Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Watching London burn

As someone who has never written in a book nor even turned down a page corner, who once expended much more energy than I had to save a crumbing old building in a slum full of abandoned buildings, you might imagine how I feel about vandalism.  I know there are folks out there who just love to watch destruction.  I am not one of them.  So there is a part of me that is just disgusted by the scenes from London.

Setting a building alight is the easiest, most unimaginative thing a person can do.  A kid playing with matches can do it by accident, for goodness sakes.  There are literally NO problems that can be meaningfully addressed by starting a building on fire and those who think there are represent the most reptilian among us.  You know, Predators.

But let's be clear about something here.  The church ladies (of both sexes) who are tut-tutting about those horrible folks who are causing the riots are damn near as annoying as the vandals themselves.  Talk about missing the point.  Poor young males with dead end lives may get some entertainment value out of watching a carpet store go up in flames, but what can be the excuse for the high-end vandals whose wanton destruction is literally setting the planet ablaze?  And if you can become morally offended by a carpet store setting the night alight, why are you not MORE offended when your government sets a village on fire on the other side of the world with a Predator drone.

And where were you church ladies when the mergers and acquisition boys destroyed the industrial USA midwest?  It was pure naked vandalism by folks who organized and profited from the destruction.  A town's main industry, built by folks who worked hard every day for several generations, destroyed so that a handful of crooks could become obscenely rich.  You watched THAT without uttering a peep but you can get your panties in a twist over a carpet store fire in London?

I HATE vandals but I know enough about the Predators to not waste my fury on the petty variety.  So unless the petty vandals of London go down to the City and set alight the buildings where the evil schemes for global vandalism are hatched, this really isn't much of a story.

In the meantime, I would like to celebrate the efforts of the anti-reptilians.  Iceland found itself in the hands of the banksters and it almost destroyed their country.  But rather than burn down anything, they decided they needed a better constitution for organizing their society.  The result is as hopeful as a burning London slum is depressing.  It is about the best outcome considering what has happened in Ireland and Greece, and now London.
Icelandic digital activist praises 'surprisingly good' online constitutional convention
In a DW interview, Smari McCarthy describes how net neutrality, government transparency, and freedom of information may soon be enshrined in Icelandic law.

At the end of last month, a council of 25 publicly-elected Icelandic citizens presented a draft constitution to Iceland's parliament. But what made this process unique is that the constitution was formed by online discussions. Icelanders were able to contribute and follow progress on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr. That marks the end of a process of constitutional reform that began in April of this year. The new constitution will be formally examined by a parliamentary committee in October 2011. 
To learn more about Iceland's new constitutional process, Deutsche Welle turned to Smari McCarthy, a digital activist from Rejkjavik. 
It seems that this is the first time when a major political document in any country has been decided through any country, on the Internet, no? 
I think it's probably the first time it's been done anywhere this way. Every couple of years, there's always a new constitution being done somewhere. Just last year, there was one in Kenya, and the year before, in Bolivia. But all of these have traditionally been decided by committee or some political group. The innovation here is really that the general public is being pulled into the process, and being very, very deeply involved in everything from the broad vision to the exact wording of individual articles. 
How does that work, then? Usually in these types of voting situations, there's a Digg-like ladder where people can vote items up or down. Is that how the Icelandic system worked? 
In this case, it wasn't. There was some talk of doing that kind of thing originally, but what it came down to was that anybody could put forward a proposal or some comment on what's been done, and then this committee which was working for the last four and a half months, they would split the comments and recommendations into categories and would do meetings within their own committee to decide them on their relative merits. In that way, it was fairly traditional as a representative, democratic process. At the same time, I've never seen this level of direct feedback with an elected body before. 
I think one of the dangers of using the Internet as a platform to discuss something as serious as a new constitution, as you know, is that often people on the Internet are silly, goofy, or nonsensical. I wonder if there was a worry that people being silly would hijack the process, and if that was a concern, did it pan out that way? 
To my knowledge, it wasn't a major concern. By and large, all of the discussion was very much to the point. It was incredibly civilized throughout the entire thing. The only time when it got a bit heated was during on the subject of separation of church and state. Iceland is one of the few European countries that still hasn't separated church and state. And Gallup polling says that about 70 percent of the population is in favor of church and state. But for some reason the constitutional council didn't feel right about going for full separation. They did move towards that in the end, but didn't go as far as some people had hoped. But apart from that, the entire discussion was very civilized and was surprisingly good in all regards. 
Are there any examples that have come out of this process that might not have otherwise happened had the constitution not been formulated and discussed online? 
There's a few different things. One, as someone who works a lot on Internet rights, I'm very happy that net neutrality has been included on the constitutional level. A paragraph within the article concerning free speech says that the government should protect the Internet as a communications mechanism, so that's pretty impressive. Another thing is that both source and whistleblower protection and journalist protection are in the constitution. There are items like that. There's also a strong freedom of information component, where all government documents must be publicly listed, so people will at least know which documents exist, even if they're not secret. 
There are also different mechanisms for public participation in the political process. One-third of parliament can push any issue into a public referendum, and there are ways for the public to put forward law proposals. The general public can propose a law, which then the parliament can look at. more


  1. As always, you and Tony continue to post extremely thoughtful commentaries and supporting links, and I do not thank you enough--so I thank you both--and much continued success in your ventures. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Mike

    I appreciate that you come here and make such fine comments. Hope we have been some help in providing a coherent worldview.

  3. Yes, getting 'a coherent worldview' is so challenged by our american media's and political failures, which is why you and Tony's service here is critical.

    Each day I have to shed layers of Made In America baggage, some days not so successfully, before I can attempt to reach that place with a coherent worldview...and even still I get so frustrated by our interlocking directorate of a political and financial circus that prevents solutions here. (So too I suppose has the rest of the world--thus the S&P downgrade.)

    But then it is so good to read your posting today about how the Germans are facing up to their situation, discussing it intelligently with the media, and acting upon the problems maturely; trying their best to find real solutions the real problems instead of passing them along to their children. Again, my thanks.

  4. I figure we are only 5% of the planet's population so it is necessary we look outwards to gain an understanding of the situation we are in. Besides, if anyone else has solved a problem, why go through the hassles of solving it yourselves. This is called "re-inventing the wheel" a practice that has a well-deserved reputation for being synonymous with wasting time and resources.