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It’s… Nobel Week! October 14, 2009

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Politics.
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Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom for her Nobel Prize in economics. It’s refreshing to see a political theorist win the coveted prize and I’d like to see this trend continue. I personally disagree with the view that economics is somehow more “scientific” that political theory or sociology. By exclusively rewarding market theorists, we’ve been cementing the notion that economics is a stand-alone discipline that can successfully exist independently of a social and political context. In fact, this should have been a social sciences prize all along.

According to Robert Shiller, a Yale University economist, “this award is part of the merging of the social sciences. Economics has been too isolated and too stuck on the view that markets are efficient and self-regulating. It has derailed our thinking.”

As for Ms. Ostrom’s work:

Ms. Ostrom’s work deals in the concept of “commons” shared by a number of people who earn their living from a common resource and have a stake, therefore, in preserving it. Her most recent research has focused on relatively small forests in undeveloped countries. Groups of people share the right to harvest lumber from a particular forest, and so they have a stake in making sure the forest survives (NY Times).

I’m interested in seeing what implications her work may have on architecture. Privatization of land has always been used as a solution to the overexploitation of a common resource, otherwise known as the tragedy of the commons. In particular, I’m thinking of public space – the private shopping mall vs. the public street. Could our public spaces be designed and/or programmed in such a way as to encourage the kind of behaviour Ms. Ostrom is describing?

What do you have to say? February 28, 2009

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Art and Design, Politics.
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“Welcome to Palestine. After 620 kilometers of fence & Wall, all around, you are back where you were.”

These words can be found on www.sendamessage.nl, a website set up by a Dutch marketing group paired with local Palestinian NGOs. And thanks to them, you can now “buy” a message on the wall, have it spraypainted by Palestinian volunteers and even get digital photographs of your wall art emailed to you. In a true globalised fashion, anyone today within reach of a computer can leave their trace in an area they would most likely never have any physical access to.

From wedding proposals to humour to political statements, there is no limit to what can be seen painted on the concrete barrier. It not only provides financial relief to Palestinians whose livelihoods have been affected by the wall but also questions the nature of the separation, one post at a time.

As one contributor put it… “love conquers (w)all”

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I saw it on TV, it must be true! November 28, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Here’s a very interesting article on Reagan’s PR man, Michael Deaver, whose ideas helped shape the relation between politics and media.

I suppose this one’s the ‘black sheep’ of his legacy…

Where’s Afghanistan? May 8, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Is it just me or has Afghanistan faded considerably from mainstream news coverage? A full blown invasion was launched by the US and supplemented by NATO forces in 2001 to capture Ben Laden, rid Afghanistan of the Taliban and destroy Al-Qaeda. Five years later, it’s time to look back and measure the results. The plight of the Afghan people hasn’t improved much and in 2006, Afghanistan was rated 10th on the failed states index, up from 11th in 2005. In case you’re curious, the least vulnerable states are Finland, Norway and Sweden. And one more thing, Al Qaeda’s activities have increased in the area.

Back in September, a young Afghan MP, Malalai Joya, spoke to students at McGill University. Her message is clear: the US and NATO forces aren’t doing much to help the country as long as they keep throwing their support behind local warlords. An astounding 60% of the deputies in Afghanistan’s lower house are “directly or indirectly connected to current and past human rights abuses”. Joya’s message to Canada is that it must act independently of the US in terms of Afghan foreign policy. Given Canada’s position in NATO, I find that not only is that highly unlikely, it would probably not help much. All of the forces as well as the aid agencies currently serving there need to focus their attention on building a state, not just short-term action and policies. That means rehabilitating warriors, building and securing roads to foster trade, and most importantly providing security to the Afghans by taking power away from the warlords.

I’m not arguing for or against the decision to invade. Nor am I arguing for or against a withdrawal. And I’m certainly not belittling the work of the troops and aid workers currently in Afghanistan. What I’m ranting about here is what consistently strikes me as a disregard for post-invasion strategies. There was a military plan but there doesn’t seem to have been a civilian plan ready to be implemented right after the invasion. The warlords should have been removed from power at the very beginning of the invasion; the more time goes by, the harder it will be. And the more the work of aid workers and troops will be undermined. In a country that’s been ravaged by three decades of war, creating a sound democracy and therefore gaining the trust of the Afghans would have done much more to ensure the safety of the troops than any defensive measures. As long as the Afghans don’t feel secure in their homeland, the road will be paved for extremism. After all, it was the terror of the post-soviet mujahideen nights (read: warlords) that brought the Taliban along in the first place. They had promised security, along with it came intolerance. It wasn’t the other way around.

Sarah Chayes notes in her book that “the time for writing the Taliban story was five years ago”. Back when the Taliban were still in power, that’s when we should have been hearing about their blatant human rights abuses. Now is the time to write about the post-taliban era.

Turkey’s big hype May 2, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Turkey’s up in arms over the parliament’s election of a member of the ruling AKP party, Abdallah Gul, as president. The AKP’s Islamist roots seem to be worrying the radical secularists, all those headscarves and what not… In fact, the military, self-proclaimed defender of Kemalist principles, is threatening to forcibly oust Gul if he takes on the leadership.

This raises the issue of the apparent conflict between Islamic agendas and a secular democracy. But while it may look like Turkey is trying to decide for one or the other, what kind of secular democracy is it really when the ultimate reigns of power lie in the hands of its military? The truth is that the AKP was democratically elected and as shown in Erdogan’s last few years in power, they’ve proven to be fairly moderate.

Matthew Yglesias goes to the point of comparing the AKP to the American Republican party. I think that’s interesting, and it’s true that the Republicans’ constant use of Christian rhetoric to appeal to their voters does not make them any less democratic.

In a time of exportable democracies, it’s a debate that’s very relevant to the region and ultimately, whatever Turkey decides will influence the surrounding areas. Secularism and Islamism can both be taken to the level of uncompromising radicalism, so where do you draw the line? Personally, like one of Yglesias’s commentators, I’m a bit torn here between the protesters, keen on safeguarding their secular Kemalist heritage, and a moderate democratically elected Islamist-based ruling party. New elections have been called out (the speed of which I find impressive, crowds seldom have this much influence elsewhere), now what happens if the AKP wins again?