Fun With Ethnocentrism

My brain must already be fried from grading because I find this both hilarious and a good example of ethnocentrism:

“A woman in the US has made headlines after complaining about cricket messages sent to her Twitter account, which is named @theashes.

The woman says she knows nothing about cricket but has received scores of tweets about the Ashes contest between Australia and England.

She finally complained by tweeting that she was “not a freaking cricket match”.

The number of her followers has risen from 300 to 6,100 and an airline has offered her a free flight to Australia.

The woman, who Australian media say is Ashley Kerekes, from Massachusetts, tweeted that “this is not the account of the cricket match. Check profiles before you send mentions, it’s incredibly annoying and rude”.

Yeah, geez, all these non-Americans and their favorite non-American sports on Twitter are annoying!

A Plea For Real Equality

Sociologist Camille Peugny and philosopher Fabienne Brugère co-wrote an op-ed in Le Monde arguing that pushing for real equality is not a cute idea from unrealitic dreamers. Here is the gist of their argument.

Peugny and Brugère argue that what we get now is lip service paid to Republican equality while in reality nothing is really being to reduce inequality. Actually, the French society is ravaged by inequalities in all forms, deepened by the current government’s policies and their effects are devastating.

it still remains that equality of results is an end in itself when it comes to real democracy (and a public financing of politics is a short-term means to partially get there). So, to try to deal with inequality and detail everything that diminishes equality is not unrealistic, it is a matter of social justice and trying to reduce structural violence at the heart of processes of social reproduction.

Neither is equality just an abstract concept. There are various measures of its multi-faceted nature. For instance, in France, where so much, in terms of social cohesion, is structured around the educational system and Republican meritocracy, studies after studies show the educational system’s inability to reduce inequalities in terms of success. These inequalities are measurably present in pre-schools and never cease to increase all the way to higher education. In the French system, social origin has the most statistical weight on school results. the larger problem being that those who receive those, then, socially-biased degrees have a greater hold on professional careers. So, as Peugny and Brugère state, let’s admit once and for all that equality of opportunities has failed and turn to equality of results. And band aid, limited measures  – like educational tokenism -will not do.

Another example is that of the social exclusion of the under 25 category whose conditions that state has relegated to their families. These under 25 have been especially precarized and the French state has abandoned its social solidarity function and created a situation of explosive potential and increases inequality further as some students will be able to have their study abroad funded by their parents while others will have to work 30 hours a week. The state should foster actual autonomy rather than extended parental dependency.

So, equality in results is not just a matter of income. It is a matter of education, work, health care (or care more generally), housing and other apparently forgotten rights. At this point, the capture of the commons by a minority is accompanied by an ideological fiction of the world of work an individual that is competitive and all-consuming, all the while completely unaware of environmental risks. An absurd vision to be sure, but one with still political legs.

Of course, political realism involves some prioritization and the recognition that there are social emergencies that need to be dealt with first. But it also means a new vision of what institutions of public policies are for and about. And the heck with the “new management” ideology involving the idea that the state is at the service of large financial groups rather than its citizens.

Institutions should be serving the general interest (in old-fashioned republican tradition) while addressing the diversity of composition of society and remaining neutral and non-stigmatizing (tall order for such a centralized state). More than a state-corporate nexus, what is needed is a state-civil society nexus whose prime directive should be capacity-building (in Sen’s sense) and not social reproduction. Equality of results involves the promotion and defense of a diversity of life-trajectories against stigmatization and discrimination.

Currently, entire territories have been abandoned as their denizens are considered incapable of innovation or creativity, socially marginalized and excluded, and criminalized (and convenient political scapegoats every time Sarkozy falls too low in the polls). Such exclusion and stigmatization represent a threat to social cohesion as tensions between groups are inevitable in such unequal contexts.

But such a worthwhile social project requires a horizon of 15 to 20 years of social policy. Needless to say, politicians prefer to look the other way.

Trickle up – Trickle Down – How (In)Equality Matters

Via Jessica Sherwood on Twitter, what a great representation of the effect of inequality on income. So, let’s play. I used $45,000 income, which is roughly average in the US.

So, at current inequality level in the US:

Now, if we had instead Sweden’s much greater redistribution:


On the other hand, if we had levels of inequality comparable to Brazil:

Oh goodness.

Also note how the dials on the right-hand side change as inequalities go up or down.

Your turn.

Patriarchy and Social Control


“A 72-year-old Ghanaian woman [pictured left before she was taken to a hospital] has been burned to death on suspicion of being a witch, prompting condemnation from the country’s human rights groups.

Ama Hemmah was allegedly tortured into confessing she was a witch, doused in kerosene and set alight. She suffered horrific burns and died the following day.

Belief in witchcraft is relatively common in Ghana but there was widespread revulsion at the killing.

Hemmah, from Tema, was allegedly attacked by a group of five people, one of whom is an evangelical pastor, Ghana‘s Daily Graphic reported.

Three women and two men have been arrested. They are Nancy Nana Ama Akrofie, 46, photographer Samuel Ghunney, 50, Emelia Opoku, 37, Mary Sagoe, 52, and pastor Samuel Fletcher Sagoe, 55.

The suspects say the death was an accident and deny committing any crime. They claim they were trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the woman by rubbing anointing oil on her but it accidentally caught fire.

Augustine Gyening, assistant police commissioner, told the Daily Graphic that Sagoe saw Hemmah sitting in his sister’s bedroom on 20 November and raised an alarm, attracting the attention of people in the neighbourhood.

Gyening added that the suspects claimed Hemmah was a known witch and subjected her to severe torture, compelling her to confess. He said Ghunney then asked Opoku for a gallon of kerosene and with the help of his accomplices poured it over the victim and set her ablaze.”

An accusation of witchcraft and the consequences of such accusations (torture and death) are mechanisms of religious and patriarchal power. Religious leaders, mostly men, maintain their power through supposed power to spot witches and exorcise them. They capitalize on superstitious beliefs and social insecurities. Any woman can be a target. It is a stigma that is impossible to avoid or shed.It is a tricky form of deviance because it exists simply by virtue of, not specific actions, but denunciations by others. Therefore, it is impossible to “immunize” oneself against an accusation, since it is not action-based, and it is impossible to fight the accusation either.

See also the video here.

Richard Sennett on Complacent Solidarity

Richard Sennett links complacent solidarity to the 2008 financial crisis. The video (below) is about 90 minutes long. If you don’t want to get through the whole thing, here is the gist:

Complacent solidarity is that of ritualized (bureaucratic) social interactions that are just enough to make deals, with the underlying beliefs that we will always be rich and we’ll have jobs for life (see: Venice, 17th century). Complacent solidarity characterized the elites who ruled the financial world in the past 15 years. It was also what neoliberalism was supposed to cure us of. For the elites, there should be less solidarity. Instead of security, anxiety should be the dominant emotion. This is what has been taught in business schools (and promulgated, I might add, by Alan Greenspan: more insecurity for workers).

And yet, the elites themselves were suffering from complacent solidarity themselves: the market will always go up! Rescue will always happen! The bonds of solidarity are intense because it is a small group (2,000, says Sennett). We will always be rich! We will always control the system! Wealth and power have led to complacent solidarity.

Those affected by the system, but not part of the club, cease to register for those from the select network. These elites cannot consider that there could be anything destructive to the system, a failure of understanding that consequences have effects on others. They do not think about the consequences of what they have done. Even the crisis has not awaken them from that complacency. They think “the system needs to be fixed” rather than “I have destroyed the life of a lot of people”… no one has said that.

We have lived in a highly complacent era, dominated by people who have the power to do harm to a lot of other people. These people from the elite, says Sennett, are incapable of ethical solitude in the sense of stepping back from the network and looking at what they have done outside of the reference group.

So, for Sennett, this class needs to be taken apart, and not just regulated. Their behavior will not be changed by a cap on salaries and bonuses or a few more forms to file with government. This is deeper than that. Anything that does not get them to think “I’ve really hurt a lot of people” will not do. It will be too superficial. Anything that does not get them out of their complacency will be insufficient. The point is taking apart the whole financial architecture (and, it seems to me, the whole transnational capitalist class).

The Visual Du Jour – The Leaks

Der Spiegel has a great interactive feature illustrating the spread and intensity of the leaks by country / year / month:

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the content of these leaks reeks of desperation of a superpower in decline that tries to cling to its power and throw its weight around while some countries try to manipulate it for their own interest (Israel), others combine cajoling with deception (Saudi Arabia), others learn to work around it (Pakistan), while other ignore it (China).

Der Spiegel reaches the same conclusions:

“What, though, do the thousands of documents prove? Do they really show a US which has the world on a leash? Are Washington’s embassies still self-contained power centers in their host countries?

In sum, probably not. In the major crisis regions, an image emerges of a superpower that can no longer truly be certain of its allies — like in Pakistan, where the Americans are consumed by fear that the unstable nuclear power could become precisely the place where terrorists obtain dangerous nuclear material.

There are similar fears in Yemen, where the US, against its better judgement, allows itself to be instrumentalized by an unscrupulous leader. With American military aid that was intended for the fight against al-Qaida, Ali Abdullah Saleh is now able to wage his battle against enemy tribes in the northern part of the country.

Insult to Injury

Even after the fall of Saddam Hussein, it still remained a challenge for the victorious power to assert its will on Iraq. In Baghdad, which has seen a series of powerful US ambassadors — men the international press often like to refer to as American viceroys — it is now up to Vice President Joe Biden to make repeated visits to allied Iraqi politicians in an effort to get them to finally establish a respectable democracy. But the embassy cables make it very clear that Obama’s deputy has made little headway.

Instead, the Americans are forced to endure the endless tirades of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who claims to have always known that the Iraq war was the “biggest mistake ever committed” and who advised the Americans to “forget about democracy in Iraq.” Once the US forces depart, Mubarak said, the best way to ensure a peaceful transition is for there to be a military coup. They are statements that add insult to injury.

On the whole, the cables from the Middle East expose the superpower’s weaknesses. Washington has always viewed it as vital to its survival to secure its share of energy reserves, but the world power is often quickly reduced to becoming a plaything of diverse interests. And it is drawn into the animosities between Arabs and Israelis, Shiites and Sunnis, between Islamists and secularists, between despots and kings. Often enough, the lesson of the documents that have now been obtained, is that the Arab leaders use their friends in Washington to expand their own positions of power.”

Your [Big Chain Cardboard-Tasting] Pizza is Killing Farmers

Via Mitch Wagner, you must read this (yes, fairly longish but well worth it) article on the global social and economic consequences of Big Pizza. I’ll extract just a few snippets:

“But what if that large pie delivered to your doorstep costs more than you think? A number of economists, sociologists, and food scholars claim that the $36 billion-a-year success of Big Pizza has ominous undertones and implications that reach far beyond weighty matters like deciding between extra cheese and anchovies. They argue that the unrelenting push for ever-cheaper pizza ingredients is hurting the planet and driving small and medium-size farms out of business. Some of these farmers feel they have no choice but to move to the megacities sprouting across the globe. Once relocated to urban slums, many find themselves among the estimated 1.1 billion people earning less than $1 a day, an amount that makes it hard to survive, let alone afford Domino’s recent special offer of $5.99 a pie for two medium pizzas. Of the farmers that decide to stay put, some opt for a quicker death, at their own hand.

“We are faced with two possible futures,” says sociologist Harriet Friedmann, Ph.D., a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto. “One is a diversity of crops, of cultures, and of cuisines that can inhabit ecosystems sustainably and produce healthy food for urban centers. The other is long-distance food from nowhere, monocultural systems that aren’t sustainable, and simplified diets, especially for the poor. Global pizza typifies the second option.”

Another outspoken opponent of the circumstances underlying the worldwide pizza trade has been Philip McMichael, Ph.D., a professor of development sociology at Cornell University. He believes that the combined processes of bioindustrialization, the ever-increasing reliance of agro-industry on fossil fuels, and the relentless search for the most rapidly expanding overseas markets has led to a phenomenon he calls “the food regime.” The machinations that lie behind this new world order perform very well when it comes to churning out profits for transnational corporations, but that success comes at considerable social and economic expense, says McMichael. “It’s undermining people who make their living off the land everywhere.””

Sheesh, leave it to the sociologists to be wet blankets. And like Cassandra, they’re never believed, so, the reporter decided to investigate the whole “Big Pizza” process himself.


“It may come as no surprise that the customer base and the economic challenges that concern Peters and Paradise Tomato Kitchens belong to Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars–not to the world’s tomato growers. Indeed, as Big Pizza’s preference for globalized sauce has matured, many of the other farmers who used to make a living growing and selling tomatoes have been pushed out of business.

In Ghana, for example, locally harvested tomatoes were once a staple. But tomato concentrate has destroyed the market there–not to mention the lives of the nearly 2 million people involved in tomato cultivation in one region of the country. Despite Ghana’s farming tradition, it has become the world’s second-largest importer of process tomatoes, after Germany. As a result, according to the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, more than 700 tomato farmers have gone belly-up.

“We do not get good prices for the little harvest,” said Comfort Mantey, a tomato farmer in the Ghanaian community of Matsekope, when she was interviewed for a report on poverty in the region. “The traders tell us their customers now mix fresh tomatoes with imported tomato paste.”

Another tomato farmer, Martin Pwayidi, defaulted on the $2,000 loan he had secured from a bank and sunk into his 4 acres in 2008; no one would buy locally grown tomatoes from him. “I lost everything,” said Pwayidi to one African news outlet. “There was absolutely no reason to live.”

Sadly, this is the same conclusion arrived at by many of Pwayidi’s neighbors: Annual waves of suicides have washed across Ghana’s northern growing regions as some desperate farmers ingested the insecticide they no longer needed for their tomatoes.”


“About half the U.S. milk supply is used to manufacture cheese, and last year’s 10 billion pounds broke all previous production records. Mozzarella recently topped Cheddar as the most popular cheese variety. And where does all that mozzarella go? Onto your pizza, of course.


According to the most recent data, Leprino must buy an astonishing 5 to 7 percent of the total available U.S. milk in order to supply mozzarella to Domino’s and Pizza Hut and everybody else in global pizza.”

And, of course, mozzarella comes from milk and milk farmers are being squeezed by Big Cheese:

“”Farmers have never received less money for their milk,” says John Bunting, a dairyman from the western foothills of the Catskills, in New York State, who also writes a blog that focuses on the plight of dairy farmers. For instance, the area where Bunting lives used to be rich in milk production; as the price of milk has touched bottom, though, it has been plagued by debt and bankruptcy. “There is no one in the country making a living milking cows,” he says. “Not this year, and not last year, either. I get calls every day from just plain desperate farmers. Nobody knows what to do.”

Of course, as the country’s small dairy farmers head into bankruptcy, the largest producers of cheese have prospered. “Kraft and Leprino are on tight margins,” says Bunting. “But they have so many units running past the cash register that Jimmy Leprino can get rich.”

Last year was the worst in at least 30 years for small-scale dairymen, who lost money on every cow on every day of every month, says Bunting. Despite the losses, one upstate New York farmer, Dean Pierson, refused to let go of the 51 milking cows on the land his father had bought. Instead, Pierson took a small-caliber rifle and went through the barn he had built and shot each of his cows through the head. Then he sat down on a chair and put a bullet through his chest.”

And pepperoni:

“”Meat has moved from the periphery of human diet to its center,” says Tony Weis, Ph.D., a geography professor at the University of Western Ontario. “The least efficient converter of feed-to-flesh output is beef cattle,” he adds. He points out that this inefficiency means cattle have much larger land, water, and energy budgets than most people realize. Diverse small farms tend to be much better converters of land and resources into protein and other nutrients than are the grain-fed cattle. As more than a billion farmers in the developing world are going broke, more than a billion cattle are reared on the backs of subsidies. And as the world’s desire for cheap meat increases, so does the need for more acres of corn and wheat for feed, along with devastating increases in all the accompanying diesel fuel, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. In fact, overall, agriculture is responsible for about 30 percent of total emissions of greenhouse gases, and livestock accounts for more than half of that.

“You have an increasing global demand for pepperoni pizza,” says Weis. “How is this going to be sustained with near-term rising energy costs when so much fossil energy is embedded in the pepperoni?””

And, of course, this does not even take into account the health consequences of this. For instance, the fact that more and more people are acid reducers on a permanent basis, the obesity issue due to eating that stuff. So, cheap pizza comes at the price of increased health care costs.

And as a French person, I would add that it comes at the cost of younger generations not knowing what real food tastes like, which is a shame.

Anyway, as they say, go read the whole thing.

Framing Crime and Punishment

It is “interesting” how discussions of crime and punishment vary based on the social classes of offenders.

Take this example, for instance, by Laurent Mucchielli, regarding financial criminality:

Despite recurring complaints from the financial world (and especially in the context of the 2008 financial crisis), economic criminality is hardly the target of out-of-control justice systems (in France and, I would add, in the US). When the justice system goes after financial criminals, it hits on the margins of that world (see Bernie Madoff). And when such criminality is discussed, it is in surprisingly understanding and soft terms: questions are raised regarding the effectiveness of the laws in place in terms of punishment; concerns are raised as to whether the state overreaches and whether punishment really fits the crime (who was hurt, after all) and one ponders the effects of excessive punishment on social regulation (will anyone EVER want to be a trader again if they get sanctioned?).

More than that, in times where the slightest act of deviance from the projects raises the specter of out of control youth and gets helpfully hyped and overreported in the media, such is not the case on elite deviance:

“It has been called the potential “[tax] evasion of the century”. But only once.

On 19 November, a Milan prosecutor asked for two of the most famous names in fashion – Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana – to be put on trial. But there has been barely a murmur about it in the Italian press.

Dolce, Gabbana and their company are accused of dodging tax on income of more than €1bn (£850m) – an amount that dwarfs the sums in previous Italian celebrity tax scandals.

The affair is potentially highly embarrassing for the “Gilbert and George of Italian fashion”, a duo whose sexy, baroque, often gilded designs have won the admiration and loyalty of celebrities including Victoria Beckham and Madonna.

Dolce and Gabbana are charged with defrauding the state over their taxes. If sent for trial, they risk being jailed for up to five years.

News of the prosecutor’s request – which now goes before a judge – might therefore have been expected to be front-page news in Italy, and a staple for discussion on chatshows and in the paparazzi gossip mags.

But Corriere della Sera, Milan’s leading newspaper, gave the story 126 words. La Stampa thought it deserved 87. La Repubblica, a third big Italian daily, ignored it altogether.

And since it was barely reported in the Italian press, the story was missed by all but the specialist fashion media elsewhere, the sole exception in Britain being an online newspaper site.”

Hey, who would want to lose these advertising monies?

On the other hand, when it comes to non-elite deviance, the tone changes:

“The government has been urged to overhaul community sentences in England and Wales to place the emphasis on intensive physical labour.

A survey by right-leaning think tank Policy Exchange found that 60% of 2,000 people polled thought the sentences were “soft” or “weak”.

The think tank said community sentences were flawed and should be replaced by more punitive “work orders”.


His report comes ahead of a government announcement on plans for changes to rehabilitation which could see less jail time and more community orders for offenders.

Victims’ commissioner Louise Casey questioned whether making tea or costumes for the Notting Hill Carnival was sufficient punishment.

She said community sentences should be tough, intensive and visible to communities affected by the offenders’ actions.

“It’s as if the legal principle of punishment in sentencing is somehow unseemly – rather than a legitimate and correct response to those who step outside society’s agreed rules,” she said.

“To have the confidence of those who pass sentence, the public and of victims in particular, this must change.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are looking at how private and voluntary sector providers can be involved in running community sentences to make them more rigorous, ensure proper compliance, and deliver better value for the taxpayer.”

Well, one quick look at US prisons would dispose of the notion that harsh punishment reduces crime and recidivism. No questioning of whether the punishment fits the crime, whether a punitive logic is relevant at all, no soul-searching regarding society-wide consequences of a purely punitive system. The only discussion revolves around how hard must hard labor be in order to foster compliance. And nothing like privatization to get results (gotta love the business attitude: better value for the customer taxpayer).

The reality is this: in this quasi-social Darwinist worldview, wealthy people create their own wealth, and if they cheat a bit on the side, well, that is a small price to pay for their creative energies. Therefore, such deviance must be treated with indulgence for fear that punishment become a disincentive. Only the most egregious cases will be treated with the full force of the law (or those case too visible to ignore, like Enron).

Lower-class people, on the other hand, are useless, shiftless and a burden on the system. Their criminality is “cultural”, a rejection of the norms of society rather than a quirk that we must learn to tolerate because we all benefit from all the trickling-down. They need disciplining (in the sense of Discipline and Punish).

Instead of One-Size-Fit-All Austerity, Iceland Tries Something Different

Democracy, what a concept:

“Iceland is to review its constitution in a unique experiment in direct democracy that will see citizens forming a new people’s assembly.

An election tomorrow will select up to 31 citizens who will form the constitutional assembly that will convene early next year. Those elected will receive a salary equal to that of Iceland’s MPs while the review takes place.

One candidate, Thorvaldur Gylfason, a professor of economics at the University of Iceland, said the country needed a fresh start after its economic implosion in 2008. “We need to ensure that the sort of malpractice and negligence that… led to the collapse of the Icelandic economy two years ago, cannot happen again.”

Berghildur Erla Bergthorsdottir, the spokeswoman for the organising committee, said: “This is the first time in the history of the world that a nation’s constitution is reviewed in such a way.”

“We are hoping this new constitution will be a new social covenant leading to reconstruction and reconciliation, and for that to happen, the entire nation needs to be involved,” said the prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir.””

Of course, who knows what will come out of this but at least it is better than the one-size-fit-all of “let’s make the masses pay for the greed and recklessness of the financial sector and the wealthy.” And this might go a long way towards reducing the crisis of legitimacy or, to remain Habermasian, the colonization of the lifeworld by the system.

The Visual Du Jour – Digital Divide

Via Pew Internet,

And as the report notes, these inequalities also apply to other devices:

“The relatively well-to-do are also more likely than those in lesser-income households to own a variety of information and communications gear.

  • 79% of those living in households earning $75,000 or more own desktop computers, compared with 55% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 79% of those living in higher-income households own laptops, compared with 47% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 70% of those living in higher-income households own iPods or other MP3 players, compared with 42% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 54% of those living in higher-income households own game consoles, compared with 41% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 12% of those living in higher-income households own e-book readers such as Kindles, compared with 3% of those living in less well-off homes.
  • 9% of those living in higher-income households own tablet computers such as iPads, compared with 3% of those living in less well-off homes.”

My Thanksgiving Rant – Gender Edition (With Profanity)

This …

… got me riled up.

This is what it’s all about:

“The revelation in the news yesterday of an IMF proposal to lower the income tax rate of Irish women returning to the workforce by five percentage points, was greeted with bemusement swiftly followed by derision.

A number of angry men were quick to cry foul, branding the initiative “sexist”. One popular daytime radio presenter described it as a “tax cut for the girls” and went so far as to speculate that any additional take-home pay resulting from what he branded a “sexist law” would be spent on “shopping and hair”.”

Here goes: why does any measure that might benefit women be systematically have to also benefit everybody else in order to be seen as legitimate? Why isn’t it enough that it benefits women? How many pages have we read stating that educating girls in the periphery would is great because it benefits society as a whole? Isn’t educating girls a good in and of itself? Do we ever ask these questions for policies that mostly benefit men?

I mean, look at the article above: an inequality exists that benefits men, then a measure is proposed to correct it and it’s called “sexist”, then a columnist has then to justify it as “no, really, it’s ok, it won’t just benefit women, it will benefit everybody.” Because benefiting women is considered just not enough, not legitimate.

When Tenured Radical discussed the importance of women’s colleges, commenter flooded the comment section arguing that these womanly concerns were elitist and that class / race issues needed to be resolved FIRST, then, only then, would tackling gender issues be a legitimate concern.

Screw it, I say:

Educating girls everywhere in the world is a good thing in itself.

Reducing all kinds of gender inequalities is a good thing in itself.

Empowering women with their bodies through reproductive freedom is a good thing in itself.

These things do benefit society as a whole. But they would be no less good and legitimate if they benefited women and girls exclusively.

The flip side of this, of course, is that women-only suffering and exploitation and exclusion tend to be ignored and not dealt with as seriously.

Example the first (Women the human mules of Congo’s gold mines):

Women of Congo

And that’s on top of the mass rapes that these women have to endure.

Example the second:

“An Indian village has banned unmarried women from using mobile phones for fear they will arrange forbidden marriages that are often punished by death, a local official said today.

The Lank village council decided unmarried boys could use mobile phones, but only under parental supervision, said one council member, Satish Tyagi. Local women’s rights group criticised the measure as backward and unfair.

Marriages between members of the same clan are forbidden under Hindu custom in some parts of northern India, where unions are traditionally arranged by families. In conservative rural areas, families sometimes mete out extreme punishments, including “honour killings”, for those who violate marriage taboos. In some cases, village councils themselves have ordered the punishments, though police often intervene to stop them.

The Lank village council feared young men and women were secretly calling one another to arrange to elope.

Last month, 34 couples eloped in Muzaffarnagar district, where Lank is located, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, police said. Among the couples who did so, eight “honour killings” have been reported in the past month, police said.

“Three girls were beheaded by the male members of their family after they eloped,” said the police assistant director general, Brij Lal, in the state capital of Lucknow.”

So, angry dudes in Ireland: THIS (above) is sexist. Reducing gender inequalities is not. And until I hear you guys complain about all the large and small forms of sexism that women endure around the world, day in and day out, F!@# Off!

“Slums, however deadly and insecure, have a bright future”

UN Habitat has just published its State of African Cities 2010: Governance, Inequality and Urban Land Market. Globally, the 21st century is and will continue to be an urban century, but especially so in the periphery. As the report states:

“In 2009 Africa’s total population for the first time exceeded one billion, of which 395 million (or almost 40 per cent) lived in urban areas. Whereas it took 27 years for the continent to double from 500 million to one billion people, the next 500 million will only take 17 years. Around 2027, Africa’s demographic growth will start to slow down and it will take 24 years to add the next 500 million, reaching the two billion mark around 2050, of which about 60 per cent living in cities. Africa should prepare for a total population increase of about 60 per cent between 2010 and 2050, with the urban population tripling to 1.23 billion during this period.

Strong demographic growth in a city is neither good nor bad on its own. Experience shows that across the world, urbanisation has been associated with improved human development, rising incomes and better living standards. However, these benefits do not come automatically; they require well-devised public policies that can steer demographic growth, turn urban accumulation of activities and resources into healthy economies, and ensure equitable distribution of wealth. When public policies are of benefit only for small political or economic elites, urbanisation will almost inevitably result in instability, as cities become unliveable for rich and poor alike.

Around 2030, Africa’s collective population will become 50 per cent urban. The majority of political constituencies will then live in cities, demanding means of subsistence, shelter and services. African governments should take early action to position themselves for predominantly urban populations. In the early 2040s, African cities will collectively be home to one billion, equivalent to the continent’s total population in 2009. Since cities are the future habitat for the majority of Africans, now is the time for spending on basic infrastructure, social services (health and education) and affordable housing, in the process stimulating urban economies and generating much- needed jobs. Deferring these investments to the 2040s simply will not do. Not a single African government can afford to ignore the ongoing rapid urban transition. Cities must become priority areas for public policies, with investment to build adequate governance capacities, equitable services delivery, affordable housing provision and better wealth distribution. If cities are to meet these needs, municipal finance must be strengthened with more fiscal freedom and own-source funding.”

This growth is dramatically illustrated by the following graph:

African Urban 2010

By cities:

African Urban Table 2010

These policy recommendations are all well and good but one has to wonder how developing countries are expected to fulfill them, especially those relating to massive public investments in infrastructure and human capital, considering the history of structural adjustment policies imposed by institutions of global governance upon these countries. The state of urban Africa has everything to do with what Mike Davis calls being “SAPed”.

As Mike Davis states in Planet of Slums:

“Slums, however deadly and secure, have a brilliant future. The countryside will for a short period still contain the majority of the world’s poor, but that dubious distinction will pass to urban slums no later than 2035. At least half of the coming Third World urban population explosion will be credited to the account of informal communities. Two billion slum-dwellers by 2030 or 2040 is a monstrous, almost incomprehensible prospect, but urban poverty overlaps and exceeds slum populations per se. Researchers with the UN Urban Observatory project warn that by 2020, “urban poverty in the world could reach 45 to 50 percent of the total population living the cities.” (151)

But as Davis demonstrates, this is not something that just happens. This is the culmination of 40 years of global development policy imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, and that has been a massive failure, practically everywhere it has been imposed. Rural peasant families do not move to already overcrowded cities, with uncertain prospects just because it looks fun. Part of the structural adjustment policies (SAPs) involved removal of subsidies, tariffs and price control / support on agricultural goods. As a result, peripheral peasants became unable to compete with heavily subsidized American and European agricultural goods. So, when they can no longer make a living, they more to urban areas.

At the same time, SAPs also required the shrinking of the public sector, lay off of workers, diminution of state capacities, and the privatization of the most basic services such as health care and education. So, these new urban dwellers faced a situation of unemployment and lack of basic services at a time where the people already there were facing downward mobility. As always, along with the losers (those who ended up in the food riots), there were winners at the SAPs games: privatizers, foreign importers, organized crimes, traffickers of all kinds, military and political elites.

And unsurprisingly, there is a gender aspect to this:

“As male formal employment opportunities disappeared, mothers, sisters, and wives were typically forced to bear far more than half the weight of urban structural adjustment. (…) As geographer Sylvia Chant emphasizes, poor urban women under SAPs had to work harder both inside and outside the home to compensate for cuts in social service expenditures and male incomes; simultaneously new or increased user fees further limited their access to education and healthcare. Somehow, they were expected to cope. Indeed, some researchers argue that SAPs cynically exploit the belief that women labor-power is almost infinitely elastic in the face of household survival needs. This is the guilty secret variable in most neoclassical equations of economic adjustment: poor women and their children are expected to lift the weight of the Third World debt upon their shoulders.” (158)

And so, women went to work in economic development zones, in the formal sector, in the informal sector, in the illegal sector, anywhere there was a little money to be made… and then, especially in Africa, the AIDS crisis started (poverty-imposed prostitution for poor women was a part of the story).  No wonder the 1980s was called the Lost Decade.

But in the current context, it looks like we’re all in for more shock therapy.