Running out of Sugar in a Beet Field

I have a default action when I run into the absurdity of grand potential limited by unimaginative capital. I haul out my tattered copy of Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All and re-read the best single paragraph ever written on economics:

During periods of so-called economic depression, societies suffer for want of all manner of essential goods, yet investigation almost invariably discloses that there are plenty of goods available. Plenty of coal in the ground, corn in the fields, wool on the sheep. What is missing is not materials but an abstract unit of measurement called ‘money.’ It is akin to a starving woman with a sweet tooth lamenting that she can’t bake a cake because she doesn’t have any ounces. She has butter, flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, she just doesn’t have any ounces, any pinches, any pints.(Skinny Legs and All, 1990)

Crossword contribution

palindrone |ˈpalinˌdrōn|
noun

  1. a sequence of words that sound like communication when spoken but are equally meaningless when read backwords or forwards, e.g., in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings.
  2. a person who speaks in palindrones, often a person who does no useful work and lives off others.

ORIGIN early 21st cent.: from Greek palinagain+ Old English drān, drÇ£n [male bee,] from a West Germanic verb meaning resound, boom‘ ; related to Dutch dreunen to drone.

Gridless

I’m off the grid on Cape Cod, not responding to task requests, but still pleased to tell the world what I want from it. That’s always seemed to me an arrogant attitude but, in truth, most people like to know what you want from them: it saves a lot of time and confusion. After all, in a Web 2.0 organization like ours, it’s not like they can’t Just Say No…

I’ve been absent from this blog for 2-1/2 months, a gap that once seemed inconceivable to this narcissistic raconteur. In that time though, our team has created 5 potential blogs for me, at the following sites:

  1. iYear.US
  2. NewGov.US
  3. NewPrez.US
  4. .govAdvisers.US
  5. PeoplePressure.US

They created 5 potential blogs there for you too, since every member at those sites gets their own blogs, which include some nifty blog features that we’ve not seen elsewhere. (“nifty”= old fart for very cool)
It started when we rolled out the Independence Year Project (iYear.US) on June 23, as a major sponsor at the Personal Democracy Forum. Independence Year is the year between the last and next Independence Days, which we kicked off at a fireworks celebration at the East 43rd St. HQ on July 4th. As usual, the display was spectacular, being so close to the Macy’s fireworks barges.

[It’s always troubled me that a nation formed to support its citizens’ pursuit of happiness celebrates its birth by mimicking combat explosions. Having experienced both sides of combat firepower, I know there’s little happiness in the pursuits of a shooter or a shootee.]

The featured guests on July 4th were our partners at Zaah Technologies, Maurice Freedman and Sandy Fliderman and their friends and family. The Independence Year platform and its stunning possibilities are a celebration of the mechanisms provided by Zaah through our partnership to build a new way to transform American governance.

I hope to add to this each day from South Yarmouth, Cape Cod. If so, I’ll try to describe the many ways that the iYear platform routes around politics to implement citizen-managed governance, at every place that such a disturbance might be beneficial.

What if we formed a Party and Everyone came?

“Everyone” would be the ones Clay Shirky describes in his great book, Here Comes Everybody. We’ve already formed it, and sure enough, everybody’s coming. The next political party has already been formed, doing everything that a political party does, but with none of the overhead. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

A political party is a political organization that seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns. Parties often espouse a specific ideology and vision, but may also represent a coalition among disparate interests.

I know I belong to a pervasive Neo-Conversative party, whose members are conversing about government in a new way. I have lots of friends all over the spectrum and their appeal for me is how well we can discuss 1. how things are, 2. how they might be and 3. what we might do, specifically, to improve things. Without all three qualities, there’s no engagement for me, and I bet that’s true for you too.

The millions of supporting anecdotes aren’t enough to alarm broadcast politics’ flat-earthers, cable news and their politicians, but it’s just as obvious as a round globe was to observant coastal dwellers, watching the earth’s curve hide the hull first and the sails later.

Toilets overflowing, People going crazy, and no one’s listening!

We’re trapped in this broken airplane called America, stuck on the unforgiving tarmac of oily geopolitics. Shirky’s best anecdote is a kind of parable. A couple of hundred million of us can be as cohesive as a couple hundred passengers trapped for hours in a fetid airplane. That’s the force that Clay describes as being impossible in 1999 and inevitable in 2006.

Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry made that case last March At Politico.com, citing Clay Shirky’s point that use of the Internet group-forming was the sole differentiator in cases where people were equally outraged but unequally armed for success:

Two remarkably similar events, with two incredibly disparate outcomes. In Detroit [1999], the passengers’ fury led to a lawsuit but nothing larger. In Austin [2006], it led to the creation of a powerful organization that went national within days. As Shirky writes: “Why did one infuriating delay lead nowhere, while the other led to a real increase in pressure on the airlines?”

His answer: The key change was that Hanni had in her hands the tools to encourage and sustain participation. She had the desire to do something, and in 2007 she was able to communicate that desire in a way that created a public movement, using tools that have become commonplace…

…The adage that organized minorities are more powerful than disorganized majorities is now more true than ever. However, as these organized minorities multiply and grow, they are challenging the very nature of what power is and how it will be maintained in our society.

Already, we can see how presidential campaigns that embraced this new phenomenon — such as those of Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul — have been able to proceed much farther down the path to party nominations than they might otherwise have. Self-organizing groups, and networks that tie these groups into powerful coalitions, are the new players. To alter Time magazine’s formulation, the Person of the Year isn’t “you,” it’s “us.”

At Andrew and Micah’s PDF conference on 6/23, the Independence Year Foundation will announce iYear, which runs from 7/4/08 to 7/4/09. iYear is not a catalyst to what will happen over that period, but a lever arm, perhaps bionic, to help the citizen’s reach exceed politicians’ grasp.
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*Andrew and Micah are the dynamic duo who seem to be everywhere that matters in the technopolitical space:

They have doublehandedly steered the conversation about politics toward results, in the direction we’re now seeing.

Recreational Arrogance

Americans forgive the incidental arrogance that success often breeds, like end zone celebrations and players’ “we’re #1” finger waving.

But there’s an almost recreational, willful form of arrogance that I think Diane Francis has a radar for. Lately, it’s been beeping whenever Bill Clinton swings into action.

Diane Francis is an American who’s become one of the most honored voices in Canada. She’s also a dear friend and respected adviser to our Independence Year project. Here’s her ORGware About page.

I’ve been following Diane’s new series at the Huffington Post. Here’s her radar at work, in point #2 from Hillary’s Hidden Agenda:

This is really all about Bill, not Hillary.

He wants his backdoor entry to the White House. He is a pathological competitor who is more motivated the more others pass him by, from Al Gore to Bill Richardson and certainly Barack Obama. Besides that, Hillary knows that idle hands are the devil’s tools and once she is out, Bill’s wandering eye will turn elsewhere.

The Clintons are betting their farm that Obama will make a mistake or that her persistence will somehow force him to choose her and Bill as his running mates — a move that former Clinton advisor Dick Morris said would lead to upstaging and backstabbing in the White House.

As some sage pointed out, no one wants Bill Clinton hanging around the East Wing with too much time on his hands. The other problem is that the Republicans, like the Secret Service, know about the girl friends in various ports. I don’t know this myself, but I’ve heard enough to be convinced. Spots. Leopard. Think. Some say it’s a story that will make the failed TrooperGate scandal look like a mistletoe kiss on New Year’s eve.

Alpha male philandering is the oldest form of recreational arrogance. A newer instance is Hillary telling Katy Couric half a year ago that “it will be me” (2:22 in to this video). Celebrities lose most Americans when their incidental arrogance crosses the bright line of willfulness.

Diane’s writing some great stuff from her Huffington command post. But you’d expect that from the woman who wrote:

I’m an American who lived in Canada for 30 years. I never meant to stay so long, but I got busy as a journalist and wrote nine books.

I’m happy to be home, except for the politics. Too much yelling. Too much anger. Too many labels. Too many bloated open-line radio hosts and close-minded columnists and bloggers. Too many obscene campaign contributions.
Too little brainstorming. America has become Nation Republican vs. Nation Democrat. It sounds like the Superbowl, but America is not the Superbowl.

This is a society with a lot on its mind and isn’t being heard. We are not Democrats or Republicans. We are not undecideds or independents or cranks or lazy. We are shoppers who want to spend our precious votes on smart, effective policies and politicians with character.

“Oh, if only government went in for an open source make-over…”

That’s what Yule Heibel wrote in a comment over at Doc Searls‘ “Understanding Infrastructure” column on 4/19 at Linux Journal. Yule’s plaint followed the kind of laundry list everyone has, and which most have given up on:

Here in Victoria, we’re looking at a $1.2 billion infrastructure project for sewage treatment, and the 2 levels of government (local and provincial) are feuding because both say that the other side didn’t tell them about information that was wanted. Walled garden? It’s a bloody fortification…

Then there are those infrastructures that are supposed to support social programs, including mental hospitals and detox facilities — they’re not working, either, and our homeless now include not only poor people, but people who should be in some pipeline of institutional support because they’re mentally ill or addicted (or both, typically).

It all gets off- or downloaded to citizens now, as if we could individually step into the breach, without infrastructural support.

Maybe government is where we need open source most of all — as a way of thinking and as a way of “architecting” infrastructure.

My three readers (fortunately including Doc) know that this Open Source Society theme has been my meme for time out of mind, and that I call it OSS2, differentiating it from Open Source Software, or OSS1.

Another of my readers is Phil Windley, a “republican friend” whom Doc refers to in his reply to Yule’s despairing comment:

Thanks, Yule. You’ve made my week. Or perhaps longer.

I am taken lately with the belief that understanding infrastructure is critical not only for building and maintaining civilization’s essentials, but for bridging chasms of opinion that make constructive discourse impossible.

A few years ago a republican friend from Utah said two things that have stuck in my mind. One was “There are two parts to democracy. Elections and governance. And governance is where the work actually gets done.” The other was, “Most people, regardless of political philosophy, just want the roads fixed.”

At Berkman, over two years ago, I wrote:

What about an Open Source Society? Only the first exists, but we can imagine two OSS movements:

OSS1 = Open Source Software (a result, but also a movement)

OSS2 = Open Source Society (a dream that needs movement)

And they both need organizational tools. OSS1 has a perfect match of organizational needs and organizational tools because the developers wrote them as they became a movement. SourceForge and Trac are great examples. OSS1 wouldn’t exist without the community’s organizational tools. But there’s more. OSS1 Developers use dozens of disparate tools and websites to organize their work…

…But the developers of OSS2, whose work we desperately need, to escape from the political specialists who’ve hijacked governance, don’t behave like that. The OSS2 developers we seek to serve are ready and able to form groups and describe their pain and hopes. But, just like OSS1 developers, they need an organizing environment suitable to their skills: a collaboration mall with all the tools they might need as they become more engaged.

I called it a collaboration mall because the Open Source Society engineers are regular people, who won’t even blog, unless tricked into it, and need a UI as user-friendly as the malls that have worked so well, regardless of sophisticates’ sniffing at them as proletarian.

OSS2 engineers are people who don’t know they need to collaborate to re-engineer society, and sure won’t if you tell us that’s what you want from us.

But if some of us are persistent enough to build hundreds of expandable little collaboration malls, located where they (we) will try them and engage our neighbors and find it easy to shop for hope there, then we’ll become the unwitting designers and producers of little patches on our governmental structures. Taken together, all those patches can comprise a Patchy government OS, as resilient and resourceful as Geronimo.