Blogging from me will be light over the holidays. Any spare time I get over the next week will be devoted, weather allowing, to building my kids a swing set in the backyard. But before the eggnog haze descends upon us, a few choice links.
First, Mother Jones has an interview with Tony Kushner in which the “Angels in America” playwright states, with crystalline precision, the essential fact of the 2004 election. This should be etched into the consciousness of everyone who hopes that things in the U.S. can be put back on course:
| Anyone that the Democrats run against Bush, even the appalling Joe Lieberman, should be a candidate around whom every progressive person in the United States who cares about the country’s future and the future of the world rallies. Money should be thrown at that candidate. And if Ralph Nader runs — if the Green Party makes the terrible mistake of running a presidential candidate — don’t give him your vote. Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.
The GOP has developed a genius for falling into lockstep. They didn’t have it with Nixon, but they have it now. They line up behind their candidate, grit their teeth, and help him win, no matter who he is.
MJ: You’re saying progressives are undone by their own idealism?
TK: The system isn’t about ideals. The country doesn’t elect great leaders. It elects fucked-up people who for reasons of ego want to run the world. Then the citizenry makes them become great.
One light of hope this year is that the citizenry has important and still-underestimated tools at its disposal to egg its leaders on to greatness. If you’re keeping up with the blogosphere you may be sick to death by now of reading about the power of many-to-many decentralization, “social software” and the Dean campaign’s remarkable online successes. But what if you’re stuck inside the Beltway? Frank Rich’s Sunday column this week serves as a useful reminder that most of the Washington press corps remains utterly and pathetically clueless about what has already happened during this election cycle. Jay Rosen’s annotation of Rich’s column is well worth reading, too.
So we’re fortunate to live at a moment when the technologies many of us have enthusiastically embraced for two decades are showing signs of achieving social and political ends beyond simply bringing delight to geekdom or fueling the stock market. Cory Doctorow has good words here:
|The last twenty years were about technology. The next twenty years are about policy. It’s about realizing that all the really hard problems — free expression, copyright, due process, social networking — may have technical dimensions, but they aren’t technical problems. The next twenty years are about using our technology to affirm, deny and rewrite our social contracts: all the grandiose visions of e-democracy, universal access to human knowledge and (God help us all) the Semantic Web, are dependent on changes in the law, in the policy, in the sticky, non-quantifiable elements of the world. We can’t solve them with technology: the best we can hope for is to use technology to enable the human interaction that will solve them.|
(And Kevin Werbach points out that technology and policy are always intertwined.)
Finally, as many of us retreat from the daily grind to take year-end stock, I want to offer you this wonderful passage that Kevin Kelly cited earlier this month on his Cool Tools blog. It’s from a book titled “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, that I will have to add to my 2004 reading list.
|The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the quantity group: fifty pound of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on quality, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an A. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the quantity group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the quality group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.|
Which, I suppose, is an anecdotal version of the Nike slogan, “Just do it.” But I prefer the Samuel Johnson version: “Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome.”
Thanks to Salon’s subscribers for keeping us going through these thin years — and special thanks to all the Salon bloggers for keeping their “quantity” and “quality” fires stoked. Happy holidays to all.