Sunday, April 30, 2006

Critical dissident

I am trying to pay more attention to Russia and did a double take reading a Guardian piece on Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I have tended to find the former-dissident and writer a bit too apologetic on Russia's slide toward illiberal democracy. But a passage made me think:

At a time when American and European officials are repeatedly questioning Mr Putin's commitment to democracy, Solzhenitsyn said: "Present-day western democracy is in a serious state of crisis." He said Russia should not "thoughtlessly imitate" these democracies but look after its own people.

He might be on to something...

Yesterday's interview touched on a burning issue in Russia, that of the growing xenophobia that has led to dozens of attacks on foreigners so far this month, at least six of which were fatal. He warned against condemning all nationalism: a little was needed, he said, to stop ethnic Russians from dying out.

For me, Solzhenitsyn's observations are a reminder of why being consistent matters. As the article highlights, the West's support of democracy in Russia and the Newly Independent States was inconsistent at the very best. I see a connection between his (self-) defense of Russia and various current geopolitical policy debates. Too much moralizing about democracy without consistent action leads many to mistrust...or worse.

Wouldn't it be good if one of the bravest voices against oppression was on "our" side?

More thoughts on the "hypocrisy of international allegiances" and why you punish Belarus, lunch with Azerbaijan and bring out the pipers and drummers for China from Friday's Guardian.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Who you tryin' to fool?

While I missed it when it first came out, The Economist survey on corporate social responsibility from Jan. 2005 is useful for telling us that just because a company uses do gooding language doesn't mean they do good. And there is some useful distinctions between irresponsible corporate PR tricks and genuine philanthropy. Certainly, CSR gets used for lots of dubious reasons. But do they really expect me to believe this statement?

By and large, the world is not running out of resources; where it is, prices reflect that fact. As a result, the ordinary pursuit of profits is an excellent guide to companies on whether to recycle.

The survey would have us believe that pursuit of profit and adherence to existing legal and regulatory frameworks is enough. This totally ignores the problem of collective action and the influential power of corporate giants to manipulate those of us with limited time to understand what's really happening.

I have found past articles from the Stanford Social Innovation Review more enlightening about the debate. The Myth of CSR highlights the weaknesses without making us think responsible business is only for naive idealists and Changing the Game provides some convincing examples of how doing more can be smart for business. I like to think there is a growing market for responsible business, even if it makes me a naive idealist.

I think these issues are challenging and timely. New campaigns like Product RED are encouraging us to consume to help fight HIV. It seems to raise awareness and generate funds for a good cause, but I begin to worry when we think we can consume ourselves out of social problems.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Check out the latest blog

RSS feeds and other cool tools in the Web 2.0 world have a way of both empowering and diluting any sense of power I may sometimes feel. With RSS, I can monitor headlines from everywhere, yet after a few articles here, a blog there and a few more headlines for good measure, and I feel like I haven't gotten anywhere, mostly since each online story leads down another path to new blogs that I was a fool for missing until today. Growing pains of an Internet user, I guess. I don't quite recall feeling this way when I didn't read the newspaper every morning.

Foreign Policy started a new blog a few days ago. It seems great that now I can be privy to "arguments hashed out at the coffee machine, editors' insights on the news, story tips buried on their desks, things they hear from their friends abroad, and interesting links that circulated through their inboxes."

High speed Internet allows me to listen to my favorite NPR news shows online throughout my London flat and more and more shows are interviewing personalities from the blogging world. Almost daily I am informed about another blog site that's independent, dynamic and all the rage. Is there no end? Isn't this the beauty of the new technology? There is no end! But what I am finding is that many sites are following a similar pattern with similar ideas.

I want a cool tool that knows me intimately, knows my sense of humor and my passions. A tool that can tell what I am curious about and then gives me a nice, neatly edited page with the things I need to know. I think this tool must be locked in my brain somewhere. If only I could find it!