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  • No Enchanted Palace

    Thu, 26 Nov 2009 08:57

    Interesting review in the Financial Times of Mark Mazower's No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations:

    The United Nations is invariably judged on the basis of what it is not. It is not a world parliament, still less a world government. It is not a deus ex machina that comes on stage in the final act of global dramas to save mortal nations from the consequences of their follies. It is "no enchanted palace", as Lord Halifax, head of the British delegation, told the UN's founding conference at San Francisco in 1945.

    But, despite Halifax's caveat, the heady expectations raised by the UN's founding fathers as they emerged victorious from the second world war encouraged belief in a supra-national entity that would ensure the global peace and harmony that nation states, in the previous half century, had so singularly failed to provide.

    British historian Mark Mazower, borrowing Halifax's phrase for the title of his book on the ideological origins of the UN, sets out to uncover a more mundane agenda beneath the internationalist rhetoric of 1945: the preservation of empire, specifically Britain's, and the extension into the postwar era of the big-power compact that had defeated Nazism.

    Neither ambition was fulfilled. Empires crumbled, while the wartime alliance of convenience between the Soviet Union and the western powers was replaced by a cold war that was to freeze aspirations towards a new global order for four decades (more...)

  • Green Metropolis

    Tue, 24 Nov 2009 09:29

    A review in the Boston Globe brings my attention to David Owen's fascinating sounding Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability:

    For the past quarter century, the environmental movement has viewed cities with a certain distaste: They belch toxic fumes, use up energy, generate tons of solid waste, and pollute the water. The mandate has been to contain the sprawling metropolis, to lock up land in conservation, without thinking too much about where growth is supposed to go.

    By the turn of the 21st century, however, groups like the Sierra Club began to celebrate urban centers. With the US population growing steadily -- 400 million people by 2050 -- they realized that cities weren't the problem; for a greener planet, they were a big part of the answer.

    In today's context of climate change, energy, and a new green economy, David Owen makes an eloquent case that density is in fact the most efficient form of human settlement, in Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability.

    Owen, a staff writer for The New Yorker, traces his own family's movement to illustrate the point: starting out in New York, then relocating to rural Litchfield County in Connecticut, a seemingly more environmentally friendly arrangement. But then he realizes he must hop in the car for the simplest errands. Heating and cooling his single-family home racked up 30,000 kilowatt-hours a year, in contrast to their city apartment at 4,000. In Manhattan, the heat rose through the multiple floors, and the family could walk or take the subway to just about anything. On a per capita basis, New York is remarkably energy-efficient (more...)

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