I will be your President, too.

It is a rare thing for me to be more than minimally involved in the political sphere.  I do not avoid it intentionally – I just prefer to avoid backbiting and negativity when I can.  Politics in this country is often both of those things.  I also typically do not to follow celebrity drama or sports.  I try to be an informed voter as far as the beliefs and platform of a candidate, but that’s as far as it goes.  That’s what I vote on.

But this past election was different.  I didn’t really care who won, not because of negativity, but because I thought both presidential candidates would’ve done a reasonable job.  I voted my conscience on both people and issues, and was satisfied at having done my duty.  But something shifted when I agreed to watch some of the results come in with Corina.  The race was very close early on, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of it all.  I still managed to go home early, but the chemicals running through my bloodstream left me restless.  And then, 11:30 – people calling, text messaging exploding across the face of the globe.  Meena in particular harangued me for wanting to go to bed now that it was ‘all over’ – how could I miss ‘an historic moment’ like this one?  I had to stay up for the victory speech!

I ended up doing so.  I’m glad I did – it was a good speech.  And it’s nice to know that our new president will be continuing his drive to empower and force the American people to take responsibility.  Obama was, as always, well-spoken and friendly and charismatic.  That’s good to have in a leader.  I wish that he was a little less in absolute control at such times, but that’s probably just my own less serious take on public speaking and my complete lack of a poker face.

Yet i do still wonder how we will move forward.  We are a country in decline.  I can understand the power of our past and our future, and the possibility for ‘unyielding hope’.  It is a strength that is also a danger.  Are our hopes, as a nation, merely difficult or completely unrealistic?  Do wwe even know what changes we want to effect?  Can this kind of grassroots politics be sustainable, especially for a nation as large and disparate as our own?  I suppose the next few years may begin to tell.

Torching Everest

It’s interesting how news reaches us, even in today’s world of instant gratification and technological interconnectedness.  Take the recent Everest record-breaking that’s been going on.  I had no idea that before Mr. Sherchan, the oldest man to climb Everest was 71 years old and Japanese.  And while I may have guessed that a Sherpa held the record for the most times to the summit, I wouldn’t have known that the amount of times was 18, until today.  I also would have had no idea that as many as 80 climbers might reach the summit on one of its busiest days.  Just think of it – one of the loneliest, most desolate spots on the face of the Earth, and now it has up to 80 people trudging up and down on it.  In the scale of the mountain, that’s not many, but it’s still many more than I would’ve expected.

Also unexpected, and garnered from this article, was the fact that the Chinese carried the Olympic torch to the summit.  A poetic gesture, I’m sure, but a little ridiculous to my mind.  Why not take it on a space shuttle, or to the moon, since the Chinese have so recently been there, and let it burn in a special case with just enough air on that desolate surface.  Or are the Olympics strictly an Earth-bound exhibition of talent?  And, in protection of the Everest relay, why did the Nepalese government ‘close the mountain’, hoping to bar torch relay protesters?  In addition to the fact that the Chinese relay team accessed Everest from Tibet (which I find highly amusing, under the circumstances), which we can assume the Chinese government would prevent any protesters from accessing, were there really threats of opposition climbing Mount Everest just to thwart torchbearers?  What are they going to do at the summit?  Grab the torch and roll down the mountain?  Throw it off the side in a gesture far from media or any kind of real publicity?  Do we still lived in the crazed, competitive era of man that compelled slightly neurotic men to run off towards the North Pole in order to get there first?  What is this intense need to win we seem to all have, and what are we all really fighting for?  Recognition?  Fame?  Pride?

I would like to see the world strive a bit more, perhaps for the greater good or just for personal ambition, but without trying to rip itself apart at the same time.

Political pressure and internet fads

It seems nowadays that everyone and their dog has a blog (oh dear, I just rhymed).  Perhaps originally an outlet for the mundane details of life, blogs are increasingly outlets for a range of more serious topics: political declarations and acusations of unfair governance, explanation of medical treatments and pharmaceuticals, and widespread discussion of crime, corruption, violence, and other ills of the world. 

It is not necessarily a strange shift, then, to see Malaysian politicians reversing their policy on blogging.  While in the past many incumbents have seen bloggers as ‘the enemy’ who called their decisions into question, a drop in public support has the ruling party singing a different tune.  Now all candidates for youth positions MUST have a blog before running for national posts.  It seems like a reasonable shift – if you want to work with youth, you have to be able to set up a blog, manage a Facebook profile, and speak their language.  With the current speed of technology, you have to be able to adapt almost as quickly as their malleable little brains are doing.  While it seems that someone in the National Front coalition should’ve figured out early on that they could use the same tools to gain public approval as rivals used to gain it for themselves, I guess it took losses in a general election to really drive the point home. 

The next obvious question for me is how our own politicians are keeping up with the fads.  Obama, Clinton, and McCain all have their own websites aimed at getting their platforms out there, spreading news about what they have been doing, and generally keeping in good contact with their supporters.  I think that’s great – keep the information highway going.  All three also include blogs as a part of those websites.  Of course, while I would like to get the occasional post from the candidates themselves to get a sense of their personal voice, all that I saw in my quick scan were written by other members of their campaign.  Alas.  Perhaps someday we’ll have a White House blog with actual words from the actual President.  McCain also has a social networking site on his website called McCainSpace, which I thought was a little cheesy, but also kinda cool.  It’s definitely a step in the right direction as far as connecting with younger voters. 

So, where do I see this whole thing going?  More direct pressure of the public on politicians.  More open communication and information passing on candidates and elected officials.  Widespread discussion and observation of every detail of political life.  While I think most of this is for the good, I also don’t always trust my fellow voter/citizen/blogger.  If we swing too far the wrong way, it’s mob rule.  Don’t really think I’m up for that.

Why?

I am usually not a follower of current events for a few reasons.  First, most news is bad news.  It’s depressing and enraging.  It frustrates me to watch the world beat people down yet again and be powerless to stop it.  Second, the stories don’t often change.  I can read a book written in 2003 and it tells last year’s story of a crisis in Burma.  I can read a book written in 1950 and it tells the story of the agony of African nations like Sudan.  Currently I’m reading The Map of Love, which is primarily about Egypt and was written in 1999.  it also was a Booker Prize finalist.  It’s totally applicable to the issues of the day – the hubris and double standards of the West, the Jewish stance on Palestine and Arab anger at it, our own interests in Iraq reflected somewhat in Egypt’s relationship with Britain.

It makes me wonder if we can ever make any progress forward at all.  I feel accountable.  Why can’t we commit to taking our troops out of Iraq.  Even if it’s slow, even if we need to be reasonable about this untenable situation we’ve gotten our country into, why can’t we at least offer an olive branch of not dominating the rest of the world?  I am proud to be an American, but at times I am also embarrassed to be one.  The fighting is getting heavier in Iraq, and now we’re withdrawing troops.  Why?  Because people are so angry here that they’re willing to overthrow their political leaders?  Because ‘progress has been made’, and by that nebulous definition of progress we can bow out without losing too much face?  Come on, smarmy politicians – you’ve already lost.

It’s just upsetting.  I would like to live in a world where we did not have to be surprised by the accepting Muslim fundamentalist or the broad-minded Christian or the honest politican.  IS that really so difficult to achieve?

Alas, Clinton.

I am one of those people who is likely to put her foot in her mouth.  As such a person, I am sympathetic to others who might to the same on national television (read: Clinton’s latest snafu with sniper fire).  I am stubborn, and memory is a fickle thing.  If I think I emptied the dishwasher last, you can bet I’m going to be loud and ornery abut making you do it next.  Even if I’m proven wrong, I’m likely to backpedal only slightly.  I’m am trying to adjust this in my own personality, to be more apologetic when I’m wrong, but I’m naturally argumentative, and it’s hard.

Whether or not Clinton’s comments at George Washington University and other places were politically driven and intentionally manipulative of events in Bosnia,  this serves to highlight one aspect of the current political process that I remain unenthusiastic about.  Political (and almost all public or famous figures) are under constant scrutiny.  In such an environment, how much room do we leave for plausible error, and how much should be repudiated as public manipulation?

Peaceful Protest

It would be my guess that the violence in Tibet will get worse before it gets better.  There are all kinds of subtle clues.  The situation remains murky, with the Chinese government not allowing reporters in.  Additionally, conflicting reports mean that potentially more than two parties are trying to manipulate the situation for their advantage.  Finally, there’s the Dalai Lama’s recent statement that he will resign as head of the government in exile if the violence continues.

On the one hand, I completely understand his motivations.  These are his people, and he’s a staunch advocate for nonviolence.  At the same time, I don’t think him stepping down would solve the situation.  Both Han Chinese and Tibetans in the area are too angry, and feel too strongly.  The Lama washing his hands of the situation is not going to help matters.  But what else can he do?  What happens when the fight you are championing becomes angry and aggressive, despite your best intentions?

The idea of nonviolent protest is rooted in a language of alternatives.  It is a means of being radically different from the frenzy of most revolutions.  Its shortcomings come from its expectations and motivations.  Peaceful protest, for all its agreeableness, is based on the assumption not only that change is possible, but that is achievable relatively quickly.  The other primary assumption deals with the basic decency of others.  A tree sitting doesn’t work if the lumberjack is not afraid to use violence to move you.  The second major shortcoming comes from the motivation for the nonviolent resistance itself.  Whatever the cause, it will be something that participants believe in strongly.  With this strength of belief, how can we expect that all or most of such protests will not devolve into violence as tensions mount?

I’m not saying the Dalai Lama was wrong to resist the PRC’s assumption of control over his homeland, or wrong to stir up fervor in favor of his cause in the West.  I’m not saying that the PRC was even wrong in its policies of dominance, intrigue, and the importation of Han Chinese to the region.  What I am saying is that both sides are losing control.  Beijing may say they have the ability to handle any situation, but at what cost of human life?  If greater attempts are not made to reduce tensions int he region, we’re only seeing the beginnings of violent escalation.

The Ouzel refuses to drown

Last night I went to an on-campus Amnesty screening of Total Denial: Doe vs. UNOCAL. It was interesting as an informational tool, both on Burma and on some recent decisions in the US court system. After the events of last summer and fall in Burma, I had a little more information on the situation, so it was good to see some firsthand information and firsthand footage. The two complaints I really had were related to both of those – the firsthandedness of some of the footage meant that it was extremely shaky camera-wise and often quite blurred, making some events hard to understand. Also, some of the film splicing seemed to not make sense, or was at least not explained. (oh, another part of the burning forest. that’s sad. wait, why do I love the hammock?). But still, I’m glad I went and saw it. There was even a college-age girl who had been in Burma during the Saffron Revolution who offered her thoughts and stayed to answer questions.

I remember stories of even the monks, normally sacred and protected members of the community, being tortured and killed. It impacted me, but I had no real call to action from the events. Also at this time I’d purchased the hardcover book Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan for $6 in the bargain book section of the COOP. I began to read it, unaware that this story too would revolve around Burma.

The title revolves around the story of a monk who went out every day and always came home with a basket of fish. A parishioner asked him how he could eat fish while still holding true to his Buddhist beliefs. The monk explained that all the fish they ate were fish he had found drowning. When he tried to save them, unfortunately they died, and he was forced to eat them. But still, the next day he would try to save some again.

The story itself is even more bizzare – it’s the story of a dead woman following the tour group she was supposed to lead around Asia, as retold through a medium, the record of which is discovered by Amy Tan when she runs into some paranormal society library to escape bad weather. It tells quite a bit about the situation and history of Burma, and the ways in which the country’s government reacts to the spotlight of the outside world. It tells of how people are changed by their experiences and interactions, or not changed; how situations are reflected and refracted and adapted when hit by more direct or different light. But it leaves the reader oddly unsatisfied, despite interest, imagery, and a mostly coherent plot.
You may ask of this story, why all the hocus-pocus? Why all the indirectness? Why the confusing and dithering conclusion of the book? Plenty of authors have made bold statements regarding war-ravaged areas of the world – if Amy Tan was interested in this one, why not take a stand? Why not give us some solutions, or idea on where to begin? Why not inspire us to make a difference?

I think the answer has something to do which what we think a story is supposed to give us. I am reminded of part of the movie The Hours, where Virginia Woolfe says the artist has to die so that everyone else can relearn the value of life. Perhaps Saving Fish From Drowning is something like this. Perhaps it teaches us to value a little more what we have. Perhaps it is not meant to give answers or give hope for future change or even enlighten, but simply to remind us of what we have. I’m not sure I know what to do with that type of story right now – have I lost my ability to empathize? Or am I simply realistic about what change I can accomplish?

The story is not yet over. Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Desmond Tutu, are continuing to take a stand, are continuing to effect peaceful change through trade restrictions and other political international moves. Perhaps this will be enough, and things will change. Perhaps the pressure for change will again grow in support of this region, forcing the country once again into the public eye. I remain tentatively hopeful for the betterment of the world.

Political convention what?

I was talking to my sister Shannon on the phone yesterday about politics and her life, and I realized I am a bum.  She mentioned how she didn’t get that involved in her school’s mock political convention, as she preferred to let other people kinda talk and just gain the experience.  She was an Indiana delegate.

When I was in college, my school hosted a debate.  I think.  I didn’t really pay much attention.  I knew there was something going on on campus since things were even more crowded than usual.  One of my then-or-former roommates, Michele, was helping out with it.  But that’s pretty much her nature – very perky, and helping with stuff.  I’m pretty sure it was a presidential debate, because I do remember being pissed off at not being able to vote in the Gore/Bush/Nader election.  Due to some rather unfortunate party politics back home, I didn’t get my absentee ballot in time.

Even with all my raw political power and skills, I was forced to ask, “what do they actually DO at the convention?”  So she explained a little bit about the party deciding on its stance and platforms, and of course, nominating the candidate.  Evidently OWU’s been doing this since the 20s.  Wow.  I’m in awe.  Actually educating students about politics through doing!  I love it!  We should do this with state governments!  We’ll call it “student’s state”!

Truth be told, I didn’t even realize parties had platforms.  I thought that nonsense was just for candidates.  Whoops!  Do I pay attention, or what?