Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Outrage and Strategy in Improving Women's Lives Around the World

This slideshow about Afghani child brides is shocking to me...not because I learned any significant new facts about the situation of young women in Afghanistan but because these portraits convey its horrors much more intimately than the recitation of statistics or a verbal narrative can. 

There is a tendency, when so shocked, to believe that a mere expression of outrage will somehow stand a chance of beginning to improve the circumstances of women such as these.  It cannot. 

Directing outrage against members of a distant and unfamiliar culture, if it has any impact at all, runs the risk of alienating the targets and hardening their attitudes against us.  This is because outrage can effect change only among people who view themselves as fellow members of some community of shared values; there must be some sort of "us" within which A's outrage poses a threat to B's status , B's wellbeing or B's ability to sleep at night).

I don't mean to argue that we should not work for change in places like Afghanistan.  We do, however, have to find ways of being smart about it.  We will need to bring humility, research, subtlety, persistence and consistency to the task.  None of these traits, unfortunately, are characteristic of our principal means of communicating about public issues.  Tweets, blogs, political addresses, and television punditry, for example, do not tend to reinforce any of the qualities I've mentioned.  It isn't that, given sufficient care and coordination, they couldn't.  It is only that in our American rush for the one quick fix they are rarely used that way. 

I am encouraged, therefore, that Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, have brought out their new book Half The Sky.  I have not read the book but I intend to.  Examining the table of contents, reading the first chapter, and listening to interviews and reading reviews I conclude that Kristof and WuDunn present carefully researched arguments and reasonable suggestions for action. 

They have their own website to explore, complete with a long list of resources.  They are also partnering with MercyCorps' One Table campaign (which addresses issues of world hunger by investing in the women of the world) to deliver special material to reading clubs which discuss the book.

A world-wide, coordinated approach to addressing women's rights, women's education, women's economic status, and the exploitation of women seems to me to be a very smart way to proceed, well worth the effort and the patience it will take to make it work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


“The lives of ideas (and those who think them) can be as dramatic and unpredictable as any superhero fantasy. What could be more natural than a graphic novel to show how intellectual adventure plays out in the world of experience, with all its contradictions? Logicomix is witty, engaging, stylish, visually stunning, and full of surprising sound effects, a masterpiece in a genre for which there is as yet no name.”

- MICHAEL HARRIS, professor of Mathematics at Université Paris 7 and member of the Institut Universitaire de France

Logicomix home page.

Review in the New York Times.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Climate Change: Get Real

1) offers a very useful list of articles collectively entitled "How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic"

2) Dr. Saul Griffith  was a MacArthur Fellow in 2007 and runs a renewable energy company; His blog is .

I have watched both parts of a Web seminar he gave last week on the topic of energy literacy and I am very glad I did. He takes an engineering/design approach to questions of energy usage, shows lots of graphs illustrating various aspects of the situation, and ends up presenting the audience with some very thought-provoking, fact-based ways of thinking about our current circumstances.  Although I've seen some of the statistics he cites before I don't believe I have ever seen them in quite this way.  Very effective, IMHO:

Part 1:  O'Reilly Webinar on Energy Literacy, part 1

Part 2:  O'Reilly Webinar on Energy Literacy, part 2  (about 20 minutes into this one there is a slight glitch; the slide does not advance so he is talking about a slide you can't see.  It's not a problem on your computer, it's a problem with the conferencing software and it is resolved within a few minutes).

Each of the above are about 35-40 minutes long, so it requires an investment of time.

You can preview a little of what he says in these short videos from a different presentation he made, this one in person:

CompostModern, clip 1

CompostModern, clip 2

This video is 1.5 hours; from the first half hour I've watched it seems to cover pretty much exactly the same factual ground as the two-parter above.  I found it interesting, however, in that he delivers the presentation live, to a packed house.  This leads him to make many asides (and jokes) which I found interesting and often useful.  The slides are much harder to read, though:

Climate Change Recalculated

Monday, September 21, 2009

Human Countdown to Copenhagen

Bev (Mrs. Baslow) participated in the filming of a video, "Human Countdown to Copenhagen: Central Park". The final product will depict sand (each grain a person in a colored tee-shirt) flowing through an hour-glass (also formed of people, in glassy blue plastic ponchos) to form a representation of the earth. Bev wore a green tee and was part of the African continent.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

We Have Liftoff...My Daughter's First Weeks At College

It is fortunate that Ruth, my daughter, contributes to the blog Women's Glib. The past few weeks she has been posting some fascinating articles as she prepared for the move and then settled in. It has been great getting a glimpse of what has been on her mind:

Packing Delirium
Grinnell Fun Facts
Am I a Spanish Barbie?
Sociological Mindfulness and Why We Should ALL be Feminists