27 December 2012

Thought for the day: failed states

What are our political leaders trying to hide when they refer to certain countries as ‘failed states’? In an article for a forthcoming issue of Globalizations, Saskia Sassen makes the following pointed comment about such language:
Such language represents the facts of these states’ decay as set in a historic vacuum, a function of their own weaknesses and corruptions. These states are indeed weak, they are mostly corrupt, and they have cared little about the wellbeing of their citizens. But it is important to remember that it is and was often the vested interests of foreign governments and firms that enabled the corruption and the weakening of these states; and good leaders who resisted Western interests did not always survive, notably the now-recognized murder of Patrice Lumumba by the United States government.
For example, such language was often used of Afghanistan, focusing our attention on its contemporary lawlessness and corruption while carefully obscuring the role that the United Kingdom and Russia and, more recently, the Soviet Union and the United States played in reducing it to a ‘failed state’. In fact, looking at the  worst 20 countries on the failed states list, one is immediately struck by how many of them are the victims of European colonialism and/or US/Soviet neocolonialism.

24 December 2012

Christmas greetings

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

11 December 2012

Patrick Moore, 1923–2012

Patrick Moore, one of my childhood heroes, died on Sunday. Like many others of the past couple of generations, I owe my lifelong interest in astronomy to him. I was given one of his books for my seventh birthday, and that effectively decided the initial trajectory of my school and university education (without that initial push regularly reinforced by episodes of The Sky at Night, I would almost certainly have studied geology rather than astronomy for my first degree and, while I might still have ended up doing theology, I certainly wouldn’t have found myself doing postdoctoral research on the parallels between theological and contemporary physical understandings of temporality).

Moore was also a keen musician, sufficiently accomplished on the xylophone to have been able to play a duet with Evelyn Glennie. I don’t know if he had any say in the choice of the theme music for The Sky at Night (I suspect he did, because he mentions in his autobiography the difficulty they had in finding a suitable signature tune), but if so I also have him to thank for my lifelong love of the music of Sibelius.

Like so many other people, I’ll miss him.