam's holy book, the Quran, a fascist text and made a film that linked images of terrorist attacks to Quranic verses”; and, the British National Party, whose leader, Nick Griffin, has called the Holocaust a hoax.
Can the Left save itself? David Lammy for New Statesman laments that “while D-Day veterans remembered the sacrifices of those who fought fascism, two racists from the British National Party were elected to represent us in Europe.” His analysis of what’s gone wrong with Labour and how to fix it urges politicians to abandon the blame game and focus on addressing the “deeply felt grievances of cultural loss and injustice” that permeate contemporary British society. He also acknowledges that the election results reflect larger public disillusionment with politics in general, fed by recent scandals like the abuse of expense accounts by Members of British Parliament (MPs).
Also for New Statesman, Jonathan Derbyshire takes the long view on the future of Left-wing politics. He cites the director of the left-of-center think tank Demos, Richard Reeves, who claims that Labour’s problems are too profound to fix before the next general election. Instead, they should concentrate on the “longer-term intellectual and political renewal of the progressive left.”
Sound similar to the current soul-searching among American Republicans? Perhaps British Labour and the European Left in general can take heart at the fact that, when it comes to politics, parties rise, parties fall, and what goes around comes around.
Sources: Huffington Post, New Statesman
Image by The Labour Party, licensed under Creative Commons
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 10:01 AM
Check out Treehugger’s amazing slideshow of innovative water-collecting mechanisms, including a personal fog collector, an aqueduct, the brilliant Hippo Roller in action, a crazy-looking dish drainer that positions drying dishes atop your flowerpot (as they dry, they drip water onto your plant), and lots of other interesting methods. Of particular interest: a helpful diagram of the Aqua H20, a surprisingly cute urine-recycling device that engineers potable pee.
Image courtesy of Erdem Selek.
Friday, May 15, 2009 1:12 PM
International adoption is driven more by money than by need, and many “orphans” are in fact not orphans, journalist E.J. Graff reported in “The Lie We Love,” a Foreign Policy story reprinted in Utne Reader’s May-June 2009 issue. In a subsequent slide show and essay for Slate, Graff follows a thread of the story further by profiling families who’ve been affected by corrupt adoptions. From a Guatemalan mother, Ana Escobar (above), who found her kidnapped daughter about to be sent to the United States for adoption, to American parents who learned the truth when their adopted toddlers learned to speak English, these stories put an achingly human face on the dark side of adoption.
Sources: Foreign Policy, Slate
Image of Ana Escobar by Adam Nadel, courtesy of Adam Nadel.
Monday, April 06, 2009 2:01 PM
How does a country even begin to address the wrongs of genocide? That is the task facing The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as it tries Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the first former member of the Khmer Rouge to answer for the killings of untold numbers of people during the regime’s reign. For many in the West, war crimes tribunals are a symbol of international justice. But in the March issue of Harper’s, Ben Ehrenreich illuminates just how complicated, and unresolved, this process can be.
The Cambodian truth and reconciliation process has been mired in international politics and complicated by a frustrating lack of information, according to Ehrenich. “The debate over what occurred and what it means often has more to do with Western ideological divides than with anything that could optimistically be called truth,” he writes, citing the vast differences in official death tolls as an example. The United States backed the Khmer Rouge during the cold war, so Ehrenich writes: “Ultimately, the number of deaths you want to attribute to the Khmer Rouge depends on how many deaths you are comfortable pinning on the United States.”
The apparent ambivalence of the Cambodian people toward the tribunals presents another problem, according to Ehrenreich : “No Cambodians I met, however, expressed the faith so uniformly voiced in the West: that trying the surviving Khmer Rouge leadership represents the country’s ‘last chance’ for justice, and that prosecuting four old men and one old woman could being to settle history’s debts.”
Source: Harper’s (Subscription Required)
Monday, February 23, 2009 3:48 PM
Blame for China’s soaring carbon emissions is being tossed between East and West like a political hot potato in a debate that illustrates just how tricky international climate negotiations can be.
The Guardian reports on a new study that found that manufacturing of exports, many of which are shipped off to developed countries, is responsible for approximately one-third of China’s overall emissions and half of their recent spike in emissions.
So whose footprint should these emissions be tacked-on to—China’s, the producer, or nations like the U.S. and the U.K., the consumers? Under the Kyoto treaty, they go to the producer, but China doesn’t think it should be held accountable for emissions generated by the demands of foreign markets, and others agree.
“Focusing on consumption rather than production of emissions is the only intellectually and ethically sound solution,” Dieter Helm, an Oxford economics professor told the Guardian. “We've simply outsourced our production.”
Indeed, the map of liability generated by the Kyoto system doesn’t seem to tell an entirely truthful story. “By these rules, the UK can claim to have reduced emissions by about 18% since 1990—more than sufficient to meet its Kyoto target,” according to the Guardian. “But research published last year by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) suggests that, once imports, exports and international transport are accounted for, the real change for the UK has been a rise in emissions of more than 20%.”
Business Green points out that this latest study follows similar reports published last year, and could give China greater bargaining power in climate talks to be held in Copenhagen later this year.
Sources: Guardian, Business Green
Monday, February 16, 2009 5:05 PM
While rocket attacks in Gaza have subsided since a ceasefire was brokered in late January, the devastation for those living in the war zone has hardly ebbed.
Writing for the New Statesman, Sami Abdel-Shafi describes post-ceasefire Gaza as “almost exactly as it was before the war.” Abdel-Shafi continues that, “[d]esperation and hopelessness are now soaring to new levels,” and despite the death and destruction incurred by the fighting, “[t]here seems to be no victor in this war.”
Blogging for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting’s Untold Stories, Elliott Woods, an American reporter, describes a state of persistent fear that continues to shroud Gaza:
When I first arrived, my Gazan hosts practically wet their pants laughing when they saw how I shuddered at the sound of nearby explosions. But one of them—middle-aged, thick-necked Mahdi—later admitted to me, "We're all scared, all the time."
Now that I have been here for almost a month—mostly during the so-called cease-fire—I can feel the continual threat in my bones. It's an ever present unease, like a headache or a hangover that doesn't keep you in bed, but keeps you conscious of the fact that something isn't quite right.
Israeli attacks aren’t the only source of that “ever present unease.” According to the Guardian, Hamas has been conducting a “new and violent crackdown” on “all perceived internal opponents,” supposedly out of concern that the war weakened its grip on power in the Gaza Strip. Amnesty International alleges dozens have been murdered, beaten, or shot, though not killed.
“People are afraid to live normal lives, to express their opinions freely,” one activist told the Guardian. “There is no freedom of speech, of movement, of travelling or having real healthcare. Hamas is raising George Bush's policy: those not with us are against us.”
The United Nations reports that, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli attacks killed 1,440 (pdf), injured 5,380, and displaced hundreds of thousands in Gaza. Additionally, some one million Israelis had their lives “disrupted” in some way by Hamas attacks. But post-ceasefire, getting aid to Gaza—where it’s desperately needed—has been particularly difficult (pdf) due to restrictive and inconsistent access.
Image by Al Jazeera, licensed under Creative Commons.
Sources: New Statesman, Untold Stories, Guardian, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Friday, February 13, 2009 1:07 PM
Most Americans are going through hard times, but our shaky economy is hitting Latino immigrants with particular force, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Using Census data, the center found that between late 2007 and late 2008, unemployment among foreign-born Latinos rose 2.9 points to eight percent, while unemployment in the overall workforce rose only two points to 6.6 percent. The report didn’t include data on how many of these workers were documented or undocumented.
The ripple effect is already being felt by families in Latin America who depend on money sent home from relatives working in the U.S. For the first time in 13 years, remittances sent from the U.S. to family members in Mexico declined in 2008.
Source: Pew Hispanic Center
Friday, February 13, 2009 12:33 PM
A dramatic BBC report finds Vélib, Paris’ extensive bike-share program, in dire straits. The article claims that half of Vélib’s 15,000 bikes have “disappeared” and that many others have been vandalized, “[h]ung from lamp posts, dumped in the River Seine, torched and broken into pieces.” The director of JCDecaux, the company that runs the rental system for the city, warns that the program can’t be sustained without some serious changes.
How accurate is the story? Kottke.org found a smart posting on Streetsblog that challenges the BBC’s more sensational assertions. It quotes sources—including Paris’ Deputy Mayor of Transportation—who say JCDecaux is renegotiating their contract and encouraging the negative coverage to get the city to pay more into the program.
Apparently, JCDecaux zealously guards data on the costs and profits associated with Vélib, so it's a bit hard to objectively assess how it's doing. Since its launch, though, it's generally been regarded as a success. So, as more cities plan similar intiatives—The Bike-sharing Blog counts 92 existing programs and notes that the number's growing quickly—it'll be important to keep tabs on the public's perception of Vélib.
Image courtesy of Luc Legay, licensed under Creative Commons.
, Kottke.org , Streetsblog, The Bike-sharing Blog.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009 2:12 PM
Amid all the hubbub Tuesday about Tom Daschle and his fancy limo rides, you could be forgiven for missing this other bit of news out of the Senate: Barbara Boxer, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced her intentions to have a cap-and-trade bill at least through her committee by the time international climate talks convene in Copenhagen this December.
The eco-blogosphere was all over Boxer’s pronouncement, with mixed reactions about its implications. Bradford Plumer headlined a post “Barbara Boxer Rules Our Universe Edition,” while Climate Progress expressed frustration that all she promised was to get a bill out of committee by the end of year, meaning we could be waiting a whole lot longer for any legislation to actually be enacted. There’s also buzz that Boxer will support a boost in highway funding in the economic stimulus package, which could be seen as “shoveling out funds to promote auto dependency,” as Plumer puts it, and counterproductive to any commitment to reduce global warming emissions.
Boxer’s not the only one with Copenhagen looming in her mind. A nice opinion piece at Yale Environment 360 urges President Obama to establish his climate credentials before those meetings get under way.
For Obama, the political winds at his back are now as favorable as they will ever be. He is in a position to seize 2009 and do three things to meet the climate challenge: properly educate the American public about climate change and the need for immediate action; exercise the full might of his executive powers and regulatory discretion under the Clean Air Act to jump-start action; and spend freely from his enormous store of political capital to lead the government to enact comprehensive federal climate legislation. If he does, the United States will reclaim the mantle of global leadership when it takes its seat in Copenhagen.
After eight years of U.S. inaction on climate change, American leadership offers the only hope of success. Even if President Obama himself decides to attend the talks—and hopefully he will—his mission will fail unless he carries with him a year’s worth of demonstrated results to lend weight and credibility to the promise he made in his inaugural address to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.” In Copenhagen, his inspiring oratory alone will not be sufficient; he must demonstrate how science has been restored “to its rightful place” in America in strong climate regulation and law.
Thursday, January 08, 2009 12:34 PM
In an unusual collaboration, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, and the conservation group Rare teamed up with individual artists to draw attention to eight United Nation World Heritage Sites, reports Orion magazine. All of the sites are threatened in some way—by lack of funding, floods of tourism, climate change, and a host of other pressures.
At the outset, many of the artists worried that they’d be forced into unimaginative advocacy work. “I remember thinking, ‘Do they want me to go make work about tortoises?’” said installation artist Ann Hamilton. “I mean, that is not exactly what I do.” But the museums and Rare allowed them room to respond as they saw fit. The resulting pieces highlight local issues in smart, sensitive ways.
Xu Bing, for instance, held workshops in primary schools near his site, Mount Kenya National Park. He told stories and drew pictures with the children to connect them more personally with the park, and then set up a website to auction off their work. The proceeds benefit a local organization that uses the money to replace trees lost to deforestation on Mount Kenya.
Check out the article to read descriptions of the other projects, watch interviews with the artists, and browse a slideshow of the art. The pieces have been gathered as an exhibit, “Human/Nature: Artists Respond to a Changing Planet,” which is currently on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
Image courtesy of John Spooner, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 19, 2008 12:05 PM
A few months after a British jury acquitted the “Kingsnorth Six” global warming activists, the U.K.'s attorney general is attempting to invalidate the “lawful excuse” defense frequently employed by direct-action protesters facing criminal charges.
The Kingsnorth Six were cleared of criminal damage charges for scaling and vandalizing the chimney of a coal-fired power plant on the grounds that their actions intended to prevent greater damages the plant’s greenhouse gas emissions would cause. The verdict was celebrated by environmentalists around the globe, but didn’t sit well with prosecutors, who according to the Guardian, “were understood to be furious” with the acquittal, “arguing that allowance for demonstrations did not extend to breaking the law.”
Now they’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The Guardian reports:
[T]he attorney general is considering using her power to refer cases to the court of appeal to "clarify a point of law". It is believed to be an attempt to limit the circumstances in which protesters could rely on "lawful excuse".
Should the "lawful excuse" defence prove to be unusable by protesters, Britain can expect many more environmental and peace activists to be convicted—something which could backfire against a government accused of drastically curtailing the right to protest in the last five years.
Image by izzie_whizzie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 05, 2008 4:39 PM
Making philanthropic efforts more effective is a daunting challenge: How do organizations decide who gets what, especially when resources are stretched thin? One part of the answer can be found in census data that tracks community needs like healthcare and education. But often the people who need that aid the most are those who, on paper, don’t exist.
Mobile Metrix, a nonprofit market research company created at Stanford University, has a mission to count the uncounted and transform those statistics into better programs and resources for communities in need. The organization works with local governments, international agencies, and nongovernmental organizations across the globe to provide accurate data on things like access to drinkable water, education, and adequate sewer systems.
Even the company’s data-collection method works toward the goal of eradicating poverty. Mobile Metrix trains and employs young activists to gather data in their own communities, who in turn earn a living wage comparable to what they'd take home in illegal trades like drug or sex trafficking.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008 9:24 AM
The violence following Kenya’s elections last December left more than 1,500 dead and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Yet, 11 months on, there still has been no formal action to indict those who may have instigated the bloodshed.
According to the BBC, the European Union has had enough. After investigating the incidents at the behest of the UN, the EU issued a report last month calling for an international tribunal to prosecute the businessmen and politicians accused of organizing or supporting the fighting in some areas. Inaction on Kenya’s part has prompted the EU to threaten withholding millions of dollars of financial aid until the conditions are met.
Kenya’s hesitance comes from complaints of bias and hearsay in the report itself, plus the fear that legal action could bring about another round of hostility among communities. Should they opt out of establishing their own trials, leaders will be forced to hand over a list of ten suspects to the International Criminal Court for trial.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 2:38 PM
Having already won over some Republicans and most of the under-25 set, Barack Obama recently conquered another narrow but inspirational voter demographic: the oldest American voter. Sister Cecilia Gaudette, 106, was born in New Hampshire but moved to her Roman convent 50 years ago, BBC News reports. The last president she voted for? Eisenhower, in 1952. After a 56-year hiatus, she has cast her absentee ballot for Obama, a candidate whom she feels fills the presidential requirements of being “a good straight man... honest, politically able to govern.” You can watch the CBS report on her here.
Monday, July 21, 2008 5:38 PM
Time made note last week that Obama is bringing along adviser Dennis Ross when he stops in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan during his current global jaunt. Ross was the chief Mideast envoy under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Also on his resume is a gig as a commentator for FOX News.
Ross is a controversial figure among those parsing the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians (but really, who isn’t?), and he’s often put in the conservative camp as a hawkish Israel-backer. Time parses the decision to have Ross in tow as, in part, a calculated play for the Jewish vote and foreign policy cred:
Israelis and some Jewish Americans distrust Obama's commitment to Israel — a recent Israeli newspaper poll found 27% of Israelis surveyed support him, compared to 36% for John McCain. And Obama's readiness to hold unconditional talks with Iran also makes him vulnerable among some voters to charges of being soft on Tehran. Both issues count in swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania where they could hurt Obama's support among Jewish voters and Reagan Democrats. But Ross is a reassuring presence on both counts.
There’s likely some truth to that. But the article notes that the Obama campaign reached out to Ross 15 months ago. That’s long before all the guffawing about Obama’s Jewish troubles and right around the time that Ross’s book, Statecraft: And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World, started making the rounds.
I spoke to Ross back then about what it would take to redeem the United States in the eyes of the world. Looking back, I’m struck by the pragmatic course Ross strikes. Here, for example, is Ross’s take on what the next president has to do:
The most important thing is to strike a different posture and a different tone from day one. Make it clear that the United States has important interests in the world and that it's mindful that achieving those interests often means having to work with others. Whether it's global warming, nuclear proliferation, threats from nonstate actors, health pandemics, or failed states—these are not challenges we're going to be able to resolve on our own.
Obama’s been a punching bag among his supporters of late for allegedly scurrying toward the center in an unabashed and shameful voter grab initiative, but perhaps there’s a different way to look at his shift: as a move away from his appealing but comfortably vague rhetoric and as a step toward the pragmatic, give-and-take that’s necessary to execute his professed ideals.
Monday, July 14, 2008 3:39 PM
The Prix Pictet is a heck of a photography prize. In its first year, the award promises a purse of 100,000 Swiss francs to the winner, and for all shortlisted photographers, an exhibition at the Palais de Toyko in Paris. The prize is for work that communicates urgent messages about sustainability, what the Prix Pictet website calls “perhaps the greatest single issue of the twenty-first century.” Indeed.
Over here at the Palais de Utne in Minneapolis, we weren’t surprised at all to see two of our favorite environmentally conscious photographers make the cut. Chris Jordan and David Maisel were shortlisted for the prize last Friday, with 16 other photographers, selected from a field of more than 200 nominated artists hailing from 43 countries.
Jordan is a Seattle-based photographer and artist whose series, “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” we featured in our Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue. In that series, Jordan makes numbing statistics visible, shrinking an emblematic image and reproducing it thousands, even hundreds of thousands of times. (Stretched across a 60 by 80 inch panel, for example,1.14 million tiny folded paper bags represent the number used in the United States every hour.) The work that earned him a spot on the Prix Pictet shortlist is his book In Katrina’s Wake: Potraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006). The inaugural Prix Pictet theme is water.
Maisel landed his shortlist position with pieces from “The Lake Project” and “Terminal Mirage,” part of his “Black Maps” series—surreal aerial photography of environmentally impacted landscapes. Utne’s readers will recognize one of his nominated photographs; Terminal Mirage 19 ran on the back page of our May-June 2006 issue. Later that same year, we did a story about Maisel’s evocative “Library of Dust” project, photographs of urns housing the unclaimed cremains of patients of the Oregon State Insane Asylum. The decaying copper canisters bloomed with otherworldly color.
The winner of the Prix Pictet, sponsored by Swiss bank Pictet & Cie in association with the Financial Times, will be announced on October 30, 2008.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 12:36 PM
Last century ended with a series of shameful failures by UN peacekeepers to save lives in Somalia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. In the beginning of the 21st century, we face another round of tenuous peacekeeping assignments in Africa: in Sudan’s Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic, and, again, Somalia.
For many, the allocation of forces from the African Union, European Union, and United Nations to these volatile spots is cause for relief. François Grignon and Daniela Kroslack, the director and deputy director respectively of the International Crisis Group’s Africa program, however, see reason for concern.
Writing in Current History’s April issue on Africa (subscription only), the two warn that the world has come to regard peacekeeping missions as Band-Aids—forces that emptily assuage human rights concerns with a show of military muscle that is in fact impotent in the face of danger. Unlike many others, Grignon and Kroslack aren’t taking aim at peacekeeping regulations that limit engagement. Rather, the teeth they say are missing from peacekeeping missions are diplomatic, not fire-power, related.
“The military component of a peacekeeping mission is only as effective as the mission’s political masters make it,” they write. Without “viable peace agreements to implement,” peacekeepers are simply biding their time amidst social collapse.
Intensive political negotiations, diplomatic pressure, and commitments to address the root causes of conflicts are what’s most needed and—not surprisingly—what’s most difficult.
Despite peacekeeping missions’ shortcomings, though, Grignon and Kroslack do point to some unexpected successes:
Recent peacekeeping operations have indeed achieved notable successes in Africa. Yet, paradoxically, their success has not been in the area of civilian protection. The UN Mission in Congo (Monuc) efficiently supported the peace process in the DRC [the Democratic Republic of Congo] and deserves considerable credit for the successful organization of Congo’s 2005 constitutional referendum and 2006 general elections.
It seems that the bureaucrats and soldiers might be more effective if they switched places. It’s time to marshal our diplomatic forces for the fight and train armed peacekeepers in the tedious work of democracy building.
Image of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur by Patrick-André Perron, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008 12:15 PM
Where are the worst countries to be a woman? Haiti, Yemen, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Moldova. That's according to Foreign Policy, which put together this regionally organized roster of shame by culling information from the United Nations Human Development Report. Highlighted indicators of women’s standing include national political representation, female-to-male income ratio, and the female literacy rate. The magazine offers short profiles of the inequality facing women in each of these countries, and in each women’s sexual and reproductive health comes to the forefront, whether the issue is rape, HIV infection, maternal health, or human trafficking.
Reading these depressing descriptions as the dates of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions loom presents an opportunity to act. The reproductive health site RH Reality Check is examining how to prioritize women’s health in party platforms. This afternoon at 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. EST, discuss global women’s health in U.S. policy at RH Reality Check with Anika Rahman, President of Americans for UNFPA. (If you miss the conversation, you can still read the exchange in the comments section of the article.)
Image by Humanitarian and Development Partnership Team in the Central African Republic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!