February 22, 2012
This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.
The evening of December 29, 2011 was a Thursday evening. Most of the citizens of Samoa — a mere 190,000 in total — came home from work, had their nightly meal, and went to sleep. But when they awoke, it was Saturday morning. Friday, December 30, 2011 had disappeared. More precisely, December 30 was erased from the routine progression of time. Those with December 30th anniversaries, lovers of Fridays, and people not quite ready for the next year were out of luck. The clocks had been turned forward, a full day forward. December 30, 2011 was a day no Samoan would know.
The government of Samoa had decided the previous June to move westward across the international date line, so everyone knew the lost Friday was coming. The Samoan government made this change because they wanted to better align Samoa with trading partners in the East: Australia, New Zealand, China, the rest of Asia in general.
Samoans had actually been on the Asian side of the date line before, back in the 19th century. Then, in 1892, an American business house trading in the region convinced the king of Samoa that slipping over the date line to the other side, facilitating trade with California rather than Asia and Australia, was in everyone’s best interest. At the time, it made sense to the king. San Francisco was proving to be a much more influential trading partner than Sydney, and American ships lined Samoan shores. So Samoa left its time zone, and was suddenly just three hours behind California. In a twist of diplomatic self-congratulation, Americans had Samoa perform the shift backward in time on July 4, giving Samoans the opportunity to celebrate American Independence Day twice. In her Letters from Samoa, Margaret Isabella Balfour Stevenson — the mother of Robert Louis Stevenson, who had emigrated to Samoa with her son in 1890 — described the double Fourth of July thus:
It seems that all this time we have been counting wrong, because in former days communication was entirely with Australia, and it was simpler and in every way more natural to follow the Australian calendar; but now that so many vessels come from San Francisco, the powers that be have decided to set this right, and to adopt the date that belongs to our actual geographical position. To this end, therefore, we are ordered to keep two Mondays in this week, which will get us straight.
For 120 years, America’s trading authority has been encapsulated in the Pacific island nation of Samoa. Now, Samoa is three hours ahead of eastern Australia rather than 21 hours behind it, and 22 hours ahead of California. You could say the ever-shifting time zones in Samoa are symbolic of the ever-shifting tides of geopolitical influence: then from East to West; now from West to East.
International journalists, delighted by the story of Samoa’s latest dance with time, saw the symbolism, too. And yet, the headlines were not “American Drones Go the Way of British Naval Ships” or “Australia Leaves the West for Asia”, as one might expect. Rather, the headlines indicated an altogether different fascination:
“Samoa loses a day and jumps forward in time”
“New Year hits early in time-jumping Samoa”
“December 30 will be a day that never existed”
“Samoa to skip Friday, lose December 30th, 2011 forever”What captured everyone’s attention was the sheer fact of Samoa’s time change, its jump over the date line treated almost as a strange occurrence of time travel. The day the story broke, the Internet was a-buzz with musings about the very nature of time itself: Is it possible to change time zones just like that, with one unilateral sweep? Do we have that much control over the measure of time? What does it mean when an entire day goes missing from history?
No one will be born on December 30, 2011, noted National Public Radio, and no one will die. There were secular concerns for people with December 30 birthdays, and also theological debates over lost days of worship, which was a particular problem for Samoa’s Seventh Day Adventists, who were unsure whether to continue honoring Saturday as the Sabbath or change over to Sunday forever, knowing that the Sabbath must come on the seventh day of an unbroken cycle of days. People mused over the creation of new charts and maps and atlases, and considered how Samoa would be the first country in the world to celebrate the new year when once it was the last. With a simple move, Samoa had turned that which is most inexorable in its progression — time — into something open, flexible, reversible, and skip-able.
The international date line is an imaginary line we have drawn onto the planet. The line is artificial and did not exist until we drew it. It is not a straight line, but rather snakes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, bending this way and that around islands and atolls. It is opposite from the Prime Meridian on the planet’s other side, which helps to define Universal Time and is the meridian by which we calculate all time zones. If you could peer from one side of the date line to the other, you would see a different day. Though the globalization of time would seem to be something quite old, it is only as old as globalization itself. The date line was first proposed in 1884, at the International Meridian Conference held in Washington, D.C., where the primary topic was to choose “a meridian to be employed as a common zero of longitude and standard of time reckoning throughout the world.” The common zero chosen was Greenwich Mean Time, the national mean time of Britain, established in the 17th century mostly to aid naval navigation. So the world’s time turned British. But it wasn’t until 1929 that most major countries had adopted time zones and they still did so at their own discretion. Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, (once Greenwich Mean Time) is universal only in the sense that it is an internationally agreed upon reference point. Otherwise, local time zones are decided upon by individual nations.
A century or so later, time zones seem sacred, inviolable. And so it is disconcerting when we remember that they are not inviolable at all, that they are, rather, capricious. Time zones are suggestions. There are international overseers of time zones, like the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, creator of Greenwich Mean Time. But there is no transnational or trans-universal time zone enforcer. “There seems to be no legal reason why any country cannot declare itself to be in whatever time zone it likes,” the Royal Observatory confirmed to the New York Times around the turn of the millennium, when the tiny nation of Kiribati had caused an international stir by proposing it, too, would enact a time zone change. Taken at face value, the Royal Observatory’s statement is shocking. Could New Yorkers experience the UTC+0545 time zone of Nepal, 10 hours and 15 minutes ahead of itself, living days of nights and nights of days simply because they chose to?
The uneasy truth is that we can shift time around all we like, if we like, and countries have been playing with the malleability of time zones since their inception. But the way we mark time is as metaphysical as it is economic. As Manuel Castells wrote in The Rise of the Network Society, “We are embodied time, and so are our societies, made out of history.” The Russian Empire, for example, once observed solar time, the time of the ancients in which days are dictated by the sun, and traditional Russian society, wrote Castells, “viewed time as eternal, without beginning or end.” For hundreds of years, Russia was regularly disrupted by modern notions of organizing life around time, until Moscow Mean Time was finally introduced in the late 19th century. The country has had a fickle alliance with its time zones since, moving them about, creating and deleting as geography and politics dictated. Today, Russia has the most time zones of any nation; they totaled 11 as of 2010, but President Medvedev excised two that year, and now the country has nine. Perhaps Russia’s time zones are as restless as the Russian soul…
Populism is an ambiguous term: it is at once an insult and a description.
Too often the term is used to dismiss a troublesome political adversary whose nature one does not quite understand. Thus American left-liberals qualify the Tea Party as populist, which relieves them of the obligation to study the nature and the claims of this movement. And why, in any case, should populism have such a negative and disdainful connotation? As an insult, populism implies a denial of democratic processes and of intellectual coherence: populism suggests the manifestation of primitive passions and an exploitation of instinctual politics. On this view, populism does not respect the democratic rules of the game and disdains legal and legitimate institutions. Populist solutions are thus considered unrealistic, absurd, impracticable, and contradictory. In European usage, the term goes back to the 1920s and 1930s: populism thus involves an insidious allusion to fascist movements that have since been described as populist.
For this reason the charge of populism has considerable historical weight when applied to the Tea Party in the United States as well as to the extreme right, anti-immigration parties in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria. The abusive risk inherent in this term is a failure to understand the distinctive significance of the historical, social, economic and even religious context proper to each of these movements.
It must be noted as well that populism, whether understood as a political fact or as a pejorative category, is not reserved to right-wing movements, although populist movements do tend to be on the right. In the 1920s, fascism was born more on the left: Mussolini and most French and Belgian fascists came out of socialism. One might argue, moreover, that the term populist should be applied to communist parties in Europe that also flouted democratic institutions and claimed to transcend traditional political and social cleavages. The alliance of socialists and communists in Europe in the 1930s called itself a popular front. Why would ‘popular’ be a positive term and ‘populist’ negative? Here one is caught between judgment and analysis, indeed leaning more towards a judgment of value as opposed to a dispassionate analysis.
This tendency to classify populism a priori as right-wing leaves us at a loss when it comes to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Many commentators in the United States think Occupy is a response to and symmetrical to the Tea Party. The symmetry, however, is limited, since the Tea Party situates itself within American institutions, appeals to the Constitution, and wishes to transform the balance of political powers within the system, in particular by trying to take over the Republican Party. The Occupy movement, on the other hand, places itself outside and against the system, and questions whether existing democratic institutions are truly aligned with popular views. Is not Occupy, which claims to represent 99 per cent of Americans, more populist than the Tea Party, whose only wish is to reach 50—that is, to attain a majority for the Republicans? It is interesting that the opposition between the 99 per cent—the true or authentic people—and the 1 per cent—the plutocratic elites—can already be found in the work of the sociologist Thorstein Veblen who, in his Theory of the Leisure Class (1889), condemned the “conspicuous consumption” of parasitic elites.
The same question applies to all the uprisings that occurred around the globe in 2011 and that without exception contested the legitimacy of existing institutions, whether or not these were democratic. Consider, for example, the uprising in Chile of students who held that existing democratic institutions failed to represent both the youth and nature, that is, the natural environment in Patagonia threatened by hydroelectric dams. The political landscape in South Korea was turned upside down by a youth movement set off by social media that allowed activists to dispense with traditional political parties and decisively to influence elections by imposing candidates out of nowhere. The middle-class revolt against the high cost of living in Israel operated outside institutions and took all leaders by surprise—was that a populist movement? And how can we fail to classify as populist the anti-corruption revolts that laid siege to the Indian parliament in New Delhi in the fall of 2011?
Finally, there is the case of non-democratic Arab nations in which revolutions unfolded that demanded democracy, although they did not appeal to democratic principles at the outset. Thus, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in the spring of 2011 was a popular uprising of young graduates demanding jobs, which was also the initial demand in Egypt. These revolutions later became democratic as the insurgents came to hope that democracy would address their economic demands as well as their claims of political and religious liberty. Depending on one’s vantage point in the Arab world and depending on the outcome of elections, these revolutions are considered as popular or populist, as progressive or revolutionary. Generally a value judgment prevails over analysis…
Overcrowded Prisons Giving Old Inmates New Life: Prisoners serving long sentences are filling overcrowded lockups across the nation. There May Be A Solution
February 22, 2012
Aging prisoners serving long sentences are filling overcrowded lockups across the nation. Colorado prison officials hope a new program will help let some of these old guys get out — and stay out.
Anthony Montoya has spent the past 32 years — more than half his life — in prison for burglary and second-degree murder. Based on his crimes and long institutional existence, it’s no surprise that a Colorado parole board has denied Montoya 11 times, and a corrections board has shot down early release three times.
Last August, as the morning sun streaked through the windows of an 11th-floor conference room, the Denver Community Corrections Board considered Montoya, who is 57, for supervised discharge into a new county work-release program.
“Anthony Montoya,” the chair of the board calls out.
“Motion and a second,” the woman notes. “Any discussion?” There is none — which should raise a few eyebrows, given his history. But what happens next is even more startling. The board, through a show of hands, votes to accept Montoya for the program.
Montoya has just been accepted into a new program that prepares long-term, once-violent inmates for their release. In 2013, when his sentence ends, he could simply walk out of jail — “kill his number,” in prison parlance — without any extra effort, but he says that Colorado’s new Long-Term Offender Program will give him the tools and support he needs to succeed on the outside.
“I’m kind of optimistic,” Montoya says. “I’m getting out, and I’m pretty glad this program’s there, because I’ve been locked up so long. There are going to be people down the line to help walk me through the next stages.”
The program is designed for inmates ages 45 and older who have been imprisoned for at least 15 years, including offenders with parole-eligible life sentences (but excluding sex offenders and arsonists). It provides a transitional reintegration for selected prisoners who have behaved well, acknowledged their crimes, and shown remorse.
Modeled after a successful Canadian program created specifically for lifers, the Long-Term Offender Program pairs inmates with mentors — former convicts who know firsthand what it’s like to walk out of prison after decades inside.
Even though a recent report from the Sentencing Project revealed the first drop in overall U.S. prison population since 1972, prison overcrowding and budget problems are still common predicaments around the country. Today, the Colorado state prison system is at 116 percent “on site” capacity, holding 14,835 inmates — roughly 2,000 more than its buildings were designed for. Incarceration costs there run from about $22,000 to $69,000 a year per inmate — the latter for older prisoners with extensive medical needs. Meanwhile, shelter at a halfway house, a major step out of prison for program participants, runs about $4,000 a year in Colorado (restitution payments, made by former inmates to compensate for the damages caused by their crimes, can partly offset the cost). L-top runs without a budget, marshaling existing resources from step-down partners, including prisons themselves.
The effort could bring a snippet of sanity to the madness.
“I don’t really know of any other place in the country that is focusing on lifers and long-term incarcerated offenders,” says David Altschuler, a research scientist at Johns Hopkins University who has studied alternative sentencing and reentry programs for nearly 25 years, and who helped design the Long-Term Offender Program curriculum.
The curriculum, preparing older inmates for a life beyond bars, is expected to reduce recidivism and even influence sentencing and release policies that have led to maxed-out prison conditions. But the initiative has also faced opposition from critics who say violent criminals deserve the maximum punishment.
“It’s not about overlooking victims’ lives. It’s not about compassion. It’s about being responsible,” says Tim Hand, the state corrections department’s parole-division director, who has heralded the program…