Book Review – Hereville

HV Sociologists and feminists should love Hereville! I am not going to comment on the aesthetic aspects of Hereville because I know nothing about that. I’ll just mention that I liked the overall background color themes and that, yes, character drawing / design (it’s probably not the correct word) reminded me a bit of F’Murrr.

The subtitle – "How Mirka Got Her Sword" –  and byline – "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-old Orthodox Jewish Girl" – tell you a lot about the story itself. Mirka, the 11-year-old orthodox Jewish girl in question, wants to become a dragon fighter rather than conform to the role assigned to girls in her Orthodox Jewish community.

But Mirka is not the only strong woman / girl, in the book. Actually, it is women who make the story progress. Mirka’s stepmother, Fruma, is also a strong woman with a knack for argument. She can argue about everything and take several sides in the same argument, which drives her stepchildren nuts (which, I suspect, I kinda the point). At the same time, the arguing is part of her nurturing their intelligence and especially Mirka’s. It is nice to see a departure from the stereotypical "evil stepmother" character.

The last important woman in the book is the Witch, which Mirka and her little brother encounter and help and who gives Mirka directions as to how she can find her sword… which involves facing down a troll, of course.

Indeed, the male characters in Hereville are either boys (Mirka’ little brother and a couple of bullies), as well a few male relatives who function as background, and the troll (although gender might be in question here). No real flattering characters, and again, not really story-movers. This is a girl-coming-of-age story… with a lot of knitting!

And, as always, I care about background and Hereville is deeply embedded in the Jewish orthodox culture with quite of bit of humor and quirkiness thanks to Fruma. The rather lengthy description of Shabbo provides the opportunity for a very Durkheimian description of the 6th Day rituals which made me think "Boy, Ampersand really read his ‘Elementary Forms of Religious Life’."

I really loved it and could not put it down. Ampersand’d better have the next volume ready SOON!

Oh, and I reserve the right to re-use (with modifications) the following phrases:

  • Fruma to Mirka (questioning why she has to do chores in preparation of Shabbo): "How tragic that no one asked for your opinion, Mirka"
  • Mirka to her little brother (questioning the soundness of her plan to acquire the sword): "Has it occured to you to shut up?"
  • The Witch to Mirka (asking how to fight a troll): "What am I, Professor at the Troll-Fighting University?"

So, folks, don’t be parasites, go give a few bucks to Ampersand for his great story and start pestering him to get the next installment ASAP!

Does This Make Me a Patron of the Arts? Hereville Edition

HB

I have already linked to Ampersand‘s comics in other posts. Ampersand’s creativity is not limited to political cartoons. I have just received my copy of Hereville, a comic that updates every Wednesday. Which means, pretty soon, everyone will be able to read the entire story for free. But as someone who has enjoyed Ampersand’s materials, I don’t believe in freeloading, so, if you like the comics and if you can, send a few bucks his way (links available to Paypal and Amazon Honors on the website). If you contribute more than $30, you’ll get your own signed title page (a bargain if you ask me). Mine is below and I love the tiny Mirka figure on top of her roof.

Hereville

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got me some reading to do! You can read the review when I’m done.

“Born To Rape”

We all remember that story of the Austrian father who locked up his daughter in the cellar of his house for 24 years. I have posted several times about it. Well, here is his excuse:

He’s right. Instead of just locking her up, he could have repeatedly raped her and gotten her pregnant and… oh wait… He did. But it’s not his fault… it’s his mother’s fault. Man, there is no end to the evils unleashed upon the world by the Bitchez.

How incredibly amazing that this man blames his need for pathological assertion of masculine power is based, according to him, to overwhelming feminine power (that of his mother), which goes along with a denigration of motherhood (his daughter would become ugly and unattractive if she repeatedly got pregnant… not that it mattered much since she was locked up anyway). Oh yeah, women are superpowerful to make him what he is and yet, the only one having exercised absolute power over the other gender is him. THAT is phallocracy.

And then, there is the patriarchal aspect: the rule of – here, absolute rule – of the father:

Well, here’s the rant part: I don’t give a damn what his mother allegedly did to him. There is nothing that could justify what he did and the rationalizations he provides just reeked of ultra-paternalistic ideology gone out of control. Don’t tell me the old bastard did not enjoy the absolute the life-and-death power he had over them all.

They should give him a taste of his own medicine… lock him up, throw away the key and periodically show him images of the hopefully happy lives that his children / victims once they are rehabilitated.

Kemal Dervis on The Financial Crisis

Kemal Dervis, the head of UN Development Program, gave an interview to Le Monde regarding the impact of the financial crisis on the poor (yeah, while we were busy writing checks to banks, we kinda forgot about them) and the gist, of course, is that the poor will be hit more harshly by all this than people in core countries.

Dervis states that developing countries know that, even though they are not at the origins of the crisis, they will have to suffer its consequences anyway, with less means to deal with them than rich countries. The speculative crisis of the core will hit hard the real economies of Global South. There is a decrease in demand and growth and lower access to credit. In other words, they will receive less foreign investment, less revenues, and will see a decline in their exports. The failings of the core financial sector will hit the hardest in these countries.

Not all countries will be similarly affected, though. China and the Asian tigers will retain their high growth because their development is partially independent from core countries’ economies… good thing too, otherwise, it would be a worse mess if we had to expect a Chinese collapse.

At the same time, the G24 has warned that they will not be able to deal with the crisis on their own. Global public aid is roughly $100 billion per year. Defense budgets represent $1,300 billion and the different bailouts that rich countries will implement to salvage the financial system will be even more. On the other hand, in 2005, in Glenneagles, rich countries committed to $25 billion more per year to halve poverty in Africa by 2015. This is a moral issue: will rich countries use the crisis to get out of their much much more limited commitment to Africa?

When it comes to solution to the crisis, Dervis, unsurprisingly, advocates for a new regulatory apparatus for the global financial system strong enough to anticipate and prevent the next crisis. If there is one benefit from the crisis, it is the realization that we are indeed in a globalized world, all in the same boat and there multilateral governance mechanisms are needed though global cooperation.

The question then becomes who decides on global governance? The G7, the G8, a new G14 so desired by World Bank President Robert Zoellick? The IMF (that is, if DSK can extirpate himself from his current troubles)? What of the countries of the Global South? This is a debate that needs to happen and Dervis thinks that America’s attitude toward such multilateral cooperation will be central in this process.

Dervis closes his interview with a plea for supranational organizations that correspond better to our integrated and interdependent world (someone has read David Held and his Global Covenant… damn, another book review I should really get around to writing) rather than nation-based regimes.

Fighting Back Against Tax Havens

So Switzerland and Luxembourg called in sick at the big meeting scheduled for tomorrow in Paris, initiated by France and Germany to reevaluate the status (AKA the Black List) of tax havens. This will provide both of them the freedom to denounce the conclusions of the meeting. Eight countries – UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Australia – have sent various Ministers while others – Finland, Iceland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, and Spain – will send representatives. Austria and the US have declined.

The goal of the meeting is for OECD countries to update their list of non-cooperating tax havens by Mid-2009. As it stands, there are only three countries left on that list after various ones committed to transparency and cooperation: Monaco, Andorra, and Liechtenstein. This list needs updating because a lot of Asian financial centers are not included and that other states, who had been removed, have not lived up to their commitment. There should be a dozen countries on the updated list. The point is to have a stigmatizing effect as bankers do not like to be compared to criminals.

The organizers also want to review and coordinate sanctions against to compensate states that are victims of tax evasion from the black listed countries. Hopefully, other branches of the EU would be involved as well. The goal is to establish a global regime of governance applicable worldwide to individuals and corporations.

In the context of the current global financial crisis and massive bailouts, we’ll see whether government want serious regulation in exchange for the big fat checks banks and financial institutions have just received.

For more on tax havens, see here.

Fighting The Stigma – Tanzanian Albinos

I have already posted about the horrific treatment that some Albinos are receiving at the hands of their compatriots in the name of folk medicine. Well, they’re fighting back, and for a stigmatized group, it is never easy:

This is truly a story of stigma, in the Goffmanian sense. A physical marker is used to denigrate an entire category of the population, pollute their identity and make their social participation difficult if not downright dangerous.

This also illustrates the fact that the process of stigmatization can latch on to any type of physical marker. And it seems that numerical status does make a difference when it comes to the symbolic meanings attached to the stigma (here: their ritual sacrifice for the sake of wealth, not really different from killing rhinos for their horns).

It is indeed the job of the government to protect the albinos and to start campaigning against these ridiculous beliefs that have harmed them.

The Face of Justice

Dictators, even dead ones, should be afraid of Judge Baltasar Garzón.

And Franco is not the first dictator or corrupt official to get the Super-Judge’s (as the Spaniards call him) attention, especially considering the powers that judges enjoy in Spain:

After a brief stint in government where his integrity was put to the test and he proved incorruptible, the Interior Ministry turned on him with some pretty dirty tricks.

And then, he took on the ultimate old bastard:

Baltasar Garzón: the face of global justice.

NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

Via Salon:

Opus "As the country excitedly awaits our great quadrennial political climax, a smaller subset looks toward the first week of November with great anxiety and dread. On Sunday, Nov. 2, the comic "Opus" Berkeley Breathed has made it clear that the strip’s namesake will, in that final strip, find his "final paradise." will end. Worse yet, creator

Sure, it’s been an unnaturally long run for a penguin. Opus, who started with a bit part in Breathed’s Pulitzer-winning "Bloom County" (1980-89), starred in "Outland" (1989-95) and finally took center stage in "Opus" (2003-08). But for those of us accustomed to seeing our own thoughts — and fears, hopes and simmering anger — take flight in the broken-nosed face of a penguin every week, there’s no preparation for his exit, only mourning.

Breathed says it’s the anger that led him to close the book on "Opus," that the increasingly nasty political climate has made it too difficult to keep his strip from drifting into darkness. Breathed has described his work as a hybrid of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz’s gentle humor and Michael Moore’s crusading social justice. Perhaps losing touch with his inner Charlie Brown, Breathed has said that "a mad penguin, like a mad cartoonist, isn’t very lovable," and wants Opus to take his final bow before bitterness changes him forever."

Genie des Alpages At least, I still have Le Genie des Alpages! Ok, I’ll confess to still being in love with Romuald.

Like they say, it’s a French thing, you wouldn’t understand.

The Social Effects of Low Structural Violence

Two items regarding Scandinavian social facts got me thinking on the impact of low structural violence and its social consequences to producing functional effects.

So, what are the causes of such happiness? Can’t be the climate.

"Then in July of that year [2006], a researcher at England’s University of Leicester released a ranking of the world’s happiest countries after analyzing data from various sources. The report concluded that economic factors related to health care, standards of living, and access to basic education were determining characteristics of a nation’s overall attitude. Denmark, with its free universal health care, one of the highest per-capita GDPs in the world, and first-rate schools, came in first."

That makes sense, of course: a strong safety net protects people not just from adverse events but also from the stress from potential adverse events. The knowledge that one will be taken care of without losing everything in case of catastrophic health crisis or loss of job relieves enormous pressure that Americans know all too well.

"But the results were no fluke. Earlier this summer, the Stockholm-based World Values Survey, which uses a very different methodology, reported that it also found Danish people to be the world’s most contented. That study concluded that the surest measures of a country’s well-being are the freedom to choose how to live one’s life, encouragement of gender equality, and tolerance for minorities. Once again, on every count, Denmark took top prize."

What is it about Denmark that the rest of us have failed to grasp?

"Achieving the right balance is probably what most sets the country apart, suggests VisitDenmark’s Kiilerich. Happiness in most Nordic societies, all of which ranked high on both studies’ lists of happiest countries, hinges on an ineffable combination of economic strength and social programs. Denmark’s approach relies on high taxes and aggressive redistribution of wealth –anathema to many free-market Americans — which results in a broad range of social services like health care, retirement pensions, and quality public schools. Yet remarkably, the country has managed to make this model work without crushing economic growth or incentives to succeed. "Denmark has a head and a heart," Kiilerich says."

But social-structural factors are not the only thing at work here. Consider culture:

"Some people attribute the prevailing attitude among Danes to something less tangible, called hygge (pronounced "hooga"). Danes say the word is difficult to translate — and to comprehend — but that it describes a cozy, convivial sentiment that involves strong family bonds. "The gist of it is that you don’t have to do anything except let go," says Vial. "It’s a combination of relaxing, eating, drinking, partying, spending time with family.""

Putting together a strong social safety net along with a culture high on social capital creates a society with low structural violence, that is, where people do not feel brutalized by the social conditions of their existence. Which way the causality goes, though, is not clear: social values, such as the high emphasis on social capital, produce social policies that do indeed reinforce social capital.

At the same time, when culture emphasizes social solidarity, it is less likely to find the kind of resentment that one finds in the US regarding the measly welfare offered by either the federal or state governments. And when people are less stressed regarding their economic welfare, they are more likely to be good neighbors. And a generous welfare system that covers everyone also does not generate resentment because everyone enjoys some degree of protection.

These effects have been found in all Scandinavian countries which is why the next item is not surprising:

And like most of its European counterparts, Norway does not have the death penalty. More than that, the maximum sentence is 21 years. So what are the lessons we could learn from the Norwegian system?

Well well, here again, we find the same social ingredients:

  • A functioning welfare system that fosters

  • Strong social solidarity (a sense of we’re all in this together)

  • Strong social capital

  • A culture that supports rational analysis of issues (as opposed to a general politically-motivated freakout and a declaration of war on whatever, drugs, terror, you name it, we can have a war on it)

  • A concern for the possibility of rising inequalities defined as excess

  • A cultural emphasis on moderation

Again, put together, all these factors reduce structural violence, which, in turns, reduces interpersonal violence incarnated in criminal / violent behavior. And as a society perceives itself as harmonious, its citizenry is more likely to agree to policies that maintain and strengthen that state.

In other words, these factors create a virtuous social cycle whose major consequence is to generate a society at peace with itself.

Blogging For the Eradication of Poverty – Criticizing The MDGs

Christie Peacock, head of Farm-Africa, has a critical review of the implementation of the MDGs in the Guardian:

This seems to be an issue that comes up on a regular basis: the MDGs are a governmental affair dependent upon donations without much input from the civil society. Farm-Africa, on the other hand focuses on agriculture and livelihood in order to avoid dependence upon aid with a focus on higher-yield crops and animal health.

This is all well and good but I don’t think it’s entirely fair to blame this particular aspect on the MDGs. There is much blame to be placed on US and EU agricultural subsidies as well as structural adjustment policies that pushed agriculture, in many peripheral countries from subsistence to cash crops as part of export policies.