Thursday, October 26, 2006

1st Quarter Watson report

I submitted this report to the Watson Foundation in late October, 2006.

Last night I was sitting in on an “environmental English” class held at the office of the Global Village of Beijing—founded in 1996, it is one of China’s oldest environmental NGOs. Towards the end of class, the teacher asked me to give an impromptu “speech” about my background and research interests. When I had finished, an environmental journalist named Ling Hua asked, “When you say ‘sustainability,’ do you think that means something different in your country than in China?” I responded that, indeed, her perceptive question is a pivotal facet of what I am trying to figure out myself, then gave the class an overview of an insightful book I have been reading by Indian environmental historian Ramachandra Guha (How Much Should a Person Consume?). And so it has gone these past three months, though I can hardly believe that I am already a quarter of the way through my Watson year.

From the moment I stepped off the plane in New Delhi, my jaw has remained in dropped-open position, and I have had to watch each step ever-so-carefully to keep from falling off this marvelously steep learning curve I am on. I began this trip feeling knowledgeable and self-confident almost to a fault, but along the way have had so many pre-conceptions about myself and the world challenged that I already feel, in some ways, like a very different person than the one who left behind the comforts of home only a few weeks ago. I have been both terrified and bold, homesick and liberated, brilliant and ridiculous, and every shade in between; probably the only sensations I have not experienced thus far are boredom or a lack of enthusiasm. On the Watson website, you say that “When they wake up in the morning most Watson Fellows ask themselves, What am I going to do today?” and that Fellows should be comfortable with that degree of freedom. Though I have not previously been offered such incredible latitude in life, I must admit that I have adjusted quite well. Thus far, the experience has been a wonderful mix of stimulating interaction and engagement, self-reflection, and communicating my lessons and joys with my wider community. I still do not possess too much of a sense as to where this whole experience is leading me, but I do know that whatever opportunities present themselves at the other end, I will be better prepared to take full advantage.

The learning began before I ever reached India, when I took advantage of a lay-over in London to meet and interview staff at the E.F. Schumacher-inspired NGO Practical Action, formerly known as the Intermediate Technology Development Group. There I spent two days digging through their extensive library, and interviewing their Policy and Programs Director and Development Education Manager, among others. Upon arriving in Delhi, I made contact with two of my primary Indian research partners—the government-sponsored think tank National Institute of Science, Technology, and Development Studies and the NGO Centre for Science and the Environment, the latter embroiled in a very interesting recent public debate with government and business leaders about perceived levels of pesticides in soda products. I also took care of some logistical issues such as securing a place to live when I return for a longer stay next March.

Almost immediately upon arriving, however, an old college roommate and fellow expat who has become something of a Tibetan studies scholar informed me that the Dalai Lama would be giving a several-day teaching at his residence-in-exile in McLeod Ganj (north India). So a significant chunk of my initial stay in India was devoted to somewhat of a crash course in Tibetan Buddhism. As I mentioned in my research proposal, understanding the philosophical traditions of a people is key to understanding their contemporary views on important issues such as science and sustainability. Tibetan Buddhism offers a particularly pertinent example of this intersection, as the current Dalai Lama has devoted significant time and resources to interacting with the Western scientific community, even issuing a number of statements on the relationship between spirituality and science and co-founding the think tank Mind and Life Institute.

From India I headed to Beijing, where I am becoming completely enamored with China’s culture and history and frequently wish I could break off a piece of myself to leave behind. As anyone who has been keeping up with world events must know, it is an incredibly exciting and fascinating time to be in China. The country is in the midst of significant upheaval on nearly all fronts, and you can literally observe tremendously important historical events taking shape right before your eyes. Were I a social scientist with an interest in taking up Mandarin, I would likely relocate here, as so many Chinese-Americans appear to be doing. I am sure that the near-perfect climate of autumn in Beijing must be playing a role in this newly-sparked love affair, and like a true feckless lover, I am readying myself to head south as the leaves change and the air turns crisp.

But in my first two months in China, I have been quite successful in accomplishing my research goals. Thus far, I have had volunteerships and interviews with important Chinese NGOs like Friends of Nature (China’s oldest environmental NGO), the Global Environmental Institute, and the Global Village of Beijing. I have helped spread the word about and organize FON’s “Beijing for Bikes” photo exhibit, helped with proofreading these organizations’ English-language publications, and been a teaching assistant at environmental English classes. As a result, I have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the pioneers of China’s environmental movement, as well as the scholars who are documenting it, and to learn firsthand about some of the pressing environmental challenges the country faces.

I also participated in a week-long “U.S.-China Science and Technology Policy Forum,” jointly organized by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) and the George Mason University China Program. At this Forum, I was able to interact with and learn from a host of high-level policy-makers and academics, and took part in tours of several premier Chinese research universities and think tanks. Through these interactions, I learned much about how China’s scientific community interacts with the State, the government’s efforts (and shortcomings!) with regards to sustainability, and the evolving role that China’s growing civil society is playing in these affairs. Throughout it all, I managed to begin some basic Mandarin lessons (“Ni hao ma?” “Ma ma huhu, xiexie.” “Ni shi naliren?” “Wo shi mei guo ren.” “Fuwuyuan, qing zai lai yi ge.” “Wei sheng jian zai na lee?”), which I hope to complement with some more extensive Hindi lessons when I return to India. In a few more weeks, I will begin the second leg of my China stay, and will interact with some Hong Kong-based NGOs, as well as the Center for Applied Ethics.

Not to imply that I haven’t snuck in some fantastic sightseeing along the way, or that my fellowship has been without any sort of challenges or difficulties. One thing I realized fairly early on is just how broad my research topic is. I sort of knew that going into it, but this awareness has been reinforced by meeting plenty of scholars along the way who devoted years and significant intellectual effort towards understanding just one small piece of the overall big picture that I am interested in. So, while on the one hand it has been wonderful to be able to wake up and say “Today I am going to read about nanotechnology, or about Hindu bioethics, or about China’s scientific elite, or compare consumption patterns between the U.S. and various Asian nations…” my regular interaction with other scholars has reminded me of just how little I really know about any of these topics. I am optimistic that as I gain a clearer idea as to exactly where life is headed post-Watson, a sense of focus will also naturally begin to develop; but I am truly appreciating the opportunity to try and ascertain the lay of the forest before I really get to know any particular tree.

The language barrier has also been more significant than I had anticipated, and hence basic logistics take up more of my time than I would have guessed. While in India one can count on the educated elite being pretty fluent in English, that sure does not help when you are trying to catch a cab or pick something up from the store. The Chinese, on the other hand, seem every bit as obstinate about learning foreign languages as we Americans. I knew that ignorance of Mandarin would make life a bit more difficult here, but honestly, in many parts of the city it seems like a fella could starve to death for not knowing the language. Fortunately, I found a few helpful individuals, such as my Mandarin tutor, who is more than willing to move our classroom outdoors into the markets or restaurants, and who has some other English-speaking friends that are able to act as translators. A huge lesson though, and one I probably would not have found quite so surprising had I of spent significant time in a developing country prior to this trip, is just how much we Americans take for granted in terms of health, safety, and just basic conveniences. Like nearly every Westerner I have spoken with, I fell ill, most likely due to a mild case of food poisoning, in India. I am also becoming a gold medal finalist in what will surely be the hottest new competition in Beijing 2008: “Street-crossing in Hostile Urban Environments.”

But perhaps the most heart-wrenching challenge I have faced is simply coming to grips with the astonishing poverty I witnessed these past few months. Given who I am and where I come from, it has frequently been a real struggle for me to justify my existence out here in this world of such great need. So many people with so little, and me with relatively so much. Why do we each deserve our collective lots in life? As with so many of the other questions I set out with, I have not answered this one yet either, but I will certainly be interested to hear the other Fellows’ reflections. Perhaps the best response I can come up with thus far is that the lessons I am learning out here in the world will undoubtedly remain with me for the rest of my life, and will certainly shape my future course. And as I ask these sorts of questions aloud to my family, friends, and people I meet along my journey, hopefully, in some small way, I am already contributing to bringing into existence the sort of world I hope to see. Given all that I witnessed these past few months, it would be easy to become disillusioned or pessimistic about humanity’s future prospects. But perhaps, in the words of French author Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “As for the future, your task is not to foresee, but to enable it.”

Saturday, October 14, 2006

2006 Endorsement of John Russell for Florida's Fifth Congressional District

I am writing to urge your editorial endorsement of Congressional candidate John Russell. As a fourth-generation resident of Florida’s fifth Congressional district, I have observed a lot of changes in our region; and as someone who only came into legal voting age a few political cycles ago, I have witnessed some dramatic changes in our political landscape as well. I was not a big fan of Bill Clinton, but one thing I appreciated about the Clinton years was that there was at least a significant array of opposition (from a wide ideological spectrum) that held his feet to the fire and challenged many aspects of his agenda. Throughout most of Clinton’s presidency, for instance, we had a Republican-controlled Congress that was anything but concessional.

A primary rationale for having different branches of government is so that we can maintain a system of checks and balances and no one branch becomes too powerful. This arrangement is one of the most crucial aspects of our democracy. Yet with a Congress controlled by Republicans like Ginny Brown-Waite, who have spent the past several years basically rubber-stamping President Bush’s agenda, our system of checks and balances has essentially been chucked. As such, many of the bad decisions President Bush has made have not been adequately scrutinized.

When we examine a wide range of issues that are important to the citizens of the fifth District—such as national security and foreign policy, health care, the economy, veterans’ issues, social security, and the environment—it becomes clear that our nation is in need of some new direction. While Brown-Waite’s opponent, John Russell, might not have a voting record that we can look to for comparison, he certainly seems to have put serious thought into the challenges facing our country and has many vibrant new ideas. Besides, any serious scrutiny of Brown-Waite’s record tells us it would be hard to do worse.

A thoughtful, informed candidate, John Russell is unfortunately currently the underdog in this race. Not only is he taking on an incumbent in what is considered by some political analysts a “safe” district for Republicans, he is also seriously outspent by Brown-Waite by a margin of nearly 10-1. In today’s political environment, too often the issues take a backseat to “the money race.” But such a vast margin begs the question: where is Brown-Waite’s funding coming from and who is she really going to be representing if we send her back to Washington? A quick look at the Federal Election Commission data displayed on the website of the Center for Responsive Politics reveals that 57% of Brown-Waite’s campaign funding derives from “Political Action Committees,” or “PACs,” versus only 2% for John Russell. Especially in light of the ever-widening Abramoff scandal, I would much rather send an idea-rich and money-poor candidate to D.C., secure in the knowledge that he would be representing the concerns of folks back home and not the big-money interests that bankrolled his campaign.

I have already written to the Russell campaign to discuss a number of issues, and each time I have gotten a personal and thoughtful response. I believe that if elected, John Russell will be a conscientious and vigilant representative of our district, not someone who is more concerned with repaying his campaign sponsors, toeing the party line, and rubber-stamping George Bush’s flawed agenda.


Jason Fults

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Postcard to Google from Tibet

In recent weeks, my travels have led me to an unexpectedly heavy dose of Tibetan culture and Buddhism, mostly thanks to my pal and fellow expat Hotfoot, who's spent a significant amount of time volunteering in the Tibetan settlement community in McLeod Ganj, India and studying the Tibetan language. Along the way, I've learned about torture and imprisonment of Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese government, seen artwork created by young Tibetan children filled with violent imagery that should never exist in a child's mind, and was fortunate enough to be in the presence of the Dalai Lama, who, along with other leaders of Tibetan Buddhism, has been forced to flee his homeland.

Shortly after leaving McLeod, I traveled through Tibet--part of a larger trip from Delhi to Beijing. I chronicled my experiences somewhat, also online, and would be happy to share those with anyone who's interested. In Tibet, I visited numerous holy sites, and also experienced firsthand the police-state atmosphere that exists there.
One conspicuous absence is the lack of photos of the Dalai Lama anywhere--apparently they've been banned. In McLeod, every shop I went into had his photo on the wall; but when I bought some books and scrolls there with the DL's picture and quotes on them, I was warned not to bring them into China.

Another strange phenomenon, especially for anyone who might be interested in reading more about the relationship between Tibet and the People's Republic, involves the internet. As I was considering taking the new Lhasa-->Beijing train, I wanted to do a bit more reading on the human rights organization
Free Tibet's objections to it. Interestingly, I wasn't able to access their website from within China. Nor was I able to access a number of other sites that might be considered objectionable from the standpoint of Chinese authoritarian orthodoxy. It turns out that while China may very well be modernizing with respect to communications technology (there are internet cafes in any decent-sized city, and these are mostly swamped with Chinese youth playing online video games), they are most certainly not "Westernizing," at least with respect to values such as free speech. See this brief article, "The Great Firewall of China," for more details (though again, good luck accessing it from within China). As author Richard Taylor states in the article, "China is proof that the net can be developed and strangled all at once." [Another great article to take a look at appeared in the NYT a few months back (thanks, Molly!). And here's an interesting report by the OpenNet Initiative.]

Aiding in this simultaneous development and strangulation are companies such as Microsoft, Yahoo, and Google, all Western-based but with a huge financial stake in accessing Chinese markets. The first two--Microsoft and Yahoo--were frankly no surprise, as they're big-money corporates from way back. But Google, a hip modern company which markets itself with slogans such as "You can make money without doing evil," "Democracy on the web works," and "The need for information crosses all borders," has apparently been neglecting a few border-crossings as of late.

According to Free Tibet, who is calling for a boycott of Google products, "
In January 2006 Google announced that it is to capitulate to political pressure from China and provide a web-based search engine for the Chinese market that will prohibit access to information about Tibet and other sensitive political issues, such as Taiwan and the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989." I've been trying real hard to imagine the initial interactions between representatives from Google and the People's Republic. It must have felt a bit awkward, perhaps even embarrassing, for Google to be systematically figuring out how they would build customer loyalty amongst the Chinese while simultaneously preventing their access to such important information. A more recent article from the Sydney Morning Herald indicates that they may be having second thoughts about their capitulation, and I hope they'll act on those twinges of guilt.

As an avid user of Google products, such as Gmail and, obviously, Blogger, I'm having a few twinges myself. As such, I sent Google a postcard from Lhasa, pictured above, and am awaiting an appropriate response. Until I get one, or until they take it down, the postcard will remain here for other potential Google customers to see.

For further information regarding internet censorship and what we can do to fight back, check out this new campaign from Amnesty International

This morning, just before posting this essay, I received an email from Google in response to my postcard. Strange coincidence. Here is their response, in its entirety:

Hi Jason,

Thank you for contacting us about We launched for our users in the People's Republic of China who want to search and browse in Simplified Chinese. Making our site available to millions of users in
their preferred language is a critical part of our mission to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful.

At first, will serve Google Web Search, Google Image Search, Google Maps, and Google News. Over time, we'll provide more Google services tailored for the China market. In launching, we aim to
balance three important values: users' interests, expanding access to information, and responding to local conditions in the markets we serve. Prior to this launch, many users in China were unable to access our site,
and those who were able to access it often experienced persistent latency, delay, and time-out issues. With, users can now access much more information, much more quickly.

As you may know, to operate a web service in China, we must remove a small percentage of content from the search results available on The decision to do that was not an easy one for Google, in light of our
mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." After a long process of study, analysis, and debate about the many technical, business, and ethical considerations, we concluded that the best available option was to provide our Chinese users with a search service that, while filtered, will be faster, more reliable, and, overall, more comprehensive than what's available today. Given the current filtering that's performed on the entire internet in China, will provide no less information than would otherwise be
available. In fact, we believe that our advanced, innovative search technologies will make a noticeable net increase in the amount of information accessible to our Chinese users.

So, while removing this content may seem inconsistent with our mission, we believe that will significantly improve the user experience and increase the overall accessibility of information in China. Our view is that providing as much information as possible is better than providing no information at all -- or providing such a heavily degraded user experience that it basically amounts to no information. Moreover, we think it's important to give users some meaningful disclosure whenever some results have been removed; in those cases, clearly presents a message that says, "In response to local laws, regulations, or policies, one or more search results do not appear." It's also worth noting that will continue to be available, unfiltered, for all internet users worldwide, including those in China.

China is developing rapidly, thanks in no small measure to the internet. We firmly believe that with Google's culture of innovation, we can make meaningful and positive contributions to the already impressive pace of
development in China.

We appreciate your interest in Google and your taking the time to share your concerns with us.

The Google Team"

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Summary: "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" is one of those rare books that I think pretty much everyone needs to read--especially Westerners. It is a sizable book, and a bit of an undertaking, but even for people who probably won't get around to reading it, I think at the least that everyone should try to be familiar with the basic analysis Diamond puts forward.

Having just finished it for the second time (I rarely read the same book twice), I decided to make a basic outline of Diamond's arguments both for the benefit of others and so that I can refer back to it as I continue to study world history. I quote Diamond pretty liberally, so I hope I'm not violating any sort of copyright laws that are going to get me into trouble. If so, I'm sure someone will be kind enough to inform me ;)

People should also feel free to contact me if they have any questions about any aspects of this summary, or suggestions as to how it could be made more useful.

Otherwise, I hope to read "Collapse," a more recent work by Diamond, at some point. But if somebody out there has put together a summary similar to this one I'd sure like to check it out.


5-9 million years ago: "...a population of African apes broke up into several populations, one of which proceeded to evolve into modern gorillas, a second into the two modern chimps, and the third into humans."

Homo erectus, the 1st human ancestor to spread beyond Africa about 1-2 million years ago, had a similar body size to modern humans but about ½ our brain size

Homo sapiens date back about ½ million years; this also corresponds to human ancestors'’ earliest entry into Europe and the beginning of our use of fire

Homo neanderthalensis populated Europe and West Asia 40,000-130,000 years ago and were the first humans to leave behind strong evidence of burying their dead and caring for their sick

Cro-Magnon humans represent the "“Great Leap Forward"” in human evolution, taking place around 50,000 years ago; "...biologically and behaviorally modern humans."” Evidence of stone and bone multi-piece tools and weapons, jewelry, houses, sewn clothing, carefully buried skeletons, and artwork. Proposed explanations of the "“Great Leap"” include the perfection of the voice box, changes in brain organization, either/both of which could have enabled the development of modern language. These developments coincide w/ the "“extinction" of the Neanderthals and "...the first proven major extension of human geographic range since our ancestors'’ colonization of Eurasia."” This geographic extension, reaching in Australia and New Guinea, provides the first evidence in human history of the use of watercraft.

11,000 B.C. (note Diamond'’s distinction between "“calibrated"” and "“uncalibrated"” radiocarbon dates.): end of most recent Ice Age. All peoples on all continents were still hunter-gatherers, most still living in nomadic bands of no more than a few dozen members; corresponds to the beginnings of village life in some parts of the planet, the first undisputed peopling of the Americas, the "“Recent Era."” W/in 1500 or so years, humans will begin domesticating plants and animals in southwest Asia, then elsewhere. By way of contrast humans did not even begin entering the Americas (via Alaska) until 12,000 B.C. Earliest sites of plant/animal domestication correspond w/ earliest instances of what we now refer to as "“civilization."”

8,000-2,500 B.C.: all species for whose dates of domestication we have archaeological evidence were domesticated during this period, after which, there have been no significant additions

5,500 B.C.: the evolution of chiefdoms in the Fertile Crescent region (larger, more centralized organization w/ more complex economies than tribal configurations)

4,000 B.C.: the domestication of horses begins in the "“steppes north of the Black Sea."” This development would change the face of warfare all the way into the First World War.

>3,000 B.C.: first known independent invention of a writing system by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia; may also have been invented independently later by Chinese, Egyptians, and Mexican natives. All early writing societies were agrarian, socially stratified societies with complex and centralized political institutions. Writing was initially a tool of the ruling classes to facilitate the maintenance of their empires.

2,500-1,500 B.C.: eastern U.S. "“founder crops"” were domesticated during this period, though farming did not begin to supply a major part of the diet until around 500-200 B.C., and farming did not develop such that densely populated chiefdoms arose until >900 A.D.

1,000 B.C.: the evolution of chiefdoms in Mesoamerica and the Andes

2nd century B.C. China achieves significant political unification, and remains largely thus for the rest of its history (this unification will have significant effects on China as compared with Europe later on)

300-800 A.D.: Austronesians arrive on the African island of Madagascar after crossing 4,000 miles of Indian Ocean from modern-day Borneo (Indonesia). Diamond refers to this colonization as perhaps the single most astonishing fact of human geography. This fact is perhaps explained by a well-documented trade route that linked India w/ Indonesia to the east, and India to Egypt and the coast of East Africa to the west. This route was written about as early as 100 A.D., but is well-documented after 800 A.D.

Medieval Europe (500-1500 A.D.): beginnings of an Industrial Revolution based upon water and wind power; by late Medieval or Renaissance period, most of Eurasia had come under the rule of organized states, even empires

1500 A.D.: beginnings of European worldwide colonial expansion; peoples on different continents differed greatly in technology and political organization. Indigenous population of West Indies exceeded one million when Columbus arrived. The first European colony was founded on the American mainland around 1508, at the Isthmus of Panama, followed by the conquest of the Aztecs and Incas in 1519-1520 and 1532-33, respectively.

European "“superiority"”: some of the suggested primary reasons for Europe'’s advances include genetics, the stimulatory/inhibitory effects of cold/hot climates, and large-scale irrigation systems-->centralized bureaucracies; none of these explanations stand up to scrutiny however, according to Diamond

Human-animal co-evolution: the survival of megafauna, which existed on most all continents, into the modern era, depends largely upon how long these critters had co-evolved w/ proto-humans before being confronted by modern humans possessing fully developed hunting skills. E.g., Eurasia and Africa vs. Australia, New Guinea, and the Americas. Whether or not, and what kind, of megafauna were available to developing societies ended up making a pretty profound difference in the course of their evolution.

Other environmental factors that Diamond cites as being important in a society'’s evolution: climate (e.g., favorable Mediterranean climate), presence of plant species favorable to human cultivation, geological type, marine resources, area, terrain variety & geographic fragmentation, axis orientation (e.g., east-west vs. north-south), and isolation.

Axis orientation: "“Localities distributed east and west of each other at the same latitude share exactly the same day length and its seasonal variations. To a lesser degree, they also tend to share similar diseases, regimes of temperature and rainfall, and habitats or biomes (types of vegetation)...the germination, growth, and disease resistance of plants are adapted to precisely those features of climate."” This similarity of condition facilitated the spread of plants much more quickly east<-->west than north<-->south. With regard to the possibility of the axis direction also affecting the diffusion of technologies and ideas, Diamond notes "“In general, societies that engaged in intense exchanges of crops, livestock, and technologies related to food production were more likely to become involved in other exchanges as well."”

Isolation is an interesting variable, because, on the one hand, how long did a given society have to develop on its own before coming into interaction with other societies which might potentially conquer or contaminate it (e.g., 3,200 years for the Polynesians vs. 13,000 years for Native Americans)? On the other hand, there are some obvious, powerful benefits to interaction between societies, provided they don'’t conquer you. We might think of competing, or at least intermingling societies the same way we think of interactions between individual critters w/in a given species. It'’s the aggregate effect that'’s important from a historical perspective, not the effect on one of the individual societies; hence regardless of which individual societies have come out on top and which were assimilated/destroyed/plagued, the aggregate effect is that competition/interaction has tended to strengthen human society as contrasted with isolation.

Variation in environment--> variation in subsistence.

Subsistence methods--> population size/density:

There are probably less than 10 places on Earth where food production arose independently. By food production, we mean domestication of plants and animals--—i.e., taking control of a species'’ reproductive cycle such that we alter it genetically towards a form more useful to human beings. This sort of inter-species co-evolution has long existed in nature (e.g., "“ripe"” vs. sour fruits that attract animals only once the seed is fully-matured), domestication is simply more conscious and directed. This process began simply enough, w/ human hunter-gatherers tending to harvest fruits most pleasing (and convenient) to them, and hence disperse the seeds of those individual plants more widely.

With regards to animals, there are a few very important characteristics that determine whether or not a given species can be domesticated (and only a small fraction can): 1) lower on the food chain (i.e., no carnivores) for reasons of bio-efficiency, 2) fast growth rate (aids in selective breeding), 3) must be willing/able to breed in captivity, 4) not too nasty (e.g., bears and hippos), 5) not a "“nervous"” species (e.g., deer) that don'’t function well in captivity, 6) "“herd"” species rather than territorial.

Similarly w/ plants, only a fraction of the overall available species have been domesticated, and pretty much all of these were discovered and domesticated in ancient times.

Farming offers more calories available/acre; permits or requires people to adopt sedentary living; creates seasonally pulsed inputs of labor (making food producers available for other activities after harvest season); leads to a shortened birth interval (approx. two yrs for farmers vs. four for hunter-gatherers) because one doesn'’t have to wait for their child to be as old before they can safely have another; provides food surpluses that can be more easily stored w/in a settlement; food surpluses in turn allow for non-farming "“specialists"” (e.g., leaders/bureaucrats, soldiers) to devote less time to gathering food; additionally, domesticated animals provide food, fertilizer, fiber, labor/transportation, and acquired immunity to certain epidemic diseases.

[Interesting note on the evolution of monoculture farming: Diamond claims that monocultures developed in places where large animals were domesticated and could be hitched to plows, thereby tilling the fields and allowing for broadcast of a single type of seed. Alternately, in places where these animals weren'’t available, fields tended to be planted by hoe and stick, individually planted seeds, and a mix of species.]

Of course, not all of the "“benefits"” of farming would have been immediately recognizable to early farmers, and according to Diamond, some archaeologists have demonstrated that early farmers were perhaps less well-off than their hunter-gatherer contemporaries. [Note: not all ancient hunter-gatherers were nomadic, just as not all food producers were/are sedentary.] The transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer took place over thousands of years for the earliest farmers, and did not involve one big decision, but many smaller ones. What were the factors that contributed to this decision? 1) declining availability of wild food (e.g., megafauna extinctions); 2) climate changes which expanded the range of some domesticable plants; 3) development of improved technologies for collecting, processing, and storing wild foods; 4) availability of a suitable "“basket"” of potential domesticable plants/animals, such that farming begins to offer a reasonable alternative to hunting-gathering (see the global distribution of high quality, domesticable plants/animals in antiquity for a powerful hint at why farming began in some places and not in others)

There is also a correspondence between primary food-gathering technology and population density; i.e., hunter-gatherers-->less dense (e.g., 5 people/square mile), while farming-->more dense (e.g., 1100 people/square mile even in "“primitive settings"”). Population density for our purposes is most appropriately defined as people/square mile of arable land. Once a society begins to go down the road of increased population density, it'’s difficult to "“go back"” w/out mass die-off, so they tended to get caught in a cycle of food production-->higher density populations-->require particular patterns of food production.

High-density societies (i.e., farming societies) tend to have more people, a more complex system of organization, & greater trade specialization--—all of which offer certain advantages in contrast with societies which do not have these characteristics. In general, hunter-gatherer societies, when confronted with farming societies, have either 1) joined them, or 2) been replaced by them.

Correspondence between space for a society to expand and its methods of conflict resolution? One example Diamond cites is the Moriori tribe (of the Chatham islands) who were isolated and could not expand; they renounced war, and "“reduced potential conflicts from overpopulation by castrating some male infants."” Could the Caribbean islanders that Columbus massacred be another example of this correspondence?? [Later in the book Diamond cautions against the assumption that people w/in a society are not violent simply because one does not actually observe this violence taking place. Methods other than direct observation, such as gathering peoples'’ family histories, can reveal otherwise.] Population size certainly plays a role in conflict resolution w/in a given society, with a monopoly on the use of force becoming necessary as a society increases in size. In smaller societies, there are still enough kin-based bonds between members that there is plenty of impetus to nip conflicts in the bud. Additionally, communal, non-centralized decision-making becomes increasingly difficult in larger groups. Population densities in a given region also help determine how interaction and warfare between groups may play out. Whether a conquered group will simply relocate, or become annihilated, enslaved, or vassalized may depend upon the population density of the region in which the conflict takes place and the population density of the societies in question; e.g., a society must have a fairly complex system of organization in order to be able to make any sort of use of slaves on a large scale.

Germs: Epidemic diseases, not conquistadores, were the real shock troops of European colonization, advancing well ahead of the would-be conquerors and wiping out untold numbers (perhaps as high as 95%) of vulnerable natives. This fact is seen most readily in the colonization of the Americas, although epidemic disease also provided significant barriers to European colonization in tropical Asia, Africa, Indonesia, and New Guinea. Some major epidemics which have evolved from diseases of animals: smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, plague, measles, yellow fever, and cholera. Until WWII, more victims of war died of war-borne microbes than of battle wounds.

Characteristics of epidemic diseases: 1) pattern of infection; epidemics produce no cases for a long time, then a whole wave of cases, then no more cases again for awhile. 2) spread quickly through an entire population. 3) they are "“acute;"” w/in a short time hosts either die or recover completely; 4) those who recover tend to develop immunity from future infections of the same disease; 5) microbes causing epidemic diseases tend to be restricted to human hosts and do not move freely between other mediums; 6) require populations that are sufficiently numerous and dense in order to sustain themselves--—hence smaller populations cannot generally evolve epidemic diseases to pass on to others, because the disease cannot sustain itself. This latter characteristic also implies that epidemic diseases are relatively new to humankind, since we have only recently begun (since onset of agriculture) acquiring population sizes/densities adequate to maintain them.

Other ways in which farming contributes to the spread/evolution of epidemic disease: creating sedentary as opposed to nomadic societies, use of humanure for fertilizer, attraction of disease-carrying rodents to farmers'’ stored food, domestication of other social animals who have epidemic-disease causing germs of their own, and the development of vast trade routes amongst numerous sedentary societies, each w/ their own set of epidemic diseases.

Other kinds of diseases (i.e., non-epidemic types) can either maintain themselves in other mediums (e.g., soil or other animals), are chronic (i.e., they take a long time to kill their victim), or are nonfatal and thus survivors may not have immunity

Technology: e.g., weapons, writing/communication systems, political organization, transportation.

Each society has its own set of values and conditions which influence which technologies it accepts, and when, as well as its overall level of innovation and receptivity to innovation. These values of course differ between neighboring societies, and w/in a given society over time. Additionally, much if not most new technologies that a society encounters are not invented locally but are instead borrowed from other societies. Hence diffusion of technology between societies becomes very important, especially w/ increasing technological complexity. Proximity to competing societies may encourage a particular technology to be adopted; proximity also affects whether a particular technology, once adopted, is maintained. So again, Diamond comes back to a bio-geographical explanation for technological superiority in some societies as trumping any sort of a cultural explanation, because what mattered most ultimately was 1) time of onset of food production, 2) barriers to diffusion of technology and ideas, and 3) human population size. And again, Eurasia is at the advantage. Further, since technological development tends to catalyze greater technological development, early head-starts have a tendency to become exaggerated over time.

In the final section of his book, Diamond takes a brief (130 page) look at global history and applies the lessons learned thus far to explain the rise and fall of different societies, as well as examining the varying results of major population movements throughout history. His focus is on Australia/New Guinea/Polynesia, China/Southeast Asia, Africa, and the Americas, and he cites both archaeological and linguistic evidence to reinforce his analysis.

In the last chapter, Diamond sets the stage for his more recent book, "“Collapse"”: "Even from A.D. 1000-1450 the flow of science and technology was predominantly into Europe from the Islamic societies stretching from India to North Africa, rather than vice versa. During those same centuries China led the world in technology, having launched itself on food production nearly as early as the Fertile Crescent did."” So then why did the center of power in the ancient world shift continually westward, from the Fertile Crescent to Greece, then Rome, and finally to northern and western Europe? A major contributor appears to have been ecocide. "...Fertile Crescent and eastern Mediterranean societies had the misfortune to arise in an ecologically fragile environment. They committed ecological suicide by destroying their own resource base. Power shifted westward as each eastern Mediterranean society in turn undermined itself, beginning with the oldest societies, those in the east (the Fertile Crescent)...In effect, Europe received its crops, livestock, technology, and writing systems from the Fertile Crescent, which then gradually eliminated itself as a major center of power and innovation."”

With regards to China, Diamond largely faults political centralization, which enabled the Chinese empire to completely isolate itself through the decisions of a few individuals; compare this w/ politically dis-unified Europe, which consisted of numerous smaller nation-states locked in competition w/ one another. He gives numerous other examples to further illustrate this contrast between China and Europe, specifically around decisions to adopt or abandon particular technologies and/or technological processes.

The historical forces that Diamond cites are however just that--—historical. And while he is of course correct in his assertion that "...the hand of history'’s course at 8000 B.C. lies heavily on us..."”, in that it is unlikely that sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians, and Native Americans will be dominating world affairs any time soon, it is also clear that powerful new forces have arisen in the modern world, forces which he cannot fully account for in Guns, Germs, and Steel. It begs the question, which environmental/geographical determinants are still relevant and most important in the modern world, and I am hoping that he poses somewhat of an answer to this question in his later work. He does at least entertain "...the broad range of questions concerning cultural idiosyncrasies [and the idiosyncrasies of individuals, hence acknowledging the "“Big Man"” historians], unrelated to environment and initially of little significance, that might evolve into influential and long-lasting cultural features..."” and acknowledges that "...their significance constitutes an important unanswered question."” Yet his initial thesis remains intact, as "“[this question]...can best be approached by concentrating attention on historical patterns that remain puzzling after the effects of major environmental factors have been taken into account."”

In addition to this set of questions--—perhaps the biggest, most important mysteries of human history left unaddressed by the book--—I also finished Guns, Germs, and Steel with more of an interest in the role that North Africa and the Indian subcontinent played in the development of ancient human civilization, as these areas were largely glossed over by Diamond.

The book also had a number of excellent charts and graphs which contributed significantly to the overall argument. In particular, I found the illustrations on pages 37, 87, 99, 135, 140, 162, 167, 177, 268-9, 362-3 quite useful, and have copies of them on-hand if anyone would like to see them as something of a supplement to my outline.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Pre-Emptive Epitaph for a Failed Policy

I arrived in New Delhi a week ago, and my jaw remains in dropped position. I’ll get some photos and reflections up on my travel log soon. I’d like to say I’ve been 100% engaged in the experience, but admittedly, given prevailing world events, my eyes keep being drawn home.

Recent reports and speculation about Cuban President Fidel Castro’s state of health have brought a lot of attention to U.S. policy towards that country. I was fortunate enough to spend a few months studying Cuban history and a few weeks visiting the island during my time as a Berea student. During that period and since I have come to recognize the complexities involved in assessing the victories and failures of the Cuban Revolution.

What is not complex to me, however, is the abject failure of 47 years of U.S. policy towards Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power. In the words of Buddha, “There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth -- not going all the way, and not starting.” Clearly, the U.S. has not even started down the path of assisting Cuba in the full attainment of an open society, and the regressive policies of the Bush Administration have only made matters worse:
  • What sort of policy restricts personal exchanges between Cuban-Americans and their Cuban families, as well as between Cuban and American students, scholars, humanitarian aid workers, and church groups? How is Cuba ever to be exposed to treasured U.S. ideals around freedom and democracy if we’re not allowed to interact with one another?
  • What sort of President assures the Cuban people that he stands ready to help them “…enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy” while meeting openly with individuals who are working towards the overthrow of their government? I think the $80 million that the Bush Administration has pledged towards subverting the Cuban government over the next two years could be better spent on other priorities.
  • What sort of Administration criticizes Cuba’s lack of civil liberties while itself refusing to release Cuban political prisoners even after their convictions have been overturned? It’s quite likely that some of the worst human rights atrocities being committed in Cuba today are taking place within the (illegally) U.S.-occupied Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
I believe that Condi’s speech on “Radio Marti” (a propaganda program that the US broadcasts into Cuba) a few nights ago was as much a message to the US citizenry as those in Cuba: “The United States respects your aspirations as sovereign citizens…” As a result of their ongoing foreign policy blunders, I think the Republicans are feeling the angst of an alarmed populace in an election year. We must let them, as well as their Democratic opposition, know that we are watching closely and that we demand a policy of “constructive engagement” with Cuba.

Please join me in contacting President Bush and your Congressional delegation to let them know that it’s time for the U.S. to rethink its Cuba policy, and that the recent report by the Administration’s so-called “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba” takes our Cuba policy in precisely the wrong direction. For ongoing news and action alerts related to US relations with Cuba, as well as other nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, I have found the Latin America Working Group helpful. Finally, for a much more thorough and articulate critique of U.S. policy towards Cuba, see the Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists for Change in U.S.-Cuba Policy.

As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions for further action on this issue. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Up, up, and away

I fly out of Tampa Wednesday afternoon, with final moments until then spent packing, hanging out with the family, and trying to untie this big ol' knot in my stomach.

I'm thinking a lot about the state of global politics as I leave the comforts of home. I also made a final call to my Congresswoman today, asking her to do what she can to end the war in Iraq and Lebanon--two conflicts that I feel are making the world immeasurably more dangerous for all of us.

At the same time, I'm inspired by friends and loved ones who are doing what they can to bring these conflicts to an end. Please support their efforts:

*Military Families Speak Out against the war in Iraq

*Hold Israel accountable for using US-supplied weapons to target Palestinian and Lebanese civilians

For my environmentalist pals, I came across an article in "The Nation" the other day that discusses new directions for the environmental movement: Green Grows Grassroots. If you've got an interest and a little spare time, I'd love to hear your response. I liked a lot of what I read, and will probably pick up Hertsgaard's book, "Earth Odyssey: Around the World In Search of Our Environmental Future." I couldn't help but question though if there weren't still some serious contradictions that he failed to address in this article. Overall it reminded me how divergent our analyses are of what exactly lies at the base of the "environment problem" and what that means in terms of addressing it.

Anyway, below are my new contact details, best as I can muster. Please keep me in your thoughts and posted on your happenings. I'll do the same.

Much luv,

jason fults
c/o S. C. Gupta
C-96, Ground Floor
Greater Kailash Part 1
New Delhi 110048

Jason's Travel log

"...PRONOIA. Ever heard the word? The opposite of 'paranoia,' it means a sneaking suspicion that the whole world is conspiring to shower you with blessings."
--Rob Brezsny,, August 2000

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Letter to the President

“The hip-hop generation and culture by…traditional mainstream America has been talked down, and it’s only viewed in a very narrow scope as people who disrespect women, who don’t go to school, who sell dope…which is ignorant.”
--Kwame Kilpatrick; Mayor, Detroit, MI

My long-time pal, Moses, who has turned me on to some incredible hip-hop over the years, dropped a DVD in my lap several months back called “Letter to the President.” Written and directed by Thomas Gibson and narrated by Snoop Dogg, the documentary provides a history of hip-hop through the eyes of activists, scholars, and indeed some of the hip-hop community’s most vibrant actors*. I highly recommend this film for anyone who even thinks they know something about the story of hip-hop and the contemporary history of African Americans in these United States.

The story begins in the 1980s Reagan/Bush America as lyrical masterminds like Grandmaster Flash utilized poetic wordplay to paint a picture of the socio-economic climate of that era. As many of us are already aware, the policies of the Reagan/Bush movement hit the working class and people of color the hardest, all while seeking to dismantle the gains of the Civil Rights era. The children and grandchildren of the people who led Civil Rights struggles of the 1950-60s, increasingly feeling the brunt of this assault, utilized the environments and resources they had at their disposal to speak out and fight back.

Ironically, the practices and perspectives of this youth-centered movement often brought them into direct conflict with the old guard of the Civil Rights era. Take this exchange between Civil Rights activist Calvin Butts and hip-hop legend KRS-ONE:

“This generation was empowered by the Civil Rights generation; our picketing, our protesting gave this generation the ability to express themselves, to be arrogant, to stand up and to face authority…” Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts, Abyssinian Baptist Church, New York, NY

“The difference with the Sixties generation is that they wanted to be part of America; we said ‘fuck America.’” KRS-ONE

The documentary also discusses the roots of the crack epidemic in the U.S. and its devastating effects on urban communities, as well as its alleged government connections, including extensive interviews with recently-deceased journalist Gary Webb, author of Dark Alliance. Both the crack phenomenon as well as the government’s incredibly punitive response had powerful and long-lasting effects on both people of color and the development of hip-hop. “Letter to the President” also details the hip-hop community’s responses to related social ills such as racial profiling, mandatory minimum sentencing, police brutality, and the prison industrial complex.

Finally, “Letter to the President” discusses a newly revitalized political and “conscious” hip-hop in the dark days of the Bush II/post-September 11th era. Modern hip-hop artists grapple with issues such as a PATRIOT Act security culture, covert surveillance of hip-hop artists, and the Iraq war. These artists continue the hip-hop community’s long-standing interest in political critique and action, including the unprecedented participation of the hip-hop generation in the 2004 elections.

A weakness of the film is that it does effectively gloss over much of the legitimate criticism of hip-hop’s misogyny and homophobia, as heard even in the lyrics of “conscious” rappers such as Dead Prez. Even the line-up of talking heads in the film reflects this, being comprised almost entirely of men. Where’s the voice of someone such as Sarah Jones, for instance? The closest that the film actually comes to a real critique of hip-hop culture is in its discussion of hip-hop’s commercialization and the racist censorship of the entertainment industry.

Finally, as a teacher friend has pointed out to me, the film is decidedly aimed at "the chorus," and doesn't do such a great job of really introducing the issues it discusses to folks who aren't already on-board. Hence in her particular case she decided that it probably wasn't appropriate for her white, upper-class college students.

I’ll leave you with these two quotes, both from rapper Saigon, and hope that you’ll check out the film for yourself. It can be purchased online, or hopefully rented at your local video store; but for anyone who can’t afford it, holler at me when I get back to the States and I’ll try to burn you a copy.

“I got a prediction: 20 years from now, the rappers that right now with the pimp hat and the pimp cup, they’re gonna look just like those people who used to dance around in blackface.” Saigon

“Hip-hop is a weapon, and it’s the most powerful weapon we ever, ever had. What else could we do that touches so many people to where people all around the world are trying to dress like us, they’re trying to talk like us, or trying to emulate us?” Saigon

*Featuring commentary by: Davey D., Sonya Sanchez, James Bernard (founding editor of “The Source” magazine), Mystic, Common, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Jeff Chang (author of “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation”), Chuck D., M1, Quincy Jones, Michael Eric Dyson, KRS-ONE, Kool Moe Dee, 50 Cent, Notorious B.I.G., Dick Gregory, Immortal Technique, Jay-Z, Ice T, Russell Simmons, Ghostface Killah, Ice Cube, Tavis Smiley, Luther “Luke Skywalker” Campbell, Eazy-E, Method Man, Mario Africa, Wyclef Jean, Amiri Baraka, Slick Rick, Larry Flynt, and yes, even MC Hammer, among others.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Goodbye Berea

My last day in the 'reer, and the parting is bittersweet. Today I officially pack my belongings into the back of the Jeep and begin an indefinite stretch of "walking the Earth." Following a road trip around the Southeast with my little sis and my two youngest cousins (ages 13-15), I'll spend the next 1.5 months bouncing between family and friends in Florida, D.C., Philly, NYC, and the northeast. On July 20, I depart the U.S. for what will tentatively be 17 months of travel through the U.K., India, China, and Malaysia.

Currently, the ever-evolving itinerary is looking something like:
*July 20-31: London and southwestern Ireland
*Aug-early September: India, mostly in and around Delhi
*September: depart for overland route from Delhi to Beijing (a bit iffy at the moment, but hopefully I can work this one out)
*September-late December: China, mostly Beijing and Hong Kong
*late December-late March '07: Malaysia, mostly in Kuala Lumpur, hopefully w/ some backpacking and diving in east Malaysia
*late March-late December '07: back in India, based in Delhi, but hopefully w/ some opportunities to jaunt about.

As I've said before, friends and family are not only welcome, but ENCOURAGED to come visit. It's going to be lonely out there for an inexperienced southern boy far from home, so I hope at least some of y'all will take me up on this offer. I'll also post my Watson and Fulbright research proposals + personal statements online in case you want to get a sense of where my head will be at with all this researchy stuff.

Finally, while I've got your attention, I want to point to one other item that really has nothing to do w/ my travel plans, but which I think is important nonetheless ;)

This story may be old news to those of you who, unlike myself, have had no difficulty traversing the ol' "digital divide" in recent weeks (alas, the life of a construction worker...). But here's a recent note from the good folks at, my email provider:

==> Stop AOL Email Tax <== AOL is adopting a system called CertifiedEmail, which is a threat to a free and open Internet. This system would create a two-tiered Internet in which affluent mass emailers will pay for the ability to deliver mail to AOL users but the rest of us will be left with increasing unreliable service. The "email tax" works by requiring a payment for each message sent to an AOL user. If your email provider doesn't pay, your message is more likely to get blocked. This will have grave consequences for small email providers like and any non-profit which sends out large email blasts to its members. For more information, or to sign the protest letter to AOL, see

==> Yahoo is evil <== In addition to being boring capitalists, is in the practice of helping to jail Chinese reporters and dissidents. On December 2003, Chinese dissident Li Zhi was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment for inciting "subversion" using evidence provided by yahoo. On April 2005, Shi Tao (a journalist working for a Chinese newspaper) was sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking details of a censorship order, again using evidence provided by yahoo.

This horror is not isolated to yahoo: gmail, hotmail, and aol all make it standard practice to turn over requested documents without even attempting to contest the request. The much reported refusal by google to turn over historical search statistics to the US government misses the fact that they already allow the government to scan all gmail traffic (as do yahoo, hotmail and aol).

We encourage you to stop using yahoo and the other services it owns (flickr,, and geocities, to name a few).

Well, that's it for now folks--I've got some packing and driving to do. Sorry for my slackness in corresponding in recent weeks; I promise to try and do better.

Till then, much love to you all,

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Research Proposal for Fulbright Fellowship

As a biology student, I have been taught that scientific method is the most reliable process for understanding the natural world. As an environmentalist, I have learned that science is by no means a value-neutral activity. When science is defined simply as “observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena,” (1) it is clear these activities have likely taken place in a wide variety of cultures throughout human history. What remains less clear are the ways and extent to which culture shapes our evolving conceptions of science. If science is to be relied upon as a tool for achieving environmental sustainability, it is imperative that we explore the tension between science as a source of knowledge versus science as a social construct deeply situated within a particular culture.

As someone trained in a particular scientific tradition, I can learn much about the nature of science by viewing it through another lens. Through a combination of independent research and personal interactions which take me outside of my cultural context, I hope to explore the science-culture symbiosis and discern its implications for addressing modern environmental crises. This examination will better prepare me for my future as an educator, scientist, and activist, and the knowledge gained will become increasingly important as human societies are forced to renegotiate their relationship with the biosphere.

India is an ideal setting for this inquiry because of its non-Western influences and its escalating importance in global markets and international scientific communities. While little non-Indian scholarship exists on the history of science and technology in India as compared with other parts of Asia, the Indian subcontinent has a long-standing tradition of scientific/technological development and cultural exchange. Science developed in India prior to significant contact with the West, and India made significant contributions to the early development of Western sciences. India is also home to diverse philosophical traditions, including long-standing Hindu and Buddhist traditions, as well as one of the most sizeable Muslim populations in the world. With its blending of diverse philosophical customs and significant integration of Western epistemology, India offers unique opportunities to explore the tension between modernization and Westernization in a scientific context and to approach the question of how science is influenced by cultural contexts.

The initial stages of my study, which are already underway, involve cultivating a deeper historical understanding of how, and why, science developed in India. An exploration of science history offers important insights into how people’s conceptions of science have changed over time. I want to comprehend how indigenous scientific traditions have compared with Western notions of science and whether contemporary scientists view science as a “universalizing force.” More specifically, I want to understand these individuals’ awareness of science history and philosophy in their respective contexts, their interactions with international scientific communities, and their perspectives on the roles of science and technology in achieving environmental sustainability. I intend to gain these insights through independent research, but also more directly through observation and interviews with science practitioners, as well as science educators and students.

An increased understanding of Indian history, culture, and popular conceptions of science should provide powerful insights into how bio-ethical concerns are both defined and negotiated within India’s societal discourse. While there are numerous contemporary bio-ethical case studies which merit investigation, I have chosen Indian responses to environmental concerns as my primary focus. This approach builds upon my previous research and organizing experiences while offering new insights on the pursuit of environmental sustainability. While India has demonstrated some mid-range successes in this pursuit, (2) it will continue to face many challenges along the way. These challenges include balancing environmental concerns with development needs, as well as overcoming the environmental and social consequences of rapid population growth and industrialization. Through observation and interviews with participants in Indian environmental advocacy organizations, I will gain broader perspectives on the roles science and technology play in both ameliorating and exacerbating environmental crises. In particular I am interested in Indian approaches to defining sustainability and efforts to develop indicators of sustainability at the local, regional, and national levels. In the United States and elsewhere, quantitative indicators are increasingly being relied upon to help guide individuals and policy-makers in assessing the efficacy of their decisions. These indicators incorporate social as well as environmental measurements and therefore serve as an important nexus between science and values.

I have already identified and corresponded with several potential research partners in India. Taken together, these contacts would provide me with access to a wide range of Indian society and hence a significant spectrum of opinion with regard to issues of science, technology, and sustainability. I would like to affiliate with the Centre for Studies in Science Policy (CSSP) at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The CSSP is a premier Indian research center which focuses on many issues germane to my interests. Its faculty members specialize in important areas such as development and globalization, science and the environment, and international scientific communities. The CSSP is also well-situated within a university that has a strong emphasis on the physical sciences, and within New Delhi, the home of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA). INSA provides scientific advice to Indian governments and serves as a national and international scientific forum. The Academy also strives to “maintain liaison between science and humanities” and publishes the Indian Journal of History of Science. I would also like to examine the work of the Indian Space Research Organization’s Science Education Program, which aims to “educate young people around the proliferation of science and importance of scientific method.” Additionally, I have corresponded with a potential NGO partner—the Barefoot College network. The Barefoot College utilizes over twenty informal campuses throughout the country to address pressing local development needs such as clean water, energy, and women’s rights, and employs the concept of appropriate technology (3) in its sustainable development efforts.

It is vital that we examine the question of science’s universality in light of international dialogue concerning development and sustainability. Can we presume that all nations approach science and sustainability with the same assumptions and insights? Although the U.S. prides itself on being at the forefront of scientific innovation, we have much to gain from a citizenry which employs a more sophisticated and cosmopolitan understanding of how science operates. As citizens in a global society with finite resources, we have much to lose by failing to secure environmental sustainability. Through an exploration of science which connects these concerns, I believe I can yield valuable research outcomes in the nine month period (August-April) offered by the Fulbright’s India program. These outcomes will better prepare me for a life of public service and better prepare our nation for the uncertain future ahead.

(1) The American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd edition.
(2) Yale University’s most recent Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) ranks India 101 out of the 146 nations examined, and gives India an ESI score of 45.2 compared with its “peer group” ESI score of 46.7. The ESI is one of several attempts to formulate quantitative indicators that assess nations’ efforts at achieving environmental sustainability.
(3) Appropriate technology utilizes ecological as well as social criteria to design technological solutions fitting the context in which they are utilized.

Personal Statement for Fulbright Fellowship

As one of my favorite folk singers, Utah Phillips, likes to remind us, “the past didn’t go anywhere.” Yet an interest in the past is a relatively recent development in my life. When I was a youngster I viewed history as boring and mostly irrelevant, and my own past was something I preferred not to dwell on. Unlike many of the kids from my neighborhood, I escaped my past, or so I thought. I found a one-way ticket out of town as soon as I was able to and swore I would never look back. I thought I had left the past behind and could magically transform into a completely new life, a completely new me. I had a lot to learn.

The Job Corps offered me a way out of my home town and taught me there were many kids like me and some who had it far worse. I watched one young person after another slip back into the self-destructive patterns they had been taught their entire lives, but I also learned that not every older person harbored the same disdain and distrust to which I had grown accustomed. I could scarcely comprehend why, but there were people who seemed genuinely interested in being a positive force in our lives and believed we could make something of ourselves if only we were offered a real opportunity. Perhaps most importantly, my time in the Job Corps taught me that people can claim some degree of power over their lives if they put their collective will to the task. It seems in retrospect that lesson was much more important than I realized at the time. Once people begin to perceive a sense of agency over their lives the feeling can become addictive; for me it meant the beginnings of an improved self-assessment and a commitment to struggle against oppression which has continued to shape both my understanding of my origins and my ongoing experiences.

Consequently, the environmental and social justice struggles I have invested so much of myself in and my aspirations to become an educator and work closely with young folks who share my class background are a direct result of my lived experiences and evolving self-perception. In the nine years since leaving the Job Corps, and especially during my time at Berea College, I have learned that not only do I not have to leave the past behind, but my history is an integral part of who I am, how I see the world, and what I have to offer. As a mentor and close friend once told me, “the fact that your mom was a waitress is not parenthetical.”

Just as personal discovery can shed new light on one’s origin, the study of history also offers fresh perspectives on unexamined social dogma. The history many science students receive, for instance, under-emphasizes how scientific communities operate and the often circuitous path knowledge takes to arrive at its present position. As a result, students fail to understand the myriad ways ideology is injected into scientific processes and take for granted the supposed objectivity of scientific knowledge. As I survey the world unfolding around me, I am constantly reminded of dystopian novels such as Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World in which science was used to enslave rather than to liberate. I am increasingly concerned that unless we cultivate a deeper understanding of how science operates, scientific progress is unlikely to bring us any closer to the sort of world we would like to inhabit and may do the opposite.

These days I am growing increasingly enamored with the past. Whether it is the sense of lasting camaraderie which results from exchanging personal stories with other working class young folks or the use of historical research as a means of illuminating the nature of science, I find that history makes the present come alive in ways I never knew it could. Consequently, I am becoming a bit of an exorcist—dragging long-hidden and at times malevolent apparitions into the light of day and forcing them to justify their existence or be banished. I am learning that our past is comprised of more than painful secrets which must be kept hidden; rather, it is an opportunity to let down our defenses and see the world, and one another, with new eyes.