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Dirty Politics across the Centuries

Yes, I’ve been binging on Adam Conover’s Adam Ruins Everything. He’s witty, smart and research-based. I may have my students make debunking videos next semester.

The barbs sound better, though perhaps more vicious, in 1800. Am I being biased against modern times?

There are just two bad examples here. I imagine if vulgarity were more rampant, his video would have been longer.

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The Quiet American

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“I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused.”

I really loved Graham Greene’s The Quiet American even though the tone and the main character so differed from favorites like Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Gaskell’s Margaret Hale or any 19th century novel that I treasure.

Yes, the two world wars left a stamp of jaundice and cynicism on Europe and Greene shows that (in many of his works). Yet I think he’s insightful and observant. Somehow while the main character Fowler, cynical, selfish and tapped out, earned my sympathy because he was honest with himself. I guess the similar sorts I’ve run across aren’t.

I like how Greene plays Fowler’s cynicism off Pyle’s (the chatty, “Quiet” American) innocence. By connecting them through Phuong, Fowler’s mistress whom Pyle falls for and takes. Through Phuong we see the the West’s involvement in Southeast Asia. Pyle sincerely and innocently loves her. He deals with Fowler, who offers Phuong so little. She’s like a servant and whose job could end whenever he’s called back.

Fowler lies to her, has cheated on his wife and while I didn’t like or respect him, he was the most perceptive observer in the book. He saw how flimsy and immature Pyle’s views on democracy, world affairs and Vietnam were. He also is fully aware of the selfishness of his relationship with her, but does nothing for her. While Pyle offered Phuong marriage, love and respect as well as future prosperity, his simplistic ideas about politics led to many deaths including his own. Insulated from reality by his optimism and blind trust in a handful of books, Pyle epitomized the idea that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

Throughout the story Phuong is distant and opaque throughout the book. Other than her penchant for buying scarves, we know so little of what Phuong really thinks. Pyle and Folwer probably didn’t know her all that well either. Phuong never complains to her sister or anyone about her life direction. She’s willing to forego decision-making and leave that to her sister or Pyle or Fowler.

What engaged me most was Greene’s style and the complexity of characters and plot. I didn’t know anything about Vietnam in the 1950s and this book made me appreciate that history more.

A few favorite quotations

“So it always is: when you escape to a desert, the silence shouts in your ear.”

“Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.”

Well . . .

I must say I’m stunned, by the election results. There will be plenty of analysis and talking heads will have a field day. I need time to absorb all this and to gain some perspective.

I do think Hillary lost rather than Trump won. I think any Democrat other than Hillary could have won, just as I think any GOP could have beaten Trump. I see this as a failure in the primary system and the failure of the media and political organizations to connect with people.

We’re in for a turbulent ride, that’s for sure.

I do pray that it won’t be as bad as many think. I can only say I pray that as I think God’s needed to ensure sanity and some peace.

 

Mainly, I’m stunned.

Wow.

Maybe the media will learn not to give the spotlight to every hothead with a big bank account who says something that’ll heighten ratings. Not that the media is the only one at fault, but they bare some responsibility. They egged him on when they broadcast his ridiculous assertions about Obama’s birthplace. They gave him so much attention during the primaries. How I hope they find a way to bring civility back.

That said, I’d like to see our protest take the shape of everyone speaking civilly, refraining from profanity, donning a pocket square, spats, gloves, pearls, whatever you’ve got or can get at a second hand shop, that suggests elegance, restraint and civility.

 

Civility at Work

I admire how this young Hong Kong protestor calls attention to the two men who are apparently spies and have been following him. He does it with respect and civility showing how the Chinese government operates and the risk those who want democracy face in the “One Country/Two Systems” era.

I pray nothing bad happens to this man.

Constitution of Užupis

A friend is traveling through Lithuania and found the Republic of Užupis, a district in Lithuania that considers itself independent (in a tongue in cheek way).

Here’s their constitution:

  1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnelė, and the River Vilnelė has the right to flow by everyone.
  2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
  3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
  4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
  5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
  6. Everyone has the right to love.
  7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
  8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
  9. Everyone has the right to idle.
  10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
  11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
  12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
  13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of nee[d].
  14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
  15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
  16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
  17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
  18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
  19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
  20. No one has the right to violence.
  21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance. [In Lithuanian this reads Everyone has the right to realize his negligibility and magnificence.]
  22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
  23. Everyone has the right to understand.
  24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
  25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
  26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
  27. Everyone shall remember their name.
  28. Everyone may share what they possess.
  29. No one can share what they do not possess.
  30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
  31. Everyone may be independent.
  32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
  33. Everyone has the right to cry.
  34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
  35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
  36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
  37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
  38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
  39. Do not defeat.
  40. Do not fight back.
  41. Do not surrender.

On Privacy

I got to attend the ALA session “Don’t Track Me: A Cross-Generational Conversation on Personal Privacy” on Monday.

Law Professor Geoff Stone from Univ. of Chicago led a Socratic discussion with 10 high school students. Stone opened with asking students how they would feel about losing a diary they kept on a iPad. “Would you care?” All said they would; several asserted that they believed they had a right to manage personal information.

Stone asked whether managing one’s personal image, hiding information about failures, mistakes, actions at parties, etc. isn’t presenting a false self. He asked whether it’s illegitimate to present a false self to the community or public. That stumped the panel and, I admit, me. Stone wondered whether presenting a polished self that’s better than others and better than you are is something one has a right to.

Then Stone reminded the audience and panel that the constitution only limits the government, not companies or organizations. The topic then moved to the 4th amendment and the question of what is an unreasonable search. How far does the 4th amendment go? Is collecting phone numbers and data on calls a search? If you have a phone, you agree to give the phone company all this information. Why would you be bothered by the government having it? The students struggled with many of these questions.

Then Stone asked about an instance when you tell a friend something that you want to keep confidential. The friend though shares or broadcasts the information. The students who spoke realized that we risk sharing information when we communicate with individuals. The distinction is that in such instances we have choice. With phone data, we don’t.

Stone moved on to the issue of PRISM. The government could collect no data. It has chosen to (more or less*) secretly collect data. Some have said we should have had a public discussion and agreed to allow the government to collect this data. However, Stone pointed out that the government sees their action as taking the middle ground and is better than doing nothing and possibly losing more rights in the long run should terrorism have flourished. Had the government opened PRISM to public discourse, it would not have been effective as such disclosure would have tipped off possible terrorists.

Stone asked the students why so many of their peers disclose so much in social media. One teen mentioned that she’s an activist, but her parents don’t know. Thus she never grants interviews and she always wears masks to protests. Another student described how careful he is with social media and Stone pointed out that his circumspect behavior was more like a 50 year old than a teen.

Stone offered the idea that perhaps we will just learn to put things in a new perspective. By learning to live with less privacy, we might become more used to having our failings exposed through our own gaffs on social media or government surveillance.

Prof Stone has an article on the Snowden story on the Huffington Post website.

On Drone Strikes

Testimony at a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing this week. I hope we can end the use of drones.

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry

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Be prepared to be blown away. Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry packs quite a punch. This documentary shows Chinese artist cum activist Ai Wei Wei as he stands up for victims of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and seeks justice after police break into his hotel room in Chengdu and beat him.

The film fascinated me. It follows Ai as he tries to get the government to publish the real numbers of students who died in the flimsy school buildings in Sichuan. With newsreel footage and interviews, it shows the torture and abuse his father endured in the 1950s. I’ve read several books, fiction and non-fiction, about the Anti-Rightist Campaign. The stark newsreels of neighbor denouncing neighbor deepened my understanding of this horrible period.

The documentary shows Ai in New York where he started his art career and in Europe installing current works. Filmmakers follow him as he pursues justice after being beaten by police and detained so that he was unable to testify on behalf of another Chinese activist, who was found guilty.

Ai is mesmerizing. He’s bold, audacious, brave, down-to-earth and shrewd. He’s figured out the power of social media and despite the government’s censorship has attracted a following of Chinese who share his desire for transparency and democracy. These folks aren’t just spectators as we see when Ai protests the government mandated demolition of the studio the government told him to build, hordes show up for his protest. They know they’re being watched and recorded and are willing to take that risk.

Ai knows what the government’s up to and finds clever ways to show it for what it is. Though he doubts he can win, he works within the system seeking justice from the police whom illegally knocked in his hotel room door, beat and detained him. By recording every step of his bureaucratic quest for justice, he shows the world how the government works and that all is not well in the new China.

I found the interviews with fellow artists and Evan Osnos of the New Yorker insightful and trenchant. They show how people who care about China will stick their necks out to make it better, even though they doubt they’ll see improvement.

Living in China myself, I see the good parts and know that experiences like Ai’s and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo‘s are true, but it’s so easy to forget. I’m grateful for this movie that reminds me and fleshes out Ai WeiWei’s life and work.

Never Sorry is available on Netflix.

Ai Wei Wei’s Gangnam Style Parody

Election Night!

My sister got Honored Guest tickets to McCormick Place for election night. Here’s her email about the experience. (Once she posts it on her blog, I’ll remove this)

Met Meaghan’s friend’s Emily and Nellie at the Fairmont Hotel. I met Meaghan for brunch a few weeks ago and she brought Nellie along, so I already knew her a bit.

We hung out at the Fairmont until about 7:30, then there were shuttles over to McCormick Place. There were three types of tickets – Guest, Special Guest, and Honored Guest. Luckily we were Honored Guests so we got to take the shuttle and skip a LOT of the lines once we got there.

At McCormick Pl, we had access to one of three “rooms,” ours was nicknamed Soldier Field and it had a buffet, seating, lots of tvs, and a bar…we were with staffers like Meaghan, big donors, celebs (no one too great – Melanie Griffith, Rahm, a few musicians and some B-list actors). Hung out there people watching and keeping tabs on the results until they announced/predicted BO won. Then we went out of that room, down a hallway that went behind the stage, and popped out right in front of the stage, a huge area that was blocked off for the Honored Guests. So we were really close, about 10 people back over to the right of the podium. There was music and everyone was cheering and dancing and going nuts. Super fun.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited. For Romney to concede and then after that for about 20-30 more minutes for BO to give his speech. Still not really sure what held him up for so long, Meaghan guessed that he just needed time to digest the emotion of all of it.

The girls I was with had been there in 08, and so they were giving me perspective on how different it was. Lots of celebration and excitement, but the vibe was more of relief than elation like it was in 08. Different emotions. And fewer celebrities! But altogether a really, really amazing experience. Everyone was really excited about all the Senate wins, too.

After BO’s speech, we went back to our “Soldier Field” room (which was next to “Wrigley Field” – Biden’s friends and family room, and “Comiskey Park” – Obama’s friends and family room. There was a small stage set up in there and we knew BO was going to come and say a few words to the room (prob 500 people at this point). He came in with Michelle and said some words of thanks to the staff and the donors, and then shook hands with some of the crowd on his way out. That’s where I made my way to the front and caught him for a high five! Seriously awesome. Then he left & Biden came in, same thing (high-fived him too). Then we left, didn’t get home until after 3am, up at 6:30 for work today.

Here’s a report on the Romney hospitality.

A Good Speech

It’s a good speech. I don’t see why Obama should talk with Romney about solutions to the country’s problems, but otherwise it’s well done.

Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.

It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election, whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time. By the way, we have to fix that. Whether you pounded the pavement or picked up the phone, whether you held an Obama sign or a Romney sign, you made your voice heard and you made a difference.

I just spoke with Governor Romney and I congratulated him and Paul Ryan on a hard-fought campaign. We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honour and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.

I want to thank my friend and partner of the last four years, America’s happy warrior, the best vice president anybody could ever hope for, Joe Biden.

And I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the woman who agreed to marry me 20 years ago. Let me say this publicly: Michelle, I have never loved you more. I have never been prouder to watch the rest of America fall in love with you too, as our nation’s first lady. Sasha and Malia, before our very eyes you’re growing up to become two strong, smart beautiful young women, just like your mom. And I’m so proud of you guys. But I will say that for now one dog’s probably enough.

To the best campaign team and volunteers in the history of politics. The best. The best ever. Some of you were new this time around, and some of you have been at my side since the very beginning. But all of you are family. No matter what you do or where you go from here, you will carry the memory of the history we made together and you will have the lifelong appreciation of a grateful president. Thank you for believing all the way, through every hill, through every valley. You lifted me up the whole way and I will always be grateful for everything that you’ve done and all the incredible work that you put in.

I know that political campaigns can sometimes seem small, even silly. And that provides plenty of fodder for the cynics that tell us that politics is nothing more than a contest of egos or the domain of special interests. But if you ever get the chance to talk to folks who turned out at our rallies and crowded along a rope line in a high school gym, or saw folks working late in a campaign office in some tiny county far away from home, you’ll discover something else.

You’ll hear the determination in the voice of a young field organiser who’s working his way through college and wants to make sure every child has that same opportunity. You’ll hear the pride in the voice of a volunteer who’s going door to door because her brother was finally hired when the local auto plant added another shift. You’ll hear the deep patriotism in the voice of a military spouse who’s working the phones late at night to make sure that no-one who fights for this country ever has to fight for a job or a roof over their head when they come home.

That’s why we do this. That’s what politics can be. That’s why elections matter. It’s not small, it’s big. It’s important. Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

That won’t change after tonight, and it shouldn’t. These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.

But despite all our differences, most of us share certain hopes for America’s future. We want our kids to grow up in a country where they have access to the best schools and the best teachers. A country that lives up to its legacy as the global leader in technology and discovery and innovation, with all the good jobs and new businesses that follow.

We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet. We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known. But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being.

We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant’s daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president – that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go – forward. That’s where we need to go.

Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path. By itself, the recognition that we have common hopes and dreams won’t end all the gridlock or solve all our problems or substitute for the painstaking work of building consensus and making the difficult compromises needed to move this country forward. But that common bond is where we must begin.

Our economy is recovering. A decade of war is ending. A long campaign is now over. And whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president. And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.

Tonight you voted for action, not politics as usual. You elected us to focus on your jobs, not ours. And in the coming weeks and months, I am looking forward to reaching out and working with leaders of both parties to meet the challenges we can only solve together. Reducing our deficit. Reforming our tax code. Fixing our immigration system. Freeing ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve got more work to do.

But that doesn’t mean your work is done. The role of citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America’s never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us together through the hard and frustrating, but necessary work of self-government. That’s the principle we were founded on.

This country has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military in history, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our university, our culture are all the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

What makes America exceptional are the bonds that hold together the most diverse nation on earth. The belief that our destiny is shared; that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations. The freedom which so many Americans have fought for and died for come with responsibilities as well as rights. And among those are love and charity and duty and patriotism. That’s what makes America great.

I am hopeful tonight because I’ve seen the spirit at work in America. I’ve seen it in the family business whose owners would rather cut their own pay than lay off their neighbours, and in the workers who would rather cut back their hours than see a friend lose a job. I’ve seen it in the soldiers who reenlist after losing a limb and in those SEALs who charged up the stairs into darkness and danger because they knew there was a buddy behind them watching their back.

I’ve seen it on the shores of New Jersey and New York, where leaders from every party and level of government have swept aside their differences to help a community rebuild from the wreckage of a terrible storm. And I saw just the other day, in Mentor, Ohio, where a father told the story of his eight-year-old daughter, whose long battle with leukaemia nearly cost their family everything had it not been for healthcare reform passing just a few months before the insurance company was about to stop paying for her care.

I had an opportunity to not just talk to the father, but meet this incredible daughter of his. And when he spoke to the crowd listening to that father’s story, every parent in that room had tears in their eyes, because we knew that little girl could be our own. And I know that every American wants her future to be just as bright. That’s who we are. That’s the country I’m so proud to lead as your president.

And tonight, despite all the hardship we’ve been through, despite all the frustrations of Washington, I’ve never been more hopeful about our future. I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope. I’m not talking about blind optimism, the kind of hope that just ignores the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path. I’m not talking about the wishful idealism that allows us to just sit on the sidelines or shirk from a fight.

I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.

America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.

I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.

And together with your help and God’s grace we will continue our journey forward and remind the world just why it is that we live in the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you, America. God bless you. God bless these United States.

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