Every Move I Make

I step onto a metro or tram in Amsterdam and I swipe my transport card. This card has my photo and an RFID chip with personal information about who I am and where I live.  I swipe the card again upon exit, as per the rules, which goes onto a database that contains information about the duration of my ride, the cost, and locations.

I go buy bread at my favorite local bakery and the sign next to the cash register reads “debit only”, so i swipe my bank card.  The organic supermarket has the same policy, again, after I get the groceries I need, the card gets swiped. Again, somewhere a record is kept about what store I went to and how much I spent.

As a dedicated podcasting journalist, I am also considered a one-person business in the eyes of the government, a freelancer. Like people  all over the world, when I get paid there is a record of it. When I file taxes, they want to see my bank account, how much went in, how much went out, from where, to where.  Despite the fact that in my line of work these numbers are all very tiny, the tax authorities still shower me with paperwork, regulations, and warnings, every year.

There’s nothing revolutionary or really underhanded about the reality Im describing to you… this is regular life in much of the developed world. This system exists for a reason (or reasons) and to my knowledge there is no real alternative other than behavior that would require me to frantically hide from authorities.

That old cliché comes to mind whenever I step back and look at how this all works “If you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear.” This is part of the logic that has helped usher in the era of intrusive but convenient automation and monitoring.  Even writing these words means I risk being seen as a cynic or wasting my time trying to critique a cultural shift that will not be reversed.

But to be perfectly honest, no matter how many cards I swipe, no matter how many records and receipts I hand over the the authorities, and no matter how little I have to hide, the poking and the prodding never ceases.  It is all supposed to be here to serve the public and help create a stable civic life, but often the system seems to be more focused on beating us down more than building us up.

 

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ctrp372 Dissecting Dictators

2011 is the year where many observers and so called experts around the world scramble to understand how it is that so many dictatorships suddenly arrived at a crisis. As people take to the streets and battles take place in city squares throughout the middle east, we discover that in fact many of the dictators of these regions have not been well studied or understood.

Natasha Ezrow, Director of the International Development Studies Program at the University of Essex and author of Dictators & Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders, has written about the important differences between dictators which we now see being played out by how they handle calls for reform.  She also lays out criteria for why types of leaders might flee a country before anyone is harmed, while others would stay til their last breath.

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Crazy New Jersey Beaches

Having been born and raised in New Jersey, I often take time to read through the Asbury Park Press feed, to have a look at what is goiong on in my homestate in the US. And if you’re reading the Asbury Park Press, you’ll surely run into stories about the beaches of New Jersey, the subject of many a pop-culture reference, the “Jersey Shore”.

Among the things that fascinates me about the Jersey Shore in relation to the rest of the world, the issue of paying to use beaches – why should we and why shouldn’t we?

In some countries highways do not have tolls, they are paid for solely by your tax money, and that is how it is. In many more countries, beaches are smiliar… kept clean and surpervised with the help of your tax dollars. Just as the street lights outside, the garbage collectors, the street sweepers, it is all publicly funded and accessible.

Asbury ParkYet the Jersey shore, being both a very free market American phenomenon, and also having strong roots in very extremist christian religious values (many beaches were founded by religious communities who wanted to create perfect little oasis communities following their interpretation of a book or a god), you either get communities that value free beaches and all the benefits they provide. Or you get those who believe strongly in the tradition of paying for using the beach, seeing beaches as an extra cost, a special circumstance, not to be compared with roads or garbage collection or other municipal services. They also see beach fee’s as a way to raise money for cities and towns that are only able to make real profits a few months out of the year.

And so it goes that as you drive (and of course you have to drive in that culture) the Jersey coast, you will encounter all of this. Besides the free beaches, the cheap pay beaches and slightly more costly beaches. On all sides there are town leaders and citizens both complaining and praising.

Stepping back from that region of the world, you consider the other beaches of the US and the world. I’ve seen a decent number of places, well off and poor, and in either case you rarely hear talk of a beach as being somehow seperate from other public resources. Sure there could be private beaches belonging to hotels or clubs, I’ve seen some examples of that. But otherwise it is a very interesting and perhaps concerning tradition in that part of the US – where people are raised to see a beach not as a public place, but as something more private or simply an extra that one must pay for. While politicians and citizens look at access to the beach as something they can control and profit directly from.

And that is just one piece of the tattered and beloved Jersey shore puzzle. I think I’ll go give it a visit next week. My flight leaves in a few hours.

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A Minnesota Confrontation

I’m a longtime subscriber to Minnesota Stories, one of those special video blogs out there that puts out regular and diverse content. Often I don’t have much to say about it, as it can be artistic, funny, or just food for thought.

But today I had to mention and recommend recent post featuring a confrontation with US Senator Norm Coleman, in front of his house. This particular video is an interesting look into a few minutes of the kind of confrontation that you don’t often get to experience: a group of people standing in front of a government official’s house debating issues with him and expressing their disapproval for his actions.

Among the other interesting aspects, is to see in that brief and tense moment, how people phrase their arguements; what words they choose to express themselves to the senator. At the same time, it seems as though his security stands back allowing people to stand directly in front of Norm and say what they want to say.

His reactions and statements are nothing special, the products of a trained and seasoned political figure. But that people are determined enough to go to his house, and that he is open enough to come outside and try to have a dialogue with them… it is an interesting example of a civic confrontation and debate, and how that can be amplified via a videoblog.

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