Rebooting Democracy thoughts on Activists versus Pundits and Law

The difference between an actual organizer/activist working in a movement and someone of the punditry; there are *concrete* artifacts pursued by an organizer/activist and the primary artifact of a pundit is their cult of personality.

If there aren’t proposals behind the bluster of someone considered a leader, maybe what you have isn’t a leader, but a pundit in pursuit of nothing more than fame and power.

There is a Rebooting Democracy movement brewing among many in technology spheres. Lawrence Lessig is one of the activists (not pundits) behind this and a perfect example of this is a movement he and many others are pursuing to pass the Fair Elections Now act. Check it out.

Activists tend to be far more boring than pundits in my experience (no offense you activists out there). When you start to coalesce energy into real action (which in turn means facing the gears of bureaucracy and process), it can be frustrating, slow and yes, boring. But it’s the body of democracy. And we are part of it.

YouTube: “Schoolhouse Rock- How a Bill Becomes a Law”:

There is a challenge here for the Rebooting Democracy movement. Where is the list of laws or bills on the books that lets me find those I might be interested in supporting or fighting to have dismantled? The tools that are out there require a lot of work and are not where they need to be. Until I can locate laws and bills, Local, State, and Federal that would call me to action (even ‘like’-ing them on Facebook) and such activity can be aggregated some how for our representatives to act on, we remain in a position where those who speak the loudest, or have the greatest cash pile, have the ear of our law-makers.

We say we want an informed citizenry and participatory democracy. To me, this is an achievable small measure along that path.

So if you are a software engineer out there who would like to build the infrastructure for this, or are part of this, let me know, because I want to be involved where I can. There is code to write. System’s to build. So that all of us can better connect, be informed, and participate.


O’Reilly Radar: Mark Drapeau: “What does Government 2.0 look like?”

Rebooting Democracy

Code for America

Sunlight Foundation

Looks like while the vote was still down, those who did come out made some big choices

Philadelphia Inquirer: Bob Edgar: AP: “Rising tide of frustration: Specter’s legendary resilience proved no match for a restless electorate.”

Philadelphia Daily News: Will Bunch: “Specter, the ultimate survivor, a ‘relic of an earlier time'”

Philadelphia Inquirer: Patrick Kerkstra: “Phila. voters abolish BRT”

Election Result Maps

Data visualizations can sometimes spur us into contemplative directions. Sometimes they can put us to sleep. These are some of the more interesting election visualizations I’ve come across:

Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan: Election Maps

Robert J. Vanderbei, Professor and Chair, Operations Research and Financial Engineering, Princeton: Purple America

What the electoral map would look like if decided by 18-29 year olds

NYTimes: Election Results 2008

Interesting Analysis

David Kuhn: Politico: That huge voter turnout? Didn’t happen: “Between 60.7 percent and 61.7 percent of the 208.3 million eligible voters cast ballots this year, compared with 60.6 percent of those eligible in 2004”

Andrew Sullivan: He Saw It Coming: McCain/Palin ran a post-modern campaign (unlike Sullivan, I think it almost worked).

CNN: Number of votes cast set record, but voter turnout percentage didn’t

Associated Press: No hidden white bias seen in presidential race

CSMonitor: Obama made inroads with religious vote

NYTimes: This American Moment – The Surprises: Guess who Joe the Plumber voted for? How Obama won, by the numbers: “The 18-to-29-year-old cohort supported Obama by a 2-to-1 margin (66-32), and while it is too soon to gauge precise turnout measures, their numbers clearly grew.” Obama and the dawn of the Fourth Republic

NYTimes: Dissecting the Changing Electorate

Vote swings in rich and poor countries

Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Election 2008: what really happened

Interesting Tools:

A Beautiful WWW: 20 Useful Visualization Libraries

igraph Python library Visualizing election polls

IBM’s Many Eyes

It’s Our Time Generation-X: Why I’m Voting For Obama

There’s something special taking place in America – whether we realize it or not – it is the hand-off (or wrenching off) of national political representation from the Boomer generation to Generation-X.

GenX was labeled early on by Boomers as the “Baby-bust” generation. A generation supposedly filled with nothing more than slackers, know-nothings, non-participants, and materialists. We were the first generation in many to have to make due with “less” than our generational precedents.

Even as this moment approaches, the press still takes part in labeling Gen-X, the Ignored Generation.

These characterizations of long been proven false. Look around you – Google, Craigslist, Microsoft, Apple, YouTube, eBay, – all founded by members of GenX. The Netroots movement? Same.

CBSNews: Obama’s Generation X Factor:

“In 2000, there was this realization for people my age: Hell, there is a difference between Democrats and Republicans. George Bush proved that,” Armstrong says. It was also clear that the only force that could stop the Bush bandwagon was, for better or worse, the Democratic Party. Third parties were no longer the answer — even though many X-ers had voted for Ralph Nader in the past — and X-ers had never embraced street protests like the boomers. So they turned to the medium most of them knew best: the Internet.

If George Bush introduced X-ers to the value of partisanship, the Internet offered something just as valuable in the jittery aftermath of 9/11: community. “It’s easy to forget how amazing this felt back then. But for many of us there was a feeling of being lost and politically isolated,” Armstrong says. The feeling was not limited to X-ers, but they were a generation that had long been defined by an aversion to groups. “It was more anti-fake community,” says Armstrong. “We didn’t like being controlled or defined by an association with these fake communities like nationality, or religion or [corporate] brands.” The Internet always carried the potential for connection, but X-ers would use it to create a vast array of political and purely social blogs, networking sites and other forms of community, which we now refer to as Web 2.0.

As the “stolen” elections were quickly followed by 9/11, its aftermath and then the invasion of Iraq, X-ers were uniquely situated to create a new form of activism that blended technology with political resistance. “The Millennials were too young to be heavily into politics at the time,” says Armstrong. “But we also understood the technology in a way that baby boomers did not.” X-ers were better able to develop the potential of online activism — from raising money to organizing meet-ups — having been present and intimately involved in the development of the web during the dot-com heyday. To be clear, the X-ers are not the netroots — which includes progressives of all ages — but they are indisputably its creators.

So lets be clear – while Boomers may have invented much of it – the information revolution – the Internet’s astounding growth and establishment into the mainstream of the world – is driven by the passions, aspirations and yes – ideals – of GenX. Likewise it will be Generation Y who determine what the Internet will ultimately mean for society as a whole.

So what are these so called ideals and how do they apply to Obama for President?

First, lets get something out of the way real fast – all GenXers are honorary pre-World Series Winning Phillies Philadelphians. Listen to Jeff Gordinier, author of “X Saves the World” talking about his initial reaction to hearing Obama at the 2004 convention:

I remember when my wife and I saw the Democratic National Convention on TV in 2004, and Obama spoke, and I was crying. Shit. I mean, real tears. I cried. I was like, “Fuck! What’s happening? This guy’s awesome!” My wife said, “I’d follow this guy anywhere. I’d vote for this guy. Who is this guy?” It was just a remarkable speech. And then we thought, “We’ll get burned. We’ll get burned. Let’s face it. Don’t believe in this. You know, he’s a cool guy, but let’s not get all full of hope or anything. Hope is a trick.”

Tell me fellow Philadelphians and GenXers, don’t you relate?

Now its one thing to say you are afraid of embracing Hope and quite another to say you don’t stand behind what you want to stand behind.

In Philly we have (had) a proud tradition of supporting our teams right up to the end, even though part of us holds out on being sappy fans that exclaim “it will be okay – we’ll win if we believe”. Because we think we know better. There is a hard earned pragmatism here. When Tug McGraw told Philly “You Gotta Believe” it was a challenge to most Philadelphians.

Rocky Balboa said “It ain’t about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can GET hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep – moving – forward” – that’s Philadelphians for you. You take a smack, shake it off with a “whatever” and keep on keepin’ on.

That describes GenX pretty well too when you think about it. In the face of so much negative information heaped on it about its future, our reaction is to not panic, to recognize the world will still be here tomorrow, that if you are hearing a message from someplace, you are, more than likely, being sold a bill of goods.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are GenXers. Think about that and what it reflects upon our relationship to media.

Back in 1999 Ted Halstead in The Atlantic wrote of the political voice of GenX:

Whatever this voice may be, it does not fit comfortably within existing partisan camps. “The old left-right paradigm is not working anymore,” according to the novelist Douglas Coupland, who coined the term “Generation X.” Neil Howe and William Strauss, who have written extensively on generational issues, have argued in these pages that from the Generation X perspective “America’s greatest need these days is to clear out the underbrush of name-calling and ideology so that simple things can work again.” If Xers have any ideology, it is surely pragmatism. In an attempt to be more specific Coupland has claimed, “Coming down the pipe are an extraordinarily large number of fiscal conservatives who are socially left.” The underlying assumption here is that the Xer political world view stems simplistically from a combination of the 1960s social revolution and the 1980s economic revolution. This kind of thinking has led some to describe young adults as a generation of libertarians, who basically want government out of their bedrooms and out of their pocketbooks. As it turns out, however, the political views of most Xers are more complex and more interesting than that.

To say that Xers are fiscal conservatives is to miss half the economic story; the other and equally powerful force at play can best be described as economic populism. In fact, the Xer consensus represents a novel hybrid of two distinct currents of economic thought that have rarely combined in the history of American politics. It might well be called “balanced-budget populism.”

…Fiscal prudence, economic populism, social investment, campaign reform, shared sacrifice, and environmental conservation — this constellation of beliefs transcends the existing left-right spectrum. It should be immediately apparent that this generation’s voice is not represented by any of the established leaders or factions in the political mainstream. And Xers seem to recognize as much — 61 percent agree with the statement “Politicians and political leaders have failed my generation.” So how would American politics change if the voice of Generation X were suddenly heard?

If we parse these three paragraphs we can see the call from our generation for a Barrak Obama.

Lets break it down.

Addressing the the Boomer driven Liberal-Conservative war

The Atlantic: Andrew Sullivan: Goodbye to All That: Why Obama Matters:

Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America–finally–past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us. So much has happened in America in the past seven years, let alone the past 40, that we can be forgiven for focusing on the present and the immediate future. But it is only when you take several large steps back into the long past that the full logic of an Obama presidency stares directly–and uncomfortably–at you.

At its best, the Obama candidacy is about ending a war–not so much the war in Iraq, which now has a mo­mentum that will propel the occupation into the next decade–but the war within America that has prevailed since Vietnam and that shows dangerous signs of intensifying, a nonviolent civil war that has crippled America at the very time the world needs it most. It is a war about war–and about culture and about religion and about race. And in that war, Obama–and Obama alone–offers the possibility of a truce.

Being a pragmatist when it comes to economic policy

NYTimes: David Leonhardt talks with Barrak Obama: Obamanomics: A Free-Market-Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth Redistributionist:

So I asked Obama whether he thought he had been able to tell an effective story about the economy during this campaign. Specifically, I wondered, did he think he had a message that compared with Reagan’s simple call for less government and lower taxes.

He paused for a few seconds and then said this:

“I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace.

“Now, that’s the story. Now, telling it elegantly — ‘low taxes, smaller government’ — the way the Republicans have, I think is more of a challenge.”

Foreign Policy

The Economist Endorsement: It’s time:

Abroad a greater task is already evident: welding the new emerging powers to the West. That is not just a matter of handling the rise of India and China, drawing them into global efforts, such as curbs on climate change; it means reselling economic and political freedom to a world that too quickly associates American capitalism with Lehman Brothers and American justice with Guantánamo Bay. This will take patience, fortitude, salesmanship and strategy.


Tim O’Reilly: Why I Support Barack Obama:

The final argument for the presidency of Barack Obama is the enormous competence he has shown in running his campaign. He has demonstrated unprecedented ability to motivate people, to gather support for his vision and his programs, and to surround himself with people who can execute on that vision. For the past two years, he’s managed what you could easily think of as the fastest growing and best-funded startup in America, and as CEO of that startup, he’s come through with flying colors.

On not being be played

NYTimes: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

WashingtonPost: McCain Manager: ‘This Election is Not About Issues’:

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.

“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

GenX recognizes sales pitches from 500 meters away. To say that this election is not about the issues – that it is about personality is a dodge to sell something. My bet is we’re not going to fall for it. That GenX is part of the reality based community. That’s where we live and breathe.

In summary

The Nation: Lakshmi Chaudhry quoting Barack Obama: Will the Real Generation Obama Please Stand Up? :

“Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what’s needed to be done. Today we are called once more–and it is time for our generation to answer that call,” declared Barack Obama, uttering the word “generation” no fewer than thirteen times in his speech announcing his intention to run for President. There is no mistaking his campaign theme: it’s time for the old to move over and make way for the new.

It’s time for GenX to stand up.

McCain Campaign Manager: ‘This Election is Not About Issues’

That’s a real quote folks. Parse it carefully. Take it for what it is – a rare moment of revealing honesty.

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.

“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”

McCain choose Palin to reinforce the false idea that the GOP is the ‘regular people party’. (Is either party the ‘regular people party’ anymore?)

It’s human nature that drives us to choose leaders that remind us of ourselves in someway. Who we can relate to or hopefully relate to.

McCain is exploiting this, in the most craven, reckless way I have yet seen in my short life.

We need to stop looking at our leader’s personal lives to find things we can relate to or denounce and we need to cast light on our leaders policies and how they effect us.

But will that happen for this election? Will we rise to the challenge?

BTW – did ya know that Mayor Palin wanted to ban books (via that disagreed with her religious views?

Or that she slashed funding that helped teenage moms in need?

Or that she’s proud of her daughter’s decision to keep her baby? (Note that word – decision – shouldn’t everyone have that right?)

There is more than enough on the face of the issues to wage a good conversation over who is best to represent and lead the country.

Social Media/Software Links for Today

There’s a theme going on here that is a bit hard to place… but it’s there.

Jon Udell: Homophily, anti-recommendation, and Driveway Moments , shout out to Global Voices Online:

Recommendation systems don’t help me much. They only suggest things similar to other things I’ve shown interest in. Increasingly that just frustrates me. The most delightful recommendations are those that connect me with things that interest me in unpredictable ways. That happens serendipitously, and I haven’t yet found a reliable way to manufacture the serendipity.

Crooked Timber: Blogs, Participation and Polarization:

So whether you like political blogs will depend to some extent on whether you prefer deliberation across party lines to participation, or vice versa. Personally (at least as regards political efficacy in the current era), I’m on the vice versa side, but we leave this question deliberately open, as people from different perspectives may disagree &c &c.

NYTimes: via Undecideds More Decided Than They Think, Study Says:

Voters who insist that they are undecided about a contentious issue are sometimes fooling themselves, having already made a choice at a subconscious level, a new study suggests.

Wired: Presidential Election Already Decided … in Voters’ Minds:

The electorate has already made up its collective mind who it will vote for in November. Even many of those all-important and highly coveted undecided voters aren’t really undecided.

They may think they are carefully weighing their choices, but their decision is rigged in advance by their subconscious minds, say psychologists, and they just aren’t aware of it.

CJR: Echo Chamber: How blogging failed the war in Georgia:

There are, of course, many others. The point is not that some blogs covered the conflict well, and fulfilled the promise of a blog network that transcends the spin and amplifies ignored voices: it is that the majority of blogs did not. Watching the most prominent blogs turn into their own worst enemies largely deflates much of their egalitarian mystique–and drives home just how important it is to remain a skeptical reader.

Slate: What’s Really Killing Newspapers: Not that long ago, the daily newspaper was an indispensable coiner of social currency, and it gave its readers piles of the stuff in each edition.

Corante: Transforming American Newspapers (Part 2):

It is almost impossible to overstate how utterly the supply of news and information available to most Americans has changed during the past 35 years. Within a single generation, the Supply & Demand equation has gone from relative scarcity to certain surplus. People now have so much access to information that some are complaining about ‘data smog’.

Bubblegeneration: Data is a Commodity, or How Not to Revolutionize…:

This is an old question. We discussed it at USV Sessions two years ago – I think it was phrased, “What’s the value of data in an open world”. And even then, little insight was generated.

It’s the wrong question. Data isn’t the valuable.

In fact, data’s a commodity. We’re drowning in data.

Think about it this way: the lower the cost of interaction, by definition, the more abundant data is – because every interaction creates reams of data. More data is created tomorrow than was created yesterday. And so on.

What is valuable are the things that create data: markets, networks, and communities.

Chicago Tribune interviews Adrian Holovaty of and Django: Cyberstar.

Current issue of Scientific American deals with privacy and identity: How I Stole Someone’s Identity, Internet Eavesdropping: A Brave New World o Wiretapping, Data Fusion: The Ups and Downs of All-Encompassing Digital Profiles, Do Social Networks Bring the End of Privacy?, Cryptography: How to Keep Your Secrets Safe.

And Apple bans a… comic book.

Still here, despite the baby boomers best attempts at blowing up the globe

The world seems to be going mad like never before and there is no solace in what is to be found online. At at time of world is in clear crisis just a cursory glance at Memeorandum exposes deep divisions, those yearning for blood, others keeping support quiet, or fears silenced to avoid confrontation with commentors. No leadership anywhere. Not one strong voice for peace of any kind. Just birds of a feather continuing to flock virtually together.

Everyone clutching to the marketed versions of reality that they’ve chosen to buy. And worst, that they’ve chosen to sell.

I wonder about the world we are leaving our children. Forget the Left/Right divide – it’s the entire Baby Boomer generation that has failed them, and we are reinforcing that failure. Becoming part of the machine we claim to want to replace.

You know who I’m listening to in my free time? Late 60s, early 70s Rolling Stones. If any song is a song of the moment, it is “Sympathy for the Devil”: Use all your well-learned politesse, Or I’ll lay your soul to waste, um yeah. Timely.

All the while I really just care to think about is the wonder of Emma.

The last three weeks or so have been mind blowing: she has started sleeping thru the night, moved into her nursery, started siting up and standing under her own strength, eaten her first few dishes of solid food (sweet potatoes and oatmeal, not exactly solid, but it’s not a bottle), took her first couple of swims in a pool (well, not swimming, but hanging out with me, Richelle, Mom and Dad).

She can roll over to her belly now very easily, and tries to crawl. She gets frustrated, but man she is determined! One thing that makes us pause is the difficulty she has in rolling to her back. She does it, but sometimes gets very upset while failing to pull it off. She’ll get there and I know I shouldn’t worry, Richelle seems to handle it better than I do, but both of us still check in on her a few times a night. Yeah, I know, we’re amatures 🙂

Speaking of the pool, I’m signing up for swimming lessons. Emma’s grandparents and Richelle aren’t going to be there every day so I am going get over this hump for her.

And speaking of learning things, I need to learn some lullibies on my guitar, which I’ve recently restrung after not playing since Emma’s been born. She loves music and her reaction to a few things I’ve played and sung is just fun.

Emma has spirit and heart. She reinforces mine and reminds me what is really important.

In other news, things have heated up at work and I’ve seen an increase in responsibilities, some of which involve my interests out here. One place to keep an eye on is More on that later.

In September 1985: Frank Zappa’s Letter to His Fan Club

In 1985 Frank Zappa sent a letter to his fan club to warn them about the “Wives of Big Brother” – the PMRC.

There is very much I agree with Democratic party on, but whenever some of its leaders find common cause with social conservatives, most likely in pursuit of middle America, it drives me to a place where I find both parties bereft of principal and unworthy of my vote. The 90s seemed to be a time we were past such things, even if I know people who didn’t vote for Al Gore because of Tipper Gore’s involvement in the PMRC. But the echoes in Hillary Clinton’s Family Entertainment Protection Act are too strong to ignore. The legislation Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Evan Bayh is sponsoring would fine the sale of labeled games – it does not propose labeling. No one would argue over the constitutionality of labeling these days. Our view of our constitutional rights has grown far narrower.

Following is Frank Zappa on Crossfire in 1986, debating censorship and rock music. It’s an eye opener. He called himself a conservative. Do you think he still would consider himself one since the fundamentalist wing of the Republican party holds so much sway? Since the non-invasive government, balanced budget, rule-of-law conservative is effectively extinct (they’re Democrats now)? For humor, the exchange between Washington Times columnist John Lofton and Frank Zappa over the “obscenity” of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is priceless. Or then again, you could find it depressing.

The exchange from 08:45 in the video to 11:40 is as timely today as it was in 1986. Zappa said that America was on a march toward a “fascist theocracy”. Well what do you think?


This exchange should speak to many locally involved folks I know:

Q: What would you tell a kid he aught to hope for now a-days Frank?

A: What I tell kids and what I’ve been telling kids for quite some time is first, register to vote, and second as soon as you’re old enough, run for something.

Damn straight. And that’s just what is taking place. Look out establishment.

More at Metafilter. Read the testimony committee testimony on record labeling from back in September 19, 1985.