7/31/2008 12:17:06 PM
Sexual harassment is essential to human survival, a Russian judge has ruled. “If we had no sexual harassment, we would have no children,” said the judge, the Telegraph reports. And if we had no older bosses impregnating younger female employees (in this case, the defendant was 47, the plaintiff, 22), maybe we wouldn’t have as many premature babies, either. Perhaps we can find middle ground by encouraging same-age sexual harassment?
The judge’s ruling demonstrates a desire to increase Russia’s population by any means necessary, and puts Russian women uninterested in sleeping with an aggressive boss or coworker in a precarious employment position. International observers laughed when a Russian governor gave citizens a baby-making break last fall, but this latest procreation push lacks humor.
7/31/2008 8:37:25 AM
A trio of Aussies have been teaching kids in Kabul how to skateboard, the New Statesman reports, and by year’s end they hope to establish Afghanistan’s first coed skateboarding school.
"We want to create a positive image of Afghan youth," cofounder Travis Beard told the New Statesman, "to bridge east and west, and of course the guys will learn all sorts of life skills.... But above all, it's about sport and having fun."
They call themselves Skateistan. The group has had trouble finding skateboard-friendly spots in Kabul—potholes and dust are a problem, not to mention safety and security—and they’re still looking for a space for the school.
What’s not a problem, though, is getting young people in Kabul to pick up a skateboard. "They've got more balance than Western kids, mainly because they're not scared to fall and get up again," Skateistan cofounder Oliver Percovich told the Age.
Image courtesy of Sharna Nolan/Skateistan.
7/28/2008 4:16:53 PM
The folks organizing the Republican National Convention are touting it as “the greenest ever.” The radical environmental activists at Earth First are planning to show up for the event, but not to cheer on the recycling program or the use of flex-fuel and hybrid vehicles. They’re coming to “demonstrate alternatives to both lobbying and voting for environmental action,” according to the July-August issue of Earth First Journal (article not available online).
In other words, they’re going to block traffic.
“The most direct way to oppose this dog-and-pony show is just to stop it,” reads the article under the nom de plume of “the RNC Welcoming Committee.” “Stopping the convention won’t stop the election, but it throws a big fuckin’ wrench in the GOP’s public relations machine, and the GOP needs that machine to survive.”
The authors exhort eco-activists to set up blockades of all kinds. “Anything from a lockdown to a pile of materials, from a theatrical performance in an intersection to a good old-fashioned traffic jam will help create the desired effect,” they write. The ultimate goal? “Denying delegates access to the RNC.”
Their strategy is built around the mnemonic catch phrase “Swarm, Seize, Stay”: “Basically, 3S means: Move into/around downtown St. Paul via swarms of varying sizes….Seize space….Stay engaged with the situation.” The article notes that an “action camp” will be held in southern Minnesota the first weekend of August to prepare for the RNC.
Earth First’s call to arms is certainly part bluster. The authors admit that their movement “suffers from being small and stretched thin,” and their stated goal of stopping the convention is probably but an activist’s dream. But the fact is that Earth Firsters and others of their ilk would love to turn RNC 2008 into a street-protest legend like WTO 1999. The authors even name-check that event: “The World Trade Organization protest of 1999 was successful in no small part due to Earth First!ers bringing proven techniques and skills from the forests into the city.”
Because there’s nothing like burning a dumpster in the street to show that you love the planet.
Image by J. Narrin, licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
7/23/2008 12:59:55 PM
As if abject data roundups like the Harper’s Index weren’t dour enough, there are even more depressing numbers being crunched. Gathering figures from the UK Independent, Bloomberg, and other sources, Eyeteeth compiles various statistics to show the country’s hellbound, handbasket-borne trajectory.
For example: The Misery Index—by far the most poetically named of the numbers on offer—is calculated by adding unemployment to inflation. It’s at 10.5, its highest in 15 years. There’s a 30-year gap in the average life expectancy between residents of Connecticut and Mississippi (people in the former state live longer). And a new Time/Rockefeller poll shows that 52 percent of Americans believe the “American Dream” is no longer attainable.
The figures are worth a glance, but it’s also illuminating to click through and read the articles from which they’re derived, which examine some of the reasons behind our crumbling quality of life, place them in historical context, and offer suggestions for how we might reverse these negative trends.
Image by ang (3 Girls & a Boy), licensed by Creative Commons.
7/21/2008 5:38:18 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.
7/15/2008 11:26:34 AM
As politicians and businesses in the Twin Cities rev up for the Republican National Convention this September, groups throughout the region from all points on the political spectrum are preparing to welcome the GOP to town in various unique ways.
There’s the expected mobilization of protest groups, but there are also anti-authoritarian zines, yard-sign contests, zealous corporate sponsors, and tacky-pants enthusiasts. The latest addition to this list is cartoonists, who have lent their RNC-themed drawings to the hometown alt-weekly, City Pages, for its second-annual Comix Issue.
The offerings by local artists are many and varied, especially in the unabridged online edition. Titles range from “Elephantitis” to “Michelle Bachman’s RNC Diary” to “Zubaz of Freedom,” the last an homage to the RNC's aforementioned tacky-pants mandate.
The quality varies—some of the strips falter when they load up their panels with tired jabs at easy targets; others buckle under self-seriousness—but in general it’s a fair sampling of the area’s artists and their political wit. One of my favorites is “Xcape From Xcel,” by Kevin Cannon, a single-panel strip envisioning a board game inside the convention's host arena, the Xcel Energy Center (which was also, incidentally, the venue for Barack Obama's first speech as the presumptive Democratic nominee back in June). For example, one square says, “You’re wearing a flag pin! Continue playing.”
7/15/2008 10:54:31 AM
It isn’t often you hear the United Nations Human Rights Council praised, but that’s the message Peggy Hicks delivered at the recent Human Rights Law and Policy Conference in Minneapolis. Hicks is the global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and a vocal defender of the two-year-old United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the controversy-plagued UN Human Rights Commission. A quick poll of the audience of lawyers, human rights advocates, and laypeople revealed a flurry of affirmation from those who knew of the council, which then dwindled to a few tentative hands for those who had heard anything good about it.
The council has received frequent criticism for its repeated condemnation of Israel, coupled with a lack of strong action against other states committing serious human rights abuses. Hicks rebutted two common Israel-related criticisms: first, the council has condemned states other than Israel, including Sudan, Burma, North Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia; and second, the council may spend a disproportionate amount of time on Israel, but it is far from the majority of its time. In addition to the council’s actions on the above states, it also did significant work on Sri Lanka, Hicks said, and held a special session on Sudan, sending a mission there (though the government blocked its entry).
Hicks’ defense of the council was modest, but she offered suggestions for improvement, since, she said, we can’t replace it with anything stronger. Getting Southern nongovernmental organizations to the United Nations office in Geneva, where the Human Rights Council meets, would help those groups put pressure on their own governments, Hicks said. State membership on the council also could be improved through continuing to encourage competitive campaigns for seats on the council—competition which wasn’t a feature of the Human Rights Commission. (In the council’s second year, Belarus—which is infamous for cracking down on its media, political dissidents, and human rights groups—lost its bid for membership to Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, a defeat Hicks commended as a sign that the council might eventually build a membership of states with strong human rights records.) Hicks also praised the council’s ability to examine the human rights record of all UN member states through a four-year cycle of Universal Periodic Review begun this April. The United States is up for review at the council’s 10th session in 2010.
7/10/2008 11:42:49 AM
The slave trade didn’t end with the civil war. In fact, there are more than 27 million people enslaved around the world right now, according to an info-graphic from Good magazine. The information in the graphic is based on a new book by Benjamin Skinner, who wrote an article on the modern slave trade for the latest issue of Utne Reader. Skinner writes, “today there are more slaves than at any time in human history.” The article shows that buying a human being is disturbingly easy. In fact, on the Foreign Policy website, you can hear an audio recording of Skinner bargaining over the price of a slave.
7/10/2008 10:00:09 AM
Or rather, volunteers didn't sign up to turn the wheels of the party machinery? Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports that the Minneapolis-St. Paul 2008 Host Committee is scrounging to fill its volunteer roster for the Republican National Convention in September. They’ve even tapped the imposingly bulky Kenneth Anderson, a.k.a. “Mr. Kennedy” of Friday Night SmackDown fame, and Minnesota Viking Matt Birk to appeal in ads to Minnesotans’ civic honor and sign up for duty. Here’s Anderson in one of the ads:
Minneapolis-St. Paul is hosting a championship match, the 2008 Republican National Convention... This convention matters to our cities and we need your help no matter what your political affiliation.... Let’s show everyone what Minnesota Nice really means.
(See MPR's Polinaut blog on why Anderson might not have been the best pick for a PSA.)
In all fairness, organizers have recruited some 8,900 folks to work as “docents, greeters, and all-around Minnesota ambassadors.” But they’re still short of their 10,000 target, and the deadline to reach that number is Tuesday. The deficit is a wee bit embarrassing given their Democratic counterparts’ performance so far. “[I]n Denver,” MPR reports, “so many volunteers have registered for the Democratic National Convention that hordes will likely be turned away.”
We at Utne Reader will be busy that week covering the GOP convention ourselves. We’ll have our editorial team trolling our hometown and pacing the convention floor. We’d like to know: What stories do you want to hear from the RNC? What missing coverage would you like us to tackle? Chime in below in the comments field.
UPDATE (7/14/2008): Looks like the Host Committee's efforts paid off. Organizers met their goal of 10,000 volunteers over the weekend, thanks to help from Mr. Kennedy, Matt Birk, and volunteer booths at the Mall of America. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that they're still signing folks up as back up volunteers through tomorrow.
7/8/2008 11:14:40 AM
The RNC Welcoming Committee, a group organizing radical activity during September’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, has created a pre-convention primer, The Struggle Is Our Inheritance: A History of Radical Minnesota.
The anti-authoritarian zine has the expected flaws—unattributed authorship that will make the Wikipedia-wary reader skeptical, and a broken link to download the zine on the RNC Welcoming Committee website, now defunct. (I eventually found a copy of the zine at Arise! Resource Center and Bookstore in Minneapolis.)
Nitpicking aside, the zine is an intriguing introduction to Minnesota radicalism over the last 150 years—union strikes, weapons manufacturing protests, the birth of the American Indian Movement, anti-racist Skinheads. The zine’s closing essay reminds readers that mass demonstrations like the ones planned for the RNC have only “a small place in something much bigger,” i.e. the radical tradition laid out in the zine. The “real work” ought to be long-term community building, writes the author, even though demonstrations do have their appeal:
...though it’s important not to let an affinity for symbolism and theater drive our strategy, it’s equally important to recognize that orchestrating massive coordinated resistance for a few days in 2008 could have a profound impact on our collective morale, fueling a broad escalation in the radical, community-based work we should all be engaged in.
UPDATE: Commenter Tony tells us the RNC Welcoming Committee's website is temporarily down, but should be up and running again soon. Thanks for the info, Tony.
7/3/2008 4:15:42 PM
More important than long division and the Great Gatsby, an education is meant to teach children how to think. Unfortunately, teachers today are “educating people out of their creativity,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at the TED conference (video available below). Rather than teaching children how to think, feel, and move, students are taught, “progressively from the waist up,” neglecting dance, arts, and other subjects that encourage creativity.
That loss of creativity threatens to undermine the current generation of young people in America. In an article reprinted from the Rake in the latest issue of Utne Reader, Jeannine Ouellette wrote that “it’s questionable whether tomorrow adults are learning to use the tools they’ll need to succeed.” Over-booking children’s schedules without leaving room for unstructured play time is threatening American innovation, and—possibly most importantly—it’s just no fun.
7/3/2008 2:19:43 PM
What makes a great neighborhood? Former editor of Utne Reader and author of The Great Neighborhood Book Jay Walljasper writes about his favorite neighborhood on the website for the Project for Public Spaces. For Walljasper, a welcoming community, pedestrian-friendly roads, diverse shops, and plenty of pubs all combine to create his favorite neighborhood in America.
The key to a great neighborhood, in my opinion, is personality. Living in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, a few years ago, I could feel the place was changing, but it retained its feel as a traditional Italian neighborhood. Bistros selling mozzarella held strong in areas where new restaurants were opening all the time. For me, that was my favorite neighborhood. Feel free to chime in with yours.
Image by Jeffrey Bary, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/3/2008 1:49:12 PM
The political scientists at the Monkey Cage just published a working paper about political blog readers that will surely stroke some egos. “Political blog readers are, unsurprisingly, more educated, more partisan, and more interested in politics,” write the researchers.
Just because readers are smart and curious, though, doesn’t mean they’re trolling for meaningful debate. Instead of engaging ideas across partisan lines, researchers found that readers stick to blogs on their side of the political spectrum, preferring “comforting cocoons of cognitive consonance” over the dissent and debate that characterize meaningful political deliberation. Researchers did find that left-wing blog readers participate in politics more than their right-wing counterparts, leading them to conjecture that “left-wing blogs have more fully embraced the tasks of social movements, thereby seeking to mobilize their readers.”
Read the full paper here.
7/1/2008 9:54:59 AM
There are a few things you can assume about those who run for president: They’re megalomaniacs; they have disturbing stores of energy; and at some point in their lives, they were bitten by the love bug called patriotism. Yet every election season, the candidate who dares criticize the country is put to the patriotism test.
And thus Barack Obama found himself in Independence, Missouri, yesterday delivering his patriotism manifesto, “The America We Love,” flag pin tacked safely to lapel. In it, he dwelled on the historic legacy of both patriotic dissent and patriotism’s deployment as a political smear. He went on to personalize his own patriotism, describing it as a “gut instinct,” an “abiding love” rooted in his “earliest memories.”
The speech was, as is Obama’s custom, an eloquent meditation on a value that pervades Americans’ lives and deepens our divisions. But it did not, as Obama’s speech on race did, shock with its candor and ability to articulate a unique moment and opportunity. Instead, we heard familiar professions of what it means to love one’s country.
In fact, we err when thinking patriotism should be founded on love—that irrational emotion that most of us can’t even wrap our heads around in the confined spaces of our personal lives. This kind of claim usually fits easily into the liberals’ camp of the cultural war over patriotism, which Peter Beinart, in his recent cover story for Time, aptly characterized this way:
Liberals are more comfortable thinking about America. . . as a nation that must earn its citizens’ devotion by making good on its ideals. For conservatives, the devotion must come first; politics is secondary.
But removing love from patriotism isn’t to argue that patriotism shouldn’t be unconditional. It’s to say it shouldn’t be irrational. I prefer a seed from Obama’s speech that’s less dramatic than the narrative of love and more demanding: His description of patriotism as a “commitment.” For Americans, patriotism should be the meaningful acceptance of privilege, a sense of obligation not to the amorphous (and dangerous) concept of nation, but to one’s countrymen and -women, and to the world that’s so shaped by our choices and actions.
I’m interested in hearing about what others think patriotism means. Let us know in the comments below or visit our Salons to get a discussion rolling.
Image (not from speech in Missouri) from
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