I’m the King of Jubilee Jumbles

artist Nayland Blake natters on about art and other things

Posts Tagged ‘politics

Angry? Blame Hiram Johnson…

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“In 1911, Johnson and the Progressives added initiative, referendum, and recall to the state government, giving California a degree of direct democracy unmatched by any other U.S. state.”

It seems clear that Johnson believed that direct democracy could counter the machinations of entrenched special interests (in his day, mostly industrial trusts). What he could not have foreseen was the rise of a professional ballot initiative industry, one that succeeds fiscally whether or not it succeeds at the polls and thus has a vested interest in introducing ballot measures every election cycle. Thus, the California constitution is now hostage to the whims of single issue fundraisers and out of state interests, a group that now functions as an unelected shadow legislature.

I don’t blame the “fundies” for making valid use of a system to further their interests, however much I disagree with those interests. It also seems that the California State Supreme Court shares my dislike of the initiative process as a vehicle for deciding matters of basic human rights, but as was stated in their opinion: “our task in the present proceeding is not to determine whether the provision at issue is wise or sound as a matter of policy or whether we, as individuals, believe it should be a part of the California Constitution. Our role is limited to interpreting and applying the principles and rules embodied in the California Constitution, setting aside our own personal beliefs and values.” The constitution as it currently exists allows for such actions, and it is at the constitutional level that the problem needs to be tackled.

I’ve written about my own feelings regarding the question of gay marriage before. I still don’t believe in it personally, but of course believe that if a right is extended to some citizens of a nation it should be extended to all. The lesson of Hiram Johnson is that even the acts of self termed progressives can produce results far beyond their intention.

The real task in front of Californians is to find some way to balance Johnson’s ideals of direct democracy with some mechanism to prevent the continuing cynical abuse of of the initiative system.

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Written by naylandblake

May 26, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Watching the inauguration…

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I felt sorry for Elizabeth Alexander, the poet selected to follow the President. Talk about a tough act to follow. And how intense has Dianne Feinstein’s life been? Seeing her make the introductions, looking remarkably similar to when she announced the Moscone/Milk shootings (I mean hairdo and all, not in bearing) made me think that you truly cannot predict the arc of a life or the consequences of an act.

I’m back on the job after three days away (back to everything really – I’ve been without lj, wordpress, email and cellphone), most of them spent being sick, just at the point that I was congratulating myself on not getting sick like everyone around me. The hubris stick, it hurts.

Written by naylandblake

January 20, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Watching the speech at work…

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I felt sorry for Elizabeth Alexander, the poet selected to follow the President. Talk about a tough act to follow. And how intense has Dianne Feinstein’s life been? Seeing her make the introductions, looking remarkably similar to when she announced the Moscone/Milk shootings (I mean hairdo and all, not in bearing or emotional state) made me think that you truly cannot predict the arc of a life or the consequences of an act.

I’m back on the job after three days away (back to everything really – I’ve been without lj, wordpress, email and cellphone), most of them spent being sick, just at the point that I was congratulating myself on not getting sick like everyone around me. The hubris stick, it hurts.

Written by naylandblake

January 20, 2009 at 4:33 pm

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In which we pause to reflect…

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Those who know me either through this journal or elsewhere, know that I am tidy only episodically. Usually I would spend some time bemoaning this. I won’t. But I have been going through a slovenly patch. Today, I’m making an effort to shift that.

Recycling goes out on Thursday night for Friday collection. Last night I managed to take out two boxes of corrugated board which had the effect of clearing a space in front of my kitchen window. I’d been living with it blocked for so long (months let’s say) That I was taken aback to see the light spilling in. There are quite a few other piles like that around my house.

I’ve been reading Alan Bennett’s Writing Home, which in it’s way is cheering for the project of this journal. A reminder: it’s enough to record impressions; do that enough and you end up expression opinions. Bennett’s diaries contain many notes about life under Thatcher, and in reading them I get an interesting angle on what life is like under Bush: a daily flow of sanctimonious thuggery. Bush certainly hasn’t led with Thatcher’s iron noblesse (we’re more easily awed by the folksy style here anyway), but he has presided over the most aggressive attempt to undermine the constitution in the past century. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t griped about it enough. I hope I’m more on the watch for the coming administration.

A friend asked me at lunch the other day how I was, and in response I launched into a long description of a dream I had just had. It was a funny response, but one that was attempting to express the way in which I feel at a turning point. I don’t quite understand the dream but the clarity of the remembrance seemed important to me somehow. This has been a very big year for me, full of good news on the career front, as well greater personal prosperity than I have enjoyed in many years. Normally I would find a way to fritter that all away, but I feel that somehow now I have the tools to tackle the future differently.

Written by naylandblake

December 26, 2008 at 2:29 pm

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News trickle and more…

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This could get a little long. Scroll if you wish, but I don’t feel like using a cut.

We are now in the thick of the election season. The next sixty-two days are going to be a minute by minute barrage of what is called news. I am going to do my best to avoid it.

Why? Because most of what is being called news isn’t, to my way of thinking. When I want news, I want to know what events have occurred in the world. A plane crash is an event. The selection of a vice presidential candidate is an event. How a paid professional perceives that event is not an event. How they imagine other people perceive the event is certainly not an event. What fills the “news slots” on television and radio is more and more the endless echoing back and forth of speculation and guesswork, batting wrapped over the slender skeleton of a few occurrences of import.

For this reason I have not watched the conventions. When I want to know what the various players said, I read the speeches. I do not care if the person looked mean or trashy or if the camera showed too many pictures of the person’s family. Originally, before the prevalence of ubiquitous telecommunications it made great sense for the parties to delegate certain people to gather and work out the party’s business, and I image that it was probably quite thrilling to be present at those meetings, leaving one energized at the prospect of working for the success of one’s candidate. But clearly the conventions at this point are week long infomercials for the parties and candidates. No real business is done there other than the business of spectacle, and name calling.

So how do I find out about “what’s happening in the world”? How do I inform myself? Here’s what my news regime looks like:

Daily

    Live Journal, including various RSS feeds
    The New York Times (online) minus editorial pages

Several Times A Week

    The New York Sun (print edition minus editorial pages)
    The Daily Show
    NPR Morning Edition

Weekly

    The New Yorker
    The Onion
    New York Newsday (print edition)

Semiweekly or Monthly

    The New York Review of Books
    The Wall Street Journal (print edition, minus editorial)

Several Times a Year

    The Financial Times
    Harpers
    The Village Voice (less and less)
    The Nation
    Reason Magazine (online)
    Utne Reader

(When I look at this list I’d say that one of the biggest problems is that it is short on local news. For example, I haven’t been keeping any sort of track of what my city council representative is doing since his controversial election last year. And truth be told, his actions have a fair impact on my daily life.)

It’s a trickle of news, rather than the kind of immersion that I used to indulge in.

All of this is leading up to my current thoughts on the election, and some of the reactions that I’ve seen to this election cycle on my friends list recently.

First let me say I’m a registered Independent, so I didn’t vote in New York’s primary. The major party candidates that I was most interested in didn’t make it out of the primary process. My voting tends toward third, fourth, fifth, party candidates, when I find that I am in agreement with their positions. I don’t know if I’m going to go that way this cycle. If I had to name my politics, it would be tribal: I believe that at the core humans are tribal animals, and that the there is probably a maximum number of people anyone of us can think meaningfully about during the course of our lives. I think that on the whole, the invention of the nation-state in the late Eighteenth/early Nineteenth Century has been a mistake, one that can be said to be at the root of many of the current conflicts at large in our world. Unfortunately, we live in a world of nation-states at this point, as well as transnational entities like corporations and religions all of whom wield technologies that allow them to have great and often devastating impact on the lives of people they will never lay eyes on much less meet. I think that the dismantling of those entities is a worthwhile enterprise. That being said, I do feel that the US Constitution is a document remarkable for its attempts to imagine a Nation that balances the power of the collective with the power and liberty of the self. I would not be able to think these thoughts or express them in the way I do were I not raised in this culture.

Perhaps you could say my beliefs start out communist at the local level and end up more and more libertarian as the number of people involved scales up. I think that collective decision making and planning works , but that centralized planning usually leads to the kinds of horrors that we have seen in China and the Soviet Union. On the other hand I do believe that roads are a nice thing, and that governments do well to build and maintain them. I’m happy to give my money to an entity charged with doing so rather than hoping that some private corporation finds it profitable. The market does not fix all woes.

So, onto now. The thing that upsets me most about the current candidates is that none of them has spoken seriously about the thing that I consider to be the most egregious policy of the Bush/Cheney administration: the aggressive consolidation of governmental power in the hands of the executive branch. From the day they took office, they have worked to bypass the legislative and judicial branches casting the President as a sort of CEO. They have governed via executive orders, and pursued legal decisions that reinforce their ability to act in an unchecked and unsupervised manner, blocking public scrutiny in the name of security. The measure of their success in recasting the role of the president is seen in how much of the current election debate is revolving around the relative “executive experience” of Obama and Palin. This is the wrong question. I don’t want a President whose first impulse is to act unilaterally. Bush’s experience was entirely executive in that sense and he has made a gigantic mess of every entity he was the executive of. Don’t mistake single minded decision making for leadership. I have yet to see or hear Obama, Biden, McCain or Palin say any thing about this redristibution of power, or that they would be willing to right the upset balances of the constitution. Had they done so they would have my whole hearted support.

Another way to say this is that I have two beefs with the current administration: the things they have chosen to do, and the way they have chosen to do them. I’ve seen much debate on the first, none on the second. And I guess I feel that the second is ultimately more important but often harder to talk about.

Given that lack, I find myself coming to the place of asking which of these candidates will use their now enhanced power do the least harm to me and mine? From what I’ve been able to glean, of the major party candidates that would be Obama. Certainly McCain has been consorting with people who actively seek to thwart me, and has professed a willingness to pursue a war in Iraq that I remain convinced was wrong and begun under false pretenses, and to do so with no clearly articulated goal.

One final gripe. I see many people on the news and on my list, both right and left leaning, using the rhetorical formulation “if x was y then z wouldn’t treat them in the same way” i.e. “If Palin was a liberal the feminists wouldn’t attack her the way they have” or “If Obama’s 17 year old daughter were pregnant the fundies would be screaming bloody murder” and so on. To me this is lazy argument, based on scenarios that haven’t happened, and are usually aimed at inflating the speakers own sense of self worth, because they have successfully unmasked the supposed hypocrisy of their targets. But the unmasking of that hypocrisy is staged again and again: the media has a liberal bias! Religious people denounce sin and yet commit sin! People who are profess tolerance don’t always extend that tolerance to people they dislike! What has one really done once one has declared this? Speculated and issued an opinion without seeming to do so. Struck at a straw man. It seems disingenuous to me. And that’s why I try to avoid it.

(and one final aside: I have the very bad habit of posting in haste and editing at leisure, so this post will probably expand and be corrected as time goes on. I’ve already tweaked it some and more is probably on the way)

Written by naylandblake

September 4, 2008 at 10:31 am

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