Sunday, April 25, 2010

This is such a moment for the world - strange Clegg endorsement

So the more I read and speak to people and the more I am immersed in optimizing my own life - marriage, friendships, parenting, neurodiversity management, job -- the more I see in all these arenas such a moment of opportunity. We have a breathtaking chance to push ourselves forward and change the world for the better. Humans across the globe are all so united in our interests and old stupid thinking stops us from realizing this. Humans have so much in common right now, regardless of ethnicity, religion, citizenship . . . regardless of any of these old boundaries. We all need to exist and raise our children in a peaceful way. In some ways it is that simple. This is what spurs my abortive and strange flirtings with politics as of late and my eager manic thoughts.

It is sort of an intellectual reformation going on now: the anniversary of Darwin, the growing consciousness of the necessity of treating all living things with kindness, the complete and utter loss of faith in politics and political systems, the death of the Catholic Church, the election of Obama, the failings of the corporate form, the bloated power of the holders of the capital (the money) in our society, our ideas about what was good - everything from serving the pope to not regulating derivatives - those ideas are all changing. Corporations are poised to gain ever more power and religions are imploding with cause. Yet many followers of Christ and Buddha and the Prophet are just and bold of heart and eager to serve. Ideas of what illness is and how it is caused are changing. I see all these things as humanity teetering on the edge of great change. This is our opportunity and perhaps a necessity given our rapid ravishment of the planet. I don't know, but I worry about it.

It is time to examine old conventional wisdom about everything and question our religions, our corporations, our sovereigns, our banks. Not in order to get rid of them - I mean, maybe, but my favorite saying applies: fiat justitia ruat coelum - let justice be done, though the heavens be rent asunder. And maybe the heavens need to be rent asunder. Our truths are our cultures and our humanity, and no matter what heaven you believe in, humans should attempt to flourish, I think, and take care of each other. Severe lack of knowledge hinders us from doing so. We don't have a great grasp on what it means to fairly regulate the world economy (including all of our retirement funds, all of the banks, all of the high-end financial instruments), the world wide web (including protecting rightsholders and protecting freedom of information), the world (including climate change) and ourselves (including what constitutes mental illness (perhaps it is only neurodiversity)). We don't know how to efficiently heal all of us (health care). We don't know how to serve those most in need. We need new conventional wisdom. We need to change what we previously believed. I am not advocating where necessarily to go next, because I don't know.
We need the greatest minds to come forth and give us a good plan. That is what Obama has done in Iraq and Afghanistan and I don't think you could reasonably expect better results at this point in the Obama Administration, especially given the shitstorm he inherited.

My son, by the way, asks most of the adults he meets these days - speaking privately and seriously - "Are you voting for Nick?". Nick Clegg is the Lib Dem candidate for PM in the upcoming UK elections. Yes, indoctrination starts early in my family. (See below at *) but I do think it would just help tremendously if we handed the Liberal Democrat-minded a huge chunk of power. It would send a message to clear-thinking Labour and Conservative politicians alike that their knee-jerk sucking up to their old outdated parties doesn't have to happen anymore. I mean really, who wants their career paths defined by Cameron or Brown anyway?

This is why I am voting Lib Dem this bank thing is fucking serious and so are the failings of representative democracies. They get that. Those are very important things. On the rest of it they will do probably about as well as the others could do. We will have to watch them on foreign policy.

Anyway, every election matters, but when I think of this moment for humanity, I think we have the opportunity for change far beyond what one election can achieve. I am thinking paradigm shifts in thought about what our institutions do for us - our governments, our religions, our banks, our corporations -- what we want them to do, what they are doing, what we need them to do. We need a rich cross-fertilization between all the old divisions in our cultures: the politicians need to work with the clergy, the banks need to work with the politicians, healers need to work with traditional physicians, just in order to get everyone what they need.

*This is what I think of as a great Washington moment. When I was at Skadden, I used to take any little girl I could get my hands on to the Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center. I think the matinees in December of the Nutcracker are about the greatest thing in the world. One year, I took the charming daughter of one of the other associates and after we were seated fourth row stalls (I am good at getting seats), we viewed our program. On the back cover was a portrait of Reagan. The little girl asked me who it was. I said that his name was Ronald Reagan and he was president of the United States not so long ago and that he was a very bad man. A blue-haired grandmother with a broach leaned over her granddaughter, sniffed, and said "well, now I know how Democrats are made."

Touche, rich old lady. Touche.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Digital Economy Act

Believe me, I know almost no one I know is interested in this, but yet I persevere. That is how dedicated I am to the proposition that my blog will remain unpopular.

Here is a horror story about a terrible law. Last week the parliament in the UK passed a stinking bad law, I am talking Patriot Act bad, Prohibition bad, I am talking bone chilling.

Under this law, content providers (companies who own the rights to movies, tv shows, songs, practicallyspeaking it's movies mostly) (and therefore only rich corporate conglomerates, not individual artists) are given free reign to police the internet. Internet service providers are forced by law to do what they say, including turning over personal details and cutting off repeat violators. That is right. Internet service providers must shut off internet access for repeat offenders, whether those repeat offenders were cynical opportunists or it was grandma who let the neighbor's kid play on the computer. More disturbingly, they must block access to certain sites that the copyright owners think are violating their rights.

I work at an internet service provider, but one that serves a transient population, hotel guests, so I don't think the act is even going to end up applying to us, I don't think it should.

I was at the stakeholders' meeting at Ofcom, the government agency that is writing the implementing regulations for this bill. If the devil is in the details, certainly it was the minions of satan gathered at Riverside House for this meeting. They seemed like a perfectly nice bunch. In their bland and polite way they told us that although the legislation contemplated that the industry would write the first round of regulations, there was simply no time for that, in fact, all the regulations simply have to be done in six weeks. It was terrifying.

The beauty of the internet was that it was policed by human decency. Starting in September in the UK it will be policed by bureaucrats. Not enough people are bemoaning this change. When the government starts to decide what you are allowed to look at - when they unthinkingly bow to the power of the media conglomerates and give them far greater rights than mortal artists ever, have ever had in the pre-internet world - I get a little concerned. It used to be I bought a book. If I loved it, I gave it to you. But if I read that book online, it is licensed content and I cannot share. The scope of possible copyright infringements is so vast - did you know that when you download a CD YOU OWN onto a computer YOU OWN you are technically violating copyright? It is all so laden with pitfalls and potential for abuse.

At the meeting, I spoke to a lot of people and I kept floating the old American idea of a chilling effect, that a law could be unconstitutional if its net effect was to chill speech. So if grandma is scared to explore the internet because she doesn't want to be blackballed, then maybe it isn't such a good law. This was laughed off pretty thoroughly. No one thought it made any sense in this context. But I still think it does.

I don't think the US would be in danger of passing this law because culturally, Americans are much more hostile to any kind of government oversight of their lives in ways that Europeans just aren't. But if you live in the UK, you mark my words, this law sucks, it will be nothing but trouble and the bureaucrats are not up for the tremendous challenge of administering something of that complexity. This will all end in tears.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Running for Congress

So a couple weeks ago I went back to Corning, New York for an IALAC get-together. This is a group of ten women who went to high school together and get together every couple of years to drink and be contrarian and sarcastic with each other. IALAC stands for I Am Loving and Capable. It is an ironic salute to a partially successful high school self esteem program. We all love each other.

When I was there, I found out that the congressional seat in my old district in New York was open and Governor Patterson was considering ordering a special election, and that the Democrats were considering candidates. I saw two things: a way to get back to the States and a way to get involved with the economic and environmental issues of the time, a way to stop complaining about the government and doing something about it. So I looked into running.

I am fortunate to have friends who considered this development closely and sent insightful e-mails about it. The closer a person was to politics, the more fervently they warned me away from running for Congress. Friends from Washington were pretty universally unhappy with it. But frankly a lot of people were amazingly supportive. I am writing in the past tense because as the dust clears I am not going to run in the immediate future.

One big roadblock was fundraising. A run for congress costs at least one million dollars, I learned in my short, sharp trip up the learning curve. I already knew that a member of congress has to spend about 50% of her time fundraising. I don't like asking people for money. Emily's List says that to run, you have to ask the people who love you, the people who support the causes you support, and the people who hate your opponent. Doesn't it suck that it is so expensive to run? So I sent out an e-mail explaining this to some people, and my brother replied that while fundraising wasn't my thing, being interesting at a party was totally my thing and that was what it was all about.

Ah, David. Touche.

I haven't ruled it out completely. I am pondering.

I am not only climbing up the learning curve of a different culture - politics and politicians (I like to think I had some small start living in Washington on this one), I am also climbing up the learning curve of how much of the conventional wisdom about participating in Congress is good and true and worth following.

Any conventional wisdom I ever had about who was electable proved itself unreliable when Obama was elected. Any conventional wisdom about adhering to either of the big political parties is similarly suspect. The inefficiencies of government, its failings are so epic, its participants so imbued with a culture of ineffectiveness. It's so bad that I was thinking my slogan would be, "Vote for me, I am riddled with guilt anyway!". It's so bad that it's a good time to get in. At the bottom of the market.

But I am going to think about it, and talk to people, and if anyone thinks anything about this that you think I should know, send me an e-mail or comment.