When I changed the blog’s templates I also upgraded the atom feed to the (now standard) Atom 1.0 format, the latest and greatest syndication format. Some older newsreaders have trouble with the format so if you somehow ended up here but didn’t see an update in your newsreader you may want to check for an update, and/or request that the writers of your software catch up with the standards.
Archives: Front Page
I’ve been wondering for a while why I’d developed such a blogging inertia. One clear reason seems to be a desire not to spend all my time taking cheap shots at administrations on both sides of the Atlantic that seem to be doing a fine job of destroying themselves.
Like many, I had feared that with Harriet Miers out of the way, the Bush administration would go for an extreme ideologue for their next Supreme Court nominee. What I had not counted on was the linguistic pragmatism of so many of the commentators. Listening to NPR yesterday was a sad experience as politicians from the right fell over one another in describing the nomination of Samuel Alito as a gift “to conservatives.”
Now certainly, the nomination is unlikely to be welcomed by anyone who doesn’t appreciate the ‘conservative’ label, but when did the ruse end? When did those same politicians give up and stop referring to ‘the american people’? A naive part of me had clung to the hope that there was some self-delusion in their associating a hyper-conservative agenda with the welfare of the american people. No, they were working for a small base of power-brokers and this change of language suggests that there are few qualms.
The first place I heard Alito’s name associated with the nomination was in some speculation over at TPMCafe. That piece also refers to the increasingly infamous “Gang of 14,” the cross-party group of senators who increasingly hold sway over whether nominations are approved, thrown out, or filibustered. Some see that group as the potential source of a new centrist coalition that might begin to throw off the shackles of the unabashedly right-wing Republicans and inept Democrats, bringing new life to the stultified political process. Maybe?
This blog will be back in action very soon. I have lots of notes from this weekend’s Fair Trade Futures conference to write up and they may see the light of day this week.
In the meantime, check out Justin Zoradi’s blog. Justin worked as an intern at Calvin last year and is now spending a year working with Steve Stockman in Northern Ireland. He’s doing a great job of communicating all he’s learning about sectarianism, the peace process, and the people he’s meeting in that country.
Today Kari and I will head to Chicago, where she’ll go to the wedding of her sister Dana, while I catch a plane to Heathrow. From there my parents will be driving me to Greenbelt for my tenth experience of the festival. The green card situation means it’s been two years since I was last at Greenbelt and that’s just too long.
The lineup looks great and this year will probably be my best chance of seeing things in a long time but my guess is that far more time will be spent talking with friends than attending sessions. I’ll be running a workshop on Social Documents and participatory politics either on Sunday or Monday (it’s in the programme twice and I need to work out which time would work best).
I’ll try to blog from the festival, but no promises….
I’ve been doing some work focussed on the west side of Grand Rapids so have been taking the opportunity to explore a part of town I rarely make it to. Today’s destination was Sweetwaters, a small coffee shop on West Fulton, a little further west than Hungry Heart Cafe. It’s a distinctive place, with wood panelled walls, faux-antique lamps, lots of framed prints and posters, and some appropriately ugly sideboards.
There’s a broad range of gourmet coffees on offer alongside the usual range of espresso drinks and a small sandwich menu. Power outlets are easy to find along the walls and there’s one in easy reach of all but three of the (ten) tables. Access is stable and fairly speedy and the atmosphere is low-key enough to make this a pretty good place to get work done.
The BBC ran a story yesterday that I felt illustrated a particular shortcoming of US foreign policy:
The US defence secretary has accused Cuba and Venezuela of fomenting unrest in Bolivia, which has led to the overthrow of two presidents since 2003.
Rumsfeld, it would seem, would like to lump Venezuela in with Cuba as ‘nation non gratis’ to the US, a move which is only likely to improve the standing of President Chavez within his country. But that was not what was so striking.
Is it possible that foreign policy figures like Rumsfeld have no conception (are unable to conceive) that there is such a thing as domestic dissent against neoliberal policies?
As Nick is so well documenting, the Bolivian people have plenty of reasons to resent the policies imposed on them from above and to revolt as they have over the past months. But it rather feels as though, to Rumsfeld, any populace that is rising up against the policies his government advocates must be responding to external agitation from another government.
For Margaret Thatcher there was no such thing as society, for Rumsfeld there is no body politic, no “we the people.” (anywhere outside the US, at least).
Media Mouse—a blog covering left-wing campaign issues as they related to Grand Rapids—takes recent developments in downtown Grand Rapids to task for their favouring of wealthy residents of the City. They fear that changes in the demographics of the downtown area may potentially lead to draconian measures such as the criminalising of homelessness, as well as the usual forced movement of poorer people which so often follows in the wake of gentrification.
In many ways, I share the writers’ fears and have been rather disturbed to hear of the tax breaks being granted to downtown developments such as the new Marriott Hotel and those purchasing many of the new condominiums. But the analysis offered by Media Mouse fails to provide a holistic analysis of issues facing the downtown area, and could leave readers unfamiliar with the area with the wrongful impression that the conversion of the old YMCA into expensive condos is simply the destruction of a community centre, rather than a response to the fact that the YMCA has recently moved to another downtown location.
Like many North American cities over the past few decades Grand Rapids has seen significant numbers of its wealthier residents move progressively further away from city centre, leading to a considerably increased reliance on cars, lower tax revenues for investment in education and other services, and the continuing blight of urban sprawl. The vacancy has left downtown spaces open to developments such as the proposed nude bar which Media Mouse has led campaigns against, and is a key source of environmental degradation.
The increasing spread of North American cities makes it considerably harder to grow vibrant economies with opportunities for a wide range of people. By leading people to move further from their places of work and making it harder to provide effective public transport, it increases reliance on expensive private transport; by encouraging development of “single use” areas it leads to a build up in “out of town” shopping arrangements which favours large corporations with the deep pockets needed to build superstores and little interest in investing locally. The only viable solution to those issues is to encourage regeneration and “inward development” back into the denser urban areas that have been deserted.
That transition is going to be painful for a lot of people, and we definitely need to do more than simply appeal to a sense that the benefits of development may “trickle down” to the poor communities that currently occupy inner cities. But incentives will be needed to draw people used to the space and perceived safety of the suburbs (I, like many others, believe dense urban environments to be as safe or safer than suburbs, but there is still a perception that suburbs are safer) back into the city, and those incentives will need to be targetted at those who have the means to live where they wish.
It is vital that those who are interested in urban renewal for reasons of equity and environmental protection speak up with constructive criticism of plans where they aren’t appropriately inclusive. But where there is such potential for significant improvements, it would be a shame to merely focus on the negative.
For now, this entry is only likely to be of interest to those who will be at Greenbelt (eleven days to go…). This year we’re going to be making use of flickr (photo sharing), del.icio.us (shared bookmarks) and technorati (blog search) to try and build an online collage of the festival.
The story went up on the website today, with instructions on how to participate. Please tell your friends and spread the word, while I get to work on the necessary software to bring it all together…
It’s been quite a year for documentary film making. While long tail providers such as Netflix have made it easier for interested parties to get hold of minority-interest films on DVD, a number of documentaries have made box office waves. In Grand Rapids the rejuvenation of Wealthy Theatre has provided an additional venue for documentary screenings. Six of the nineteen films we’ve seen in the cinema so far this year have been documentaries.
The latest of those is the box office favourite, March of the Penguins. Reminiscent of Winged Migration in its surprising scope and magificent visuals, the film is enjoying a second consecutive week in the US box office top 10, and if the response of the audience around us is anything to go by, could be set for a lengthy run. It’s an engaging tale, not entirely ignoring but certainly not lingering on the more grizzly aspects of penguin life, but like all too many wildlife documentaries falls heavily into the trap of anthropomorphism.
The seemingly “human” penguin traits portrayed help the audience begin to engage with the animals, but at times I felt robbed of any sense of their “otherness.” When talking of the way the father’s care for the unhatched eggs the narrator talks of “role reversal” which relies on a very particular understanding of parental roles and seemed to rest too heavily on the human comparison — can it really be role reversal to do what your species has done without change for thousands of years?
I found myself comparing this film with the other bird-focussed documentary we’ve seen of late: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The scale of the two films is quite different, and the birds they display are similarly distict, but I realised that Wild Parrots feels the more honest of the two films. Purportedly an exploration of the behaviour of wild parrots in San Francisco, it becomes an portrait of a man whose life work has been to nurture that parrot population. Certainly there is anthropomorphic behaviour, but that issue is tackled head on, and by bringing herself into the story, the filmmaker makes explicit the editorial process that has taken place.
No documentary can ever be objective, but they can establish trust by being upfront about the process they are part of. March of the Penguins invites us to marvel, while Wild Parrots shows us its gaps and invites us into its questions. Both are worthwhile, but one is certainly more helpful.
The issue of Iran and nuclear power was in our headlines yet again this week, as the EU “offered incentives” for Iran to drop its uranium enrichment plans and the Iranian government (the reins of which were this week handed over to Ahmadinejad’s administration) rejected them. On the surface the EU deal looked like an attractive package and Iran’s rejection of it a nail in the coffin of any possible settlement, but it’s more complex than that.
According to this Guardian report, the EU3 (Britain, France, Germany) offered Iran the option of having “Western companies to build nuclear power stations in Iran and supply them with fuel” in return for Iran ceasing any nuclear activities of its own. In an age when “energy independence” is on many lips, that detail casts the package in a different light.
But running still deeper than the national security concern for “energy independence” is the recent history of Iran. For the majority of the 20th century Iran’s copious oil reserves were in the hands of western-dominated alliances. Iran suffered a coup because one of its former leaders didn’t cooperate fully with the western oil barons, and the desire to control their own natural resources was one of the fomenting factors behind the revolution.
For an Iranian leadership that won an election on the basis of a promised return to revolutionary ideals, handing control of their energy supply over to western companies simply isn’t an option. In this light, I’m surprised the EU even tried it.