Death by Veganism: A Response to the NYTimes Article (Food Post III)

May 27, 2007

As many of you know, I am a wanna-be vegan. Not quite there yet, but making good progress. This is something my partner and I have researched and read quite a bit about. Wolfgang is practically a walking encyclopedia of vegan nutrition and animal and environmental facts. Thus, you can imagine our horror when we read a very poorly researched and irresponsible article about veganism in the New York Times titled “Death By Veganism. ” You can read it, in all its inaccuracies, here. Please also take the time to read the letters to the editor which respond well to the article’s problems.

Her argument is, in short, that “You cannot create and nourish a robust baby merely on foods from plants.”

I’ll respond to what I see as three main problems with the article:

First, as far as I can tell, she is not arguing against a vegan diet, but rather against vegetarian diet. On top of arguing (with no supporting evidence) that eggs and milk offer complete proteins, essential fats and vitamins (that, I assume she means you cannot get from plant sources) she argues that kids need fish to be healthy because of the Omega-3 fatty acids. First, tons of kids never eat fish anyway. I hated fish growing up and it just isn’t a regular part of lots of people’s or kids diets, especially in less developed places where people don’t fish and it can’t be imported. So if you want to make the argument that fish are essential, and that somehow ground flax seeds, flax seed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, canola oil, soy products, soybean oil, hempseed oil, and wheat germ are not adequate sources of omega-3 fatty acids (although I am not aware of any evidence that demonstrates that they are not), fine. But that seems largely unrelated to veganism and vegetarianism, and is more just a general question of what is and is not included in a healthy diet. (She also doesn’t mention the huge problem with fish being very contaminated and that children and pregnant/lactating women need to be careful about this). She also refers throughout the article to the need for things in meat. I suspect that she frames this in terms of veganism, and not vegetarianism, because vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream and accepted and she doesn’t want to step on the many toes of vegetarians that read the Times. I imagine “Death by Vegetarianism” would not be well received by many. Rather, she picks veganism because she sees it as a relatively easy target. People still see this as a bit extreme and she runs with that.

Second, I think her science is just wrong. She claims that “dairy and eggs” are needed “for complete protein, essential fats and vitamin.” She also says that “animal proteins and fats” contain “essential amino acids needed for life in the right ratio. This is not true of plant proteins, which are inferior in quantity and quality.” She writes that “soy inhibits growth” and finally sums it all up by saying, “A vegan diet may lack vitamin B12, found only in animal foods; usable vitamins A and D, found in meat, fish, eggs and butter; and necessary minerals like calcium and zinc.” So there you go. But, I’m not really sure what studies she is referring to. You certainly can find studies that show a set of vegans lack a certain vitamin or this or that. But, um, you can find just as many showing that omnivores lack certain vitamins or enough of this or that. It isn’t like I would sacrifice my health, or the health of my future children, so I could eat a vegan diet. Nor would all the other very conscientious vegan families. As far as I can tell, children can do just fine with well-planned vegan diets (you can see lots of examples of them here). I think, perhaps, she confuses a vegan diet with a poorly planned vegan diet which, like any poorly planned carnivorous diet, can be harmful. (She also fails to mention the very direct link between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and a range of cancers and health problems. I mean, if you are so concerned about kids and their diet, the concern is that too many of them are overweight and suffer from childhood diabetes. The number of vegan children is minuscule compared to the number of kids with health problems because of eating a SAD diet. But I digress.)

Finally, the third problem is that she refers, very irresponsibly, at the beginning of the article, to a baby that died being fed only apple juice and soy milk and whose parents claimed to be vegan. However, feeding your baby only apple juice and soy milk has absolutely nothing to do with being vegan. These people were criminals who killed their baby by starving him. It is as if you fed your infant only hamburger meat and then when he died people said, “Well, see, a carnivorous diet kills babies.” And the author should have known this. I cannot imagine she didn’t. If she didn’t, it is another indication of how poor her research was. If she did know what she was talking about, and used it anyway, it shows her desire to portray veganism as something that it isn’t. One google search would have confirmed that this terrible death of a baby had nothing to do with veganism or the science/nutritional aspects of veganism.

Veg Family News has compiled a great collection of responses to this poor article, and also includes lots of links to medical articles from normal, reputable sources that affirm the health of vegan pregnancies, babies, and children. You can see it here:

I didn’t plan for this to be The Weekend of Food Posts. I just have more time now that school is out and they sort of came up.

Yay for summer finally being here! Makes me so happy. More soon, I hope.

Much peace, Elizabeth

Scott Wells on Good Food (Food Post II)

May 26, 2007

Well, it seems like this is the weekend for food posts. I suggest you go over to Boy in the Bands and read Scott Well’s a healthy, sustainable diet (i.e. buying locally, eating good, whole foods). I think I underemphasize this in my wanna-be-veganism. Since a big part of my eating thoughts and practice have to do with the environment and wanting to be more gentle on it, I should point this out more. Buying organic Spinach from California uses a darn lot of gas to get it over here to MA, not to mention the fertilizer trucked in from who-knows-where. Anyway, local is good. Whole food/real food that you actually have to buy and then cook yourself is harder work than veggie rice bowls from Trader Joe’s (ahem, note to self).

There is a chapter about this in The Simple Living Guide (chapter 9 cooking and nutrition), a book which is really great at being reasonable, yet encouraging about living a simpler life. It is one of the few books that makes it seem do-able, rather than just overwhelming.

Over at Trivium: More on Ethical Eating (Food Post I)

May 25, 2007

Over at Trivium, Jaime Goodwin writes about how annoying he finds it that most of the food at church events is dull – that is, vegetarian or vegan, and that he feels like those who make this food are saying that they are better somehow better. He notes that “he has a hard time with the ethical eating concept.” It was interesting for me to read, given that I am working on a post that responds to the New York Times op-ed piece irresponsibly titled “Death By Veganism” and I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions lately. (More on the NYTimes article very soon.)

I appreciated Jaime’s post – it gives me pause to reflect on the way I go about my life and how I can most lovingly and gently share my excitement about the potential for veganism in terms of compassion for animals and environmental friendliness, while at the same time bend over backward to be non-judgmental and empathetic to the choices and trade-offs we all make in doing our best to live out a life that balances high ethical standards with the realities of life in today’s world.

A few thoughts:

Jaimie writes:

Again.. my respect for another’s beliefs is why I have such a hard time with Ethical Eating as a concept. To me the concept is this… I made a choice to eat a certain way, I like my choice, now I am going to point out that everyone else who has not yet made this choice that they are not as good of a Unitarian Universalist as I am. I care more about Health and the environment than they do, and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.

What? You say… you do not mean to send this message? I believe you. I know that you do not MEAN to send this message, but you are sending it… to me. I would imagine to others as well.

This relates to a dilemma for vegans and vegetarians. Granted, there are some that are over-zealous and who literally do say, “I care more about health and the environment than [meat-eaters], and my life has become much better than theirs because of this choice.” But I think most don’t say this or think this. It seems to me that the very fact of being vegetarian or vegan is often understood to send the message that other ways of eating are not adequate or good enough. But, when I foster kittens, no one understand this to mean that they should foster kittens or are bad because they don’t help stray animals. Or when I drive a fuel efficient car and tell people how much I like it, this isn’t interpreted as meaning that they should drive a Scion or feel bad about the car they drive. Yet, these are the exact reasons that I am vegan (or, more honestly, an almost-vegan) – the desire for animals not to suffer and the environment. As I have asked before, is there no way to share my excitement about veganism or the benefits I see to it (like I do with kitten rescuing or fuel-efficient car-driving) without it being interpreted as judgemental? I ask this just to point out that it is a difficult balance, and that all of us on every side should be understanding about the difficulty in balancing this and how food and food choices go very deep, no matter what our choices are.

As I have noted before, to me, my vegetarianism/veganism is one way that I try to live out the values that are important to me – care for the environment, love of animals and the desire that they not suffer. BUT, I do SO MANY not good things or not good enough things. I drive too much. I fly too much (especially bad). I use a hair-dryer too much. A clothes dryer too much. Too many paper towels. Don’t buy enough local food. Could foster more cats. Could volunteer more. The list goes on. To me, vegetarianism/veganism is where I feel like I am able to make a difference. But it is just one way to make the world a better place. It is the way I do it. Others do it their own way. I think we need to both call each other to be our best selves – to do our best – and yet understand that we are all struggling along in this world together, doing the best we can. It is a hard balance. We don’t always all get it right. I guess what I hope is that I can do my part in sharing vegetarianism/veganism as one option, while also making clear that it is just one option and that we need to all support each other in a range of choices we make, particularly as a faith community.

Jaime also writes, “personally I think vegan eating is dangerous and unhealthy.” I will address this in my post on the NYTimes Op-Ed piece on veganism, but I just hate it when people don’t want me to judge their food choices, and then go and judge mine. A well-planned vegan diet is neither dangerous or unhealthy. There are many studies that confirm this. Many examples of healthy vegans. Just like any diet, vegan diets need to be well-planned. There is quite a bit of evidence that meat-heavy diets can be very unhealthy. If you eat all steak and eggs and bacon and whole milk and fried potatoes, you are going to be in trouble. Just like if you drink only soy milk, eat potato chips, drink pepsi, eat cashews, and cucumbers for your vegan diet.

But more on all this later.

In short, thanks for your honest post, Trivium. Vegetarians and vegans out there! Try to be FRIENDLY, LOVING and EMPATHETIC. Maybe I’ll start a FLEUNJVV movement – friendly, loving, empatheic, understanding, non-judgemental vegetarians and vegans…

Promoting Democracy: A Literature Review

May 25, 2007

This is one of my posts in a series of bibliographies (and annotated bibliographies) that I do for work and school and post here in case others might benefit from them. All of my bibliographies related to democracy are done via my consulting work for The Kettering Foundation. You can see my other bibliographies here: queer theology, democracy (in general – overlaps with this bibliography somewhat). You are welcome to use the bibliographies but email for permission.

Also note that this is more of a literature review, so I try to keep out my own opinions. Just to note, I have serious reservations about some of these authors’ claims.

Brief Overview

In surveying of the literature on democratization, several themes stand out. First, democracy is often defined primarily or solely in terms of free and fair elections and citizens’ ability to participate in this electoral process (in a narrow sense of voting and being minimally informed) (Zakaria, Huntington). A sense of democracy as a rich confluence of factors involving “the exercise of public reason” (Rawls) or “government by discussion” (Buchanan), of which free and fair elections is only one part, is substantially less present in the discussion. Another important theme is the extent to which economic factors influence the transition (or lack thereof) from autocratic rule to democratic rule. Some argue that economic development and some minimally acceptable standard of living must precede democratization (Kaplan, Lipset). This is often referred to as the development-first argument – Lipset’s work in the late 50s and in the 60s was the pioneering work for the development-first argument and continues to influence contemporary understandings of possibilities for democratization. On the other hand, many subscribe to the democracy-first argument, making the case that democracy is more conducive to economic development than autocracy (Halperinetal) and that these factors (democracy and economic development) have traditionally developed in tandem (Barber). This debate about democracy or development first underlines the next theme that threads through the literature – the issue of democratization is often examined and discussed primarily in terms of political institutions and elites: how U.S. foreign policy can promote democracy better, based on relations with foreign governments or distribution of aid (Diamond, Halperinetal.). Less present is discussion of how political culture can be nurtured in ways that both bring about and provide fertile ground for the consolidation of democratic rule. The final major theme that deserves attention is the question as to whether a particular culture, civilization, or religion is particularly disposed toward, best suited to, or even the originator of democratization. While some argue that Western culture, characterized by Protestantism/Christianity, and with a linage back to Greece, is both best suited to and the originator of democracy as a form of governance (Huntington, Stackhouse), others provide both theoretical and historical arguments to the contrary (Sen, Schifter). A review of Vanhanen’s work will highlight many of the differences in understandings of hows and whys of democratization, along with the discussions as to exactly what is meant by democracy and how that can be measured. Those that study and write on such topics are clearly far from agreement on these issues. Finally, Carothers, Kaplan, and Barber’s work points out, however, that no matter how democracy is understood or what conditions are necessary for its flourishing, in terms of maintaining and increasing democratic rule, the world has lost ground in recent years and the process of becoming a democratic free world (both in the United States and abroad) continues to be a serious and overwhelming challenge in need of continued analysis and creative thinking.

Barber, Benjamin. “You Can’t Export McWorld and Call it Democracy,” (ch. 7) Fear’s Empire: War, Terrorism And Democracy In An Age Of Interdependence, W.W. Norton, 2003: 145-154.

In this chapter, Barber seeks to distinguish market liberalization from democratization, arguing that, despite the widespread use of such terms of “market democracy”, democratization does not automatically entail a neo-liberal approach to economic development nor do neo-liberal economic policies necessarily foster democratization. Barber points out that free markets have a history of developing withdemocracy and that, in the end, it is democratic institutions that are meant to regulate the free market. Instead, market globalization in the late 20th century and in the 21st century has diminished state regulation of markets, promoted a consumerist understanding of democracy, and has seen the conflation of citizen and consumer. Barber argues that in seeking to foster democratic rule, the United States must be avoid confusion between promoting democracy and promotingMcWorld.”

Boussard, Caroline. “Civil Society and Democratisation: Conceptual and Empirical Challenges,” in Development and Democracy: What have we learned and how? Eds. Ole Elgstrom and Goran Hyden.

Boussard seeks to clarify what is meant by civil society (as the word is used differently in different contexts) and to analyze the role that it has or could have in the process of democratisation. She asks what role civil society plays in democratisation, how civil society interacts with other factors that influence democratisation, and what the “civil” in civil society refers to, noting that associational life may flourish in a society in very undemocratic and counterproductive ways. Boussard concludes that civil society has the potential to play a key role in democratic consolidation and in democratic transition, although in each phase it plays a different role. According to Boussard, civil society plays two roles in democratization. First, it acts as a countervailing power to the government – this is a watchdog role. In this role, civil society is made up of many organizations, not all of whom are democratic or trustful, but nonetheless they serve a positive purpose for democracy. Second, and more important to democratization, civil society acts as a proactive democracy-building force. In this second role, organizations are not simply valuable because they are associations, but because they explicitly have the public good in mind (in a broad sense) and operate within democratic frameworks themselves. In order for civil society to best function in its second role, it must be able to “simultaneously…resist subornation to the state and demand inclusion into national political structures” (165). Finally, Boussard argues that in order to be successful in democratization, organizations that are a part of civil society must be able to maintain autonomy from the governments and organizations that fund them.

Carothers, Thomas. “Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror,” Foreign Affairs 82(1), Jan/Feb 2003.

Carothers’ article deals with the tension the Bush administration faces in seeking to promote democracy abroad and, at the same time, counter the threat of terrorism. On one hand, in seeking to counter the terrorist threat, the United States needs the cooperation of authoritarian governments such as Pakistan’s. Carothers outlines several instances where the United States accepts non-democratic/semi-democratic governments (Pakistan: ‘Times New Roman'”>Kazakhstan, etc.) because to demand democratic reform would endanger the essential cooperation that United States needs from such countries. However, on the other hand, the administration is recognizing that the long-standing policy of overlooking non-democratic rule in places such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt must be reconsidered. Pre-9/11, there was the sense that “autocratic stability for the sake of various economic security interests” was more important than the promotion of democracy. However, it is now clear that overlooking autocracies did nothing to stem the growth of Islamist extremism, and in fact, provided a haven for such movements. Thus, the administration is pursuing a policy of promoting democracy in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and more generally in countries where it is perceived that democracy would be successful in reducing the threat of terrorism. However, Carothers argues that the use of democracy promotion instrumentally and inconsistently creates a credibility problem and, further, that such an approach does not have a track record of success. He cites the Reagan administration’s efforts at “democracy” promotion in South and Central America in the 1980s as an example of the failure of such policies. Carothers also points out that the sharp curtailment of civil liberties in the United States after 9/11, civil liberties that until recently had been understood to be an integral part of democracy, further contributes to the problem of credibility. If the United States can adjust democratic freedoms to fit meet perceived security needs, it becomes difficult to credibly argue that other countries cannot do so to the extent that they see fit. Carothers is nuanced in his critique of the Bush administration, noting that it is a difficult balance and that “George W. Bush is…scarcely the first U.S. president to evidence a split personality on democracy promotion.” However, he puts forth that the stakes are unusually high for this administration and that it must demonstrate a long-term commitment to authentic (not instrumental or theoretical) democracy promotion abroad, without compromising democratic freedoms at home.

Carothers, Thomas. “Democracy’s SoberingState,” Current History, December 2004.

Carothers offers a brief assessment of the state of democracy around the world, noting that the optimism and progress seen in the growth of democracy in the early-mid 1990s has not only stagnated, but that in some ways, democratic progress has lost ground since then. He offers several explanations for this. First, in states where it appeared that the authoritarian governments were replaced by fledgling, yet sincere, democratically inclined governments, it is now becoming clear that the reforms did not penetrate structures very deeply. Authoritarian rule has been able to reassert itself, particularly in light of the economic and social challenges the countries face. This leads into a second challenge – these young democratic governments have not succeeded in providing better conditions for its citizens. Carothers calls this the performance problem. Third, the so-called war on terrorism has complicated matters further. The United States has been less likely to push for democratic reform in countries such as Russia and Pakistan because of the perceived need for close counterterrorism cooperation with such governments. Further, in the wake of 9/11, the United States has done a poor job of balancing the need for tighter security with respect of basic rights central to a democracy. Situations like the torture at AbuGhraib, along with the quiet eroding of civil liberties protections in the United States, has sent a message that what many would consider to be basic characteristics of a democratic society are negotiable. Finally, Carothers cites the democratic deficit in the Middle East, and the gap between the U.S. rhetoric and actions as both a current and future danger to democracy. He closes with what he considers to be key questions that must be considered: How can democracy be stimulated in regions where authoritarianism has bested the democratic trend, and how can democracy be supported where it is under siege because of poor performance?

Diamond, Larry, “Universal Democracy?” Policy Review, Heritage Foundation, June 1, 2003. Available online at

Diamond argues that the world is “on the cusp of a grand historical tipping point” towards the development of democracy and the end of authoritarian rule. Diamond suggests that democracy has begun to proliferate throughout the world, that of “26 states since 1974 have become independent of colonial rule; 15 of these became democracies upon independence and have remained so, and another six have become democratic after some period of authoritarian rule.” Diamond sees the American-led development of democracy in Iraq as another indicator of the spread of democracy throughout the world. Relying on Huntington’s third wave, Diamond argues that a carefully tailored economic development strategy, one that promotes democratic reform as a requirement to receiving aid, will increase the spread of democracy. Diamond admits that actively promoting democracy is a bold endeavor, and predicts that in the “near term, we will probably fall short of the courage, imagination, and nerve truly necessary to transform the global political culture.” Diamond finds that “unless[the United States] learn[s] to work with and through international partners and institutions while seeking to energize, transform, and democratize global structures, our scope to effect further democratic change in the world will shrink.”

Friedman, Thomas. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

In this book, Friedman uses the metaphor of a flat world both to represent and understand the changes that have been occurring in globalization over the last decade and that continue to develop rapidly today. One of the key themes is the integration of so-called developing countries – particularly India and China, but also other parts of Asia and Central and South America – into the global information and skilled worker economy (that is, beyond manufacturing, although that is on the rise as well). Friedman argues that technological advances have flattened the world in the sense that, for instance, a worker in India can now handle the tracking and customer service issues that arise if a passenger flying from Kansas City to Los Angles on Delta has lost baggage. Friedman frames this as both a challenge and opportunity for the United States. He notes that, in the past, the United States relied heavily upon foreign workers in engineering, sciences, mathematics, but that, post-9/11, fewer of these workers are able to enter the country. However, not enough students in the U.S. are studying in these areas to make up for the loss – thus, whereas much of the creative and cutting-edge work in these fields previously took place in the U.S., it increasingly takes place abroad, giving non-U.S. companies the benefit of these innovations. In terms of international relations, while Friedman makes clear that he does not think that increasing economic integration will automatically prevent war or conflict, he points out that countries where the flattening world has been able to strengthen (or begin to grow) a middle class, will be more reluctant to enter into conflict that could damage their position in the “supply chain.” Friedman closes by highlighting the tension between what he calls the 9/11 world and the 11/9 world. 11/09/1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, is the moment (or metaphor) that Friedman uses to represent a world that began to flatten and create both the possibility of increased integration, as well as the increased challenges to the privileged position of the Western European and United States’ economies and political systems. He does not offer clear answers as to how the tension should be or can be balanced, but rather stresses that the processes of flattening has begun and is not likely to stop in the near future. While he dedicates chapter 9 to the concerns and challenges facing the developing world, Friedman is overall optimistic about the possibilities of a flattened world for developing countries, arguing that “middle class” is a state of mind, not an economic situation, and that when people have hope that they can do better, they can become “middle class” even if they make only $2.00 a day. While there are certainly challenges that face the “complete” flattening of the world to include all countries, Friedman believes that the possibilities for all people of the world are great.

Halperin, Morton H., Joseph T. Siegle, and Michael W. Weinstien. “Why Democracies Excel,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2004.

The authors of this article seek to counter the so-called development-first, democracy-later argument. The authors argue, instead, that democracy can and does flourish in poor countries and that conditions for economic development are much more favorable in democratic countries than in autocratic ones, and further, that quality of life is higher in poor democratic countries, rather than poor autocratic ones. The reason that “poor democracies outperform authoritarian” ones, according to the authors, is that democratic “institutions enable power to be shared and…encourage openness and adaptability” (63). The observe that, while the reasons for supporting democracies would seem to be rather compelling, industrialized democracies and international financial institutions appear not to favor democracies in their aid distribution (even when circumstances such as natural disaster are factored out). The authors close with suggestions as to how democracies and the pursuit of democracy should be favored and considered in policy and funding.

Huntington, Samuel P. “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs 72(3), Summer 1993.

This article, which was followed by the bestselling 1996 book, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order, argues that “Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.” Huntington posits that “Western” is best used to describe things European, (U.S.) American, and Canadian. He argues that there are eight civilizations (Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox, Latin American and African) and that while these non-Western civilizations will modernize (like the West and Japan have already done), they will not Westernize or democratize, as that this is fundamentally opposed to the values and self-understandings of these civilizations. (In his 1996 book, Huntington allowed that Latin American civilization has the potential for functioning and legitimate democratic governments and institutions.) He further suggests that to attempt to promote democracy and Western values in these countries is culturally imperialistic and arrogant. Huntington proposes that Western civilization accept this reality and prepare accordingly by strengthening itself militarily, developing “greater cooperation and unity within its own civilization”, incorporating willing Eastern European and Latin American countries into the West, and by “strengthen[ing] international institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and values and [by] promot[ing] the involvement of non-Western states in those institutions.” In short, Huntington understands democracy to be a uniquely Western institution with little resonance with or potential in other civilizations. The primary aim of the West should be to protect our democratic institutions and way of life, rather than to attempt to impose the values of our civilization (democracy, liberalism, etc.) on other civilizations.

Ignatieff, Michael, “Democratic Providentialism” New York Times Magazine, December 12, 2004.

Ignatieff asserts that democratic providentialism describes George W. Bush’s vision for the world. Democratic providentialism is the idea that democracy is “God’s gift to mankind.” Ignatieff argues that this idea catapulted the President to re-election, was a main justification for the Iraq War and is a popular mainstay with his core, conservative constituencies. However, Ignatieff notes that while the Bush Administration may have grandiose ambitions for the proliferation of democracy in the Muslim world, only citizens within Islamic states can fulfill these ambitions. In a way, “democratic providentialism feeds the illusion that America is the driver of world history.” Ignatieff cautions that while “America has power and should use it, … history does not always serve American grand designs.” Ignatieff concludes that in order for Bush’s democratic providentialism to be successful, Iraq must be a success and the providentialism that Bush speaks of must resonate beyond Bush’s electoral constituencies to a wider, more diverse audience.

Ikenberry, John G. “Why Export Democracy?” Wilson Quarterly, vol. 23, no. 2, Spring 1999: 56-65.

In this article, Ikenberry argues that the promotion of democracy is not, as critics would argue, misguided idealism, but rather “reflects a pragmatic, evolving, and sophisticated understanding of how to create a stable and relatively peaceful world order.” The author outlines five reasons that he believes this to be so. First, democracies are less like to go to war – Ikenberry calls this “the amity of democracies.” Second, the author argues that there is a correlation between democratic rule and economic prosperity. To promote democracy abroad is, thus, in the economic self-interest of the United States. Third, democracy promotes interdependence which is both economically beneficial and politically stabilizing. Fourth, as alluded to earlier, democracies join, support, and generally respect the norms required by multilateral institutions. Institutions “can help overcome and integrate diverse and competing interests- states, regions, classes and religions and ethnic groups.” Finally, the promotion of democracy is important because it creates a sense of community and common identity, both “important source[s] of order.” As Ikenberry points out, “It’s not only that politically similar states are more likely to understand each other, but that their values are liberal and democratic, which creates common norms about how to resolve conflicts.” The author closes by noting that it is quite possible that the United States has been overly optimistic about the possibilities of promoting democracy abroad, but that this does not take away from the coherence of such a strategy or reduce the need for such promotion.

Kaplan, Robert D. “Was Democracy Just A Moment?” Atlantic Monthly, vol. 280, no.6, December 1997, 55-80.

Kaplan argues that “democracy emerges successfully only as a capstone to other social and economic achievements.” The author cites many instances where democracies are not yielding positive results for its citizens (like South Africa…“one of the most violent places on earth [that isn’t] a war zone”) or instances where authoritarian rule has produced positive results (like Fujimori’s rule in Peru where “it is hard to argue that Peru has not benefited from his rule”). In the latter part of the article, Kaplan suggests that “while we preach our version of democracy abroad, it slips away from us at home” (72). He cites the increasing power of corporations and the decreasing relevance of governments (“Democratic governance, at the federal, state, and local level goes on. But its ability to affect our lives is limited.”) Kaplan laments the developed world’s focus (and, in particular, that of the United States) on material possessions and suggests that this inward focus on acquiring things detracts from a sense of community or togetherness that is essential for a functioning democracy. The author closes with a warning that should the West fail to ignore the challenges and threats to our “crowning political achievement” of democracy, we are likely to face the fate of earlier civilizations that thought themselves to represent the end of history or the culmination of civilization.

Nye, Joseph. “The Decline of America‘s Soft Power: Why Washington Should Worry,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004.

Nye makes the argument that the United States’ soft power is declining and that, to the detriment of the United States’ interests, the government is not taking appropriate action to stop such a decline. Nye defines soft power as the “ability to attract others by the legitimacy of…polices and the values that underlie them” (16). Nye posits that after the Cold War there was a sense that soft power was less important because the United States became the world’s sole superpower. Nye points out that the current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, says that he does not even understand what the term “soft power” means. Critics such as Rumsfeld hold the belief that “the United States…is strong enough to do as it wishes with or without the world’s approval and should simply accept that others will envy and resent it” (16). While Nye accepts that the United States will not be able to completely avoid resentment and antagonism, the main thesis of his article is that the United States should take more seriously the benefits soft power. He notes, “it is not just a matter of ephemeral popularity; it is a means of obtaining outcomes the United States wants” (17). Nye highlights, in particular, the value of soft power in fighting terrorism, arguing that it is only when we seek to understand and speak to the concerns of the moderate Islamic world, attracting them based on the legitimacy of our policies and the values that underlie those policies, that we will stem the tide of Islamist extremism.

Mathews, Jessica T. “Power Shift,” Foreign Affairs, January/ February 1997: 50-66.

Mathews argues that nation-states – “quintessential hierarchies” – are becoming increasingly obsolete, replaced, instead, by networks of businesses, NGOs, and other nonstate actors ranging from citizens groups to terrorist networks. She cites technological advances, coupled with increasingly lower cost of and easier accessibility to this technology, as one of the key factors in challenging (or rendering irrelevant) traditional nation-state boarders and actors. Mathews writes that, increasingly, “governments have only the appearance of free choice when they set economic rules” (57) and that more and more “NGOs are able to push around even the largest governments” (53). From businesses to NGOs, the European Union and NATO, and including international organizations such as the WTO, IMF, and UN, Mathews outlines how multiple forces act simultaneously on individuals, groups, and communities in a manner reminiscent of the Middle Ages where “emperors, kings, dukes, knights, popes, archbishops, guilds, and cities exercised overlapping secular power” much closer to a “three-dimensional network than the clean-lined, hierarchical state order that replaced it” (61). In the end, Mathews puts forth that whether or not this trend is for the better or worse depends on how the business sector, NGOs, and international institutions are able to balance the various roles and responsibilities that they either have or should have, and, most importantly, on the ability of the developing institutions and entities to meet the “demands for accountable democratic governance” (66).

Peceny, Mark. “Forcing Them to be Free,” Political Research Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3, September 1999: 549-582.

This article asks if U.S. military intervention is helpful in promoting democracy in previously undemocratic countries. Peceny examined 90 cases of U.S. military intervention from 1898 through 1992 and used the Polity III data set to measure democracy (quantitative analysis). The author concludes that while U.S. military intervention in and of itself has little or no impact on the establishment of democratic rule, an active effort and support for “free and fair elections” during such military interventions does have a positive effect on the building of democracies. Peceny notes that further questions that future research might address. 1) What impact the promotion of “free and fair” elections might have when the United States undertakes such efforts in the absence of military power? 2) What are the relative contributions of the U.S. as compared to other countries that participated in the military interventions examined in this study? The author notes that most interventions were multilateral and that other countries contributed to the promotion of “free and fair” elections. Further, Peceny suggests that, along these lines, it is important to explore the contributions of and potential of the U.N. and other international organizations in terms of the potential for the promotion of free and fair elections and the track record on such endeavors.

Powell, Colin, “No Country Left Behind,” Foreign Policy, January/February 2005: 28-35.

Powell argues that U.S. economic development efforts around the world are not only an instrument of soft power, “but a core national security issue” (28). He posits that economic development (foreign aid) efforts are successful when paired with an incentive system for good governance. Such a structure, embodied in the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, is meant to encourage democracy within poor countries. Powell argues that the U.S. government can promote democracy (and fight terrorism) by spurring democratic practice around the world through such programs. Poverty does not breed support for terrorist causes, Powell contends, internal social injustice and political oppression does. Thus, focused, market-based economic development strategies will not only provide necessary infrastructure for poor countries, it will also provide a necessary political tool against terrorism. The goal of eradicating poverty and promoting democratic practices through economic development, Powell concludes, serves not only to improve the lives of people in poor countries, but also creates a more stable world for Americans (35).

Schifter, Richard. “The Cause of Freedom: Nobody’s Monopoly,” Mediterranean Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Summer 1997: 6-20.

Schifter’s article is a rebuttal of Samuel Huntington’s thesis as outlined in his 1993 article “The Clash of Civilizations?” and 1996 book, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of World Order. Schifter argues that current U.S. foreign policy is based on the argument that “democracy, the rule of law, and human rights have universal applicability [and] that they are ideas that can be transmitted across cultural divides,” premises that Huntington challenges. SchifterproblematizesHuntington’s claim that that democracy and Western civilization’s roots can be traced linearly back to the Holy Roman Empire. Schifter argues, instead, that democracy has begun to thrive only relatively recently, has been influenced by a myriad of cultures, and has the potential to take root in non-Western cultures over time, just as it took root in Western cultures over time. He cites many examples of previously undemocratic non-Western nations and leaders who, after exposure to democratic ideas, took steps toward democratic practice and government, and in many cases remain on the path to democratic self-government. While Schifter acknowledges that “post-Renaissance and post-reformation West provided…hospitable soil for the gestation of the seed of liberal democracy,” he closes with a reiteration of his main point: democracy has been and can be successfully spread to non-Western countries and the United States should continue to pursue these ends via its policies.

Sen, Amartya “Democracy as a Universal Value,” Journal of Democracy, vol. 10, no. 3, July 1999: 3-17.

Sen addresses several issues central to examining the spread and promotion of democracy across the globe, particularly to so-called non-Western countries. One of the most frequently expressed concerns about the “export” of democracy is to what extent this is a form of Western cultural imperialism and/or if the promotion of democracy in non-Western countries necessarily equals the promotion of so-called Western values? Sen addresses these questions by pointing out the traditions of democratic practice across a wide range of cultures and civilizations, and argues that to conceive of democracy as the domain of the West is inaccurate at best. He also problematizes the notion that “Western” culture is a direct descendent of the Greek democratic tradition or somehow “more” descended from this tradition than so-called non-Western cultures. Sen suggests that one of the reasons that democracy has been inaccurately understood to be more “Western” is the proliferation of a narrow understanding of democracy that is conceived of “exclusively in terms of public balloting” (29). While voting has become an important part of a functioning democracy, Sen argues that democracy is best understood in much broader terms. Rawls calls this “the exercise of public reason” and Buchanan, “government by discussion.” Sen posits that, when we understand democracy in these broader, richer terms, and when we are sufficiently aware of the diverse and multifaceted roots of democracy, it becomes clear that far from a “Western” concept, democracy is a universal value.

Slaughter, Anne-Marie. “The RealNew World Order,” Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct., 1997: 183-197.

In this article, on which her 2004 book A New World Order is based, Anne-Marie Slaughter outlines what she sees to be both a new approach and a new possibility for international relations: transgovernmentalism. This, Slaughter puts forth, “is rapidly becoming the most widespread and effective mode of international governance” (185). In this model, nation-states are not required to give up the sovereignty that they value so highly yet, at the same time, they become increasingly disaggregated – central bankers form formal and informal networks with other central bankers…judges with other judges from around the world, law enforcement officials with other law enforcement officials from other nations and so on. One of the key features of this system is that even if governments are not liberal democracies, various judicial, administrative, and legislative players and institutions can be engaged in transgovernemental networks and this “regular interaction offers new channels for spreading democratic accountability, governmental integrity and rule of law” (186). While Slaughter acknowledges that transgovernmental networks are not the sort of development that will grab headlines, she puts forth that two of the most pressing problems the world faces can be addressed by transgovernmentalism: 1) the challenge of acknowledging and allowing room for the benefits of globalization, while at the same time finding ways to regulate this phenomenon that doesn’t fit within the framework that traditional nation-state-based regulatory institutions were designed to address, and 2) the challenge of engaging nondemocratic states. Further, while meeting these challenges, transgovernmetnalism avoids the problems presented by liberal internationalism or the new medievalism, both of which underestimate the current role of, the democratic value of, and the potential of the nation-state as an actor in international relations.

Stackhouse, Max L. “Public Theology and Democracy’s Future,” Society, March/April 2005.

In this article, Stackhouse raises questions about the fundamental moral and theological groundings of democracy and human rights. He argues that there is an ontological basis for both democratic principles and human rights, invoking both Huntington, who argues that these are unique to and based on the (Protestant) heritage of the “West”, and Michael Perry who argues that the idea of human rights is necessarily religious in nature. Stackhouse posits that the “Judeo-Christian tradition” is particularly suited to sustain democracy, whereas, for instance, democracy faltered in ancient Greece because of its inability to “sustain a moral core.” He makes clear that while each person has an “ultimate reality…some [ultimate realities] are more capable of supporting conditions under which democracy flourishes than others.” Stackhouse calls for the underlying (Christian) religious principles of democracy to be articulated more clearly in the form of a (more) public theology. Further, in terms of promoting democracy among non-“Judeo-Christian” peoples and lands, he suggests that we “find out whether [the great world religions] have comparable concepts and prospects and where they may be able to adjust such motifs for the emerging global civil society.”

Vanhanen, Tatu. “Introduction,” “Debate on the causes of Democratization,” (ch. 1) and “Measures of Democracy,” (ch. 3) in Democratization: A Comparative Analysis of 170 Countries, New York, NY: Routledge, 2003.

In his introduction, Vanhanen expresses his fascination with Lipset’s seminal work related to economic development and its influence on democratization. Although, Vanhanen’s findings do not concur completely with Lipset’s, Lipset’s work offered Vanhanen “the idea that democracy is systematically related to measurable social structures and conditions” (1). Through his years of research on democratization, Vanhanen concluded that “the success of democracy presuppose[s] the distribution of economic and intellectual power among various social groups and their elites rather than [as Lipset argued] a high level of economic development.” Chapter 1, “Measures of Democracy,” provides a concise yet thorough overview of the range of theories that seek to explain what conditions are favorable to democratization, what factors bring about democratization, and in what circumstances democracy takes hold and flourishes. Vanhanen discusses the theories of Huntington, someone, someone, and someone among others. In Chapter 3, “Measures of Democracy,” Vanhanen offers an overview of the various ways that democracy has been and can be measured. He also deals with the challenge of defining democracy – often the word refers to different empirical phenomena and/or is used in ways that differ philosophically. This chapter favors understandings of democracy that can be measured, and the final part of the chapter focuses heavily on Vanhanen’s own methodology. Nonetheless, it is a broad yet concise overview of the various ways that democracy is being and can be conceived of, particularly in terms of its potential in autocratic or semi-democratic countries.

West, Cornell. “Democracy Matters are Frightening in Our Time,” in Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism, New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004: 1-23.

Here West argues that “[t]here is a deeply troubling deterioration of democratic powers in America today,” and that there are three dogmas that are significant contributing factors to this deterioration. The first of these dogmas is free-market fundamentalism which “trivializes the concern for public interest,” and instead glorifies materialism, negatively and deeply influences politics, and dismisses important institutions and concerns that do not fit into the market‘s narrow framework that values only what can be bought and sold for profit. The second dogma is aggressive militarism. West argues that “this dogma posits military might as salvific in a world in which he who has the most and biggest weapons is the most moral and masculine, hence worthy of policing others.” The final dogma that West points out is authoritarianism, and he links this to the increase in fear following the 9/11 attacks. He also also argues that increased authoritarianism has resulted in the silencing of dissenting or questioning voices. “The major problem,” he writes, “is not the vociferous shouting from one camp to the other; rather it is that many have given up even being heard.” In order to move toward regaining and strengthening the democratic tradition of the United States, West outlines three “crucial traditions” that “fuel deep democratic energies.” The first is a Socratic commitment to questioning, the second, a prophetic commitment to justice for all peoples, and the third, is a commitment to hope even in the face of difficulties that seem overwhelming and insurmountable. He closes with a reminder that “the basis of democratic leadership is ordinary citizens’ desire to take their country back,” and calls on readers to “work and hope” for a democratic awakening that has periodically renewed the U.S. commitment to “the American democratic experiment.”

Zakaria, Fareed. “The Rise of Illiberal Democracy,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 76, no. 6, November/December 1997: 22-43.
Zakaria seeks to distinguish liberal constitutional government from democracy. Although liberal constitutional rule is often conflated with democracy, Zakaria reminds us that a liberal government “draws on the philosophical strain beginning with the Greeks, that emphasizes individual liberty,” and constitutional government “rests on the tradition, beginning with the Romans, of the Rule of law” (26). According to Samuel Huntington, whom the author quotes and apparently agrees with, “Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting polices demanded by the public good. These qualities make such governments undesirable by do not make them undemocratic” (25). Zakaria puts forth that the rise of illiberal democracy is an increasing problem in the world today. He cites several examples of democratically elected leadership that is far from a liberal constitutional government and poses serious threats to freedom, human rights, and self-rule (for instance, Iran and Peru). Through tracing the history of both democracy and liberal constitutionalism, Zakaria demonstrates that liberalism that precedes democracy tends to transition well to liberal democratic rule, but that the reverse – the move from democracy and then to liberalism – has a much less impressive track record and is cause for concern. In terms of promoting liberal constitutional democracy, the author suggests that, while elections are important, it is important to “promote a wide array of measures designed to bolster constitutional liberalism in developing countries” (40), and, in fact, sometimes efforts that focus on measures not related to elections are more productive than election-focused efforts.

A few more thoughts on developing a decent website

May 23, 2007

I’m doing some research which requires me to get basic information about 23 non-profit organizations. There are lots of them that either don’t say or hide the most basic information – what do you do? basic background info? director? other staff? address? phone number? The bigger organizations seem to think that people will already know what it is they do.

I just went to little ole Norris Square Neighborhood Project site and they brilliantly described themselves on the first page, and included address, phone number, and email. One click and you get to “staff.”* Wow! I feel like I am probably not the only one that is often looking for this info. I won’t name names on the less than great sites, but a lot of non-profits use very fluffy language to describe themselves (I bet some churches do this too….) and you really have no idea what they mean. For instance, I went to place that describes themselves as “committed to developing a sustainable, bioregionally appropriate way of life that reflects and honors the interconnectedness of all things.” Which is lovely, except that it is sort of hard to figure out what they actually do. You can figure it out with a few clicks, but why not be clear upfront? Clarity, regular language, and intuitive navigation are so key.

*Note that the links to the individual staff members are dead on this particular website, so everything about it is not great, obviously.  Good side note: It is never, ever a good idea to have bad links on your website. I understand the challenges of how many non-profits hire their cousin to do the website, or something along those lines.  It is hard to find funds and time and people for that sort of thing.  Perhaps just take the links down until you can make them work.  Simple is good.  So much better than dead links, confusing layouts, and unclear navigation.  I think this is also a generational thing.  To my dad, a dead link isn’t a big deal. To my generation, the website is very closely linked with the organization – if you can’t keep your website up, how are you going to keep other things going?  I think this reflects how a web presence is considered an integral part of an organization to my generation (and younger, of course). I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but if public perception of your organization matters (sometimes it doesn’t) then it seems like this should be a priority…

Just some thoughts.  So glad it is finally sunny outside.  More soon…

An article on Ratzinger’s comments about how Christianity and European priests “purified” the indigenous people of what is today called South America

May 18, 2007

So I wrote a post a few days ago about how Ratzinger (known by some as Pope Benedict XVI) said that the indigenous people of what is today called South America were “silently longing” for Christianity and had welcomed the arrival of European priests who “purified” them. There is a good article here on CounterPunch about it – Ask Pope Benedict When Does Genocide Purify? by Adam Jones. (When you go to the link, scroll down a bit to see the article.)

Marisol the abused abanonded cat guest blogging.

May 17, 2007

So we are fostering a cat, Marisol, that has had a really hard time of it. And she spends her days and nights reaching her huge paws out from under her prison door meowing for us to give her more attention and play with her. If you are within a four hour driving distance of Boston, consider reading Marisol’s plea guest blog about why you might want to adopt her.


Hi everyone. My name is Marisol. This is my first time blogging. I must say, the last six months have been hard. In October, my human, who had rescued me when I was a kitten from a terribly abusive situation, up and left town, leaving me and four of my friends outside. She just left us. THEN it wasn’t until J-A-N-U-A-R-Y that we were rescued. It was so cold, one of us got frostbite. We were rescued by a nice family, but the situation is that because of my history of abuse, well, I’m a little different from other cats and I haven’t been able to find a home. I did find one home, and they loved me a lot, but I hated their other cats (they just made me too nervous) and I was too aggressive to them, so the family had to give me up. It was very sad. Lots of things are sad for me. Now I’m in a loving foster home but there are still other cats around and so I have to stay in a room by myself all the time because I don’t get along with other cats.

I am looking for a loving, patient family with no children and no other animals, where I can be an inside cat, and where I will have lots of love.

I am about five years old, have all my shots, I am fixed, and I am healthy. I have extra toes on my feet which look sort of cute, I think. I am very playful. Because of my history of abuse, I often don’t like to be touched – and I tell you so by a little scratching and biting. If you aren’t too pushy with me, I wouldn’t hurt you – but I make it clear when I don’t want to be touched and I need that to be respected. I can be very loving when I relax, but that isn’t that often as of yet, although my host family thinks I have potential.

So, if you are a loving person or family with no children and no other animals and no plans to get any other animals, maybe you could consider me. I have had a hard time of it, and would love a stable, loving home of my own, with someone to care for me.

If you would like more information or to meet me, please contact Elizabeth my foster mom. I live in Somerville but my foster family is willing to take me far and wide for the right family. And the shelter that my family volunteers for will waive my adoption fee since I am a “special case.”

Thank you for your consideration.

Marisol the cat



Read Reader Responses to UU World Ethical Eating Article

May 16, 2007

Some may remember a discussion that took place about Amy Harringer’s Ethical Eating article in the UU World a while back. Here is the original article:

And now UU World has printed a nice selection of reader responses:

If interested here are some of the posts that mention the ethical eating article:

My thoughts on it. Some follow up thoughts.

Philocrites writes on it. And Katharine does too.

Finding my UU Soul writes about the article and vegetarianism here.

And I could swear there was a post on Debitage on this topic but now I can’t find it.

So there you go.

The Phone Calls

May 16, 2007

Some of you know that I have mentored some young men (from Dayton) for the past 12 years. (Am I old enough to have done anything for 12 years? Yikes. I guess.) I should write about it in more detail sometime – the young men and their families are amazing and they have been huge joys and lights and points of learning in my life.  I love them dearly.

Anyway, one of the young men (they are in their early twenties now) and his partner are going to have a baby. And a truck was set on fire in their backyard a few weeks ago. And he has no job. And his grandpa is sick.  And… and… and…

Every time I see his name on my caller ID my stomach drops.  I can almost guarantee it is not good news or it is a call for financial help. And how much to help?  How to help? I don’t want to project all my anxieties about the dreadful state of inner-city life and racism on my young friends. Yet, it rushes over me in too many ways each time we’re in touch. I cringe at the injustice they live with every. single. day. Like a heavy rain that never stops.  They don’t notice it as much as I do because they are used to it. Strong. Numb. Whatever.

Anyway, I need to return the phone call and hope that no one is dead or arrested.  I used to say just don’t tell me anyone is dead, arrested or pregnant.  I gave up the third one.

May God be with them. With us all.

Elizabeth’s Little Blog Hits the Big Time

May 15, 2007

Well, at least by my standards. The blog and my attempts to think through vegetarian questions and UUism were mentioned by Chris Walton in “Blogs and UU World” column on the online UU World. How about that! Thanks to Chris and UU World for the mention. Go here to see the article