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“Speaking truth to power” and the trillion dollar war machine

A commentary I recently contributed to The Guardian (London), arguing that awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, was unlikely to advance the cause of peace in China, drew many predictable ripostes from readers on the Guardian site, and some further flurries of bemused contempt in the China-punditry blogosphere (eg, here). It’s ironic how unwilling so many Western liberals are to hear dissenting voices in their own communities, and depressing how a technologically expanded “public sphere” so soon fills up with sound and fury signifying rather little.

Liang Congjie (梁从诫), friend of sanity

Liang Congjie, historian and founder of China’s best-known environmental NGO, Friends of Nature, died in Beijing on October 28, 2010, aged 78.

U.S. “special forces” not needed in central Africa

Published (with some edits that are omitted here) on the website of The Guardian (London) on November 29 2010.

It is hard to imagine a more evil man than Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who heads the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and President Obama’s new strategy for rooting him out has won praise from US activists who campaigned vigorously for “the humanitarian use of force” in the region.

Yet the pledge to "apprehend or remove from the battlefield Joseph Kony and senior commanders [of the LRA]" in fact contains little that is new, risks fanning the dying embers of the conflict, and perpetuates US efforts at geopolitical steering of Africa.

British aid retreats from idealism

Published in The East African on November 8, 2010

Why, at the same time as slashing £81 billion off public spending by cutting welfare allowances and shedding half a million jobs, has Britain’s Conservative-Liberal government pledged to keep increasing aid abroad?

Social justice is the big development issue

Published in Uganda’s Daily Monitor on September 20.

Delegates gathering in New York this week to discuss progress on Millennium Development Goals that were agreed in 2000 will hear calls for redoubling efforts to meet 2015 targets, given evidence that many countries, including Uganda, are not ‘on track.’

There is no Chinese template for development

Published in Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor on September 14.

It is good to see a debate about the extent to which Uganda can learn from China unfolding in the Daily Monitor’s pages. (Editorial, August 25; James Kahoza’s Comment, September 7). This reflects the growing, and essentially positive, feeling that Africa now has wider development opportunities than in recent decades.

But the Chinese would be the first to point out that their renaissance has derived from a determination to find their own path, through an experimental process of ‘feeling the stones to cross the stream.’ This has, certainly, involved learning from others: but selectively so, adapting lessons to the Chinese context, rather than importing ‘models’ wholesale.

Mind the civility gap

A few pleasant days in London entertaining small grandsons—chasing pigeons in the park, stamping in puddles, riding on trains and buses—are marred only by occasional incivility, which first surfaces at the London Transport Museum.

At the dentist

Tom Mutyabule may or may not be a brilliant dentist, that’s not the kind of call I could make, but he is certainly a charming one and an accomplished salesman.

The dream of reason produces monsters

A day is not long to spend in Madrid, and the two hours we can spare for the Museo del Prado are hardly sufficient, so we ignore most of its treasures and concentrate on Goya.

Over the hill

We go up the valley looking for Lorenzo, who grazes his cows on our patch of mountain. Twenty seven cows this year, not much to keep a family on, but not too bad either. Smallholder husbandry has declined steadily in the years that we’ve been coming to Cantabria, but Lorenzo seems to be clinging on somehow, almost thriving. He has Parkinson’s disease, causing a distracting shake to the hands that he clasps around a long walking staff, so it takes some time to notice the surprisingly jaunty twinkle in his eye.

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