Provocation #1 — Feed your brain April 16 (But don’t fill up on imported goodies!)

What do these four pictures have in common?


Rioting in Kenya kills more than a thousand after elections in December


Vladimir Putin & Boris Yeltsin share a moment


Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen, Tom Wolfe & Gore Vidal pose after their 2006 appearance on “The Simpsons”


A greatly simplified organization chart of how the Secretary of State handles humanitarian disasters

Readers of Provocate know how rich and diverse the intellectual and cultural buffet served up in Indianapolis can be. Too many events for one person to consume and digest. Consider what’s on the menu for a single night this week, Wednesday the 16th of April. From Africa comes John Katunga, head of Catholic Relief Services’ office in Nairobi, to deliver a lecture about the crises in Kenya at Marian College’s Richard G. Lugar Franciscan Center for Global Studies. From DC comes Kara McDonald, a State Department official working in the White House with the National Security Council on issues of failed states and complex humanitarian emergencies, to give a talk at the Indiana Council for World Affairs. From Sweden by way of Moscow and DC comes Anders Åslund, for two decades one of the world’s leading experts on the Russian economy, to speak at the Indianapolis Committee on Foreign Relations. Finally, from Berkeley (by way of several alternate and perhaps not entirely fictional universes) comes Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon to speak at Butler University. It’s quite a line-up for an entire week, to say nothing of one evening.

Surveying the menu for April 16, one might think the intellectual diet in Indianapolis relies primarily on imported fare, perhaps because we can’t grow experts of our own locally. That would be a mistaken impression, however. In fact we in Central Indiana have an excellent opportunity in the coming weeks to contrast the specialists imported to Indy April 16 with our own homegrown experts. The Mid-North Shepherd’s Center is currently running its “Great Decisions” series: eight topics of international concern in eight weeks (with Provocate’s John Clark tying it all together in a ninth week’s discussion of why Indianapolis should imagine its own foreign policy).

At 11 AM every Wednesday through the end of May, more than a hundred Hoosiers gather in the basement of North United Methodist Church to engage with local experts on global issues. (Susan Erickson, always a favorite at Mid-North Shepherd’s Center, will lead a Great Decisions discussion on “Talking to Our Enemies” April 16, a tasty appetizer for the foreign relations entrées that evening.) Don’t worry if you can’t make it to the Wednesday discussions — they are filmed for public access cable TV, so insomniacs can see them again and again in the middle of the night. Or you can contact the Mid-North Shepherd’s Center to find out how to obtain copies.

So you can compare John Katunga on Kenya on April 16 with what Fran Quigley has to say at the Mid-North Shepherd’s Center on April 23. Katunga is a significant figure for Kenya and East Africa. Before becoming the head of Catholic Relief Services’ peace-building and justice programs for east Africa, he headed up the Nairobi Peace Initiative, one of the major efforts by Africans to find nongovernmental and nonviolent solutions to local and regional conflicts. We very are lucky that Marian College is bringing him to Indy to help us understand the still unresolved crises in Kenya.

But Indy-based Fran Quigley is no less significant for Kenya than Nairobi-based John Katunga. Or, to frame this in a way that wouldn’t make the humble Mr. Quigley squirm, Fran is connected to a program that may be as important for Kenya as any other governmental or nongovernmental or multilateral initiative. The partnership between Indiana University and Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, has transformed Central Indiana as profoundly as it has changed Western Kenya. Even before he became director of operations for the IU-Kenya partnership, Fran was connected to this initiative as a reporter. His 2004 article for NUVO about how ordinary Hoosiers were bypassing governments in DC and Nairobi to help solve the African AIDS pandemic shook the conceptual foundations John Clark when he was at Hudson Institute, and is thus directly responsible for Clark’s talk about a Hoosier foreign policy at the Mid-North Shepherd Center May 28 … and indirectly Fran’s description of direct local action to solve global problems led to the emergence of Provocate itself.

Fran’s topic on April 23 is “Global Philanthropy and International Relations.” The Foreign Policy Association, a New York think tank that designs the Great Decisions series, intends that the discussion at the Shepherd’s Center will focus on whether big charitable organizations such as the Gates Foundation will rival the influence of government organizations such as the US Agency for International Development. Fran would speak about this question with some authority: the IU-Kenya partnership receives multi-million dollar grants from both Gates and USAID. (Indeed, Fran has knowledge that is even more personal since his sister, Patty Stonesifer, was for years the CEO of the Gates Foundation.) But Fran will transcend “Big Government vs. Big Foundation.” He will address the ever-closer relation between communities in Kenya and in Indiana. He will talk about the Umoja Initiative and Ambassadors for Children, about partnerships between churches and schools, about legal reform initiatives and sports tourism projects, about the new sister city relation established between Indianapolis and Eldoret. He will talk about the Hoosier leading the “Bread for the World” movement and about how the International Center of Indianapolis has chosen to honor the partnerships between Indiana and Kenya for its International Citizen of the Year award. John Katunga will be well worth hearing on April 16 … but hearing Fran Quigley April 23 could change your world.

Another contrast between the intellectual delicacies being imported into Indianapolis April 16 and our homegrown experts: Kara McDonald of the State Department and our own Sarah Archer. Says Ms McDonald’s bio:

“as deputy director for planning in the office of the coordinator for reconstruction and stabilization (S/CRS) … she leads the design of an integrated interagency and multilateral planning process for complex contingencies.”

That may sound like bureaucratese, but it’s important. It means she is responsible for figuring out how all the pieces of the US government are going to connect to international organizations such as the United Nations when the world is confronted by the next failed state, by the next complex humanitarian emergency.

A very different perspective will be offered by Sarah Archer at the Mid-North Shepherd’s Center on April 30 when she talks about “US Defense and Security Policy.” If you don’t know Sarah Archer, prepare yourself for a treat. Compassionate and fierce, earthy and wise, Sarah is one of true treasures of Indianapolis and of world. Here’s her bio, but it barely scratches the surface of the Sarah Archer experience.

Dr. Sarah E. Archer provides expertise in the areas of humanitarian assistance and public health as a consultant with the U.S. military through the Battle Command Training Program (BCTP) and the African Contingency Operations and Training Agreement (ACOTA), formerly known as the African Crisis Response Initiative. More than four decades of hands-on experience in global hotspots make Sarah an expert in 1) helping civilians and militaries respond to complex humanitarian emergencies, 2) conducting peace support operations, and 3) responding to human-created and natural disasters. In addition, Sarah’s research interests include local and national preparations to prevent and respond to threatened pandemics, such as avian flu, and chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attacks or accidents.

Sarah’s humanitarian relief work includes serving in Palestinian camps (1960-61), Bangladesh (1985-94); Angola (1994); Rwanda (1994-95); Kosovo and Montenegro (1998); and Bosnia and Kosovo (from 2000 to 2004).

Sarah served as a professor of Public Heath Nursing at the University of California in San Francisco from 1973-1984. She has also served as a visiting professor at Dhaka University Bangladesh), University of Indianapolis, and Indiana University School of Public Health. In addition, Sarah was a visiting faculty member at Joint Forces Staff College, Joint Special Operations University, Marine Staff College, and Command and General Staff College. She currently serves as a member of the Indianapolis Red Cross Disaster Assistance Team and the American Red Cross National Disaster Services Human Resources System. Sarah earned a Doctorate in Public Health at the University of California, a Master’s in Public Health from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor’s in Nursing from Indiana University.

Kara McDonald will offer an insider’s perspective on planning for CHEs, a political as well as policy process. Sarah Archer will talk about what it’s like to be in the middle of a complex humanitarian emergency that’s spiraling out of control, about how well prepared the US military is for the challenges it faces from failing states in the coming months and years, perhaps even about what we in Indiana are doing about it. Both perspectives are essential for us to understand … but you will come away from Kara McDonald’s talk thinking, “She is really smart, I hope someone listens to her in DC”; you will come away from Sarah Archer’s talk thinking, “I wish I was Sarah Archer.”

Finally contrast Anders Åslund with our local product Ed DeLaney. Åslund has been an important adviser to economic reformers in Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan. He is one of the rare analysts who think Russia’s reforms have not gone well because there was not enough Shock in Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Gaidar’s Shock Therapy. It may seem easy to mock Åslund’s position, as Marshall Goldman does in his “Anders in Wonderland: Comments on Russia’s Economic Transformation under Putin.” But Åslund remains skeptical of the effects even of reforms that do strengthen markets, and he is a ferocious critic of personal as well as institutional corruption in Putin’s regime. If you want to understand how Russia got where it is, and where it might be headed as Putin carefully rearranges office assignments in the Kremlin, on April 16 Anders Åslund is likely to be the most knowledgeable expert in Indy …

The best in Indy, unless our own Ed DeLaney is in town. Judge for yourself when Ed discusses Russia and “Putinism” at the Mid-North Shepherd’s Center on May 21. Most people around here know Ed as one of the state’s most experienced trial lawyers, specializing in business disputes, securities law, estate-related controversies, First Amendment issues, and access to records litigation. Or they know him as one of the movers in Indiana’s Democratic Party. But thanks to a stint in spy school in the 1960s, courtesy of the US Navy, Ed is fluent in Russian. So as Ed rose to prominence as one of the top corporate attorneys in the Midwest and a leader in the Dem party of Indiana, he also carried out extensive business in the USSR. In the 1990s he used his international law experience in the Balkans, representing Bosnia in negotiations and helping establish the legal system in Kosovo. He teaches law in Kazakhstan and Poland. It is always worth skipping work or cutting class to attend a talk by Ed Delaney on Russia. Again, the local’s perspective complements the visitor’s. The lawyer is no less important than the economist for unraveling the twisted threads of culture and corruption in 21st century Russia.

Does this mean that we could survive by being the intellectual equivalents of locavores?

(“A locavore is someone who eats food grown or produced locally or within a certain radius such as 50, 100, or 150 miles. The locavore movement encourages consumers to buy from farmers’ markets or even to produce their own food, with the argument that fresh, local products are more nutritious and taste better.”)

We could survive on such a cultural diet, but it’s more interesting to have some fresh ideas to spice things up. Healthier too. Before he speaks about Kenya at Marian College the evening of the 16th, John Katunga will help Provocate and a group of local high schoolers launch a major initiative to help address a serious problem in his native country of Congo. Congo is the world’s largest source of coltan, a mineral that is necessary for cell phones, laptops, and other personal electronic devices. The UN says conflict over coltan mines is fueling Congo’s civil wars, and mining is destroying the habitat of endangered animal species such as the Eastern Gorilla. Katunga happens to be one of the leading experts in the global economy of coltan. In the spirit of campaigns against “blood diamonds” and sweat clothes manufactured in sweatshops, it’s possible that a significant reform movement starts with kids in Central Indiana, a movement linking our local style of life with the hardships and injustices on the other side of the planet. Would that happen without a visit by John Katunga? Probably, but Katunga ought to increase the effectiveness of such an initiative greatly.

But for all this talk about locals and imports complementing and supplementing each other, in spite of the very accurate description of Indiana’s expertise matching the very best from around the world … sometimes we really cannot compete. Sometimes we host a visitor who is unique. That’s what we have April 16 with the Michael Chabon, possibly the most profusely talented and imaginative novelist writing today. Indianapolis has no one like Michael Chabon, not sice the departure of Kurt Vonnegut. Rather than summarize or critique his novels here, let’s just cut to the command: read them! Read The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys. While you’re at it, see Spiderman 2, Chabon did the original screenplay (and has posted it on the web for his fans).

Chabon’s latest book is the soon-to-be-released collection of essays and criticisms, Maps and Legends. What is most provocative — in a Provocate sense — about these pieces is their emphasis on borderlands. Genres are meant to be crossed, cultures are meant to exchange ideas and create something new and better. In his essays Chabon explores the playfulness and open-ended sense of discovery with which his novels treat language. We have no Chabon in Indianapolis … .but our bookstores and libraries have an awful lot of books by Chabon, so let’s use them to think even more creatively about what we are doing together.

One last piece of this story. On April 16, as they do every Wednesday evening, the international relations junkies of GeoPol will gather together at the Usual Suspects in Broad Ripple where they drink past them time when hours go from late to early, arguing about the future of the American empire and the fate of the planet. Passionate young amateurs, they are another essential component of Indy’s vibrant intellectual and cultural scene. Here’s the punchline for Provocate readers who have dutifully made their way through so many words about so many fascinating events on a Wednesday evening. There’s a chance that all four of our visitors to may wind up at Usual Suspects after their respective lectures and events. Maybe one or two will make it, maybe all four. If you have read to the end of this First Provocation, you have earned the right to stop by as well, to join in a crossing of borders between outsiders and locals, experts and amateurs. See you there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: