Great Movie: No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti

A film that I suggested for the Film Columbia festival, “No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti” (“I Can’t Live Without You”), will be shown next week. Despite its Spanish title, the movie is from Taiwan, the story of an impoverished dock worker who tries to provide for his young daughter after the break up of his marriage. I saw a rough cut of the film during a visit to Taipei last December and was deeply moved by it. The writer/star/producer, Wen-Pin Chen, gave me a DVD copy that I passed on to the Chatham Film Club. Wen-Pin will fly in, stay with us and be there for the showing -- Saturday, Oct. 24, 7:30 p.m. at Morris Memorial – to answer questions.

A tender story about love and its troubles, the movie also offers a striking portrait of layers of social and political inequality. It’s Taiwan’s submission to the Academy Awards this year.

Here’s the trailer:

- Langdon

Thoughts on the Nobel Peace Prize for Barack Obama

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama came as a shock to many people, especially in the U.S. “But what has he accomplished?” the TV pundits complained. “It’s just too soon for him to be recognized in this way!” Much of the grumbling, in my view, badly misunderstands what the prize is all about and what it has become in recent years.

The story is long and complicated, but one turning point stands out. For many decades after its founding in the early 20th century, the Peace Prize Committee gave the award to presidents, prime ministers, diplomats, and official international organizations. It was basically a way to recognize notable achievements in peace negotiations, including treaties, service to the U.N. and the like. Then, in 1973 the committee gave the prize to Henry Kissinger (of all people!) and also to Le Doc To for their efforts to end the Vietnam War. Whatever the opinion of this decision may have been around the world, it brought a fire storm of criticism in Norway because many people there regarded Kissinger as a war criminal for his policies of U.S. bombing in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The ensuing shake-up in the Peace Prize Committee gave it a new a tone and focus. If you look at the list persons and organizations that have won the Peace Prize since the Kissinger debacle, you’ll see an emphasis upon human rights and environmental activists along with humanitarians, often those whose work has become a major irritant to authoritarian political regimes. Yes, there are still prizes for heads of state and diplomats who’ve taken significant steps to lessen tensions and resolve conflicts within the community of nations. But the general thrust of the prize has been to recognize voices and strategies that promise long term improvement in human relationships and prospects for a healthy biosphere.

In that light, the Peace Prize is unlike those given in the sciences and literature. The accomplishment need not be evident in any tangible form. What is valued is the spirit of a body of work that moves the world in positive, humane directions. According to the criteria that govern the selection, the prize should be given to a person who has done the most to promote world peace during the previous year. This time the Committee’s statement simply affirms that Barack Obama deserves recognition “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." I don’t think there can be much quarrel with that judgment.

My own understanding of these matters stems from conversations with my friend and colleague, Norwegian historian Francis Sejersted, my host at a University of Oslo research center in the early 1990s and who was at the time Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee. While he couldn’t discuss any specific deliberations about prize winners, he was fairly open about the general processes and sentiments that surround the operation. For example, he was greatly amused by the costly but ultimately futile public relations campaigns that try to promote particular candidates for the prize. “You’d be amazed at the stacks of materials that arrive at our door each day.” About Henry Kissinger he noted that the atmosphere of protest about the award evidently prevented him from coming to Oslo to receive it or to give the customary Nobel prize winner’s address. “But he did cash the check!” Sejersted said with a wink.

Over lunch one day I decide to poke fun at Francis about the direction and character of some of the recent decisions. “So let me see if I understand the process. You five guys in the Peace Prize Committee sit in a little room in downtown Oslo and ask: ‘OK, which nasty, brutal dictatorial regime shall we knock off this year?’ That’s how it works, right?”

Sejersted smiled and told me a story. “After the announcement of an award to a human rights advocate in South Asia, the president of the country in question asked angrily: ‘What difference does it make that a little group of Norwegians decide to give somebody a prize?’”

“He was perfectly right, of course” Francis agreed. “It shouldn’t make any difference that a group of people from a little country like Norway gives a prize!” Then he chuckled and said, “But is does make a difference. And the interesting thing is…no one knows why."

- Langdon Winner

Global citizens deliberate and vote on Global Warming policies

(from the organization's web page)

"On September 26, 2009, World Wide Views on Global Warming (WWViews) organized the first-ever, globe-encompassing democratic deliberation in world history. WWViews enabled roughly 4,400 citizens citizens from 38 countries all over the world to define and communicate their positions on issues central to the UN Climate Change negotiations (COP15), which take place in Copenhagen from December 7 – 18, 2009.

The main objective of WWViews is to give a broad sample of citizens from across the Earth the opportunity to influence global climate policy. An overarching purpose is to set a groundbreaking precedent by demonstrating that political decision-making processes on a global scale benefit when everyday people participate."

I observed the process at the meeting in Boston on Saturday. It was very well organized and exhilarating to behold. The results of all sessions can be found here, presented in ways that make comparisons across countries and regions very easy.

My initial impression of some of the results will, I hope, go up on the "experts blog. Meanwhile, here they are:

The meeting I observed in Boston was a far better example of citizen engagement than the Congressional town hall meeting on health care that I attended this summer. The World Wide Views model of public deliberation is a good one and should be used in a wide variety of issues that concern the global community of nations. While people’s views are fully expressed and respected, the meeting format does not allow obnoxious venting and grandstanding. [Sorry, Fox News.]

The results showed a very strong expression of concern about global warming. There was an overwhelming sense of urgency for achieving a strong climate agreement. In addition there was a pungent message that politicians in all nations must heed the deal made in Copenhagen this December and see that its provisions are put to work in practice.

Perhaps the strongest result was that 89% participants affirmed that short term reductions of carbon emissions in developing countries be reduced by 25-40%. This will come as a shock to world leaders who are aiming at targets much lower than that in the immediate future.

At the same time within the aggregate results, there were some themes that I found moderately worrisome.

A total of 43% of participants world wide seemed to say that a rise of 2 degrees Centigrade or higher is actually permissible. Reading the same figures, however, it’s also true that 89% of participants overall said that no more than 2 degrees increase would be acceptable. [Is the glass half empty or half full?]

2. Another unsettling feature was that among some national groups, raising the price of fossil fuels was not uniformly popular. Some 32% of U.S. participants said no price rise was desirable. Evidently, many Americans want the Age of Happy Motoring to continue. A substantial number people in the groups from Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and UK were also opposed to price hikes on fossil fuels.

3. Finally, I was interested in the data from question 2.4 about whether punitive sanctions should be applied. In the combined groups from the U.S.A., 29% said there should be no sanctions or only symbolic ones. This may be a residual expression of the feeling that rules and penalties made in international treaties don’t really apply to the United States. In contrast, some groups from countries in which democratic institutions are relatively feeble voted very strongly in favor of strategies of punishment.

That’s my first pass through this very interesting collection of data. I invite your thoughts on the matter. Send them to me by email: