Exploring similar themes as her previous works, Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent set of short stories evocatively illuminates the immigrant experience. Although thematically repetitive, the fresh characters and scenarios keep the writing from becoming stale. The details of the cultural conflicts are distinctly Indian (or perhaps distinctly Bengali), yet the characters’ experiences of nostalgia, rebellion, and loneliness are both compelling and universal.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
As a civil war unfolds in Somalia, family events uncover secrets that redefine these longstanding relationships. Peppered with dream sequences, the plot line itself takes on a dreamlike character. Although it contains many beautifully written passages, I found the novel disappointing. The unraveling of the family secrets was drawn out without developing any real sense of suspense or anticipation. The background of the incipient civil war is only slightly revealing in its effect on everyday life and even less revealing of the broader political implications.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Rather than laying out hard and fast rules for transportation planning, the book offers a wide and impressive array of methods. The only absolute offered is that transit should support land use policies and not vice versa. Although repeated pointing out that quality services attract more riders, Cervero does not couch this as a universal recommendation, noting that pricing transit affordably may mean lower quality vehicles in poorer cities.
From the case studies, it seems clear that cities with good transit are primarily wealthy cities outside the United States. For those primarily interested in the United States, comparison with U.S. cities is provided in many of the case studies, and the final chapter provides shorter examples of U.S. cities recently improving their transit systems. My own interest is primarily with developing cities, and I was disappointed not to have any examples from Africa or from poorer Asian cities (Singapore and Tokyo were the Asian examples). Nonetheless, the case studies clearly presented ways of designing transit systems that suit local conditions and aims.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood / Taras Grescoe -- NY: Bloomsbury, 2008.
I say force, singular, because, as with almost all of humankind’s other problems, the main driving mechanism behind the vanishing seafood is industrial capitalism (including, of course, the Chinese version, these days). Fishing and fish-farming are now dominated by huge corporations, able to marshal vast resources to catch (devastate) entire species, and much of the demand for many threatened species is due to increasing numbers of very wealthy consumers. Global warming, pollution, exploitable cheap labor, artificial (toxic) growing conditions and feeding habits, waste, externalization of costs, etc, all play interconnected roles in helping reduce what were once thought to be effectively infinite numbers of fish down to near extinction levels in case after case. And, of course, all the above factors are caused or exacerbated by industrial capitalism, whose course, if unchanged, will make it very unlikely that much healthy seafood will remain in the world within a few decades.
Grescoe is a very engaging and interesting writer on all aspects of the issue, so the book is a “pleasure” to read in that sense, with large amounts of local color and fascinating facts about seafood and the social relations surrounding its production and consumption. He himself both consumes, and visits the production sites of, many types of seafood, including some extremely exotic and even dangerous ones. Although not explicitly ideological, he is intrepid and successful in analyzing what could be done “rationally” to remedy the situation, and in listing ways by which one can make individual consumption choices that promote health, quality, sustainability, and fair labor conditions. The title refers to the fact that smaller fish at the “bottom” of the food chain in the oceans, such as, say, anchovies, are generally much better consumer eating choices than large predators such as tuna. And he lists some environmental organizations' websites for "certifiably" good product choices, which are again very helpful to the individual consumer.
The catch, of course, is that the profit motive of industrial capitalism is arrayed against such rational, individualistic solutions, and is of vastly greater potency, at least so far. Unless an alternative to growth-oriented industrial capitalism is found (and soon), no solution to the problem of vanishing seafood (or global warming, or so many other current environmental problems) will be remotely feasible. I highly recommend the book, depressing as it is, for it makes very clear both that we have little time left to begin to seriously address such problems, and what we will be losing if we fail to do so.
Friday, July 4, 2008
His argument for how to end poverty is superb. While some (e.g., Bill McKibben) have criticized Sachs for his enthusiasm for globalization and free markets, Sachs's actual views on these issues are nuanced and at least defensible. Sachs embraces globalization as the context in which countries with extremely poor population can escape "the poverty trap" by gaining access to investment and markets. Sachs's history of championing debt cancellation for poor countries gives credibility to his claims. Presumably they would be even stronger if he were more explicit about making the World Trade Organization less an instrument of rich counties.
Sachs's support for free markets is also very qualified. While he supports free markets in some goods and services, he recognizes that markets cannot be relied upon to distribute necessary goods and services to the extremely poor. Consequently, other arrangements must be put in place to guarantee that the poor are not left without these. Sachs recognizes that there is no single prescription for ending extreme poverty, but that many factors are involved and differently so in different places in the world. In general, however, he argues that if the rich contries of the world would fulfill their past promise to provide .07% of their income to alleviating poverty then the human capital, infrastructure development, natural capital, knowledge capital, and public institutional capital could be developed in the poorest countries. With these resources, their economies would be sufficently stable to allow them to participate productively in the global economy and see their economies grow.