Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Non sequiturs: heavy-handed edition

The following are news quotes that I'd like to think are interconnected, as they all seem to have one unifying theme: they appear to me to articulate or reflect the underlying forces causing conflict and in this country and beyond. Or something like that, I don't know what I'm talking about, I guess you could say that about nearly every news item out there. I realize I'm no wise sage. But I did talk to one over lunch today that I have deemed my new mentor. He works as an attorney for a public interest law firm in the city here, and took time out mid-career to study Zen Buddhism in Japan for 10 years to "figure out the root causes of strife in society" or something to that extent.

Let's start with the CSM, an account of the violence in Tibet:

Called to settle the argument, the police beat and arrested the Tibetan, while letting the Hui man go. That prompted a mass protest by angry Tibetans, explained the monk, who asked to be identified as "Aron," not his real name, for his safety.

"We feel the government treats minority groups differently," he said. "It is not fair."

Asked why his fellow Tibetans were protesting now, Aron lowered his head, pondering the wisdom of a frank answer. The silence of the monastery, a warren of brightly painted temples straggling up a dusty hillside, was broken only by the cooing of pigeons and the musical tones of wind chimes fluttering from temple eaves.

He looked up, clearly resolved to speak from the heart. "Because we want freedom," he replied.

By that, he said, he meant both political independence for Tibet, which Chinese troops occupied in 1951, and religious freedom for Buddhist monks, who complain of restrictions by Chinese authorities.

"We want our culture to survive and to pass it on," said a fellow monk, who also asked not to be identified. "But we don't want to use violence; we want to solve this problem in a peaceful way."

And move to key remarks from Obama's speech this morning:

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

And finally, Michael S. Malone, writing about internet companies and nation-building for ABC News:

...the nature of companies has changed in the 21st century. Both eBay and Google are unlike any companies of 30 years ago, even global companies of that era such as General Motors and IBM.

For one thing, their reach is astounding — the two companies literally touch, over the course of a year (in Google's case, in a matter of days) more than a billion people around the world.

Moreover, these companies (and their peers, most notably the great social networking sites) actively enlist these multitudes of customers in the creation and management of the service itself. As such, they increasingly behave more like nations than companies, engaged in a social contract with their "citizens" and regularly dealing with matters that are akin to questions of sovereignty usually reserved for countries.

For example, what is eBay's PayPal but a kind of ersatz currency for the eBay nation? And when Google caved to China on censorship, it wasn't seen as just a business decision, but a violation of an unwritten Google Bill of Rights.

In this new corporate reality, business decisions can no longer be made simply for business reasons. Rather, the companies of this world must first understand who they really are, and then make decisions based as much upon cultural impact as the financial balance sheet...

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