Wednesday, September 30, 2009

There are Alternatives: Local Currency

I've been thinking a lot lately about the TINA argument applied to globalization. TINA is short for "There is No Alternative," and it's a phrase that Margaret Thatcher was fond of using when speaking of her free-market reforms. It's also a phrase that people apply to globalization, suggesting that we cannot escape it.

One of the insecapable aspects of our global economy is the use of currency, which then implicates us in all kinds of problems, including the love of Mammon and a host of other problems (see Chapter 3 of my book). Money is fundamental to our being globalized; when we use it, we participate in global flows of currency and capital. (Does that make sense?)

But Sunday's Washington Post reports on the use of a new local currency in the London borough of Brixton: Brixton pounds. The idea is to encourage people to shop and spend locally. You exchange one British pound for one Brixton pound, but you can only use the Brixton pound in the local area, and only at selected businesses that choose to accept it. Bill McKibben reports on a similar alternative currency idea in his nice little book Deep Economy. I'd love to see other people doing this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sneak peek at the Table of Contents

Save the Earth: Use Recycled Toilet Paper

Today's Washington Post has a story documenting the toll taken on old-growth forests when we use plush toilet paper. Toilet paper made of recycled paper is better for the environment. Wipe and flush accordingly.

Kierkegaard on the Fullness of Time

I've been reading the philosopher Kierkegaard this semester, and I recently discovered this wonderful description of the Incarnation in Philosophical Fragments:

And now the moment. Such a moment has a peculiar character. It is brief and temporal indeed, like every moment; it is transient as all moments are; it is past, like every moment in the next moment. And yet it is decisive, and filled with the Eternal. Such a moment ought to have a distinctive name; let us call it the Fullness of Time.
 Hmmm . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Minnow and the Whales

You need to know three important facts about me: 1) I'm a huge fan of global soccer, 2) I'm eagerly awaiting next summer's World Cup competition, which I think is a fascinating example of globalization, and 3) My favorite Middle Eastern country is Bahrain (ever since our family got to live and work there for almost a year in 2004 and 2005). (By the way, Bahrain was the subject of an interesting New York Times story today, focusing on the village where we lived, called A'Ali.)

What's the point here?

Well, Bahrain is still in the running to qualify for the World Cup. All they have to do is beat New Zealand in their two-game, home-and-away series and they are in (albeit, by the back door). It's possible, since the international soccer association, FIFA, ranks Bahrain 64th in the world right now, whereas they rank New Zealand at 100. Now, these rankings don't mean a thing; the guys in red (Bahrain) will have to win on the field. But our family is unashamedly rooting for them like crazy.

We're cheering for Bahrain for two reasons. First, we watched them play back in 2004 and 2005 when they were trying to qualify for the 2006 Cup, and we had tons of fun doing it. We lived right across from the stadium where the national team played, where admission was free, so we'd stroll over and join the masses. If you've never been to a real international soccer match, where people play the drums and sing the entire game, then you've missed out on some real fun.

Secondly, Bahrain is officially the smallest nation still in the running for the Cup. I checked the standings over at the FIFA website and the NationMaster website and it looks like the small West African state of Gabon is the next smallest state in terms of population that could qualify. Gabon is ranked 151st in terms of population, with around 1.5 million people, while Bahrain is ranked 163rd, with just over 700,000.

To use the language of the global game, let's cheer for the little minnows that face the whales. New Zealand's population is just over 4 million, which makes them bigger than a minnow but smaller than a whale, more like a hoki. But if Bahrain gets past the Kiwis, they'll be facing some whales like Brazil (pop. 196,000,000) or the U.S. (pop. 303,000,000).

All power to the minnows.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Publication Date: By November

The book should be out and for sale no later than November, because there is a busy conference season kicking off this fall. For example, the publisher usually has a booth at The American Academy of Religion annual conference is November 7 to 10, 2009. And they'll want to get this one out by then.

I'll be letting people know as soon as it's available for sale.

Al Jazeera News as Globalization

Robert Kaplan of the Atlantic Monthly is one of my favorite journalists--even when I disagree with the gist of his stories. He travels incessantly, writes passionately, and speculates widely, about all things global. And now he's just published an interesting piece entitled "Why I Love Al Jazeera." Good stuff.

After summarizing recent news coverage at the English language version of Al Jazeera International, he discusses the benefits of getting one's news from a more globally minded source. Like a good journalist, he also raises some concerns about AJ--describing its influence as "insidious"--but he suggests that he'll be watching them more often than American media outlets to get a true picture of world events.

In the book, I briefly mention Al Jazeera International as an example of the complex media environment produced in a globalizing world:

"A small indicator of the complexity of cultural globalization is the fact that one can now view the Arabic network al-Jazeera’s news programs in English in the United States" (p. 10).

The program is produced in the small Gulf state of Qatar, broadcast in English, and beamed around the world via cable, satellite, or internet video.

According to Kaplan,

Over just a few days in late May, when I actively monitored Al Jazeera (although I watched it almost every evening during a month in Sri Lanka), I was treated to penetrating portraits of Eritrean and Ethiopian involvement in the Somali war, of the struggle of Niger River rebelsagainst the Nigerian government in the oil-rich south of the country, of the floods in Bangladesh, of problems with the South African economy, of the danger that desertification poses to Bedouin life in northern Sudan, of the environmental devastation around the Aral Sea, of Sikh violence in India after an attack on a temple in Austria, of foreign Islamic fightersin the southern Philippines, of microfinancing programs in Kenya, of rigged elections in South Ossetia, of human-rights demonstrations in Guatemala, and of much more. Al Jazeera covered the election campaigns in Lebanon and Iran in more detail than anyone else, as well as the Somali war and the Pakistani army offensive in the Swat Valley. There was, too, an unbiased one-hour documentary about the Gemayel family of Christian politicians and warlords in Lebanon, and a half-hour-long investigation of the displacement of the poor from India’s new economic zones.

Compare this coverage of the globe--by a globalized network--to the coverage by U.S.-based networks: I didn't notice a single story in Kaplan's list about Hollywood celebrities!

P.S. If you think Kaplan's off his rocker, then check out the archived blog posts on Al Jazeera by George Washington University professor Marc Lynch, aka Abu Aardvark. Professor Lynch has been tracking Arab media for years, keeping tabs on Al Jazeera and female Arabic pop music stars (he had a crush on Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram).

Monday, September 7, 2009


The manuscript is moving along. I just received an email from the typesetter, who is looking for me to send back corrections on the page proofs as quickly as possible. The final product should be out in time for the fall conference season. Please keep an eye out for it!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Books I wish I could have read . . .

Evangelical publishers are starting to get into topics that crop up in The Fullness of Time. I only wish that I could have had time to learn from them before getting my own work into print. In just the past few months, I've seen a few interesting books popping up in two main categories:

Practical guides to more holistic living in a globalized world: For example, Tracy Bianchi is coming out with a book entitled Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet. In addition, Julie Clawson has just come out with Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices.

Evangelicals discovering the liturgical year: Joan Chittister is coming out with The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. And InterVarsity has just published an interesting book by Bobby Gross: Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God.

I've just ordered a copy of Gross's book, and I look forward to working through it. The only comparable book that I've been able to find up to this point is Robert Webber's Ancient-Future Time. I'll try to find time to post some reflections on the Gross book here.

In the meantime, I am encouraged that so many others are responding to the paralysis that many of us feel about global capitalism being the only system that can organize our lives. Margaret Thatcher used to say that "there is no alternative," making what many have called the TINA argument.

But there are many alternatives, and the Christian year helps us to imagine them and start acting on them.