Wednesday 4 November 2009

A Different Type of Lateral Thinking

I've heard a lot said about lateral, blue sky and out of the box thinking, but rarely seen it put into action.

The Economist reports on an project in High Point, North Carolina designed to make a rough neighbourhood liveable in again. By adopting a new and alternative strategy, they have been able to make a difference.

The area had been taken over by drug dealers and the police department standard reaction was to come in once in a while like an invading army, grab the dealers and leave again. While this shut down drug dealing for a couple of hours, it did poisoned communutity relations
But then they tried something different. On the advice of David Kennedy, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, they started talking to community leaders in West End. They found out who the street drug-dealers were. There were fewer than they had expected: only 16, of whom three were habitually violent. Patiently, they compiled dossiers on each of them. Then they arrested and prosecuted the violent ones, and invited the rest in for a chat.

The young dealers were shown the evidence against them, and given a choice. If they stopped dealing drugs and carrying guns, they would not be prosecuted. A “community co-ordinator” sat down with each of them and asked him what he needed to go straight: a job? Drug treatment? A place to stay? An alarm clock to get to work on time? The community promised to help with all these things. The dealers’ neighbours and even grandmothers stood up and told them that what they were doing was wrong, and had to stop. Then prosecutors warned them that if they did not stop that day, they would be sent to jail, possibly for the rest of their lives.

It worked. Nearly all the dealers reformed, bar the odd bit of shoplifting. You can still buy drugs behind closed doors in High Point, but the intervention was never about drugs. It was about making the neighbourhood liveable again. Fears that the open-air drug market would simply move elsewhere proved unfounded. As the same technique was tried in other neighbourhoods and for other types of crime, such as gang-related muggings, the city’s overall violent crime rate fell noticeably, from 8.7 per 1,000 people in 2003 to 7.3 in 2008.

14% Drop In People Believing Climate Change Is Man Made

This weeks George Monbiot column in Guardian explores the worrying trend that more and more people think that global warming is not man made.

As he says
A survey last month by the Pew Research Centre suggests that the proportion of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that the world has been warming over the last few decades has fallen from 71% to 57% in just 18 months. Another survey, conducted in January by Rasmussen Reports suggests that, due to a sharp rise since 2006, US voters who believe global warming has natural causes (44%) outnumber those who believe it is the result of human action (41%).
Its worth reading the whole article, especially for the work by cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker who suggest that the more we get confronted by bad news, the more strongly we stick to our own world view and reject ideas that suggest that we may need to change.

As he says in the final paragraph..
And could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the last two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

When Comics Are A Force For Good

There's an interesting new exhibition taking place at Lazarides Gallery on Greek Street in Soho, London.

Entitled Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption the exhibition
"brings together an eclectic mix of comic book and graphic novel work in a bid to politicise a new generation of activists through the medium of popular comic culture. It will feature a powerful range of political stories created by some of the world’s best comic and graphic artists such as Dave McKean, Pat Mills, Peter Kuper and Dan Goldman. It will also include a collaborative piece of work by acclaimed musician and writer Dev Hynes (aka Lightspeed Champion) and Luke Pearson, the winner of the 'Ctrl.Alt.Shift Unmasks Corruption' Competition which ran back in August.
There's also an anthology of the best of the work available from the 5th of November

Ctrl.Alt.Shift was setup last year by the international development agency Christian Aid and aims to use art – whether comics, film or music – to create a new generation of activists.

The Guardian covered this this in an article called Pow! Comic-strip heroes fight against corruption

Monday 2 November 2009

Think You're Having a Bad Day?

If so, try reading this sobering article about life in Katine, Uganda and how its residents put up with issues that are hundreds time worse than what most of us have to deal with with on day to day basis.

To quote from the concluding paragraph

I've learned a little of something I have seen a lot of: patience. Many of the women I have met have a capacity for endurance that is extraordinary. No doubt they know that frustration can send people mad – remember the last time you were exasperated by some incompetent service, and then multiply that a thousand times. In lives this constrained, survival requires a strict emotional economy. And yet, along with that so often comes a wonderful warmth and an irrepressible humour – so many smiles, so much laughter. It is why every time you leave, you immediately want to come back – because the immediacy and strength of human connection, often so elusive at home, is tangible there.