Friday 24 February 2012

In Print and Online ; Further Greetings

Unsurprisingly, I wasn`t the only one posting birthday greetings to W E B Du Bois yesterday.

I`d like to single out just one that I particularly liked ;

Happy Birthday W E B DuBois !, posted by bluemountainecards, 23 Feb 2012 at .

Their Du Bois posting is excellent, and well worth a read.

Their blog, as you may notice, is actually for an American-based ecard company. In addition to promoting their own products,  they post recipes and poems,  send birthday greetings to individuals as varied as W.E.B. Du Bois ,  Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Lear  and John Lennon,  provide potted histories of Mardi Gras and Kwanzaa, and note events such as Valentine`s Day, Winter Solstice, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month, Rosh Hashanah and much else.

 How anyone could not like this intriguing blog is quite beyond me ! Next time you have a few minutes to spare, give it a look.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr Du Bois !

W E B Du Bois was born 23 February 1868.

What would he make of our world today ?

Over at , Robert W Williams comments "In a world that can be improved to promote the highest ideals of knowledge, peace and love, I would like to think that the progressive spirit of Du Bois lives on."

He asks himself where this spirit can be found and considers the implications of what we used to call `new technology`; "High-tech communications permit wider and speedier interactivity across the globe itself. It is an interconnectivity which challenges what we mean by the terms `global` and `local`."

His comments are echoed by the writer of  an editorial in a recent British Humanist Association newsletter (Unsigned - We Are Citizens of the World - BHA Newsletter 30 January 2012, at ) ;

"We are finding new ways of keeping in touch with each other. This, at times, can make the world seem very small and enables our actions to have a much wider impact. New technology and ways of communicating constantly remind us that we are citizens of the world."

Online campaigning groups are everywhere it seems. It`s worth stressing that these may be quite different in character according to the time and place in which they find themselves; Move On in the US is firmly rooted in the Democratic Party while 38 Degrees, it`s sister organisation in the UK, where distrust of politicians is more widespread, is viewed by many ( most ?) of it`s supporters as an alternative to existing political structures.

 However, the point made by Dr Williams and our anonymous humanist, that the local has become global, retains it`s validity it seems to me.

Are there pitfalls to be found ? Inevitably, new forms of organisation throw up new difficulties and it`s worth remembering that staff of these organisations tend to be appointed rather than elected.

Dr Williams has another point to make ; "I am also aware that there is a digital divide which separates the electronically outfitted, jacked in and techno savvy from those less technologically equipped  and trained. It is a divide that spotlights the unequal material relationships in which we as humans are implicated. Such disparities would probably alarm Du Bois, and might have provided him with further evidence of poverty amidst plenty (or maybe because of it)." 

These concerns have implications for practical matters such as the provision of public services. Dr Williams` comments reminded me of an article I read recently by Ayub Khan,  an official connected with the Library Service in Warwickshire, UK ; "There are still millions of people who have never used the internet, many of whom are what society politely calls `disadvantaged` . Around 23% of households don`t have an internet connection. For the unconnected, real libraries...are a way of joining the digital world and not feeling so left behind." (Ayub Khan - Where Next for Libraries, , 2 Feb 2012 , posted in the blog section) .

Dr Du Bois led a long and active life characterised by many idealogical twists and turns. Many individuals and organisations claim continuity with his work. A variety of schools of thought, some mutually exclusive, claim him as their precursor or their adherent. Some have accused him of inconsistency, but whatever changes of outlook he may have embraced, his "progressive spirit" remained constant. If we are looking, as Dr Williams suggests, for the true spirit of the man then in addition to the `usual suspects` , maybe we should also look among the less exalted souls campaiging in support of local services and to regenerate run-down neighbourhoods.

I can think of no better way to end this article than by quoting Dr Williams once again ;

"Dr Du Bois` spirit remains vital and cogent even today."

Happy Birthday, W E B Du Bois !

Thanks once again to Nottingham-based author Dr Tony Shaw for use of his pictures. Visit him at .


Wednesday 22 February 2012

In Print and Online ; W E B Du Bois in the News

 I`m happy to say that W E B Du Bois still manages to remain in the news ;

Ernie Suggs - CAU on a Yearlong Journey Into the "Soul" of Du Bois - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Tues 21 Feb 2012 (

Nicole Peinado - W E B Du Bois Receives Honorary Emeritus Professorship - The Daily Pennsylvanian, 19 Feb 2012 (

The former article is particularly interesting as it includes a few comments from one of Du Bois` few surviving students, Evelyn Jenkins Carroll, now 95 years old.

Updates ; The Endorois People of Kenya`s Rift Valley

The Endorois people of Kenya are a semi-nomadic indigenous group of around 60,000 people who for centuries have made their living herding goats and cattle in the Lake Bogoria area of the Rift Valley.

In the `70s, their land was appropriated from them by the Kenyan government to create the Lake Bogoria National Reserve.

In February 2010 the African Union adopted a decision by the African Commission on Human and People`s Rights recognising indigenous people`s rights over traditionally occupied land and their right to be involved in, and to benefit from, any development affecting their land.

The decisions made by the AU and ACHPR were generally considered to be a landmark development.

Additionally, it is now considered best practise to involve local communities from the outset when establishing nature reserves and similar projects.

Two years after this historic decision, the Minority Rights Group has criticised "the Kenyan government`s lack of commitment to ensuring justice for the Endorois people" and has urged the authorities "to immediately restore ownership to the community of their ancestral lands around the Lake Bogoria National Reserve".

For the full story, see MRG press release "Two Years on From African Commision`s Ruling, Kenya Continues to Drag it`s Feet..." dated 1 Feb 2012, at .

Friday 17 February 2012

In Print and Online ; Earth Summit Blues

A panel of international environmental scientists believe that Earth Summit 2012, scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro in June of this year, is doomed to fail.

The solutions they are looking for, they now acknowledge, may not lie with governments at all. Apparently this come as a surprise to them. 

Prominent among them is Bob Watson, whose full title is fact Professor Sir Robert Watson FRS, but who prefers the more friendly `Bob` as a term of address.

For full details, see Fred Pearce - Earth Summit is Doomed to Fail, Say Leading Ecologists, 10 Feb 2012 at

In Print and Online ; Food for Thought ?

"We must plan adequately for the food crises that emerge within our broken food system, and we must finally acknowledge how broken it is. Only when we are honest about hunger will the world`s most vulnerable populations receive the short-term aid and the long-term support that they need."

So wrote Olivier de Schutter (Famine Isn`t an Extreme Event..., , 30 Jan 2012, in the Povertymatters Blog).

Responses to his piece have been mixed. Socialist Banner (a blog devoted mainly to issues related to Africa  run by members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain ) dismissed it as "tinkering with the system") . I wouldn`t dismiss de Schutter`s ideas so readily, myself.

Comments posted by Guardian readers, perhaps inevitably, make dispiriting reading.

Few of those responding actually discussed de Schutter`s proposals, and many seemed predisposed to make big, empty, sweeping statements that did little to bring about meaningful discussion. I strongly suspect that many had little concept of differences within and between African nations - rural, urban, arid, `not arid` (what`s the opposite of arid ? I can`t think of the word). It follows that few could deal with any further complexities (some smaller African nations have a very limited product base, others produce  a variety of goods and services).

As far as I can see, what is needed is more discussion and better-informed discussion, which hopefully will lead to a clearer insight into the problem.

Thursday 16 February 2012

In Print and Online ; Aid for Haiti

"You might say it [US rice sent as food aid to Haiti] is a perfect metaphor for what is wrong with aid to Haiti. Instead of bringing subsidized rice in on ships from Miami, we could be helping Haiti grow rice in it`s own fields."

American journalist Donovan Webster has recently penned a series of articles on Haiti for , one of which, containing the above quote, has also been reproduced  at (Haiti ; Where Did the Money Go ?, 11 Jan 2012), and subsequently recycled by various bloggers.

Some in the UK may be surprised to know that the quote actually came from a representative of Oxfam America.

Whether Oxfam is in any position to comment on the effective use of resources is debateable, given it`s own chequered history. In fairness though, in the early to mid-`80s, Oxfam UK was a key player in an almost-forgotten initiative, The Campaign for Real Aid, and published Tony Jackson and Deborah Eade`s Against The Grain, a book that asked some very hard questions about the value of food aid.

Those were different times and some would say that was a different Oxfam. Are they about to reclaim lost territory ? We wait and see.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

In Print and Online ; International Citizens ?

International Citizen Service is a scheme proposed by the UK government designed to give young people the chance to volunteer in some of the poorest communities in the world.

In many ways this could be a thoroughly laudable project, but it is also one fraught with potential pitfalls, especially when one considers the criticisms that have been aimed at organisations like Voluntary Service Overseas in the past.

Think tank Demos is also aware of the dangers.

A newspaper article late last year (Sarah Harris - Is the Gap Losing it`s Lure ? - Daily Mail 6 Sept 2011), indicated that Demos welcomed the intiative and the possible benefits for young people`s job prospects, but "pointed out that projects must be properly planned". Jonathan Birdwell, author of the group`s report `Service International` was quoted as saying "There is a risk of such programmes perpetuating negative stereotypes of Western `colonialism` and `charity`, a new way for the West to assert it`s power. And projects that do not appear to have benefits for communities abroad leave volunteers unmotivated and disaffected."

The group`s web site explain that the report draws on "the most recent research on the impact of overseas volunteering, best practise and experiences from similar schemes in other countries". Generally their comments seem supportive of the government`s initiative, but they stress that "it must ensure that the programmes both have a direct benefit to the communities abroad and recruit young people who wouldn`t otherwise consider such an experience, and who would most benefit."

The important point to remember here, I think, is that the days of "all aid is good aid" (if they ever existed) have long since gone.

The Demos report can be downloaded free of charge from .

The Daily Mail followed Sarah Harris` initial article with two more quoting from the report, both signed only by `Daily Mail Reporter` and both boasting rather more combative headlines than Ms Harris` piece ; A Waste of Time that Raises the Spectre of Colonialism ; Damning Verdct on Parts of Gap Year (1 Aug 2011) and Gap Years Are "A Waste of Time" and Risk "Perpetuating Colonialism" (2 Aug 2011).

The actual articles are, in fact, rather more balanced than the headlines indicate !

The choice of language used in the headlines and indeed some of the comments made in the articles may surprise many, given that the Mail is generally regarded as a `true blue` Conservative paper. It may well be a case where ideas and attitudes that were once effectively sidelined have now become far more pervasive.  For anyone wanting to read the articles, the Daily Mail website is at .

The International Citizen Service is currently being put into practise on a small scale on a trial basis. It`s expected that it will be rolled out more completely at the end of it`s pilot year, which will be some time this month, I believe.


Wednesday 8 February 2012

Robeson Remembered

The US Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica has named it`s Information Resource Centre (I think that`s what the rest of us call a `library` !) for Paul Robeson after running an essay competition for the island`s school students during 2011.

Winning entrant Kathy Smith focussed on Paul Robeson in her essay The Soul of a Continent. Ms Smith has now left school and is a first year law student at the University of the West Indies.

For more details ;

We will be looking at the life and times of Paul Robeson in future postings.