Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

Kiva! Help save the world… for FREE!!

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’ve been using Kiva for a little bit now and I’m very impressed with it. It’s basically a web-based micro-lending site, where you make loans of, usually, 25 dollars to people who can really use them. Then when the loan is returned, you can reinvest it with someone else.

It’s great. Go to the site. Check it out.

The thing is that for a limited time Kiva is allowing members like me to offer a free trial whereby you can make your first 25 dollar loan for free. There are only a limited number of these so please act now!

Here’s the link


You’ll be glad you did. I promise…


Friday, August 29th, 2008

I think it was New Mexico governor Bill Richardson at Mile-high stadium yesterday who said that “John McCain may pay hundreds of dollars for his shoes, but we’ll pay for his flip-flops.” Cute. I like Bill Richardson for the most part. But I take exception to this.

What’s wrong with flip-flops?

As foot-ware, I think they are wonderful. I wear them as much as I can. Spend any time with me at all and you know this. There is an acupuncture/pressure point between your big toe and it’s neighbor (right where the thong of a flip-flop goes), the stimulation of which, engenders well-being and longevity. This is why I’m as good-natured as I am, and also why I don’t expect to ever die.

Politically, I think the demonizing of flip-flops has been detrimental to discourse, and morally grounded leadership.

When I was in LA in August, my friend Anthony was talking about how when Arnold came into office, he had all these strong opinions and ideas. He loaded up the ballot with all kinds of initiatives with the expectation of sweeping changes. They got beaten. Badly. So Arnold changed his mind. And he is now passionately pursuing things that are almost the opposite of what he was saying during the re-call election. This seems profoundly healthy. It is democracy as dialogue. It is an elected official understanding that his job is to act upon the will of the people, even when that’s not what he said he was going to do. Democrats love to decry Republicans like Schwarzenegger as ideologues. Clearly he is not.

When did we start valuing consistency and “keeping promises” over listening and adaptability? Isn’t the ability to read the lay of the land and respond, more valuable than the ability to articulate positions that will hold no matter what?

It’s fine to have a plan. Good to have a map. But a map is not the territory, and a plan is nothing but a launching pad. Often it seems like people who “stick to their guns” are like drivers who follow their GPS systems into walls, or off cliffs. This is one of many things that bothers me about any form of partisanship. Given the inherent complexity of life, your team/party/country/gender/mythology, no matter how wonderful, is not always going to be “the best”, so to claim that it is, is to set yourself up for stupidity.

I’m not a complete idiot. Of course there are consistencies that are grounded in reality. But whether the universe is primarily characterized by change or consistency is a matter of scale. I would argue that if you pull back far enough, violent, wrenching chaos is pretty characteristic of this thing we’re calling reality. So wisdom seems to dictate flexibility and articulation in our being within it.

When Barak Obama articulates his convictions about our fundamental responsibility to each other; that we are each others’ keepers, I hope he doesn’t change his mind about that. But there are plenty of things that I don’t agree with him about. There are plenty of things I wish he would go further on. I support him to the extent that I trust that he will stay awake in office, and change, listen and flip-flop when needed.

If you look at many of the worst leaders in history, their behavior features astounding levels of consistency and trustworthiness. They stick to their guns, often literally. I don’t think I need to name the obvious examples.

Abraham Lincoln (a Republican president who turns out, apparently, to be Obama’s grandfather), did not enter the white house intending to abolish slavery. He did it, when it became an expedient measure in winning the war to unify the country. I think we can argue about whether or not the union was important enough to justify a bloody war; something Lincoln was unwavering in his certainty about. But I don’t know a good argument against the abolition of slavery. And that was something Lincoln flip-flopped on.

My namesake, Trotsky, was killed because he thought the wheel of revolution should keep turning. Most revolutions turn sour because once in power the revolutionaries become inflexible, consistent, stones. Solid and certain of their positions and their hold on power.

Anne says: The result of certainty is violence.

Cause I’m a jerk, I say: Are you certain of that?

She hits me, and I realize she’s right.

I hope Barak Obama wins. I encourage us all to get out there and do whatever we can to bring this about. It’s not in the bag and I hope we don’t blow it again this time. Given the current political realities in the United States this is probably going to mean presenting him as consistent, solid, unwavering and trustworthy. But whether he’s going to be a good president is going to depend on how flexible his spine is. His facility for mental yoga.

So, again, I hope Barak Obama wins. And I hope he wears flip-flops in the white house.

Rantings of the politically insane…

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Let me see if I remember this…
There is a story about Laurie Anderson getting an assignment to interview John Cage. Anyone got a citation on this? I think it’s on the Puppet Motel cd rom which I can’t play anymore. (Remember cd roms?!!). As I remember it, she’s sitting there listening to him talk and she’s increasingly obsessed with and distracted by a question that she eventually blurts out:

“Are things getting better, or are they getting worse?”

Cage takes a moment and then says:

“I’m not sure, but they’re certainly getting faster.”

The question is a good one. An excellent one. One that I find myself asking all the time. And Cage’s answer, like many things he said, is most exquisitely useful.

I have often said this but it is one of the profound mixed-blessings of being bi-cultural, that it is almost impossible for me to see only one side of any argument. This would be a great thing, except that I find myself arguing sides of arguments that shock me, all the time. So I try to inch the mix on this blessing towards the good.

I also believe in debate. Argument. The vigorous battle of ideas. Its a way of improving our thinking. Making our ideas stronger. Because of this, if you say to me that you support any of the current presidential candidates, I will passionately take up the cause of the other, and try to convince you. The foundation that this situation sits on is that I have not made up my own mind yet. And I will argue that I am passionate about NOT making up my mind right now. The general election is still ten months away. Because I refuse to hold a party affiliation, I cannot vote in the NY primary. The system has told me that I either play the game or they don’t want to hear from me till November.

Yeah, I tend to agree with the democrats. That doesn’t mean that I want to JOIN their little club. The candidates that actually articulate the things that I think are necessary in our country are cranks that have already been dismissed at this point in the process. My views run towards pacifist anarchy with social accountability. I have no problem with Marx being right, but Smith seems to have been more practical in terms of how the world seems to work. Everybody with “vision” is either a Utopian Capitalist or a Utopian Marxist. Meanwhile what are those of us who live in the real world supposed to do? I want a strong government that distributes wealth equitably, but also stays away from my life, and my personal choices about how to live. Clearly, I’m politically insane. You wouldn’t want me running the government anymore than you’d want me doing open heart surgery. I do, however, feel these things.

Part of my distaste for Party politics comes from a distaste for team boosterism/fandom. The whole “My team/family/race/religion/sexuality/gender/party/nation/culture/species is better than yours, and we’re gonna kick your butt!” is SO infuriatingly tiresome to me. It is the kind of thinking that allows us to find moral justifications for interpersonal violence (what other kind is there). But we reduce even something like doing political good to this same horse-race argument. My good is better than your good, and I will pound you to dust to prove it.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in competition. Far from it. I think it is essential. But it is a much more profound thing than the hooliganism I see most often. I have to thank my friends over at the “Oh My Goodness!” blog (see the link in the sidebar) for the following Carl Wilson quote about democracy:

“This is what I mean by democracy–not a limp open-mindedness, but actively grappling with people and things not like me, which brings with it the perilous question of what I am like. Democracy, that dangerous, paradoxical, and mostly unattempted ideal, sees that the self is insufficient, dependent for definition on otherness, and chooses not only to accept that but to celebrate it, to stake everything on it. Through democracy, which demands we meet strangers as equals, we perhaps become less strangers to ourselves.”

I like this. I like it a lot. It confirms in me the political thrill that I feel when I talk to someone who disagrees with me. The ecstatic joy of living in a milieu where I am not “like” those around me. The profound happiness of “otherness”. This is democracy. You don’t need democracy in an environment where everyone agrees. Democracy is a stab at answering the deceptively profound and paradoxical question: How do we live together while preserving the values of plurality and multiplicity? How do we REALLY?

Ok. I will now do the violence of political articulation here. From my point of view right now, this minute:
The Barak vs Hilary presidential candidate argument, misses the whole point. The point is that the United States is being run by corporate interests and we are polluting the planet past its ability to continue to sustain us, while killing and torturing people. Both Barak and Hilary are members of our CURRENT government. Why have they not risked their political lives fighting what is happening RIGHT NOW? Why have they not aggressively pursued the sorts of changes that they talk about. Anyone can say the things that they’re saying. Why haven’t they done it yet? Why should we trust them AT ALL otherwise? This may be asking a lot, but do we not have a right to ask a lot of those who seek from us our political power? Barak, Hilary and Edwards agree on so much, what if they were to form a coalition to actually get some of these things done? We are being asked to care about who’s in the white house. Why? The only reason to care is because they may be able to do something meaningful. So isn’t it just as good if they can do it outside the white house? Why are they wasting our time? People are dieing unnecessarily right now. We are screwing up the environment unnecessarily right now. The civil rights of people are already being dismantled.

It’s like we’re standing inside a burning building watching some sort of competition, where we’re asked to choose which fire-department will come rescue us in a year. And the people with hoses and axes are being told to stand back and not get in the way of the all-important competition. And we are told not to run. To keep our eyes on the shiny trucks.

So is this new? Is this any different than it’s ever been? I doubt it. It’s probably always been this way.

It’s just happening faster.

Melbourne 5

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

The title of this post sounds like a singing group or a gang of super-heros or a TV detective show: “Melbourne Five”

Ok. So you may have noticed a change to the Blog. I signed up for Google’s AdSense program. This means that the box at the top of the page will be populated by links to advertisers that have been selected by Google’s algorithms (Al-Gore-isms) to be of interest to those interested in the content of the page. I’m curious about this.
I’m interested in a number of things about it:
Whether or not the kinds of things that show up in my ads will seem relevant, useful or helpful.
Whether it becomes irritating.
Whether it actually makes any money.

If you have thoughts about this, I encourage you to let me know. I’m not completely sure how I feel about it and figure getting it out there is a way to clarify my feelings. “I’m sorry your honor, I wasn’t sure how I felt about serial killing so I thought I’d try it out and see. Turns out it’s not my thing.”

Speaking of which: It seems that the “Comment” functionality on my Blog is down. I’m trying to figure it out but for the time being it doesn’t seem to be working. I’ll let you know when it’s back, so if you’ve got comments, save them up.

I’m also thinking about changing the name of the blog to something other than “Leon’s Weblog”. The current title has the advantage of descriptive accuracy, abut that’s about it. So stand by on that as well.

Saturday was election day in Australia. Australians are required to vote. They get fined about $40 if they don’t, so everyone has this thing today that’s kind of like jury duty in the states. They HAVE TO GO, but it’s a privilege. So it’s a total pain to be able to take part in this wonderful thing.

Given the political strategies in the States based on turn out alone, it’s interesting to think about what would happen if we had such a system in the U.S. Another option would be to declare elections with an insufficient turn out, invalid. Until we reach a certain percentage, let’s say 80 percent just to be ambitious, we don’t have a quorum and the election has to be done over.
I know there are arguments about mandatory voting not representing the kind of freedom that Americans hold to, but it also seems clear that two big things that can derail a democracy are voter ignorance and apathy. Not that mandatory voting would make people any less apathetic or informed, but it might help. If you have to vote, you have to at least know something. You at least have to get up off the couch.
I think it’s possible to argue that when you’ve got an overwhelming majority of the people in a country not voting, they’ve voted against the basic idea of democracy and it’s time for something else.

So Labor won. This, it seems, is a good thing. The Liberal coalition has been in power for almost 12 years. Most of my friends here compared this election to the next one in the US; a chance to get rid of an abusive government. Well it seems to have happened. It wasn’t a landslide but PM Howard seems to have lost not only his post but his Parliamentary seat as well. That’s gotta hurt.

The US election is almost a year away. Almost anything can happen in that time. I’m sure many things will. I’m haunted by something I heard Sy Hersh say a few weeks back: The Democrats are going to lose this thing if they don’t wake up. There’s time to wake up and there’s time to blow it. Only time will tell.