1200 kids will be pulled from caring homes and put into institutions because of socially acceptable prejudice against gay parents.
The child protective services agency is now responsible for investigating the sexual preference of people applying to be foster parents.
On the bright side, the Connecticut legislature just approved civil unions.
On the dark side, via AmericaBlog, Microsoft withdrew support at the last minute from a gay anti-discrimination bill in Washington State, after years of promoting its support for gay rights.
According to a story published in the Stranger, the change was prompted by a complaint by a single Christian-right organization that threatened a boycott. The Stranger quotes Microsoft's government relations person as saying, in response to concern that Microsoft's reversal will kill the bill, "no one will ever know."
The list of Pacific Northwest companies supporting the bill includes: Boeing, Nike, Coors Brewing, Qwest Communications, Washington Mutual, Hewlett-Packard, Corbis, Battelle Memorial Institute, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc, and more.
Washington House Bill 1515 would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing, banking, insurance, and other matters by adding sexual orientation to a state law which already bars discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, marital status, and mental or physical handicap.
The vote is scheduled on Friday, so if you'd like Microsoft to rethink, follow this link.
At a hearing on HB3314 on Monday night, the sponsor said that she may focus the bill specifically on libraries.
According to the US Supreme Court in United States v. American Library Association, filtering software used in a library needs to enable adults to turn the filtering off. Representative Gattis, who is part-owner of a wireless broadband company, explained that it is not practical to deploy filtering to public access points.
In 2001, the Texas Library Association helped to defeat a library filtering amendment to the appropriations bill. Current Texas law requires library internet filtering only for recipients of TIF grant funding, a program whose revenues are no longer being used to fund library computers.
The hearing starts at about 2:20 at this video
HB 3314, up for hearing in the Texas House State Affairs committee, would require the state to filter internet access at highway rest stops.
This bill mandates filtering at any state-provided network on public property.
This bill protects truckers at rest stops and campers in their RVs at campsites from adult content.
Sounds both wasteful and unconstitutional.
HB 3245 would exempt meetings discussing "matters relating to computer security or the security of other information resources technologies" from the state's Open Meetings Act.
Other laws already allow agencies to keep sensitive information secret. This bill forbits the discussion of computer security policy in public. For example, it would stymie efforts to improve the security of electronic voting systems, by keeping skilled academic and private-sector experts out of the public policy discussion.
Let the members of the House State Affairs Committee know that "security through obscurity" is bad policy.
An airport security guard doing the pull-aside on Socialtext CEO Ross Mayfield says that we're now restricted to two books to carry on airplanes.
So now you can tell terrorists because they're reading too many books? Or the government thinks that people who don't read will be more susceptible to idiotic pseudo-security.
This needs a little bit of investigation and if true, a lot of mockery.
UPDATE: Apparently, a poorly trained security guard was confused between books of matches and books for reading.
For a book club this weekend, I read The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. The book is set in an alternate version of 1940s America, where Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt for the presidency on the platform of keeping the US out of WWII. The Lindbergh presidency sympathizes with Germany and Japan, and takes the US down a suspicious path of isolating Jews.
The book combines effective, memoir-style fiction about the role of fear in growing up, with a rather clunky and self-indulgent political thriller. The effective parts of the book to me were the anecdotes of about scary experiences made more terrifying by imagination. A kid is trapped by a stuck bathroom door; the basement haunted by feral cats and ghosts; a neighbor's father is found dead from cancer or suicide.
The political plot takes instances of discrimination that really happened to other groups -- being kept out of hotels (African-Americans); kids being taken far away for education and assimilation (Native Americans); families being relocated (Japanese) -- and applies them to Jews. The plot plays effectively on the Jewish fear of persecution. It works -- it's scary. But it also feels manipulative, like a Holocaust theme park ride.
There was one aspect of the political plot that was thought-provoking and effective. In the novel, the programs taking urban Jewish kids to summer camps on farms and moving urban families out to rural communities are presented as sunny and patriotic. It's hard to tell if the anti-semitic rhetoric, Nazi alliances, and building of a capo-style structure of Jewish adminstration of the transfer programs is truly as creepy as it looks, or whether Jews worried about the trends are having paranoid fantasies fueled by their ghetto life, as the adminstration insists.
In contemporary politics, one of the tough questions is figuring out when and how much to worry. The religious right's rhetoric damning Democrats as being "against people of faith" is worrisome. The support for this message by the Republican leadership is more worrisome.
As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees. Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day "Justice Sunday" and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading "the filibuster against people of faith," it reads: "The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith."
The issue itself -- changing the Senate's rules for confirming judges -- is basic procedural politics. The political slant -- casting one party for God, and one party against God -- is really disturbing. It's reassuring to watch conservatives who aren't buying it
The last post was about tools and techniques to give more power to "bottom-up" organizations, and enable top-down organizations to get more done by empowering members. I see the pyramid getting flatter (or more arrows feeding into the network nodes), but I don't see hierarchy disappearing for two reasons: attention and television.
The first reason is attention. In a complex society with a thriving democracy, most people can only commit a fraction of their time to civic activity. Organizational structures need to reflect hierarchy of commitment in attention and time -- from people who's willing to learn a bit and vote, to people who are committed volunteers, to people who have full-time public sector jobs.
Representative democracy takes the attention limit into account -- there's a relatively small number of people who are delegated to do the public's business full time. These representatives are chartered with soliciting public input and making decisions.
There are alternate models of representation that are more democratic, but the representative structure demains. In the model of deliberative democracy promoted by Tom Attlee and others, deliberation is conducted more along the lines of extended jury duty. A group of ordinary citizens is chosen. They focus a significant amount of time studying and deliberating an issue, and then make a decision. This model used in the British Columbia project to choose a voting method.
The process of educating government decision-makers -- lobbying, that is -- can certainly be more democratic than it is -- well-trained volunteers can get a lot done, at least on the state and local level. But there's a practical limit to the number of people who can pursue face-to-face lobbying as a vocation or avocation.
The other source of hierarchy is television. Television is in persistent decline, but remains the single most effective means of political persuasion. It is conventional wisdom that in an election, television generates 48% of the voting decisions, and field get-out-the-vote activities get the last 3%. TV ads are extremely expensive, and the arts of ad polling and message-testing are in the hands of a small handful of wizards.
Young people (ages 18-34) use local tv news and the internet more than national news and newspapers for information according to a Carnegie study. The study reports that "the Internet, is number one among men, high-income groups, and broadband users." According to the survey, young people say that the Internet, by a 41-to-15 percent margin over second ranked local TV, is “the most useful way to learn.” As net technology diffuses, we can expect the use of the net to increase.
Some day in the foreseeable future, TV will no longer be the dominant medium for political communication. Until then, the wizards will rule.
Even when TV is a less powerful presense, the dynamics of attention will recreate hiearchical structures. This is always true in democratic societies - leaders gain support from shifting groups and trends among constituencies. The means of gaining support, and means of assembling constituences are changing. The network map is changing as we watch.
I've read and participated in various discussions contrasting the top-down, direct-mail, action-oriented approach to polical action, and the blog-and-forum , bottom-up, decentralized, discussion-oriented approach.
This classic by Alex Steffen at Worldchanging predicts a "move from centralized, mass-market NGOs to advocacy networks driven by members."
This month's Personal Democracy Forumessay praises efforts at TrueMajority and Common Cause to open the traditionally centralized advocacy culture to solicit member input.
I don't think the approaches are as far apart as they seem, and we're just wanting a few new tools and models to get "best of both worlds" power to swarm and act.
Today, self-organized groups can easily and cheaply publish and discuss with blogs and mailing lists.
Where the pros have the advantage in the member database behind the mailing list and action alerts. Yahoo groups and similar tool lets an administrator see who's a member and set moderation policies. But they don't have features to track how many people have responded to an action alert. Also, they don't have a good way to manage overlapping memberships.
The world needs hosted and open source tools that give this power to bottom up groups. I think we'll start seeing this in larger of blog activist communities, starting with groups like Kos and maybe TalkingPoints Memo (to pick a couple of left-of-center examples). In those communities, sub-groups will start creating and managing action alerts as segments of the core group.
Today, this approach seems unthinkable for today's centralized groups, which manage their mailing list like Fort Knox. But when you look closer, the fortress has a few doors. Today, it's possible for a grassroots group to traverse the social network to get an action posted in a major group. But it takes old-fashioned social networking.
The fortresses are not going to become public squares any time soon. But there will be acknowledged ways for building trust. Volunteers will be able to progress from clicking through on an action, to writing blog posts and co-ordinating other volunteers, to managing sub-campaigns.
It doesn't seem that hard to me to bridge the "action gap" -- the tools are well-known, and just need to get cheaper and more accessible. The value is really obvious -- letters and dollars.
Alex Stephen also foretells the rise of bottom-up social networking.
advocacy networks encourage relationships. Advocacy networks want their members to connect to each other. Advocacy networks are a form of social software, like Friendster, Tribe.net or the Omidyar Network. That means, at the most basic level, that your working relationships are not subject to the control of any third-party organization.
This approach seems further away to me, because the basic tools don't quite exist yet. The Friendster/Tribe/O.Net systems that exist today are too centralized and tightly coupled. We need the equivalent of a permalink, subscription format, and hosted service for linkable mini-nets.
LiveJournal but more extroverted.
The non-corporate solutions I've seen in the space have been targeted at different problems -- easing the single sign-on inconvenience (IDCommons, SXIP), declaring one's relationships (XFN) -- rather than easily snapping one's profile into a new group.
Probably the fastest way for this to happen is for one of the existing, popular services to create profile permalinks and a published data model.
In the areas of action, fundraising, and networking, the pyramid can get a lot flatter. New organizations will grow up pioneering these methods, and older organizations will adapt.
The spine-tingling new cop show -- intrepid officers stake out movie theaters, watching for unauthorized taping of movie premieres.
Texas HB 1871 and SB 481 create new crimes for recording movies in a theater. Meanwhile, there are similar bills making their way through Congress right now (S167 / HR 357) and expected to pass easily.
Why is the MPAA trying to get this bill passed at the Federal and State levels? Rumor has it because they were concerned that Federal law enforcement wouldn't make movie theater stakeouts as high a priority as say, finding terrorists.
Now, I don't have any sympathy for commercial pirates -- people who make money by distributing illegal copies of movies.
But what problem is the MPAA trying to solve here? People are so eager to see their movies that they are willing to record them at theaters.
With a little creativity, the MPAA could solve this problem in other ways. They could make premiers available to bloggers, and provide links to trailer clips. They could take advantage of the power of universe of fans to spread word of mouth about a movie.
The movie industry could do more of what Apple has done, in making an easy, cost-effective way to search, pay for, and download movies. They could digitize back catalogs of content, creating new revenue opportunities for assets that are moldering on shelves.
I really wish that the MPAA put as much money into creative new ways to distribute and promote their product as they do trying to change the legal system to support their existing business model.
I get a visceral reaction to throw the rulebook in the trash, when I have the opportunity to sit through a telecom hearing or read through an analysis of a telecom bill.
When I see nicely-dressed lobbyists arguing in favor of this legal nuance or that, I see "regulatory capture" in action. The regulatory regime has the consequence of giving the industry tremendous power over the regulations that govern it. I imagine a large octopus with its arms wrapped around the legislature.
At the same time, the comments like this by the new FCC Chairman in favor of "deregulation" make me really queasy too. In a market where the largest companies have tremendous power, "deregulation" can mean "I want the government to stop interfering with my monopoly."
Upon reflection, I think that "deregulation" is the wrong question.
The government has a strong interest in enabling a competitive market and protecting consumers from fraud.
The government does not have an interest in favoring any network technology over another, or censoring cultural content.
The question isn't whether government should play a dominant role or no role. The right question is what role should government play.
The US is a nation of immigrants and migrants who re-invent themselves in their adopted home; and the children of immigrants who seek authenticity in forgotten ethnic traditions. Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama's autobiography written after graduation from Havard Law School, is part of a genre of American writing in search of roots. In Dreams from my Father, Obama goes searching for community and family, finds both, and find them to be different than he expected.
Barack Obama grew up in a mixed and peripatetic family. His mother's family had migrated to Hawaii from Kansas. His father was an African exchange student at the University of Hawaii. When Obama was two, his father left for Harvard, and returned only once for a brief visit eight years later. Growing up, Obama spent several years in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather, then was raised by his grandparents while his mother did graduate research overseas.
Search for community
As a young adult, Obama set off in search of community and purpose, with the great role models of the civil rights movement. To his great credit, he succeeds and finds these things.
The glory days of the civil rights movement were long gone when Obama gets an organizing job in a poor neighborhood on Chicago's South Side plagued by crumbling public housing, disappearing manufacturing jobs, and rising crime. Obama deciphers the limits of their starting position. The group's founder is a Jewish man who is not fully trusted by the community. Its initial allies are the the Catholic Churches, which have an uneasy relationship with their new African-American parishioners. Chicago has just elected Harold Washington, its first Black major who is worshipped as a cult figure, but whose patronage is delivering limited benefits to the communities that elected him.
At the same time that Obama deciphers the political landscape, he makes personal connections. He becomes close with the three middle-aged African-American women who are core to the organization, and develops a friendship with an eccentric, pot-smoking Catholic organizer who wears a clerical collar and a "deacon" t-shirt. He looks out for Kyle, the teenage son of a volunteer who is in danger of getting into trouble. One of the most moving bits in the book where Obama tells the group he is headed off to Harvard Law school, and promises his friends in the neighborhood that he'll be back.
The mix of idealism, political perceptiveness and personal connection are the origins of Obama's political career.
The Limits of "Organizing"
After a series of ignominious defeats, the persistence, skill and empathy of Obama's group begins to pay off. They organize cleanup for the housing project, job training for the neighborhood, mentoring for school kids.
To this reader, though, the section reveals the strength and the limits of the "organizer" model, in which a stranger rides into town, lives in a community, and encourages the locals to demand their rights. The "organizer" helps the powerless to organize and demand their rights from the powerful. This model may be idea for those in abject need, but it underestimates the power that local people have.
Obama visits the scraggly remains of the neighborhood's main retail district trying to get a job training center into a local storefront. I couldn't help but think that the neighborhood needs a traditional chamber of commerce approach to tally up the areas assets, and bring businesses. Walgreens is probably in the neighborhod now. (Later in the book, Obama's African stepbrother Roy starts an import business with the intention of bringing in unemployed relatives; that entrepreneurial attitude sees unused resources as opportunity).
Following a public forum where the neighborhood people demand basic maintenance for public housing project, the bureacrats explain that the Housing Authority budget -- set from Washington -- allows for asbestos removal, or basic repairs, but not both. Washington DC is much too far away to smell overflowing toilets.
Those of you who have done more organizing that I have can tell me if I'm full of nonsense, or whether there's a need for a model that is more empowered and entrepreneurial than the traditional democratic model of "demanding your rights", yet more community-spirited than the traditional republican model of every man for himself and rewards to the deserving wealthy.
Search for family and identity
Obama's search for community in Chicago is linked to a personal search for family and identity, which culminates in the last third of the book.
Feeling out of place in high school, Obama gravitates toward the black kids and works to embrace an African-American culture that matches others' expectations of his appearance, but is different from his upringing and background.
Obama admits and honestly scrutinizes his own ambivalence about ethnic authenticity. At prep school, he teases a friend from LA about taking on a "bad-assed nigger pose" and the friend retorts "a pose? speak for yourself". In college Obama deliberately hangs out with the campus radical crowd to assert his racial credentials (his words); the present narrator acknowledges the shallowness of the college identity politics. In Chicago, the narrator confesses a fear that if he told his friends about his mixed-race, Hawaiian background they wouldn't like him -- but he tells him and they adopt him anyway.
While Obama relentlessly catalogs the ambiguities and subtleties of African-American identity, there are a few places where he doesn't acknowledge quite enough. When Obama started the organizing job, one of the initial challenges was the resentment of the three middle-aged women who'd been running the show, who were annoyed that the boss had brought in a young, good-looking, tall guy to take charge (in the grand tradition of non-profits, where diligent women do the work, and men take the title and the credit.) Obama has his own intelligence, discipline, charm and empathy to credit his success, but he doesn't fully acknowledge the benefits of the middle class outlook and male privilege that code him as "in charge" and "going places."
A trip to Kenya before law school is an opportunity for discovery and healing. Obama grew up with an idealized vision of his father, which both intimidated and inspired him. As he gets to know his African family, he finds out that his father's life was more complex and less perfect than the idealized image.
It turns out that Obama's father had a wife and children in Africa before coming to Hawaii. Barack Senior met yet a third woman at Harvard, who moved to Africa and raised several more children in the extended Obama family. Barack senior is smart and ambitious, and initially successful. But he runs afoul of the Kenyan dictatorship in his arrogance and naivete, loses his job and is blacklisted. Uneployed and broke, he turns to alcohol and delusions of grandeur, while his children raise themselves. He is rehabilitated later by a new regime, but the damage he has done to his family leaves ongoing bitterness after his death.
In Kenya, Barack Junior finds a family that is loving, close, and welcoming but beset with problems -- feuds, alcoholism, poverty. The affectionate welcome also seems like a down payment against future financial success. The climax of the trip to Kenya is a tale by his grandmother about his grandfather. Also an ambiguous figure, Hossein Onyango is a capable servant to white rulers and a prosperous farmer; he is also imperious and cruel to his wives and children.
The stories that Obama hears on his trip make things more complicated, not simpler. The stories provide context for the personality flaws, passions, that which are more meaningful, more admirable, and more forgivable, than a shallow but false idealized image.
From Many, One
Which is the theme of the book. Obama's ideals -- community organizing, close family -- turn out to be less simple and more ambiguous than expected. As an adult, Obama learns to turn those complexities into compassionate synthesis rather than scornful disillusion.
The synthesis what drove Obama's moving speech at the DNC last summer.
If there is a child on the South Side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child. If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for their prescription drugs and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandparent. If there's an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It is that fundamental belief -- that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper-- that makes this country work. It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.
E Pluribus Unum. From many one.
Apparently, Obama has signed a new book deal to cover his time as a state senator. I look forward to reading about the lessons he learned at in the legislative sausage factory. Hopefully his career will continue to combine astute success and genuine empathy; and in the unavoidable ambiguities of power, will stay on the right side of forgivable.