David Frum, former economics speechwriter for former U.S. President George W. Bush, offers a sharp critique of the Republican Party in an interview with NPR's Steve Innskeep yesterday, David Frum asks "When did the GOP lose touch?". The interview was prompted by Frum's recent article in the current issue of New York Magazine, which is impressive in its breadth and depth ... and, I would argue, its compassion.
I often feel incensed at some of the things I hear and read conservatives saying and writing. Frum's article helps provide some context for some of the perspectives presumably felt and sometimes articulated by some conservatives, but does so largely without being condescending. I'm reminded of one of the central tenets of non-violent communication: communication designed to induce fear, shame and/or guilt in a listener often arises from conscious or unconscious fear, shame and/or guilt on the part of the speaker. I'm also uncomfortably reminded of my own tendencies toward projection and rejection ... which are [also] reflected in the subtitle of Frum's article:
Some of my Republican friends ask if I’ve gone crazy. I say: Look in the mirror.
I highly recommend reading the entire article, and its complementary companion article by Jonathan Chait, who until recently was senior editor at The New Republic, How Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable (although frankly, I did not find Chait's article as compelling ... or compassionate). Here, I wanted share a few excerpts highlighting some key observations Frum makes regarding the rightward GOP shift(s).
On Fiscal Austerity and Economic Stagnation:
... the big winners in the American fiscal system are the rich, the old, the rural, and veterans—typically conservative constituencies. ... Any serious move to balance the budget, or even just reduce the deficit a little, must inevitably cut programs conservative voters do like: Medicare for current beneficiaries, farm subsidies, veterans’ benefits, and big tax loopholes like the mortgage-interest deduction and employer-provided health benefits. The rank and file of the GOP are therefore caught between their interests and their ideology—intensifying their suspicion that shadowy Washington elites are playing dirty tricks upon them.
On Ethnic Competition:
[In a National Journal article based on a Gallup poll of Republican voters, Second Verse, Same as the First, Ron Brownstein reports that] "... noncollege whites are the gloomiest: Just one-third of them think their kids will live better than they do; an equal number think their children won’t even match their living standard. No other group is nearly that negative." Those fears are not irrational. ... It is precisely these disaffected whites—especially those who didn’t go to college—who form the Republican voting base.
On Fox News and Talk Radio:
Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel).
On [what I would call] unenlightened self-interest:
We used to say “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.” Now we are all entitled to our own facts, and conservative media use this right to immerse their audience in a total environment of pseudo-facts and pretend information. ... [sinister GOP] billionaires do exist, and some do indeed attempt to influence the political process. ... Yet, for the most part, these Republican billionaires are not acting cynically. They watch Fox News too, and they’re gripped by the same apocalyptic fears as the Republican base. In funding the tea-party movement, they are actually acting against their own longer-term interests, for it is the richest who have the most interest in political stability, which depends upon broad societal agreement that the existing distribution of rewards is fair and reasonable. If the social order comes to seem unjust to large numbers of people, what happens next will make Occupy Wall Street look like a street fair.
"a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation":
Some call this the closing of the conservative mind. Alas, the conservative mind has proved itself only too open, these past years, to all manner of intellectual pollen. Call it instead the drying up of conservative creativity. ... In the aftershock of 2008, large numbers of Americans feel exploited and abused. Rather than workable solutions, my party is offering low taxes for the currently rich and high spending for the currently old, to be followed by who-knows-what and who-the-hell-cares. This isn’t conservatism; it’s a going-out-of-business sale for the baby-boom generation.
Frum finishes off the article with a call for conservative moderates to speak up:
I refuse to believe that I am the only Republican who feels this way. If CNN’s most recent polling is correct, only half of us sympathize with the tea party. However, moderate-minded people dislike conflict—and thus tend to lose to people who relish conflict. The most extreme voices in the GOP now denounce everybody else as Republicans in Name Only. But who elected them as the GOP’s membership committee?
During this period of increasing protests against inequality and injustice - on Wall Street and other streets in America, as well as on streets and squares in Egypt and elsewhere around the world - I'm reminded of earlier widespread protests against the Vietnam War ... and former Republican President Richard Nixon's claims during that period to be the spokesperson for what he called the silent majority, and his largely successful efforts to divide and polarize the American people ... and claims made by the more recently self-appointed Republican spokespeople of real Americans.
However, harking back to that earlier period of protest also reminds me of the wisdom of an inspiring liberal who, like Frum, [also] called for moderation in words and actions in the cause of promoting change: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Although Frum and King espouse different perspectives on the types of changes that are likely to lead to a greater Good, a vigorous, non-violent debate seems like the most likely course to lead toward improvements in politics and society.
Colbert highlighted several benefits to this new mobile social activist application:
If you're going to the rally, well, there's an app for that ... It's really cool! You can use the app to get directions to the rally, check-in on Foursquare, post photos to Facebook and Twitter, and you get a special video message from Jon [Stewart] and me on the morning of the rally. This app will truly enhance your rally experience, because nothing brings people together like ignoring each other to stare at their phones. [emphasis mine]
These "features" for enhancing physical world experiences reflect the tensions I recently wrote about regarding the Starbucks Digital Network and its impact on engagement and enlightment on physical world "third places". Although I have not precisely measured it, I have perceived an increasing trend of people standing or sitting together in Starbucks and becoming ever more effective at ignoring each other by staring at / typing on their phones (or laptops), and I predict less physical world engagement will result from the greater online engagement provided by this new location-based network. This may not be universally seen as a "bug" by all, but I have been encouraged to read others urging a shift of attention from the online back into the offline, such as Lewis Howes' recent post predicting the offline shift is coming, and John Hagel and John Seely Brown's recent article in Harvard Business Review proclaiming the increasing importance of physical location.
Malcolm Gladwell has also addressed the relative tradeoffs between online and offline engagement, touching off a firestorm of controversy in a New Yorker article criticizing online social networks such as Twitter and Facebook and their impact on social activism in the physical world: Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.
We’re looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.
The March to Keep Fear Alive is, of course, also intended to promote reasonableness, though employing the kind of parody traditionally used by Colbert in drawing attention to the fear that is regularly promulgated through other media channels:
America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear — that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear — forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget — “Reason” is just one letter away from “Treason.” Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can’t afford to take that chance.
I will not be present at the rally / march in Washington, DC, but I may attend the Rally to Restore Sanity in Seattle. In any case, I will be tuning in to the main rally /march remotely - perhaps using my iPhone - to see how the resolution or revolution will be tweeted.
Update, 2010-11-16: Perhaps due to the fact that the only commercial TV I watch with any regularity is the Comedy Central "news" hour - The Daily Show and The Colbert Report - and even those I typically watch via buffering on my DVR to skip commercials, I was not aware of the Microsoft Windows Phone ad campaign launched earlier in October that promotes the theme of phone-based obsessive-compulsive disorder that Colbert is alluding to. While I like the video, I don't see how this would motivate people to buy Windows Phones (say, instead of iPhones or Androids), but perhaps the goal was simply to draw some attention to Windows Phone. In any case, I'm embedding the Windows Phone "Really" advertisement below.
And finally, just for good measure, I'll embed what I see as the classic short video in this genre, Crackberry Blackberry (though I do not believe this was ever used as a marketing tool by Research in Motion). Interestingly, it was prefaced by yet another Windows Phone ad when I watched it just now.
Dahlia Lithwick wrote a brilliant article on A Brilliant Ruling that appeared in Slate on Wednesday, in which she reports on some of the facts and opinions that were expressed by witnesses for the plaintiffs (two same-sex couples) and the defense (the state of California and opponents of same-sex marriage) in the U.S. District Court case. After noting the likelihood of an appeal of the ruling proceeding all the way up to the Supreme Court, the carefully crafted 15 citations to 2 Supreme Court decisions written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, and commenting on the imbalance in preparation and presentation of expert testimony between the two sides in the trial, she highlights some specific findings articulated by Judge Walker that I find difficult to dispute (and I hope that Justice Kennedy and his colleagues will encounter similar difficulties in disputing the findings):
Then come the elaborate "findings of fact"—and recall that appellate courts must defer far more to a judge's findings of fact than conclusions of law. Here is where Judge Walker knits together the trial evidence, to the data, to the nerves at the very base of Justice Kennedy's brain. Among his most notable determinations of fact, Walker finds: states have long discriminated in matters of who can marry; marital status affects immigration, citizenship, tax policy, property and inheritance rules, and benefits programs; that individuals do not choose their own sexual orientation; California law encourages gay couples to become parents; domestic partnership is a second-class legal status; permitting same-sex couples to marry does not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, or otherwise screw around. He found that it benefits the children of gay parents to have them be married and that the gender of a child's parent is not a factor in a child's adjustment. He found that Prop 8 puts the force of law behind a social stigma and that the entirety of the Prop 8 campaign relied on instilling fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay. (Brand-new data show that the needle only really moved in favor of the Prop 8 camp when parents of young children came out in force against gay marriage in the 11th hour of the campaign.) He found that stereotypes targeting gays and lesbians have resulted in terrible disadvantages for them and that the Prop 8 campaign traded on those stereotypes.
Here are some particularly poignant passages regarding Blankenhorn's testimony, which the court concluded constitutes "inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight" (with a few links to items referenced directly or indirectly inserted):
During trial, Blankenhorn was presented with a study that posed an empirical question whether permitting marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples would lead to the manifestations Blankenhorn described as indicative of deinstitutionalization. After reviewing and analyzing available evidence, the study concludes that “laws permitting same-sex marriage or civil unions have no adverse effect on marriage, divorce, and abortion rates, the percent of children born out of wedlock, or the percent of households with children under 18 headed by women.” PX2898 (Laura Langbein & Mark A Yost, Jr, Same-Sex Marriage and Negative Externalities, 90 Soc Sci Q 2 (June 2009) at 305-306). Blankenhorn had not seen the study before trial and was thus unfamiliar with its methods and conclusions. Nevertheless, Blankenhorn dismissed the study and its results, reasoning that its authors “think that [the conclusion is] so self-evident that anybody who has an opposing point of view is not a rational person.”
I added emphasis to the last sentence, as to highlight the irony of one purported expert summarily dismissing the work of other purported experts while accusing them of, in effect, summarily dismissing other points of view that differ from their own ... reminding me of another article I read recently about a study that suggests what you say about others says a lot about you. Judge Walker similalry noted that Blankenhorn "failed to consider evidence contrary to his view in presenting his testimony".
In my reading of the case, it appears that Blankenhorn, if anything, offered testimony that tended to support the claims of the plaintiffs (the same-sex couples), against which he had been invited to testify:
Blankenhorn’s concern that same-sex marriage poses a threat to the institution of marriage is further undermined by his testimony that same-sex marriage and opposite-sex marriage operate almost identically. During cross-examination, Blankenhorn was shown a report produced by his Institute in 2000 explaining the six dimensions of marriage: (1) legal contract; (2) financial partnership; (3) sacred promise; (4) sexual union; (5) personal bond; and (6) family-making bond. PX2879 (Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, et al, The Marriage Movement: A Statement of Principles (Institute for American Values 2000)). Blankenhorn agreed that same-sex marriages and opposite-sex marriages would be identical across these six dimensions. Tr 2913:8-2916:18. When referring to the sixth dimension, a family-making bond, Blankenhorn agreed that same-sex couples could “raise” children. Tr 2916:17.
Blankenhorn testified on cross-examination that studies show children of adoptive parents do as well or better than children of biological parents [possibly referring to Farr, R. H., Forssell, S. L., & Patterson, C. J. (2010). Parenting and child development in adoptive families: Does parental sexual orientation matter? Applied Developmental Science, 10, 164-178]. Tr 2794:12-2795:5. Blankenhorn agreed that children raised by same-sex couples would benefit if their parents were permitted to marry. Tr 2803:6-15. Blankenhorn also testified he wrote and agrees with the statement “I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, insofar as we are a nation founded on this principle, we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.” DIX0956 at 2; Tr 2805:6-2806:1.
Blankenhorn stated he opposes marriage for same-sex couples because it will weaken the institution of marriage, despite his recognition that at least thirteen positive consequences would flow from state recognition of marriage for same-sex couples, including: (1) by increasing the number of married couples who might be interested in adoption and foster care, same-sex marriage might well lead to fewer children growing up in state institutions and more children growing up in loving adoptive and foster families; and (2) same-sex marriage would signify greater social acceptance of homosexual love and the worth and validity of same-sex intimate relationships. Tr 2839:16-2842:25; 2847:1-2848:3; DIX0956 at 203-205.
there is simply no other way to view the age-old, universal institution of marriage than as rooted in the biological family
Also consistent with the conduct of her colleague, she makes claims without offering much scientific evidence; and while I don't mean to imply that a newspaper opinion article ought to have the exact same standards as courtroom testimony, I do believe that opinions with factual corroboration generally carry more weight ... at least among those who care about facts.
In this case, Mack claims that "there is a great deal of social-science evidence connecting marriage and the active engagement of two biological parents with child well-being", and yet only makes reference to a single statement made by anthropologist Bronislaw Molinowski without any reference to supporting studies he or others may have conducted.
I would argue that, as was the case with her colleague, she raises issues that may unintentionally serve to further support the plaintiff's case. After suggesting that the institution of marriage's "common denominator across time and cultures has been its dedication to the offices of reproduction", she goes on to report that "A recent Pew analysis of 2008 census data showed that only just over 40% of Americans consider children fundamental to marriage", a decline from 65% who expressed that view in 1990. I believe she quotes this statistic to bolster her and Blankenthorn's supposition that marriage is being "de-institutionalized"; in my reading, it suggests that the institution of marriage is being progressively re-defined rather than being undermined.
The report I believe she is referring to, Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees, shows that the proportion of all women who end their childbearing years without bearing children has risen from 10% in 1976 to 18% in 2008; among women who have ever been married, that rate is 13%. If procreation is an essential element of a "successful" or "legal" marriage, I don't know how Mack, Blankenhorn and other opponents of same-sex marriage regard childless marriages, but I have several married friends who are childless - or childfree - by choice, and I don't believe that they see their marriages as any less legitimate than childful marriages. I certainly don't, nor do I see same-sex marriages as any less legitimate than heterosexual marriages ... and I hope the growing preponderence of facts supporting the positive aspects of same-sex marriages will help influence more opinions so that we can move beyond this controversy and devote more attention to other social, economic and political problems in dire need of resolution.
Update: Just found the full text of the ruling on Scribd; embedding below:
When I was working on natural language processing and speech recognition systems in the 90s, one of our mantras was "there's no data like more data", i.e., all things being equal, the accuracy of recognition tends to increase with the addition of more labeled data. The Linguistic Data Consortium at the University of Pennsylvania was [and, I suspect, still is] the primary source for labeled text and speech data, and it was available - for a fee - to all members, most of whom were researchers and developers in academia and industry. Three recent developments in the past week have prompted a reflection on the broader power of data ... and the people and organizations that have access to it.
Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006,
will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of
tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every
day, with the total numbering in the billions.
We thought it fitting to give the initial heads-up
to the Twitter community itself via our own feed @librarycongress. (By
the way, out of sheer coincidence, the announcement comes on the same
day our own number of feed-followers has
surpassed 50,000. I love serendipity!)
We will also be putting out a press release later with even more
details and quotes. Expect to see an emphasis on the scholarly and
research implications of the acquisition.
On the one hand, I believe this is a very positive development. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft all pay for real-time access to the Twitter "firehose", and now researchers and developers with shallower pockets will be able to access the entire Twitter public data archive ... after some yet-to-be-announced delay (it's not clear when the archive will become available, how often it will be updated, or how often developers or their applications will be able to access it).
A related development, also announced during the recent Twitter's developer conference (Chirp), was that Twitter is offering a stream API to supplement its REST API and Search API. As with the other APIs, there are limitations imposed on its use, lest fail whales become a significantly more common sight, but this still represents a positive development in making more data more openly accessible.
I don't want to draw too strong of an analogy between private video rental records and public tweets, but given the broadening range of web services that enable people to automatically update their status[es] about their use of those services (e.g., Netflix users can automatically post their movie ratings on Facebook), I find myself speculating about how the Twitter archive might affect future judicial nominations and/or future elections for political offices ... but given my biases toward a more transparent society, I suppose that if the data is out there, I'd rather have it publicly available than have limited access to it.
And speaking of sharing updates and other data across web services, the second recent development in the realm of open data to give me pause were announcements at the Facebook developer's conference (f8) last week. VentureBeat's f8 roundup offers a nice summary of these announcements, which included a Graph API and a "like" button that can be used on any web site ... vastly increasing the prospects for personalization and sociality across the web ... and placing Facebook squarely in the center of this hyperpersonalized and hypersocialized network. Lili Cheng, of Microsoft's FUSE Labs, wrote about the first Facebook partnership announced - and demonstrated - during the keynote at f8, a new Facebook app for sharing documents created by her group.
As with the Twitter announcement, I see many positive possibilities in these developments, but I see an even darker shadow being cast by the Facebook announcements. Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb articulated some of my concerns in a post asking Is the New Facebook a Deal with the Devil?
Facebook blew people's minds today at its F8 developer conference but
one sentiment that keeps coming up is: this is scary. The company
unveiled simple, powerful plans to offer instant personalization on
sites all over the web, it kicked off meaningful adoption of the
Semantic Web with the snap of the fingers, it revolutionized the
relationship between the cookie and the log-in, it probably knocked a
whole class of recommendation technology startups that don't offer
built-in distribution to 400 million people right out of the market. It
popularized social bookmarking and made subscribing to feeds around the
web easier than ever before. And it may have created the biggest
disruption to web traffic analytics in years: demographically
verified visitor stats tied to people's real identities. There was
so much big news that the analytics part didn't even come up in the
This is so much new technology and it's tied in so closely with one
very powerful company that there is big reason to stop and consider the
possible implications. There are reasons to be scared. The bargain
Facebook offers is very, very compelling - but it's not a clear win for
1. An iFrame on sites that points to Facebook. The iframe request is
data loaded so it knows where the user came from. Facebook shows
activity and friends that have interacted with the site but the data IS
NOT shared. You have to be logged into facebook for it to work. It
LOOKs like it is on that site but it isn’t. It is a little window into
facebook on a different page.
2. Applications can ask users for access to their data through the
service formerly known as ‘connect’. Each and every user has to agree
to share the data. If you don’t want to share then don’t use the App.
Facebook isn’t doing anything differently then they did before, it is
just easier and more integrated.
Although a subsequent commenter posted an unsubstantiated and rather abusive allegation that Austin works for Facebook (Austin's username is linked to Aqumin, a financial data and analysis firm), no one rebutted his argument.
I discovered Dave's post via Tim O'Reilly's tweet, and as one of the post prominent proponents of the open web, Tim's endorsement carries a great deal of weight (for me). He also tweeted a link to another positive perspective on the Facebook announcements, by Fred Wilson, a partner at Union Square Ventures, who raised doubts about One Graph to Rule Them All?:
These other social graphs [Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Disqus, GetGlue, and others (remember
del.ico.us?)] can and will grow in the wake of Facebook. I
am not sure if Facebook's ambition is to create the one social graph to
rule them all but if it is, I don't think they will succeed with that.
If it is to empower the creation of many social graphs for various
activities and to be in the center of that activity and driving it, I
think they are already there and will continue to be there for many
years to come.
And referencing Tim brings me to the third (and final) recent development I wanted to mention regarding open data: his keynote on where open source and open data are going in the age of the cloud at the 2010 O'Reilly MySQL Conference and Expo last week. Some of the issues he raised in his talk are reflected in a blog entry he posted last month on The State of the Internet Operating System (a "part 2" followup is promised soon). If I were to highlight one theme from the keynote, it is his statement that the future actually belongs to the data, not the database. I'll highlight a few of his more specific observations and insights below.
The 21st century data challenge is how to deliver algorithmic real-time
cloud-based intelligence to mobile applications.This cloud future includes...
Devices acting as sensors for intelligent data collection
Devices whose UI is on the web rather than the device
Feeding data into multiple online services that will turn into a full-on sensor web
Setting the stage for robotics, augmented reality and the next generation of personal electronics
The Internet Operating System is a Data Operating System:
It helps applications find out about
and helps people interact with them through services
Matching and Recognition
Referencing an earlier blog post on The War for the Web, Tim asked "Who will own the Internet Operating System? Do we want anyone to own it? If not, we better get busy."
Invoking concepts from Wall Street, via the Money:Tech conference ("Where Web 2.0 meets Wall Street"), and applying them to the prospects for the open web, Tim noted that some financial companies that started out as brokers started trading for their own accounts, against their customer, and warned us to watch for this behavior on the Internet: "The giants of the internet are trading for their own accounts, building a platform on which all roads lead back to themselves."
Noting that each of the players (giants) in "the Internet Operating System game" tends to embrace open source for their own strategic reasons and is giving away something that is valuable to someone else, Tim suggested that we may see "some interesting open source moves around Microsoft's Bing search engine", and offered a partial list of potential open source supporters in different application areas:
Non-proprietaryData is available in a format over which no entity has exclusive
License-free Data is not subject to any copyright, patent, trademark or trade
secret regulation. Reasonable privacy, security and privilege
restrictions may be allowed.
Toward the end of his talk, Tim referenced a recent Radar O'Reilly blog post by Nat Torkington on Truly Open Data, in which Nat notes that we have to build some tools to support open data, e.g., tools for provisioning and tracking. In short, we need to make it as easy to share data as it is to share code in open source movement. So maybe a more appropriate title for this post would be "There's no data like more open data and tools" ... but I think I'll save that for a future followup post.
I've had a number of opportunities recently to reflect on don Miguel Ruiz' first agreement: be impeccable with your word. Amid public conversations at the recent Coffee Party kickoff meeting, private discussions about reviews of academic papers and proposals, and listening to an interview about the science of wisdom, I've gained a greater appreciation for the importance of making this agreement and adopting this practice. A comment advocating confrontation by my good friend Robb - an ardent defender of the Ruahines Mountain Range in New Zealand and wild places in general - on my blog post about political conversation vs. confrontation in the context of the Coffee Party movement helped me reconsider my opposition to confrontation (the meaning of which is "opposition"), and realize that what I'm actually opposed to is condescension and intimidation. I decided to further clarify my own beliefs about being impeccable with my word in a followup blog post.
Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
In the chapter elaborating on The First Agreement, Ruiz defines impeccable as "without sin" and suggests that sin begins with rejection of myself, and in the case of the word, manifests in using words against myself. [Actually, Ruiz uses the word "yourself" rather than "myself", but I prefer to use "I" statements wherever possible.] If I reject myself, I am more likely to reject others, and if I use words against myself, I am more likely to use words against others. Or, as is observed in the recently released movie, Greenberg (and elsewhere): "hurt people hurt people".
Ruiz describes the power of the word as a form of magic, through which we can cast spells for good or evil. Impeccable use of words - pure magic - can have a powerful effect on people, helping us appreciate positive qualities and do positive things. I've written before about the power of positivity and appropriate praise (and the perils of inappropriate and profuse praise), and recently encountered psychological studies showing that even the unspoken expectations of others can influence us. Ruiz warns that the invocation of what he calls black magic - sowing seeds of fear and doubt in the minds of others - can also have powerful impact, alluding to Hitler, whose words so successfully demonized and vilified an entire race of people that 6 million were killed.
Given my recent revelation about confrontation vs. condescension, I want to distinguish between using words to criticize a person (or a race, religion or political party of persons) and using words to criticize a person's actions. For example, I can question the truthfulness or logic of another person's statements and still be impeccable with my word. However, if I call another person a liar or an imbecile, I am not being impeccable with my word.
The specific words and tone I use to raise a question or potential criticism also offer an opportunity to practice impeccability. For example, someone may say something like "The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally". I may question the truthfulness of that statement, but if I say "You lie!" - especially if I were to shout that out in a nationally televised public setting - I am not being impeccable with my word ... though I may be giving that person an opportunity to practice the second agreement, don't take anything personally.
I was discussing the distinction between confrontation and condescension in the context of political conversations with a friend yesterday - over coffee - who suggested some references that might inform my perspective. One site lists two basic types of arguments:
There are basically two types of arguments: Aristotelian or adversarial, and Rogerian or consensus-building. Aristotelian argument is made to confirm a position or hypothesis or to refute an existing argument. Using the techniques at hand, the writer attempts to persuade the reader to a particular point of view. The writer uses logic, appeals to the rational in the audience, and provides empirical and common sense evidence to persuade the audience members to change their beliefs, attitudes, and actions.
Rogerian argument is a bit different—its goal is to develop consensus among readers rather than establish an adversarial relationship. The idea is that a successful argument is a winning situation for everyone. Avoiding all emotionally sensitive language, the writer phrases statements in as neutral a way as possible to avoid alienating readers by minimizing threat and establishing trust. The analysis of the opposition's point of view is carefully and objectively worded, demonstrating that the writer understands the position and reasons for believing it. In preparation for the conclusion, the writer points out the common characteristics, goals, and values of the arguments and persons involved. Finally, the writer proposes a resolution that recognizes the interests of all interested parties.
I believe both types of arguments benefit from being impeccable with your word ... assuming the goal is to arrive at the truth of the matter - or at least a deeper under understanding - rather than simply winning. I'm not so sure that truth is a top priority of some participants in our political process.
My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth.
Aristotle, who generally advocated dialectic (logic) over rhetoric (the art of persuasion), acknowledged the pragmatic value of rhetoric in civic affairs, and outlined three primary strategies of persuasion:
ethos: how the character and credibility of a speaker can influence an audience to consider him/her to be believable.
pathos: the use of emotional appeals to alter the audience's judgment.
logos: the use of reasoning, either inductive or deductive, to construct an argument.
Again, I believe that being impeccable with your word is an important ingredient in applying all of these strategies. One can establish one's credibility without resorting to the character assassination of one's opponent, although respectfully raising questions about the credibility of statements made by an opponent is consistent with the first agreement. One can also appeal to emotions without insulting an opponent. And, of course, constructing a logical argument can be done with impeccability, as long as one begins with impeccable premises.
Olweus emphasizes the social culture that supports, condones or promotes bullying - the dark side of the idea that "it takes a village":
Students who bully: These students want to bully, start the bullying, and play a leader role.
Followers or henchmen: These students are positive toward the bullying and take an active part, but don't usually initiate it and do not play a lead role.
Supporters or passive bullies: These students actively and openly support the bullying, for example, through laughter or calling attention to the situation, but they don't join in.
Passive supporters or possible bullies: These students like the bullying but do not show outward signs of support.
Disengaged onlookers: These students do not get involved and do not take a stand, nor do they participate actively in either direction. They might thin or say "It's none of my business" or "Let's watch and see what happens."
Possible defenders: These students dislike the bullying and think they should help the student who is being bullied, but do nothing.
Defenders: These students dislike the bullying and help or try to help the student who is being bullied.
The NPR story notes that "The community can take away the bully's power by refusing to cheer him on, by telling an adult, or perhaps the ultimate step: stepping in to help the victim."
I believe that words have power, they weigh a ton. And they are received differently by people in - depending on their, shall we say, emotional state. And we have to take responsibility for words that are said that we do not reject.
A blog post about American Kristallnacht: Conservative Hatred Shatters the Peace includes an extensive rundown of the powerful, hateful and intimidating words used by various conservative leaders over the last several days, some of which explicitly call for the breaking of windows and the murder of elected officials who voted for the health care reform law. I wish I was surprised to learn that the frequency of death threats against President Obama is 400% higher than against former President George W. Bush.
I believe that with a "government of the people, by the people, for the people", the potential victims of this campaign of intimidation are not just our elected officials but all citizens, just as I believe the ultimate victims of the violent words and actions that crystalized on Kristallnacht were not just the persecuted Jews, but the Nazi bullies and their supporters, the passive or disengaged German citizens, and eventually most of the citizens of the world community.
So, what can someone who objects to the tactics of intimidation do to step in to help the potential victims? One could start or join a movement to "wake up, stand up and speak up", to re-engage in vigorous and respectful political conversation, to oppose bullying without resorting to the bullying tactics of condescension and intimidation. I'm not sure if the Coffee Party movement will ultimately succeed, but I plan to participate in one of the local National Coffee Summit meetings this weekend, as it appears to be a promising vehicle through which to promote and practice being impeccable with your word on a large scale.
I attended a Coffee Party kickoff meeting at SoulFood Books, Music and Organic Coffee House on Saturday. Approximately 40 people subdivided into smaller groups to discuss their hopes and fears about the state of the union. Amid the largely liberal perspectives voiced by several participants, I was delighted to discover an unanticipated diversity of opinions in our group. A number of common themes emerged, but I came away most hopeful about the prospect for preserving this diversity and promoting a resurgence of the middle way in American politics.
During the course of the discussions, there were a number of references to the Tea Party movement - whose members tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative - mostly in the context of expressing opposition to or at least distinction from that movement. I believe there are some important areas of agreement between values espoused by the Tea Party and the Coffee Party: an affinity for transparency, accountability and responsibility, and an aversion to abuses of power and other perceived injustices.
There do appear to be areas of differences between the Tea Party and the Coffee Party; among the most significant - to me - are the tactics employed. Based on what I've read and seen, the Tea Party seems to be rather ideological and confrontational whereas my first experience with the Coffee Party suggests a more idealistic and conversational approach to politics. Some members and groups within the Tea Party appear to be adopting the demonizing and spiteful rhetoric that was used so extensively during the McCain-Palin campaign of 2008. The tone and tenor of the discussions and debates within the Coffee Party meeting - in which some people articulated and advocated strong positions - was far more civil and respectful.
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Coffeehouses: Bringing the Buzz Back, Michael Idov talks about some of the European coffeehouses I first read about in The Grand Literary Cafes of Europe, warning that Americans are "losing the coffeehouse ... to our own politeness". Idov claims that while coffeehouses were once "hotbed[s] of a proudly rootless culture", "seminaries of sedition" with traditions of "intellectual sparring", they have now become elitist bastions of "balkanization". While these coffeehouses may have promoted civic engagement, it appears that they were not well known for civil engagement.
I [still] believe it is possible to have vigorous debate - in the best traditions of the coffee house - without stooping to the vilification of one's opponent(s).
That said, one of my concerns about the Coffee Party is how effective a conversational approach can be at this juncture in American politics. We may come to understand and appreciate - if not agree with - one another better, but will this effect changes in policy and legislation? Especially if other, more ideologically unified parties and movements - and corporations - are more certain, focused and strident about their views. It's hard to have a productive conversation if no one else is listening.
In the main portion of the strip, Chase [a conservative] sums up the differences between liberals and conservatives: "[Y]ou liberals are hung up on fairness! You actually try to respect all points of view! But conservatives feel no need whatsoever to consider other views. We know we're right, so why bother? Because we have no tradition of tolerance, we're unencumbered by doubt! So we roll you guys every time!" When Mark [a liberal] replies "Actually, you make a good point...", Chase responds, "See! Only a loser would admit that!"
Listening to "The Science of Wisdom" on KUOW Weekday yesterday, I heard Stephen S. Hall, author of Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience, talk about the power of anger as a motivating emotion. While he said that anger and wisdom are not antithetical, the ability to regulate anger and other emotions effectively is one of the hallmarks of a wise person. However, he also observed that many famous wise people have been willing to run the risk of contradicting conventional wisdom and adopt adversarial stances.
The question, I suppose, is whether it is wiser - and/or more effective - to promote alternative perspectives through conversational or confrontational tactics, or to advocate adversarial positions with consideration or condescension. Personally, I tend to prefer coffee to tea.
If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.
During part two of the interview, one caller asked about Kotkin's views on adopting a population-control policy, noting the growth in energy use per capita. Kotkin - reciting a refrain of "I've seen this movie before" [reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's famous catchphrase, "there you go again", in his cheerfully derisive dismissal of Jimmy Carter's compelling articulation of a national health plan during the 1980 U.S. Presidential debate] - talked about earlier reports of impending crises - or what he calls variations of "an environmental apocalypse" - that did not come to pass, and then deftly switched the metric by stating that energy use perGDP was declining. Anyone who has read David Korten's book, Agenda for a New Economy, or Doug Rushkoff's book, Life, Incorporated, may be a GDP-skeptic, and question whether GDP is an appropriate metric for assessing the health of the economy ... much less the environment.
Another caller, who identified himself as Billy, from Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, posed a particularly penetrating and provocative question (the one that sparked this post):
If the scientists are wrong and we act on their prescriptions, then we'll spend a lot of money on green technology, and maybe we'll blight a lot of landscapes with windmills. But really, in the worst case, we're talking about wasting a lot of money.
But if he [Kotkin] is wrong, and we act on his prescriptions, then we are facing - potentially - a disaster. It's not like climate change in the past that happened gradually. We're talking about very quick and rapid changes.
So, to me, if there's a 10% - even a 5% - chance that the scientists are right, dealing with that [climate change], as difficult as it is, really seems like the prudent thing to do.
Kotkin replied that he supports making some changes, but that they should be less drastic and be primarily motivated by clear and present dangers, such as reducing dirty air or enhancing our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. This is ironic on at least two levels. From what I understand, Kotkin considers himself a futurist (and indeed, the title of his book is future-oriented), so it's interesting that he is promoting a more "presentist" perspective. Secondly, his emphasis on national security brings to mind Cheney's earlier dictum about the unacceptability of even the slightest risk of another devastating terrorist attack.
I wonder how many climate change skeptics accept - or champion - the One Percent Doctrine with respect to the risk of terrorism ... and what percentage of risk of environmental apocalypse they would find acceptable. Kotkin argues that earlier religious fundamentalists' warnings of an apocalypse have been largely supplanted by "hysterical" warnings of environmental apocalypse, but I do wonder whether religious fundamentalists - Christian and Muslim - may still be more drawn to visions of a more "traditional" version of apocalypse these days.
Continuing with the theme of fundamentalism, but returning to the terrorism domain, in a recent PBS Newshour segment on Biden and Cheney Clash Over Terror Trial Policy, CSIS Senior Adviser Juan Carlos Zarate, who served the Bush administration as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009, argued that we are seeing a "fundamental continuity in our counterterrorism policies". Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole countered that we are seeing a continuity in the war(s), but significant shifts in policy, especially with respect to policy decisions to operate "within the frame of the rule of law".
I'm not sure what the Obama administration's position is on the One Percent Doctrine with respect to terrorism, and I'm increasingly unsure about what their position is with respect to the environment. The announcement last week of Obama's upport for nuclear power, coupled with proposals to expand clean energy sources and assign a cost to the polluting emissions of fossil fuels, represents the latest attempt to find common ground and pursue a middle way. However, I wonder if greater progress can be made by adopting what some may consider a more extremist position, and apply the One Percent Doctrine to the risks of climate change.
A friend was recently recounting some challenges he's been facing, concluding with the observation that "at least I have my health." His challenges include a recent layoff, and I found myself wondering how secure this consolation would prove to be for him ... or for the nearly 50 million other Americans who do not have health insurance.
Although a lot of polls are being conducted to find out how people feel about different health care reform plans (and principles), I can't find any that ask how people feel about the relative importance of health. I imagine that most people would rate good health as one of their most important values - more important than even, say, a good job or a nice house. This is probably why every other industrialized nation provides universal health coverage for its citizens.
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:
(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.
However, our government does not yet appear to consider a basic level of health care to be a right or entitlement (unless you're a senior citizen). Instead, we have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of private health insurance ... and private health insurance companies have the right (indeed, the obligation) to pursue profits.
Private health insurance companies produce profits when their income exceeds their expenditures. Revenue comes from health insurance premiums. Expenses include the salaries and bonuses they pay their employees and the medical procedures they pay to have performed for the people who have paid the premiums. Among the most effective ways for private health insurance companies to increase their profits are to increase premiums, deny coverage and/or rescind coverage for people with the highest expenses ... the very people who most need health care coverage.
one Blue Cross employee earned a perfect score of "5" for "exceptional
performance" on an evaluation that noted the employee's role in
dropping thousands of policyholders and avoiding nearly $10 million worth of medical care.
Half of the insured population uses virtually no health care at
all. The 80th percentile uses only $3,000 (2002 dollars, adjust a bit
up for today). You have to hit the 95th percentile to get anywhere
interesting, and even there you have only $11,487 in costs. It’s the
99th percentile, the people with over $35,000 of medical costs, who
represent fully 22% of the entire nation’s medical costs. These people
have chronic, expensive conditions. They are, to use a technical term,
An individual adult insurance plan is roughly $7,000 (varies dramatically by age and somewhat by sex and location).
It should be fairly clear that the people who do not file insurance
claims do not face rescission. The insurance companies will happily
deposit their checks. Indeed, even for someone in the 95th percentile,
it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the insurance company to take the
nuclear option of blowing up the policy. $11,487 in claims is less
than two years’ premium; less than one if the individual has family
coverage in the $12,000 price range. But that top one percent, the
folks responsible for more than $35,000 of costs – sometimes far, far
more – well there, ladies and gentlemen, is where the money comes in.
Once an insurance company knows that Sally has breast cancer, it has
already seen the goat; it knows it wants nothing to do with Sally.
If the top 5% is the absolute largest population for whom rescission
would make sense, the probability of having your policy cancelled given that you have filed a claim is fully 10% (0.5% rescission/5.0% of the population). If you take the LA Times
estimate that $300mm was saved by abrogating 20,000 policies in
California ($15,000/policy), you are somewhere in the 15% zone,
depending on the convexity of the top section of population. If, as I
suspect, rescission is targeted toward the truly bankrupting
cases – the top 1%, the folks with over $35,000 of annual claims who
could never be profitable for the carrier – then the probability of
having your policy torn up given a massively expensive condition is pushing 50%. One in two. You have three times better odds playing Russian Roulette.
This all seems perfectly rational for a for-profit company: ration health care coverage in a way that is inversely proportional to the need (and expense). While some opponents of single payer health care decry rationing by government bureaucrats, I don't know why they would prefer rationing by private industry bureaucrats.
I've been tracking some other numbers related to health care lately.
A January 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academies found that "Lack of health insurance causes roughly 18,000 unnecessary deaths every year in the United States".
Four years later (January 2008), a Commonwealth Fund study found that the U.S. has the highest rate of amenable mortality - "deaths from certain causes before age 75 that are potentially preventable with timely and
effective health care" - among 19 industrialized countries, and estimated that 75,000 to 100,000 people would have been saved if the U.S. had a health care system comparable to the top 3 countries (France, Japan and Australia)
Another study estimates that 31% of health care expenditures in the U.S. are spent on administrative overhead, compared with 1% to 4% of administrative overhead associated with public insurance plans in other industrialized countries (and 3% for the U.S. Medicare plan).
A Families USA study reported that 86.7 million Americans - one third of the population under age 65 - were uninsured at some point in 2007 and/or 2008 (75% of them were uninsured for at least 6 months).
A Harris Interactive poll in April - when the unemployment rate was "only" 8.3% - indicated that 47% of American workers are concerned about losing their jobs (which, in the U.S., means the loss of health insurance) ... so, while the majority of Americans may currently have health insurance, an increasing number of Americans either have no health insurance or can more easily envision themselves having no health insurance.
All of this may help explain why most Americans in most polls support a single payer health care system.
A few more numbers, shared in a comment by Andrew on a blog post in American Spectator that simply echoes inaccurate claims made by another blogger attributed to an unspecified report by a U.S. private insurance industry-funded think tank that purportedly contains incredible claims about the British and Canadian health care systems (e.g., prostate cancer has a 57% mortality rate in the U.K.):
The average American spends more than 2.8 times as much as the
average Briton on healthcare. Yet despite this, said average
American gets poorer healthcare provision and dies younger.
Yes, that's right, there's a longer average life span in the UK
than in the US – this is true even on the CIA World factbook
which puts the US higher up the world rankings than most other
sources. And the UK is ranked 18th in the world for its standard
or healthcare by the World Health Organization. Not that great
I'll admit but an awful lot better than the US which comes in
America is great country with a truly awful health system.
And the cost...
Total cost of Medicare and Medicaid: $602bn.
Total US population: 294m.
Number served by Medicare and Medicaid: 94m.
Annual cost of Medicare/Medicaid divided by total US population:
Total annual cost of US healthcare, including private spending,
divided by total US population: $7900
Total cost of NHS: $167bn.
Total UK population: 61m.
Number served by NHS: 61m.
Annual cost of NHS divided by UK population: $2740
Total annual spend on private healthcare in the UK: $569m*
Total annual healthcare spend in UK divided by total UK
*People in the UK are free to buy healthcare privately and many
to do so. The fact that this figure is so low, less than $10 per
testament to the popularity of the NHS. Even the wealthy rarely
bother to go
private in spite of being both free and able to make the choice.
I admire America in many ways. But it is a mystery to the rest of
the World why Americans put up with being bilked over healthcare
when all the get in return is a second class service and an early
You could spend half the money and do so much better.
Yes, we could do so much better. One way we could do so much better would be to adopt The United States National Health Care Act (H.R. 676). Although most of our congressional leaders - many of whom benefited from the $167.7 million in campaign contributions made by the health care industry during the 2008 election cycle - dismiss a public health care plan as unfeasible in the current political climate, that climate can change.
President Obama, who received $18.8 million in health care industry contributions during his 2008 election campaign, appears unwilling to promote a national health insurance system, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is willing to compromise on his requirement (recommendation?) of a "public option", which I never thought was a good idea to begin with. [Update, 2009-08-17: Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, conceded that a public health care option is "not the essential element" to health care reform, but did express distrust in the current system: "I think there will be a competitor to private insurers," Sebelius said. "That's really the essential part, is you don't turn over the whole new marketplace to private insurance companies and trust them to do the right thing." If one does not trust the private insurers with insuring one of our most important values - our health - it seems to me that the public health care option is the only rational alternative.]
I don't know how a health reform bill that allows for-profit health insurance companies to continue as our primary source of health care coverage can ever extend coverage to those who need it the most. I suppose if the insurance companies were prevented from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, rescinding coverage except in cases of provably intentional fraud, and restricted to a reasonable cap on premiums, some progress might be made. But for anyone who can imagine losing their job, or contracting a chronic or debilitating illness, or suffering a serious injury, it seems to me that the only rational choice is a single payer health care system ... that is, if we all truly want to be able to say, with confidence, "at least we have our health".
Amy (my wife) spent part of her time helping out at the booth for A Sacred Moment, a local company founded by Char Bennett that provides home funeral vigils, green burials and life celebration services. Amy first read about A Sacred Moment in a Wall Street Journal Magazine article (Death Becomes Her). As a cancer survivor, she has given considerably more thought to death - and burial - than I have, and the sustainable, sensitive and sensible approach that Char offers through her services resonates on many levels with her ... and, judging from the number of visitors to the booth, many others as well.
I also spent some time milling around the exhibit area, and I have to admit I was feeling increasingly self-conscious, wondering what other people might be thinking about me, wandering around in my Weatherproof jacket, "Life is Good" (tm) t-shirt, Lee jeans and Merrell hiking shoes (not to mention the MacBook Pro in my backpack and the iPhone in my pocket). Were the things I was wearing / carrying "green" [enough]? (Maybe the t-shirt.) I was reminded of my days at Accenture, where my lack of style-consciousness in a different value system sometimes incurred negative judgments (I remember someone once referring to my "Mickey Mouse" watch, a Timex timepiece which I'd thought of as rather practical). As someone who thinks green but doesn't often act green, I was concerned that perhaps my true colors were showing.
Fortunately, the person who introduced the person who introduced Amy Goodman's talk - whose name I did not catch - was very welcoming and inviting, assuring us that all people were welcome at the Green Festival, whatever stage of sustainability we may find themselves. She then introduced Kevin Danaher, who described the Green Festival as a "party with a purpose", encouraged us to reach beyond the festival with positive messages (noting "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar"), let us know that many of the presentations at this and other Green Festivals can be viewed at Green Festival TV (leading me to wonder whether the green[er] action would have been to watch Green Festival remotely), and introduced Amy Goodman.
Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now!, took the stage to a standing ovation, and told us some stories about Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times. She started off asserting that a healthy population is a national security issue (not just a health or fairness issue), decrying that health care is not a right in the most powerful country on earth (setting us apart from nearly every other industrialized nation), and reporting on an article "Are the Rich Making Us Sick" written by Stephen Bezruchka (back in 2000 (!)), which shows that inequality leads to poor health (the U.S. is among the world leaders in both dimensions).
Asking "Can President Obama redeeem the White House?", Goodman noted that it's not up to him, it's up to all of us (or, perhaps, all of us's). As she put it, "The door is open a crack - will it be kicked shut, or will it be kicked wide open?" She noted that this month marks the passing of some significant anniversaries: the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill (March 24, 1989), and the 30th anniversary of the Three Mile Island meltdown (March 28, 1979), "accidents" whose fallouts are still very much with us today.
Emphasizing the need to break the sound barrier, listening not to the pundits, but to people on the ground in the local communities who are affected by corporate and governmental actions (and inactions), Goodman argued that we can't subsist on sound bites, that we have to allocate time for people to explain alternate points of view if we don't want to be simply and mindlessly repeating what others are saying (i.e., being ditto heads). One of her recent interviews with a person on the ground - and/or in the water - was with Riki Ott, author of Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Spill, who said that the "accident" was not just a pollution issue, but represents a fundamental threat to democracy. The success of the Exxon-Mobil Corporation - one legal person - in its legal battle against tens of thousands of U.S. citizens who are seeking redress, amends and compensation from the action of this powerful "person", is leading some to propose that we reconsider and revise or revoke the legal status of corporations (some going so far as to call for a 28th Amendment).
Goodman shared stories about heroes such as Peter Chase, a librarian who fought against the FBI's demand for library records, and James Hansen, a NASA scientist who went public with the Bush Administration's efforts to influence or edit his statements so as to make global warming seem less threatening. Toward the end of her talk - for which she received a standing ovation - she summed up her critique of mainstream media with a pair of pithy soundbites:
We need a media that covers power, not covers for power; a media that is a fourth estate, not for the state.
The next presentation I went to was by Lawrence Lessig, on "Green Culture". The presentation seemed to be a remix of his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, applied to the green movement. But as he demonstrated in his talk, a good remix can be just as engaging and enlightening as the original(s) from which it is created, and I was just as impressed with the content and format of his talk as I was at his closing keynote at CSCW 2004. He started out with a Wikipedia definition of externality: "an impact [positive or negative] on a party that is not directly
involved in the transaction". I'll include the entire first paragraph from the Wikipedia entry below:
In economics, an externality or spillover
of an economic transaction is an impact on a party that is not directly
involved in the transaction. In such a case, prices do not reflect the
full costs or benefits in production or consumption of a product or
service. A positive impact is called an external benefit, while a negative impact is called an external cost. Producers and consumers in a market
may either not bear all of the costs or not reap all of the benefits of
the economic activity. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on the whole society, while fire-proofing a home improves the fire safety of neighbors.
Lessig went on to claim that the market tends to produce too many negative externalities and too few positive externalities, and argued that we need interventions to force producers of negative externalities to internalize the costs and to allow producers of positive externalities to internalize the benefits.
One of my favorite quotes from Lessig's talk was a quote he shared by one of my heroes, Aldous Huxley, who in 1927 wrote about an atmosphere of passivity:
In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery. It is difficult to believe that general artistic culture can flourish in this atmosphere of passivity.
This reminded me of the parable of three storytelling societies -
the Reds, the Blues and the Greens - that I shared in an earlier post
about mutual inspiration, which was inspired by Yochai Benkler's book, The Wealth of Networks (briefly: Red storytellers are hereditarily determined, Blue storytellers are democratically determined, but everyone is a storyteller among the Greens). I suppose this passivity and delegation (or relegation) is one of the natural consequences of the specialization of labor that was accelerated in the industrial revolution. Lessig suggested that we're seeing a concentration or professionalization not just of labor but of culture itself.
Lessig defined two types of culture: read-write culture, in which people participate in the creation and recreation of their culture, and read-only culture, where creativity is consumed (e.g., in an atmosphere of passivity). Changing technologies often change ecologies, as well as changing what makes sense to regulate. For example, the carbon emissions produced by coal-fired power plants are, essentially, free, and yet media produced by the entertainment industry is heavily regulated. There have been zero U.S. laws regulating carbon emissions passed in the last 20 years, and yet there have been 22 laws regulating the use of copyrighted media. Lessig argued that our culture (and, I would argue, our global civilization) would be better served if those trends were reversed.
He shared a number of examples of fabulously entertaining media that were produced by remixing prior media that was protected by copyright (making all the examples, technically, illegal):
Movies: Tarnation (made for $218, but music rights to the soundtrack [would] cost $400K)
As these examples demonstrate, Web 2.0 offers a platform on which others are inspired to create, and share their creations, in a participatory "call and response" or conversational culture. However, the powers that be are colluding with Congress to stifle this read-write culture, declaring war on copyright infringement and using the rhetoric of war (e.g., weapons to kill piracy). Lessig argued that we need to give up on the obsession with "copy" and make meaningful distinctions between copy and remix, as well as professional and amateur uses:
Professional copies of creative works ought to be protected by copyright, amateur remixes ought not be regulated, and professional remixes or amateur copies are greyer areas.
Noting that there have been 22 laws governing copyright in the past 20 years, but zero laws governing carbon emissions, Lessig proposed a new angle on the Green Revolution: eradicating the corruption of money (greenbacks) in U.S. politics, which has led government to do nothing on the most important policy issue facing us and to do the wrong things on a less important issue.
Lessig highlighted the segments where Gore is emphasizing the importance of - and interactions among - optimism, belief and behavior: "We have to become incredibly active citizens ... In order to solve the climate crisis, we have to solve the democracy crisis". He went on to say that the democracy crisis is that we don't see democracy as a tool to solve problems (another dimension of the "atmosphere of passsivity that Huxley wrote about). We have to act green - be environmentally conscious in our behavior - and also act against green[backs] - fight against corruption, and the addiction to / dependency on money.
Lessig differentiated between evil soul corruption (e.g., former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich) and good soul corruption (living inside a system that is corrupt and not changing it), and noted that most members of Congress exemplify good soul corruption. Comparing political corruption to alcoholism, he said we have to solve the addiction (to greenbacks) problem before we can solve the other problems, and invited those who are interested to learn about - and do - more at ChangeCongress.org. One near-term action he invited us to take was to actively support the Fair Elections Now Act that was introduced this past week by Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick
Durbin (D-IL), Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), House Democratic Caucus
Chairman John Larson (D-CT) and Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC). If anyone reading this is inclined to take such action, here are some links on how to contact your U.S. Representative and how to contact your U.S. Senator.
The final presentation at the Green Festival I saw was - fittingly enough - entitled "What's After Green?", by Gabriel Scheer and Brett Horvath, co-founders of Re-Vision Labs. Motivating their talk, the presenters articulated two fundamental problems with the green movement:
Green has lost its focus (environment, energy, social justice, food?) How do outsiders know what to make of us? At this transformational moment, it's critical that we define ourselves and communicate our values.
The Green movement is unsustainable (fueled by a real crisis and a fake economy). Green Industry piggy-backed on the housing bubble. How many green businesses can survive the economic downturn?
Green consumerism means that our only - or at least our main - weapon has been our wallet. There are only so many donors, customers, foundations, investors, volunteers. The growth of the green movement is not sufficient to keep pace with the growth of the crises we hope to solve, and so we most grow and adapt.
Steering us toward "collaboration, not congregation", the presenters suggested that the goal of the Green Festival next year should not be so [solely] an increase in attendance but an increase in impact in governments and other organizations. For example, they noted that no faith-based groups were represented at this year's festival.
Another example is the T. Boone Pickens Energy Plan, which redefined the energy crisis by reframing it from an environmental issue to an economic and national security issue, and signed up 1 million people in its first 7 months (and is now at 4.5 million), representing the potential for what they called a trans-ideological movement: "enviro-enthusiast meets NASCAR fan". One of the presenters, Brett Horvath, who is Director of Social Media for the PickensPlan, claimed they achieved a faster pace of growth than Al Gore's Repower America organization. This may be true, but I was glad to see that Repower America, which I believe was formed about 4 or 5 months ago, has 2 million members ... and I wonder how many people are members of both organizations.
While I'm in favor of seeking trans-ideological solutions, I'm not sure I can support an ideologue like T. Boone Pickens. I find it ironic that the man who is now championing energy independence helped fund the deceptively named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which torpedoed John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, and helped keep George W. Bush in The White House, where he was able to continue colluding with his anti-environmental advisors, increase his dirty legacy and thwart many of the efforts of the green movement, ultimately leaving us more energy dependent than ever before. I wonder how much more progress the green movement (however it is defined) would have made, and how much more energy independent we would be, if John Kerry (or Al Gore) had been in the White House instead of Bush. President Obama, ever the community organizer and unifier, whose speech on trans-racialism was so inspiring, is willing to seek common ground with Pickens and his plan (and its supporters), and while I continue to distrust Pickens, I'm willing to withhold [further] fire in an effort to form a more perfect union ... and a broader, more inclusive community in the green movement.
Scheer and Horvath invited us to view - and focus - the green movement through the lens of community, noting that what brings us together is the desire to create healthy and powerful communities. Despite their earlier critique of a lack of focus in the current green movement, they proposed a rather broad agenda of 8 core components to growing and expanding the movement in the future: economy, ecology, governance, story, design, networks, commons and food. I found myself wondering whether, given the shifting priorities brought about by the current economic recession, the utilization of Maslow's hierarchy of needs might help add more structure to what might otherwise be a linear list of issues.
Invoking images of the front porch, the water cooler, and the campfire as prototypical examples of community spaces, they defined three dimensions to modern healthy communities: built space, spontaneous physical interactions and online networks (interestingly related to the themes that motivated our design of the Community Collage place-based social networking system). Reframing the Internet as a network of people (vs. a network of computers), they argued that a healthy network builds community, and that even "ungreenies" (online and offline) understand the power and necessity of healthy communities.
Scheer and Horvath made a compelling case that the current power of our movement is no match for the gravity of the crisis, and helped me think - and hopefully act - more broadly. Perhaps next year's Green Festival should be renamed "The Community Festival".
Last week, on Martin Luther King Day, Amy and I watched the film, Milk, about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California (back in 1978). When we got to the Egyptian Theatre, Amy asked for two tickets to see "M-I-L-K", spelling out Milk's name. We laughed about this presumed priming effect (from it being MLK day), but it also primed my synchronicity radar as we headed in to see the movie.
Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there's a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay, knows that if the parents find out they'dl be tossed out of the house, the classmates would taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant's and John Briggs' are doing their bit on TV. And that child has several options: staying in the closet, suicide. And then one day that child might open up a paper that says "Homosexual elected in San Francisco" and there are two new options: the option is to go to California, or stay in San Antonio and fight. Two days after I was elected I got a phone call and the voice was quite young. It was from Altoona, Pennsylvania. And the person said "Thanks". And you've got to elect gay people, so that that young child and the thousands and thousands like that child know that there is hope for a better world, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Without hope, not only gays, but those blacks, and the Asians, the disabled, the seniors, the us's ... without hope the us's give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you have got to give them hope.
I really find this reference to us's positively inspiring, reflecting wisdom I've gleaned from other sources, perhaps most notably Oriah Mountain Dreamer, who suggests that we can either try to identify and empathize with others, or seek to
differentiate others from ourselves; essentially choosing to view
others as "us" or "them".
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With
this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of
hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our
nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be
able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail
together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one
While Milk makes explicit references to the civil rights of blacks in his speech, as far as I can tell, MLK never made any explicit references to the civil rights of gays (much less lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders/transsexuals). Of course, they were from different eras - Milk was able to figuratively stand on MLK's shoulders in his crusade to win full equality for LGBT people.
Black people do not have the option of hiding their race in the closet, while LGBT people do, but the perpetration of shame or the withholding of rights based on sexual preference is no more justifiable than that based on race. And if "we're only as sick as our secrets", discrimination based on sexual preference may be even more insidious. Milk urged LGBT people to come out of their closet(s):
We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets ... We are
coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming
out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of
silence, so I'm going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about
it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives
The newly inaugurated president, Barack Obama, is the offspring of an interracial marriage - an institution or practice that was illegal in some states at the time of MLK's speech. The right of states to ban interracial marriages was in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against such laws in the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967. And yet, despite his interracial marriage ancestry, Obama claims he is opposed to legalizing same-sex marriages (although, according to a recent San Francisco Chronicle article on "Gays, lesbians hopeful despite inaugural pastor", he supports the extension of full rights to same-sex civil unions, and opposes a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages).
Unlike some critics, I was inspired by Obama's inauguration speech - from its inclusive opening of "My fellow citizens" (not restricting his remarks to his fellow Americans), through his highlighting of the crises we face, and the "new era of responsibility" we must embark on in order to address these challenges and remake America. However, having just seen Milk the preceding day, I cringed when he got to this paragraph:
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has
come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our
enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that
precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to
generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and
all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
How can he promote this "God-given" promise that "all are equal, all are free and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness" and yet oppose the legalization of same-sex marriages? Does this opposition not deny LGBT people their "full measure of happiness"? I don't know if opposition to same-sex marriage under the guise of "defending" marriage is childish, but I do believe that as we, as a nation, mature in our perceptions and judgments about homosexuality (and marriage), we will come around to supporting this civil right that has been denied to a persecuted group in our society.
I was - and am - excited and hopeful about the election of Barack Obama. And yet, that same day, voters in California voted to approve Proposition 8, adding an article to the state Constitution stating
Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California
and thereby striking down any municipal laws legalizing same-sex marriages.
Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race,
or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for
Freedom and justice for all ... except, of course, for homosexuals who want to marry.
If Harvey Milk were alive today, and were to give his Give Them Hope speech today, I suspect he would amend it to include Rick Warren along with Anita Bryant and John Briggs - who had actively campaigned in support of Proposition 6 in 1978, the so-called Briggs Initiative, that would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California's public schools. Fortunately, that measure failed, and while Milk is no longer with us - assassinated by a fellow (or formerly fellow) city supervisor - anti-gay forces are alive and well, in California and elsewhere.
Although there were many other striking and/or synchronistic aspects to the movie, I'll finish off noting that the person who came to a podium at San Francisco City Hall to announce the assassination of Harvey Milk - and then-mayor George Moscone - was then-city supervisor Dianne Feinstein ... who was also at a podium during Tuesday's inauguration, as the master of ceremonies. I'd earlier written about ignorance, incendiaries, ironies and inspiration in the 2008 presidential campaign, and my concern that the incendiary invectives uttered by McCain supporters might increase the risk of assassination for Obama. I was relieved that there was no replay of the last time I'd seen Feinstein on the big screen (having seen Milk the day before the inauguration).
I have a difficult time believing that a leader who could compose and deliver an inspiring message of moving toward a more perfect union could really
oppose same-sex marriage. However, given the range of risks and challenges faced by Obama (and the rest of us's), it may be a while - perhaps another generation - before any
public leader at that level can come out publicly in full support of full civil
rights for all people.