Monday, August 29, 2011

Membership



...because I am thinking today about the idea of "membership," how powerful the human need to "belong" is, and how exploited that need is by popular people and movements. This comes from researching Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption movement, but encompasses so much human interaction. One tweeter noted that Britons rioted for ten days, but Indians changed their world with steadfast nonviolence. It was an amazing phenomenon. Hazare risked his life to unite people and bring change, and in the final days of this long campaign he compromised with the bumbling government on his draconian lokpal bill to make it more responsive to the Indian constitution, and democracy itself. But he makes me uneasy--his desire to see the death penalty for "corruption," public floggings of drunken people in his model village, Ralegan Siddhi, along with other undemocratic prohibitions, his view that we are all corrupt, even the voters (whom he has derided as being easily bribed), and the "with us or against us" tone of the protest that smeared critics of Hazare as somehow being "pro-corruption."

The vagueness of the word, "corruption." disturbs me, given that in Relegan Siddhi liquor, cigarettes, paan, meat, non-religious music and films are considered violations of the "purity" Hazare invokes so often.

That word, too, "purity," makes me uncomfortable. Yes, we are all corrupt in some sense--we are all human. I had to wonder how many people in the crowd of supporters have taken bribes, padded their expenses, or engaged in other corrupt practices. How much of the fervor comes from our desire to focus attention and anger away from our own misdeeds and towards others. It's so much more pleasant when we have an outside enemy, and can ignore the enemy within. How much of it comes from a desire to be purer ourselves by joining with the "pure," and who gets to define that purity?

I've seen many euphoric popular movements in my time, and joined the throng too, often to see my faith disappointed, so maybe I am too cynical. Hazare has vowed to take on universal public education now, which is a great cause and could give the Right to Education bill real teeth. Maybe the public floggings are in the past.

Update: A friend who supported Hazare in the campaign writes to ask, "Was Anna exploiting the public, or was the public exploiting Anna? ;-)"


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Incredible India

I've been reading up on the Hazare protest in India and talking about it to various people, trying to get a handle on it all. So much to learn about India, so little time. As I'm not Indian, it's not my fight per se, except in the global sense because corruption in one form or other is endemic everywhere. In India, it's blatant, vicious and vampiric, though much less so than in other developing Asian and African countries. The India media is pretty tenacious about rooting out corruption. It surprises me how the Indian newspapers are full of actual news, and not largely sensationalism and fluff. Generally, you get a fat section of important news, a few pages of sports and a slender entertainment and lifestyle section, the opposite of the western trend. People discuss politics more here than any other place I've been.

The #2 complaint I hear in India is about corruption, especially bribery. (The #1 complaint usually runs along the lines of, "I'm in love with this girl/boy but he/she is from a different caste/religion/class..."). The cause is just, but the end goal, a bill to set up an all-powerful body, a lokpal, with absolute power over parliament and all of India's democratic institutions, is a frightening thought, particularly when Anna Hazare is on record recommending the death penalty for corrupt officials. Would this give his lokpal, and him as the eminence grise behind it, the power to hang whoever they choose? I shiver and think of all the secret hangings going on in Iran to try to eliminate dissent. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anna Hazare is fascinating, and appears to be technologically progressive and enlightened. The village he championed, Ralegan Siddhi, is known as a model of alternative energy, watershed management and educational reform. He also appears to be socially regressive with an authoritarian streak. Some reports on Ralegan are just scary--are these things true or just smears? I'm trying to find out. I am certain of only a few things:

1) The UPA government acted like boobs and thugs.

2) Hazare didn't create the huge discontent and desire for change in India, but he tapped into it brilliantly, at considerable risk to himself, and united it into a powerful nonviolent weapon.

3) That said, this fight has become too much about #angryanna and not enough about the #angryindians he represents, and that cult of personality is rarely a good thing in the long run.

4) Like it or not, India is the world's de facto laboratory of democracy. The world is watching, particularly in Pakistan and the Arab Spring countries, to see how Indian democracy works out this megillah.


Update: Government agrees to three key demands; Anna will end fast.




Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Sing More

People sing while working in India more than any country I've visited, and in these hills more than anywhere else I've been in India. They sing unabashed. Every morning a Tibetan farmer sings a beautiful song as he passes below my window, herding three cows. He has a good voice.

The song sounds old. Many popular songs in India have ancient roots. I wonder who wrote it and if the writer had any idea at the time his or her voice would carry so far.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Way the World Works

A rich man in Europe owes me a small fortune.
I will never see this money. The European artists he exploited, and then completely screwed over, took him to court. It was an arduous, expensive and painful process. Even though they won the case, in the end the artists got very little because the lawyers took almost all of it. It made no sense for the foreign artists to then sue. Between translations, the paperwork nightmare and mandatory court appearances it would have cost us even more and we might have received less because he would have had time to hide all his assets.
I'd almost forgotten about him--I'd blocked it in the interests of letting go, moving on, and finding some peace--until a friend reminded me last night.
This is not an isolated case. "The side that has the most interest in pitting raw financial power against the opponent in the suit is probably going to win."
That last link comes from this piece in The Daily Kos, from the POV of someone who temped at a large, international bank. I temped a lot back in the day, between media jobs, while writing. Most of my employers were great. For months I worked for a consultant firm in Washington, a great and ethical company, that specialized in helping failing and otherwise wayward banks get back to the straight and narrow and make a fair profit. I had to type up a lot of documents detailing what had gone wrong. The word 'embezzlement' came up so often it began to appear in my dreams.
A Chelsea neighbor used to work for a very rich family with a popular department store among other holdings. She told me they routinely paid their big mainstream suppliers and not the artisans who made the store's reputation. Why? Because the big suppliers could afford to sue them. The artisans couldn't, not simply for financial reasons, but also because they'd be labeled troublemakers and find it harder to get their work into other big stores. And if they had pursued it in a class action? The owners would hide their assets and declare bankruptcy, and/or sell the company, which IIRC is what they did anyway.
That family is still filthy rich.
Bankruptcy is a pip if you're wealthy.
At the time, I thought my neighbor was just grinding an axe against her former employer but I later met artisans who had been bankrupted by the store.
Extrapolate, and you see that this is what has happened to the entire world economy.
This was not the only time I was screwed over by someone wealthier, but not all rich people are bad--and I was helped out at the time by a wealthy woman in New York who assists many artists, and helped too by family and friends (some of whom had little more than I had). The American Dream characterizes the rich as people profiting from their talents and creativity, like Steve Jobs or Steven Spielberg. But these deserving individuals seem to be the exception, not the rule.
When a CEO earns 100 or 1000 times more than the people doing the work for him or her and pays proportionally less in taxes, yet still has massively disproportionate influence over the government, things are FUBAR. With the stroke of a pen the corporate elite can lay off those workers, then pressure the congresspeople they own not to extend benefits to the unemployed. Most galling is the way their Ho's in government cut benefits to veterans and their beneficiaries, many of whom have actually risked their lives/lost loved ones fighting wars that shamefully profited corporations.
Read this: It's the Inequality, Stupid.
Then read this: 7 Core Demands from the Occupy Wall Street Movement. These are very clear demands, and seem very reasonable ways to take power from the moneyman and return it to the people. Whatever else people want, environmental laws, alternative energy programs, whatever, will be easier to fight for (or against, depending on your POV) once financial and electoral reform--a real democracy1--is achieved. That's what Occupy Wall Street is about, replacing plutocracy with democracy.
1 Yes, I know people have the vote, but what does that mean when they can redistrict, manipulate the number of voting booths, or just hack the electronic voting machines, which turns out to be surprisingly easy. (Thanks to Max Adams for leading me to that last bit and to the 7 Core Demands.)
K-FLEX The Congressional Pimp








Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We Are Stardust

"Building blocks of life can originate in space."

"The idea isn’t that these building blocks are just passengers aboard meteorites, but that the chemistry inside asteroids and comets can actually manufacture the essential building blocks of biology. And a liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis of sample meteorites and the environments where they were found seems to confirm this.

"This is big news, of course, because if the ingredients for life were brought here from some external source, there’s always the possibility that the same thing has happened elsewhere in the universe--possibly many times over."



(I wonder if other civilizations that took root elsewhere in the universe have produced anything as divine as Joni Mitchell.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Swiss Army

I love my Swiss Army Knife. This is the one I have now, and I've had this model since 1986. You can crack a coconut or a bottle of wine with this mother.

This is the deluxe model.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fools


Shakespeare understood fools -- all his characters are fools , fools for love, or power, or money, except of course for the Fools, who are wise enough to see that we are all fools.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Last Stage of Grief

The Chelsea Hotel sale has reportedly gone through.



(Go about 4:25 in for the Joe Bidewell song, unless you want to see the birth of Warhol Superstar Viva's daughter first.)

It was incredible the Chelsea Hotel was ever created, and a miracle it survived into the 21st century with its soul intact. That miracle was due largely to Stanley Bard and the people he brought together there. He was the Maestro.