Parents Versus Climate Change

As someone who remains ambivalent about having children (and as someone with young nieces and nephews and friends with kids), this is a topic of deep personal concern to me, as I’m sure it is to many readers. The diagnosis of widespread ignorance and ‘soft denial’ seems pretty plausible, although chastising people for being bad parents seems to me fundamentally unhelpful. Plus, isn’t the sense of deep political powerlessness pretty well justified? It certainly seems that way in the current political and economic climate. For my part I find it very difficult to imagine a day when any government would place long-term interests like saving the planet ahead of short-term economic concerns, particularly when most governments are only in office for 5-10 years (though maybe this is just a tempting false dilemma…)

Your thoughts welcome, especially if you can think of a reason not to despair.

Afghan schoolgirls ‘poisoned by Taliban’

More than 120 schoolgirls and 3 teachers have been poisoned in a second attack on classrooms in two months. The attack happened in Takhar province. Toxic chemicals were released into the air inside the school, and left many pupils unconscious. Last month, 150 schoolgirls in the same province were poisoned after drinking contaminated water. Police and education officials blame the attacks on the Taliban, under whose rule it was illegal for women to work or receive education. You can read more from Al Jazeera.

Can’t get a philosophy job? Why not go out and try to change the world?

I think the question “Why not change the world” can look quite irresponsible, so I’m going to try to make it sound more sensible than it might at first.

Some background: There’s a non-obvious link between two recent posts, the one on the AWID Istanbul conference and that on Homophobia. The link is actually Elizabeth Reid, with whom I’ve been meeting up in Oxford. We were grad students together at Somerville College, and she has a B.Phil. in ancient philosophy, with special emphasis on Aristotle.

It is Elizabeth who has just been to the Istanbul conference. It is also Elizabeth who has tried to reconnect virtuous behavior and eudaimonia in her work in developing countries on topics such as women’s welfare and AIDS. Some things she has done are spectacular, I think. She was the UN Development Program’s first Director on AIDS in developing countries and from about 1986 advocated what is now a standard opinion: AIDS is as much a social problem as a medical problem.

Advocating new approaches can make one’s life difficult, but I am certain Elizabeth thinks she has been extremely fortunate to bring philosophical and feminist positions to her now quite long period of advocacy.

So of course I have been wondering about the comparative quality of a life as, say, a UN official working for things that are probably more important than, e.g., developing a better account of the mind’s cognitive relation to its environment. Such as working on alleviating the suffering of millions of people.

Going into work on global problems is not especially easy. Entry points today are very often internships, Elizabeth tells me. That is, exploited labor, even with the UN. Still, when we think of what we might do other than teach philosophy, it might be worth shaking things up for a bit and looking at something entirely different, as Monty Python might say. Elizabeth does say one should start with some area one would really like to affect. But she did have a clarity of insight that might have provided unusual motivation.

I can hardly believe I’ve raised this topic, but I probably believe it is true that there are more important things than being a philosophy professor. One answer to “Why Stay?” could be “Don’t”. Mind you, thinking about trekking around Africa to hold workshops on AIDS prevention does make staying in philosophy seem like an easier option.

Security, Protection, Self-Care: international Feminism’s agenda

Apparently a good amount of international peace and justice activists’ discourse is focused these days on issues about security, protection and self-care. At the same time, it can be difficult for policy makers to have much sense of the immense range of responsibilities women’s lives can involve; plans for a nation can too often neglect or work against women’s interests. In responding to this problem, women working for the security and protection of women in developing countries have, over the last several decades, developed a very nuanced and detailed agenda. It is still evolving, of course, but the recent meeting in Istanbul of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development seems to me to suggest an exciting and maturing convergence of agendas.

There is so much going on; so many questions being raised, so many action plans being developed. Follow through on some of the links from the conference, and see what you think.

I’m told there was not much Western presence. I think that is a situation we should think about critically. Many of the problems being discussed are not regional.


Lest we forget, awful deeds are being perpetrated in Syria, as the government forces rain down terror on protesters. This is Marie Colvin’s last report from Baba Amr before she was killed.

They call it the widows’ basement. Crammed amid makeshift beds and scattered belongings are frightened women and children trapped in the horror of Homs, the Syrian city shaken by two weeks of relentless bombardment.

Among the 300 huddling in this wood factory cellar in the besieged district of Baba Amr is 20-year-old Noor, who lost her husband and her home to the shells and rockets.

“Our house was hit by a rocket so 17 of us were staying in one room,” she recalls as Mimi, her three-year-old daughter, and Mohamed, her five-year-old son, cling to her abaya.

“We had had nothing but sugar and water for two days and my husband went to try to find food.” It was the last time she saw Maziad, 30, who had worked in a mobile phone repair shop. “He was torn to pieces by a mortar shell.”

For Noor, it was a double tragedy. Adnan, her 27-year-old brother, was killed at Maziad’s side.

Everyone in the cellar has a similar story of hardship or death. The refuge was chosen because it is one of the few basements in Baba Amr. Foam mattresses are piled against the walls and the children have not seen the light of day since the siege began on February 4. Most families fled their homes with only the clothes on their backs.

The city is running perilously short of supplies and the only food here is rice, tea and some tins of tuna delivered by a local sheikh who looted them from a bombed-out supermarket.

A baby born in the basement last week looked as shellshocked as her mother, Fatima, 19, who fled there when her family’s single-storey house was obliterated. “We survived by a miracle,” she whispers. Fatima is so traumatised that she cannot breastfeed, so the baby has been fed only sugar and water; there is no formula milk.

Fatima may or may not be a widow. Her husband, a shepherd, was in the countryside when the siege started with a ferocious barrage and she has heard no word of him since.
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Congolese anger on the streets of London

Thousands of Congolese women, children and men have been protesting on the streets of London for the past week. But there has been little/no media coverage. I wonder why that might be?

The protests are about the recent election results. The protesters argue that Étienne Tshisekedi was cheated from power by Jospeh Kabila, during elections marked by violence and chaos. They fear that Kabila is a Western puppet, who will continue to allow rich Western nations access to the DRC’s natural resources. These include, amongst other things, the minerals used to produce our beloved consumer gadgets: mobile phones and laptops. The problem is that control of the resources has brought one of the most violent conflicts to the region, which has led to endless rapes, beatings, and murders.

Many of the London protesters were angry that the media rarely reports on the atrocities happening in the Congo. They carried pictures of dismembered bodies, bearing witness to the many victims of the ongoing chaos.

You can read more about the recent protests here. WARNING: there are graphic photographs of atrocities included in this report.

You can read a bit more about the elections and the contemporary history of the region here.

High Pay too High – findings of UK High Pay Commission

The High Pay Commission is an independent body set up to investigate high pay in the UK. A year long investigation culminated in the publication of a report on Monday. Those who’ve been keeping an eye on the recession will be wholly unsurprised to learn that the poorer members of society are bearing the costs of austerity cuts, whilst the top 0.1% of earners are getting richer. The Commission states that:

In 1980 top bosses were well rewarded, but they had not pulled so far away from the rest of society. Since then some of them have enjoyed an increase of over 4000% to what are now multi-million pound packages… so much wealth has been channelled to those at the very top. This is a trend that has led to such a huge rise in inequality over the period that Britain now has a gap between rich and poor that rivals that in some developing nations.

Amongst the figures quoted by the Commission, is the salary of the chief executive at Lloyds Bank (now partly owned by the State), which the Commission states has increased by more than 3,000% since 1980 to more than £2.5m – 75 times the average Lloyds employee’s salary. In 1980, it was just (‘just’ – hah!) 13.6 times the average. Lloyds have responded with the claim that “The High Pay Commission’s figures are flawed. They have compared the average basic salary of our employees to a remuneration package awarded to the CEO that includes salary, bonus and benefits. As a result they have reached an inflated number that is entirely unrepresentative of the truth” – because everyone knows that bonuses and benefits aren’t really part of one’s salary, just little treats left by the banking fairy.

A copy of the High Pay Commission’s report, including recommendations such as not-doing-salary-deals-in-secret, can be downloaded from here.

Open letter to Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

Read the full account of what happened with links to further photos here.