Saturday, July 01, 2006

Left, Right and What?

I just finished watching the 20/20 special on political polarization in the US and feel rather conflicted about it. On one hand, I understand the need for people with different political views to be able to talk to one another. On the other hand, this "meta" position isn't enough. I have strongly held political views myself, and most of them are quite liberal. I really think that we as a society would be better off with, for example, more social freedoms and a more equal distribution of wealth. People with views opposite mine are, for the most part, just as sincere. So where do we go from here?

The first thing that comes to mind is the inadequacy of the "left-right" political spectrum. The folks at the Political Compass have designed a two-dimensional system that rates a person as being more authoritarian or libertarian on separate social and economic scales. (I might add a "parochial-cosmopolitan" axis.) Science fiction writer and physicist David Brin has some great stuff on his blog about alternative models of politics and lots of provocative ideas about what modern societies need to prosper.

Unfortunately, the American political system enshrines the left-right dichotomy in its two major parties. The Democrats and Republicans present us with packages of issues that may be completely unrelated (what does gay marriage have to do with the war in Iraq?), but most of us feel we have to choose one or the other. In Europe and much of the rest of the democratized world, citizens have more choices in selecting a party that truly represents their views, but Americans appear to be stuck with two. I remember doing a short presentation on the Green Party in my high school government class. Greens are fairly left-wing on most issues, but my teacher pointed out that two of the party's Ten Key Values, decentralization and personal responsibility, are traditionally associated with conservatives, at least in the US. The Green Party is not centrist but it does take on elements of several philosophies.

While there are several reforms I could recommend, especially instant runoff voting (you rank several candidates in order of desirability) and the prevention of gerrymandering, I don't think it's enough in the long run. If voters are getting more polarized, why are there so few supporters of creative, potentially radical ideas in Congress? Why do so few Democrats campaign for universal health care or the Department of Peace? I don't know, but merely responding to the issues of the day is not going to get us through this century. This is where sites like come in.

WorldChanging is a repository of ideas, inventions, tools and projects for a better world. Reading it, you become excited about Brazil and India. You learn about green buildings, serious games and dialogue. WorldChanging's strength and weakness is that it's non-political, but there are websites with a similar spirit that include politics. Check out the Radical Middle and the Global Ideas Bank -- and start working for something new. In the end, we won't meet in the middle, but we may reach higher ground together.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Random 10

Sorry for not posting much this week. I've been crazy busy but hope to make up for it next week and possibly this weekend. There's good stuff in the pipeline!

And now, without further ado, the random ten:
  • Echo's Children, "How Far Back Does Music Go?". A neat a capella song from an unfortunately disbanded duo.
  • John Denver, "Rhymes and Reasons". One of my all-time favorites.
  • Alan Jackson, "Midnight in Montgomery". Talk about atmosphere!
  • ARKA, "Tear Down the Walls". A Chilean rock group sings about "tearing down the walls" that divide us. Bury your chains! (In English.)
  • Bruce Cockburn, "When the Sun Falls"
  • Vince Gill, "Worlds Apart". Sweet, sad and wise.
  • Larry Warner, "The Archivist". A filk song of a wasted life.
  • Kathy Mar, "The Word of God". Evolution vs. creationism. "Humans wrote the Bible; God wrote the rocks!"
  • Animaniacs, "Several Drops of Water". Remember Animaniacs? A cartoon take on the water cycle.
  • Collin Raye, "Sweet Miss Behavin'". Fun!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Stars to Brains

Just a quickie tonight. There's a post on illuminating science about a "Stars to Brains" conference held in honor of physicist Paul Davies. If you have a moment, check it out.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Brilliant, Just Brilliant!

A poem about spam!
"In my in-box, every morning,
Greetings from a slew of spammers,
Each, to fool the filters, using
In the header and the body,
Random lines from 'Hiawatha'"...

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Zooming in on Salmon

There's a cool post on WorldChanging about salmon restoration in the Pacific Northwest. From a global perspective, salmon are just a pixel. But look closer:
Zoom in once, and you learn that the forests ringing the north Pacific glean nitrogen from marine sources — ocean-borne nutrients that the salmon brought upstream in their bodies, and then left behind when they died. Their lives nurture 137 species of wild animals, plus a 138th that scientists habitually overlook: Homo sapiens.

Look closer at the health of the salmon populations, and you can see how a host of human impacts, from hydro dams to ill-conceived hatcheries, from irrigation projects to poor stream crossings, have conspired to reduce their populations. Keep zooming in, to the solutions that people are beginning to try, and it comes down to something as prosaic as installing a better culvert or replacing flood irrigation with sprinklers.