Friday, April 13, 2012

Dear Readers


Dear Readers,

Provided I’ve done my sums correctly (always doubtful), California Mwananchi has now surpassed a quarter million words since its fitful birth in the summer of 2010, which is more than I’ll be able to say for my efforts at dissertation-writing for a long, long while.  I’m back in East Africa, the place that inspired the blog, so it seems a fitting time for reflection.

First, my thanks to regulars for reading.  Your doing so keeps me writing, so it’s your own fault if it seems that I don’t shut up.  But in the spirit of this communal enterprise, I do enjoy hearing from readers (even if it’s to tell me that I’m wrong!).

Perhaps my most impressive accomplishment since the last update was my post about cricket.  Two of them, in fact.  I’m pretty sure they’re the last word on the topic, but if you’re curious to find out more, are a real glutton for punishment, or just feel like a snooze, check out this blog written by an eminent cricketing commentator (which I’m reliably informed is financially supported by some sleep science investigators). 

I’ve also continued my efforts to understand California Governor Jerry Brown, an intriguing and infuriating public figure, and one whose un-ambitious tenure as governor in the ‘70s and ‘80s looks to be followed by a third term during which he will preside over the wholesale dismantling of California’s once-vibrant and widely-admired public sphere. 

The foremost victims of the budget cuts that have been forced on our state by the minority party have been students and employees at our splendid university system.  And the terrible cuts have provoked responses from the campuses which have too often been met by brute force from armed authorities, callous disregard by their governing bodies, hapless ineptitude that degenerated into dangerous malpractice before our very eyes by campus administrators, and efforts at blatant misrepresentation by right-wing commentators.

But all is not lost, and among the garbled and misdirected efforts and hackneyed analysis aimed at extricating California from a crisis of its own making, Mark Paul and Joe Mathews’ book, California Crackup, provides some hope, although the authors’ solutions are probably far too sensible for California’s current leadership (or its public for that matter) given the formidable structural barriers to change.  For more on California Crackup, follow the blog associated with the book here.

I’ve also tried to keep this blog somewhat light-hearted, although in the course of my travels I was reminded of some of the perils of that place called Abroad: that Norwegian airports are curiously devoid of drinking fountains, that Washington, D.C. can be cold in January (and also informative), that the British countryside is full of peril in the most unexpected places, and that sartorial gear can get you into all kinds of trouble.

I’ll admit to pining occasionally after California’s imperilled countryside and weather, but as long as I can get a nice cup of tea and find a nice place for a walk, life remains good.  And there are definite attractions to spending time in other bits of the world.  Regular readers will have been pleased to get a break these last few days when I travelled down to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the southwest of Uganda to count some hippos, watch some elephants, and add some new species to The Life List which has been languishing rather pitifully since I left the fertile bird watching territory that is coastal southern California.*

The thing that I most enjoy about blogging is the push it gives me to write regularly, which I hadn’t done in years, and which I’m finding to be more difficult than I would have imagined.  I have renewed respect for people who make a living in that way.

I remain an uneasy blogger.  It’s too easy to just blab away without pausing to consider what it means to carelessly air your views (although I’ll admit, this is also part of the draw).  I feel more than a little troubled by the ease with which I spew about subjects on which I don’t have much of a grasp (notice how this concern stops me...), but I’m hazarding a guess that there won’t be any earth-shattering consequences.

One reason why I keep writing is that there is a growing tendency for people to answer criticism with a rejoinder that goes something like this (a criticism almost inevitably levelled at critics of our blinkered national security regime, for example): ‘You don’t understand the whole picture.  Decision-makers see all kinds of information that you don’t, and are better-equipped to make judgment calls’.  Well, that’s true as far as its logic extends, which is why at the end of the day, those decision-makers have the final call. 

But such a rejoinder is no answer at all, even setting aside the abysmal record of our decision-makers, to concerns of citizens who feel left out in the cold by the actions of our political representatives.  We are moral beings.  We are citizens (wananchi if you like), not subjects, and it will not do if our representatives forget that they exist to serve us (not the other way around), and that the institutions they control are tools of democracy, and that they are consequently obliged to behave openly and accountably whether they think that serves the national interest or not.

And we have a responsibility to find out what we can about pressing issues and, when we are stymied in that quest by those who fail to respect democracy, to speak out in whatever small way we can, even if that just means annoying the heck out of some poor people who feel obliged to read on.

Believe me,

A California Mwananchi

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* Having forgot both bird book and binoculars, I was at a bit of a loss, but nonetheless saw the following (a few of them new additions to The List) plus others which await identification: Great Cormorant; Long-tailed Cormorant; Grey Heron; Goliath Heron; Great Egret; Cattle Egret; Hammerkop; Yellow-billed Stork; Saddle-Billed Stork; Marabou Stork; Sacred Ibis; Eurasian Ibis; Glossy Ibis; Egyptian Goose; Palm-nut Vulture; African Fish Eagle; Bateleur Eagle; Crowned Eagle; Dark Chanting Goshawk; Helmeted Guineafowl; Martial Eagle; Grey Crowned Crane; African Jacana; Greater Painted Snipe; Wattled Lapwing; Lesser Yellowlegs; Palm Swift; Malachite Kingfisher; Woodland Kingfisher; Giant Kingfisher; Pied Kingfisher; Lilac-Breasted Roller; White-Headed Buffalo Weaver.

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