Archive | November, 2007

Blog Bleg

27 Nov

I’ve messed with the blog design temporarily to try out a new look.  After receiving some great unsolicited design advice from a friend who actually works with websites, I’ve  been considering hosting the site myself and getting a new domain, if only for greater design and feature flexibility. Let me know what you think about the new look (which, coincidentally, shares some features with the design mock-up I’ve been looking at).

And some brief questions for those of you who don’t use a free blog-hosting service: is it worth it? What are the hassles like?

Is Your Refrigerator Running? Then Welcome to Globalization

18 Nov

In light of the recent Oxford Word of the Year (locavore: those who eat only locally grown food), check out the link between refrigerator ownership and the rise of globalized supermarkets from Professor Sitaraman:

My argument was that increase in bulk shopping or weekly shopping is associated with globalization as well as increase in appliance sales in developing countries. For instance with the growth in appliance sales, particularly refrigerator ownership in developing nations, small farmer markets selling locally grown produce has been declining.


A Call For Open Campaign Events

18 Nov

The Center for Political Participation at my alma mater Allegheny College has started a new initiative called the Soapbox Alliance to promote open political events as an antidote to the staged and restricted “town hall” gatherings and rallies. Allegheny is asking other colleges and universities to join them–spurred in part by a 2004 on campus rally featuring Dick Cheney:

The College’s practice had been to welcome private groups to use its facilities with or without charge, depending on availability and circumstances. Without a relevant policy in place, it had no sound basis to deny this request despite its strong distaste for the idea of a closed “town meeting” and frustration with the increasingly prevalent practice by both major national political parties of selecting receptive audiences to enhance the likelihood of generating upbeat media coverage.

The CPP is asking that “at least half of the available seats must be made available to the general college community through a non-biased distribution,” with the rest going to an organization’s supporter (or whoever they decide to invite).

Although I’m supportive of greater openness and participation in politics, I’m skeptical that many colleges will sign on. Do colleges really host that many “closed” events? Why agree to limit a particular type of event that might generate some press for your university–a type of event that rarely occurs anyway–except to signal your support for civic responsibility and “good citizens”?

Someone at The American Prospect Please Give This Kid a Job Already

8 Nov

I was going to write a post in response to Susan Faludi’s new book, The Terror Dream, but Young MZ did one better and got himself a spot at TPM Cafe’s book club discussion with Faludi herself.  His post is a strong rejoinder to the sort of weak socio-political analysis that tries to suggest causal relationships from nationwide events (in this case, 9/11 and the War on Terror as an excuse to advance the narrative of masculine strength at the expense of women everywhere).

And TAP better hurry, before someone pages Franklin Foer

The Future of Iraqi Democracy

3 Nov

This NY Times op-ed by former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi highlights the drawbacks of quick democratization–press for elections too soon and you may end up with a dysfunctional government sorely lacking in public support:

Accordingly, the vast majority of the electorate based their choices on sectarian and ethnic affiliations, not on genuine political platforms. Because many electoral lists weren’t made public until just before the voting, the competing candidates were simply unknown to ordinary Iraqis. This gave rise to our sectarian Parliament, controlled by party leaders rather than by the genuine representatives of the people. They have assembled a government unaccountable and unanswerable to its people.

Though I recognize the problems a transitioning democracy faces in producing a stable government, Allawi underscores the primary benefit of free elections: legitimacy. A country needs some form of the population’s consent to construct a government in a post-authoritarian regime, or at least a mechanism for keeping the people from turning against the process. But I’m not sure the measures Allawi is proposing are either realistic or likely to confer more legitimacy:

Furthermore, a new law should ban the use of religious symbols and rhetoric by candidates and parties — these have no place in democratic elections. In order to prevent interference from militias and to ensure transparency, the United Nations must supervise all these elections district by district. And these reforms should be supplemented by other preconditions of national reconciliation, like general amnesty to all those who have not engaged in terrorism.

I have a hard time believing a country that is currently split along ethnic and religious lines is going to accept a general ban on religious symbols. An Iraqi politician need only point to the Republicans in the US, christian democrats in Europe, or even the president of secular Turkey and say “Look, religion is a part of the democracies of the west and our neighbor Turkey–why should we eliminate it from our political discourse?” It’s hard to sell people on the liberty granting benefits of democracy while telling them you have to enact illiberal measures to achieve them.

And although amnesty will have to be a necessary part of any nationwide political reconciliation, it will likely have to include those who have engaged in terrorism, to say nothing of the difficulty of sorting out those who have been part of the insurgency but not engaged in terrorism and those that have committed terrorist acts.

Ultimately, the problem is that Allawi’s plan sounds tailored to the concerns of an American audience: don’t allow Islamic extremists to win elections, prevent shari’a from being put into law, don’t let insurgents who have killed American soldiers get away with it. But these aren’t the same concerns for Iraqis or for putting together a working political consensus.  Serving as another reminder that democracy promotion is a difficult and flawed policy to begin with.