Tag Archives: politics

Musings on the tinkling of glass from the almost shattered ceiling of American democracy

Dear Most Powerful Democracy(TM) in the World,

Congratulations on taking another step closer to having a woman break the ultimate glass ceiling in your country, with Hillary Clinton being declared the presumptive nominee of one of your two political parties. We look forward to welcoming you to the large community of nations that have been electing women leaders to head their government for decades now. It may surprise your citizens—especially those rooting for the big orange loudmouth presumptive nominee of the other party—to find that even a number of Islamic nations have elected women to their highest offices. But don’t be embarrassed about joining this group now. When it comes to matters of democracy and human rights and equality, “better late than never” always applies. Long arc of history and all that considering, you know?

I imagine you know that your presidential election tends to capture the attention of the rest of the world, and this one in particular has the world in its thrall like a spectacular car crash that one cannot look away from, even though the outcome may be disastrous for occupants of the cars and spectators alike. The popularity of the orange loudmouth with the strange hair alternately baffles and frightens the world’s citizens who can scarcely believe that so many citizens of this superpower nation, known for your leadership in science and technology, for crying out loud, are falling for the dubious charms of a globally well-known con-man. That one of your two parties, half of your entire political spectrum (seriously, America, how on earth do you do democracy in such a big diverse country with just two political parties? But let’s leave that question for another time!) has been hijacked by a narcissistic demagogue happy to use bombastic nationalism and xenophobia laced with racist and sexist slurs to score television rating in this election turned into reality show, is…incredibly depressing.

At the same time, though, what’s happening in the other party offers more hope for the world. A fierce battle over liberal/progressive ideology between, gasp, a woman and an old school socialist? Who could have even imagined this in America a decade ago? Now it appears that the woman may be winning the party’s nomination to become the first female presidential candidate ever in your long and storied history as the world’s leading democracy? And a majority of your citizens might well retain their senses to elect her to follow your first Black President? How wonderful of you to finally move into this new phase in this new millennium! (Let’s set aside, for now, the more touchy subject of how they both have continued to rain bombs on much of the world – but we must address that too, soon, after you send the lunatic orange man packing.)

What took you so long?

So many younger nations, often learning about democracy from your own history, have lapped you and surged so much farther ahead in how they run their elections now – you really should feel embarrassed. Looking at you from the polling booths of some of these younger nations might feel like looking at a venerable but arthritic old man who is too set in his eccentric ways and unwilling to adjust with the times to learn how to run things in this new millennium. We hope that you will pay attention to and build on the energy of your younger citizens, many of whom have been involved in this election campaign with no little passion, calling out the injustices of the really bizarre ways you still run your elections. Like it is still the 18th century and you are still an agrarian nation deeply mired in social, economic, and cultural inequalities spread across a vast and mostly depopulated continent.

But never mind that for now; let us be cautiously optimistic that you just might follow up on your first Black Man in the White House with your first Woman President! What a way to make another grand entrance on to the world stage, two hundred and forty years after your birth as a democratic nation! So please: don’t throw this opportunity away, and for Earth’s sake, don’t let the narcissistic con-man steal this election too, like his predecessor did at the turn of the millennium.

You still have much work to do in fixing your democracy and bringing it up to date though, all the way from the design of ballots to drawing of voting district maps to how votes are counted in different states to who actually oversees and runs your elections to these myriad and ludicrously convoluted ways your parties hold primaries… to who pays for the whole circus… the list is so long and so hilariously tragic! You really do have a lot of work to do – which may be why you show so little enthusiasm for actually cleaning up the mess! It is like the aftermath of a centuries old frat party (or democracy rave) in your living room when you just can’t summon up the energy to throw all the trash out and start a new day afresh. Yet that is what you need to do! And you might start with the odd thing that happened tonight, and keeps happening every election – when your media gives away the results of the game before the last votes have been cast! What’s up with that?

While we are getting ready to applaud this apparent imminent shattering of the glass ceiling in America, many of us are also baffled at how your much-lauded free press decided to declare the winner before so many states have even held the vote for their primaries! How does your free press, which is supposed to be such a crucial pillar for democracy in a free society, continue to undermine the most basic process at the heart of democracy: the casting of votes to elect representatives? How does this make any sense? I mean, sure, the press has an obligation – and more, a competitive drive – to report whatever it deems newsworthy, so some of the fault lies with those who release these results that can tip the electoral scales. Still, surely this is something that could be fixed by reminding the media of their serious responsibility and making them keep their megaphones switched off until the last vote has been cast? That’s how some other democracies do it, to protect the sanctity of every vote.

While there is much you should learn from studying how other nations run their elections, at least in this one instance, you might consider the Most Populous Democracy in the World: India. Did you know that the press there, while invited and encouraged to closely observe and report on the entire election, is nevertheless restrained from announcing any results until after all the votes are cast and counted? And mind you, restraint is not likely to be the first word—hell, not even among the first 100 words—to come to mind when one thinks of / observes the Indian media these days; they are a cacophonous, obnoxious, loud-mouthed, argumentative lot, are India’s TV talking heads, who seemed to have learned too well the ratings game from your television networks. Yet, when it comes to election results, they exhibit remarkable restraint (or pay the price of jumping the gun).

Media Coverage

In order to bring as much transparency as possible to the electoral process, the media are encouraged and provided with facilities to cover the election, although subject to maintaining the secrecy of the vote. Media persons are given special passes to enter polling stations to cover the poll process and the counting halls during the actual counting of votes.

Doesn’t that sound like something for your press to try, at least for the general election?

Do click on that link and look around the helpful website of the Election Commission of India: all the fascinating details of how that rambunctious cacophony of a democracy, with over a billion people scattered densely across a varied landscape with poor infrastructure and much less money than you, manages to run its parliamentary elections—featuring thousands of candidates from dozens of political parties vying for hundreds of millions of votes cast at nearly a million polling stations—with much less of a fuss and a bother. Imagine, for example, running your entire presidential election, from the first primary to the general election, in just a couple of months instead of the years-long and practically never ending campaigns you force your candidates to run now! Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And conducive to the actual business of governing the nation for the public good?

Of course there is much that is also wrong with the running of elections in India – just see who they elected Prime Minister in the last election. Has any nation figured out a fool-proof way to conduct the messy business of democracy? Shouldn’t they all be talking to each other and borrowing from each other the best ways to make things work most impartially and openly and fairly?

There is a great deal more we could tell you about how to improve and modernize your elections, to bring you up to date in the 21st century. If you really put your mind and considerable resources to it, you might even come up blazing the trail again for the rest of the world, showing us how to get it done properly. Many other nations would love to help you with that, even as you claim to be the designated driver of democracy around the world. It is past time you got your own house in order, and we would love to talk to you about that. Perhaps after you’re done with this most insane of your recent elections, and are able to take a breather. Hopefully.

For now, let us raise a glass to the sound of all that tinkling glass, beginning to fall down slowly from that almost shattered ceiling… the world may hold its breath waiting for the final blow that breaks it fully apart come November. Until then, you do you – in the best way you know how!

– from a humble representative of your friends and well-wishers, citizens of other democracies.

“Where the mind is without fear…”?

Rabindranath Tagore’s hopes for India, from his Gitanjali

Today is India’s independence day, for 66 years ago the country freed itself from British rule, and for the first time actually became a nation, even as its people were torn asunder in one of the bloodiest, but somehow least talked about passages of violence in the history of the incredibly bloody 20th century. A nation whose history, for all its Gandhian non-violence, started in blood, and remains quite bloody with wars aflame both within and without. A nation that is a multitude of nations, where your identity starts with your language, your caste, your village, your region, yet one where a resurgent militant nationalism is being hammered into us from all directions on this independence day. I can hear the chants of Vande Mataram from the windows of my sister’s flat in Thane, where citizens of the housing society are milling about celebrating this independence day with a local flag hoisting and performances and competitions among local children.

Yes, it is Vande Mataram echoing through the windows, a chant that since its inception has been used by gatherings of people to “work themselves up into a patriotic fervour by shouting the slogan “Vande Mataram”, or “Hail to the Mother(land)!“, originally a challenge to “Hail to the Queen”! A chant that also started out as part of an invocation of Goddess Durga, and an expression of Bengali nationalism. Which is largely why the secular minded leadership of the Indian National Congress only accepted the first two verses as a national song, and eventually adopted Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana as the official national anthem. Tagore, who was one of the first to sing Vande Mataram in the context of the Indian freedom struggle, at the 1896 Calcutta Congress Session, later offered this nuanced critique of the song:

“The core of Vande Mataram is a hymn to goddess Durga: this is so plain that there can be no debate about it. Of course Bankimchandra does show Durga to be inseparably united with Bengal in the end, but no Mussulman [Muslim] can be expected patriotically to worship the ten-handed deity as ‘Swadesh’ [the nation]. This year many of the special [Durga] Puja numbers of our magazines have quoted verses from Vande Mataram—proof that the editors take the song to be a hymn to Durga. The novel Anandamath is a work of literature, and so the song is appropriate in it. But Parliament is a place of union for all religious groups, and there the song cannot be appropriate. When Bengali Mussulmans show signs of stubborn fanaticism, we regard these as intolerable. When we too copy them and make unreasonable demands, it will be self-defeating.”

And so Tagore’s song became the national anthem for a nation with secular aspirations, and remains a reminder of that legacy. Yet the spirit of its sibling national song seems to resonate more now in an India many of whose citizens seem eager to shed that cloak of secularism and embrace a more militant Hindu nationalism. Meanwhile the official national anthem too is used, in a manner Goebbels would have approved, to whip up patriotic fervor everywhere, from the cinema multiplex in Bombay’s malls to the television in our living rooms. It has been the law (intermittently) in some states to play the national anthem before every every movie screening, in between advertisements for dental hygiene products and the latest masala fare whipped up by B/T/H-ollywood. Recent versions are accompanied by über-jingoistic visuals that start with scenes of army jawans hoisting the flag in the snowy wastes of Siachen where far too many of them have also shed blood for far too little but nationalistic pride. And the expectation during these cinematic renderings of the anthem is that everyone in the audience stand up in respect, or be subject to abuse, even if they are not citizens of India. One has to wonder how effective this has been, however, given the ill-will and strife prevalent between different communities and regions within this nation.

Meanwhile, on the telly, this independence day started with speeches (from the Prime Minister on down) and parades designed to show off the nation’s military might. Never mind that today’s jingoistic military display came in the wake of a horrific tragedy last night when the fully armed torpedoes in an Indian navy submarine accidentally blew up in Bombay harbor killing 18 crew members. Not exactly the kind of fireworks that should have lit up the skies of south Bombay for independence day.

Independence day fireworks over Bombay harbor? Not exactly…

Interspersed among news coverage of the parades and last night’s tragedy, and “independence day special” broadcasts of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”, in between commercials for axe body spray and “red bull gives you wings”, even the telly exhorts us to stand up for the national anthem many times throughout the day. I wonder how many people actually stand up in their living rooms in front of the idiot box, welling with patriotic pride…

I can’t help but think we would have been much better off as a people, as citizens of a peaceful, inclusive republic, had we heeded the other thoughts Tagore had on the concept of nationalism, for instance in his speeches in America over a century ago:

In spite of our great difficulty, however, India has done something. She has tried to make an adjustment of races, to acknowledge the real differences between them where these exist, and yet seek for some basis of unity. This basis has come through our saints, like Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya and others, preaching one God to all races of India.

In finding the solution of our problem we shall have helped to solve the world problem as well. What India has been, the whole world is now. The whole world is becoming one country through scientific facility. And the moment is arriving when you also must find a basis of unity which is not political. If India can offer to the world her solution, it will be a contribution to humanity. There is only one history – the history of man. All national histories are merely chapters in the larger one. And we are content in India to suffer for such a great cause.

He went on to add:

A parallelism exists between America and India – the parallelism of welding together into one body various races.

In my country, we have been seeking to find out something common to all races, which will prove their real unity. No nation looking for a mere political or commercial basis of unity will find such a solution sufficient. Men of thought and power will discover the spiritual unity, will realize it, and preach it.

India has never had a real sense of nationalism. Even though from childhood I had been taught that the idolatry of Nation is almost better than reverence for God and humanity, I believe I have outgrown that teaching, and it is my conviction that my countrymen will gain truly their India by fighting against that education which teaches them that a country is greater than the ideals of humanity.

Alas, in the more than hundred years since he spoke these words, we have progressed, if anything, farther away from his ideals, and deeper into the slumber from which he hoped this nation of many nations would awake “into that heaven of freedom“:

WHERE THE mind is without fear and the head is held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Waking up to a more progressive America?

America, you beauty!

Not only did you re-elect your African-American “Islamic Socialist” gay-marriage supporting president, you also: elected more women to the senate than ever before (still highly underrepresented at just 18 senators), elected the first ever all-woman state delegation in New Hampshire, shut down the GOP’s senate rape caucus and several of the most virulent tea party leaders, voted in gay marriage in 3 states (making it 9 in total), legalized marijuana in 2 states, and in California, weakened three-strikes law, and voted to raise taxes for education!! All in the middle of an economic depression and in an election where the white oligarchy poured billions of dollars against all of these causes. Could it be that this election has actually been a bigger win for progressives than we had dared hope? Bigger surely than the last time around? Well done!

And my progressive friends: time to really get to work now, harder this time, to hold the President’s feet to the fire on the environment, human rights, Guantanamo, drone wars, foreign policy, and everything else he promised but failed to deliver the first time around. Drop your despair over his failures – recognize that he had the most intransigent and well funded opposition ever faced by any American president – and recognize the big progressive space he seems to have actually opened up in American politics. He galvanized all the racist, misogynist, regressive political forces of the white oligarchy into a frenzy that had us all scared: and beat them handily despite all his apparent failures (in the eyes of the right and the left) in his first term! Yes, I know he is beholden to some elements of the oligarchy too, but this election also shows that money, even unlimited corporate money, cannot buy votes, not yet in this country. Yes, the country is still sharply polarized, but he spoke about the need to change the electoral system to make it more inclusive. Yes he has failed on many environmental issues, but he broke the deafening climate silence last night in his victory speech, and spoke to a recently storm-battered nation that may actually believe in the reality of the threats from climate change now, about wanting our children to live in a world without the destructive power of global warming.

Perhaps I am being delusionally optimistic (optimism is a character flaw I gladly embrace), but this morning I feel that this election is a bigger win (or series of wins) for progressives in America than the last one when Obama was voted in on that wave of hope-and-change. Now lets make sure this country doesn’t slide back.

Stephen Fry & friends on the life, loves and hates of Christopher Hitchens

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taOBFURZvcA?wmode=transparent]

Irritant as Hitchens was to people on the right and the left, he sure was hard to ignore. Much as I wish he hadn’t lost his head over Iraq and the “clash of civilizations” in the MIddle East, I am glad he went after many holier cows from Kissinger to Mother Teresa. This celebration of his life is particularly illuminating to listen to for the gentle way that Stephen Fry probed Rushdie about the possible origin of the particularly sharp animus Hitch had for the Islamic countries. Forty-five minutes well spent listening to quite the array of intellectuals speak of their relationship with Hitch… I’m glad we get to listen in.

How do we get our global economy off the endless “growth” express and on to a human-scale path of plenitude?

An image I found and shared on Facebook this week, featuring a quote from the Dalai Lama, seems to have hit a nerve among my circle of friends there:
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I’m not surprised, given the kinds of circles I hang out in, that this thought had such resonance. Most of us concerned about what we are doing to our environment and our own wellbeing and future appreciate and find much to ponder in that observation. Of course, it is nice of the Lama to share his profound insight from on high (so to speak) in his role as spiritual leader and a monk observing the rest of humanity with his cultivated sense of detachment. Would that the rest of us could also detach ourselves from the daily grind and engage in more meaningful quests for our lives. Most of us, of course, don’t really have that luxury—or have a terrible time finding a way towards that serenity. So we pause, briefly, at this poster, and share it among our friends (stepping lightly over the irony of doing so on these hyper-social online networks which may seem the very antithesis of what the Lama is talking about), file it away for contemplation, and hope we get the chance to do something about it in some small way in our own lives. And for that, we must be grateful to the Dalai Lama, for pulling us up short in our headlong rush of a life, even if for a brief moment of contemplation.
A bigger question, though, is how do we—those of us not able to immediately extricate ourselves from the larger economy which pushes us into the endless pursuit of ever elusive wealth—begin to challenge and change the system? The dominant economic paradigm of our time is completely wedded to this pursuit of wealth, for individuals, corporations, and entire nations chasing endless growth. Even people who talk about sustainability within this paradigm talk about “sustainable growth“, an oxymoronic concept if there ever was one, given the natural resource constraints on this only planet we inhabit. More radical environmentalists and leftists have a deeper critique (e.g., read John Bellamy Foster’s “The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth“) of the growth economy paradigm—but reading them often leads to more despair at the scale of the revolution we seemingly need to overthrow that paradigm.
The growth paradigm so dominates our entire public discourse that even moderately centre-leaning right-wing capitalists like Obama get labelled as communists who want to socialize everything! How then can we push the system onto a completely different path, one that may actually be sustainable in a truer sense of the word?
The burgeoning movement to Occupy Wall Street seems to have lit a spark across the US, creating opportunities to challenge at least parts of the capitalist finance-driven system. Breaking through the media narrative about how we must only “grow” our way out of the current economic crises, is an accomplishment worthy of note. The real challenge for this excitingly amorphous movement though is to present not only a coherent set of demands but actually offer alternative models (e.g. at steadystate.org) for recovering the economy, alternatives which can redress the vast social inequities of the present as well as begin healing our ecosystems. We also need models that don’t call for radical / violent overthrow of the system with alternatives that are also imposed from the top-down (putting environmentalists and ecological economists in charge, for example)—but offer instead more distributed, diverse, grassroots alternatives that have a better chance of sustaining us in the long haul; models that build upon stuff many of us are already doing in our daily lives to break free of the dominant growth paradigm and take control of our lives in more meaningful ways. 
One such alternative is seen in this video from the Center for a New American Dream, visualizing economist Juliet Schor’s alternative model of a Plenitude Economy:
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/26573848 w=500&h=283]

What I particularly like about this vision is that it draws its strengths from stuff we ordinary people are already doing in the US (and elsewhere) to find our own ways out of the ravages of the collapsed economy during this current great depression. Unlike the last great depression of the 1930s in the US, this time around we don’t have the political leadership or will to create and offer solutions from above, unfortunately. That does not mean, however, that people are simply standing still in despair (although there is plenty of that to go around), waiting for handouts from the government or from charities. We are, in small ways, taking charge of some of the means of production (urban farming and homesteading being great examples) and creating/reviving alternative means of sharing what we produce, away from the globalized economic mainstream. These smaller scale actions offer a good antidote against despair at the ever increasingly gloomy global picture. This is how we can really start rebuilding our world, one garden, one rooftop, one school, one swap-meet, one community at a time, each with its own local adaptation to find its own unique solution. Who needs a world revolution from above when we can have a multitude of these smaller revolutions growing from below?

Life on this planet has always thrived on diversity and local adaptation; it is time for us environmentalists to also truly embrace that truth, and participate in these many movements within our own neighborhoods, even as we seek to change the overarching paradigm globally. As that seemingly forgotten early prophet of ecological economics, E. F. Schumacher, observed a few decades ago: Small is Beautiful, after all! It is useful to remember that.

As a friend remarked upon reading the Dalai Lama’s words: not all of us sacrifice our health in order to make money; some of us do so in pursuit of environmental and human justice, to help create a better world. But maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to sacrifice our health for that either: instead, let us find the time and space to sink our hands into the soil, get dirt under our fingernails as we grow our own food and create habitats for other species amid our urban sprawl; to chat with our neighbors as we exchange vegetables from each other’s yards or balcony container gardens; to rebuild the social fabric that we worry is fraying under globalization; and take that time to also breathe in the air and simply enjoy living in the present.

I’m sure the Dalai Lama would approve of that (even if we choose to talk about it online)!

Science and Democracy in the Arab Spring and American Fall

[The following is an expanded version of an essay that was read on Valley Public Radio about a week ago as part of their series “The Moral Is“. Archives of the audio broadcast will, hopefully, be available on KVPR’s website in the near future. Meanwhile, freed from the constraints of time and word limits, I have expanded some of my thoughts on the subject and included a couple of images to share below. The essay was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Alaa Ibrahim after I heard him talk about the Cairo Science Festival and the role of science in society last February.]

We are living through a remarkable year for democracy in the world, with autocratic regimes tottering and toppling like dominoes across north Africa and the Middle East, pushed by the growing will of ordinary people who’ve had enough. It was twitter and Facebook that fomented the January 25th revolution in Egypt, we are told. While these modern tools of communication did help coordinate the movement, their importance was rather overblown by the American mass media, whose pundits largely failed to detect or understand the undercurrents that lead to the revolution. More likely, some say, it was rising prices of food and water that drove people to desperation and revolt. Yet, they all overlook another, perhaps deeper and more fundamentally revolutionary undercurrent in Egyptian society: Science! More precisely, the growing public dissemination of science through events like the Cairo Science Festival held in Tahrir Square—epicenter of the January 25th revolution—a mere six months before that square caught all of our imaginations as a beacon of peaceful democratic revolutions. But what does science have to do with democracy?

Dr. Alaa Ibrahim an Egyptian Astronomer, was a postdoctoral scholar at MIT when he experienced the Cambridge Science Festival, an annual celebration of science, technology, engineering, and math. Inspired by the enthusiasm of the participants in the festival, and the potential to fire up the imagination of ordinary people with the wonders of science, Dr. Ibrahim returned to Egypt determined to start a similar science festival. His efforts bore fruit in 2010 when the first Cairo Science Festival was held “to increase awareness of, and opportunities in, science and its role in development, particularly for Egyptian youth, who represent the majority of Cairo’s population of 20 million.” Young people in Egypt, once the heart of a great civilization, were able to connect in real time with counterparts in the US, and even converse with Nobel laureates. How inspiring that must have been!

Six months later, many of the same youth gathered again at the very same location—but this time to demand freedom and democracy. Dr. Ibrahim was there too, along with his young children. In sharing this story at the International Public Science Events Conference during the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC last February, Dr. Ibrahim suggested a direct connection between fostering a culture of science and promoting democracy. Its hard not to be convinced by his juxtaposition of images of the festival and the revolution in the same physical space, with children who enjoyed science shows earlier now sitting on tanks, chanting for democracy in the same Tahrir Square!

Science is about asking questions about how the world really works. A culture of knowledge with science at its core enables its citizens to ask questions, not only about the natural world, but also about the political world they inhabit. A citizenry with a habit of asking questions is a difficult one for autocrats to control. Ergo, democracy! Last May, science once again occupied center stage at Tahrir Square for the second Cairo Science Festival, highlighting the role of science and technology during social and political revolutions. Indeed, Egyptian scientists continue to play an active role in their country’s ongoing social/political revolution towards democracy.

Meanwhile, back in the US, the once shining beacon of democracy and science both, a rather different political movement has gained momentum recently—but this one is inimical to science. Not only do the leaders of this Tea Party demand serious cuts in funding for science, they also actively undermine the teaching of science in the nation’s classrooms. At a time of economic recession, science and technology are strangely viewed as luxuries we can ill afford, rather than as the very engines of any potential economic recovery. Congressmen, Senators, and all but one Presidential hopeful from the Republican Party try to outcompete each other not by demonstrating their knowledge, but by displaying their ignorance: denying the evidence for evolution or for a human role in forcing global climate change, to name but two hot-button issues. Science is a threat to a certain narrow (but widespread) view of religion, and must therefore be suppressed.

Therein lies another, perhaps paradoxical, facet of the relationship between science and democracy. As Dr. Ibrahim argues—and I agree—a scientific temper provides a good strong foundation for democracy. History provides plenty of evidence for the two going hand-in-hand all the way back to the Greeks who may be justly credited with inventing the modern forms of both these wonderful human endeavors. Yet science itself is most emphatically not a democratic process, being beholden to testable evidence from the real world! Truths and ideas in science, unlike human laws and regulations, stand or fall on the basis of evidence alone, and are not up for debate or popular vote. Trying to legislate away the reality of evolution or anthropogenic climate change is therefore a fool’s errand, for, after all, species continue to evolve in response to ongoing natural selection, and the global climate continues to be destabilized as we keep pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere like there is no tomorrow. Opinions, yours or mine, no matter how popular, don’t really matter to the functioning of the real world, which is the domain of science. Democracy, on the other hand, is the domain of humanity, our social sphere, how we choose to govern ourselves, and it can only benefit from taking science’s hand and grounding itself in reality. Politicians who choose to ignore science, or want to legislate its truths away, chasing popular opinion and votes, do so to their own, and all of our, long-term peril.

Thus have we come to the current state of affairs, where one ancient civilization seeks to rise anew, with the help of science as a handmaiden to democracy, even as the world’s dominant superpower risks losing its leadership in science and technology, because a few vocal but ill-informed leaders have its citizenry convinced that science is useless, even inimical to the prospect of living a moral life.

We live in strange and interesting times indeed.

You should feel so safe against all threats, my American friends!

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Click on the image or here for a larger, more readable version of this infographic

And nice that the world has such a Big Brother! So the US alone spends almost 43% of the entire planet’s military budget! There had better be some serious extraterrestrial threat then, for the US to save the world… or who the frack are they fighting and why?

Here’s another graph, showing the more-than-doubling of US defense spending over the last decade:

Media_httparmscontrol_echex

Surely the military industrial complex never had it so good before the twin-towers were brought down by entirely non-military means. I feel so safe now… don’t you, my American friends (and daughters)? And surely, this had nothing to do with the disappearing surplus and rising record deficits the US has seen over the same period. Couldn’t be. Also, never mind that your health-care, your retirement, your union, and your job may be on the chopping block (if they aren’t gone already) because the rich and the corporations in this country must get more tax cuts – at least you’re safe from all those military threats looming large against the US! Do share if you know what those threats are that necessitate such an enormous military budget – 6 times that of the next big-spending nation!

Can patriotic greedy bastards succeed where birkenstock-wearing tree-huggers have failed with climate change solutions?

Nice reframing of the climate change conundrum and possible solutions in this trailer. I’m intrigued and look forward to seeing the whole film – wonder if this way of packaging the inconvenient truth will go down better with conservative deniers of climate change than Al Gore’s slide show.

Also makes me wonder: whatever happened to the precautionary principle? Isn’t that essentially a conservative idea?

Why don’t we just poke for democracy? You know, instead of waging wars and such…

A deconstruction of the US’ attitude towards democracy:

“… er, so, if two speeches and a social media site is all we needed to spread democracy… er… why did we invade Iraq? Why didn’t we just, I don’t know, poke them?” – Jon Stewart.