Older and As Critical As Ever

by bicyclemark 8 Comments

Today I am 28 years old. Before I get into the topic on my mind, big thanks to all those who took the time on facebook or here or in email.. to wish me well. Made me feel very special, I appreciate that. But nevermind me and age.

In discussions, both online and off, people often want to place one another in a little box – to summarize the person’s beliefs in one or two words. You’ve heard them all, they sometimes appear in blog comments “you leftists…. you neoconservatives… you christians.. you scientologists.. you commies” etc. These types of labels are an effort not to see someone as complex as they probably are or to simply write off whatever they have to say due to some predetermined belief system. Obviously I seek to advocate the idea that people are more complex, even if the tagline at the top of this blog uses some adjectives, I am both some of that and none of that.

This comes to mind as I listen to more and more analyses of the referendum in Venezuela a few weeks ago. For those not keeping score, president Chavez and his supporters in government put forward a proposal that would give him some greater powers and supposedly allow him to stay president long past the normal term limit. The proposal included several other measures, which the president has called necessary in order to carry out a socialist revolution. Actually I don’t even know if that is completely true as all I read lately are analyses and I’ve never seen with my own eyes, these documents.. but Ill accept that this is what they are essentially about as I have listened to a few Chavez speeches on the topic. The proposal was put to referendum, where citizens could vote if they were for or against it.

The verdict was NO. Citizens voted down this measure, and various media and leaders throughout the world have pointed to this as a great defeat or Chavez (who many of them hate with a passion) or as a victory for democracy in Venezuela.

Much like one of the correspondents on a recent edition of Uprising (the podcast), despite my frequent admiration or support of Chavez’s words and actions, in this case I’m with all those people who were against the measure. I’m a firm believer, with plenty of history in every part of the world to support the idea, that power corrupts. And while I do believe its necessary to stand up to bullies, whether they are in Moscow or in Washington DC (where Im headed in the morning), I also believe that no human should be given divine and unlimited powers. This proposal sounded like too much power and an invitation for corruption and injustice on a mass scale.

I listened attentively to Chavez’s reaction following the vote. I wondered if he would call the No voters terrorists, using that now cliché strategy. But he didn’t. He sucked it up and conceded defeat. Which is encouraging to me. He is certainly no Gandhi, and this may not be the last troubling measure he puts forward, but I’m glad to see he can admit when he has lost something, and I hope that everyone understands that whether you’re considered a “leftist” or a “conservative”, ideas and values are not that simple and cannot be summarized so easily.

A cycle? Or an explosion?

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

I often listen to my own podcast. Might sound strange, but one of my rituals, besides losing most of my nights sleep preparing a podcast, is to listen to it the next day as I ride my bike through town. I listen to try and hear what others might hear; an idea or an experience that teaches me something, gives me a new idea or leads to deeper questions.

Lately I’ve noticed a common thread; through all the podcasts about work, income, quality of life, and history. That common thread is the question of whether or not things are happening as part of a cycle or have we reached some kind of major confrontation.

I’m referring to the strikes but I’m also referring to the inequality in the world. I’ve read the reports, looked at the statistics, and listened to individuals tell their stories and their evaluations about this moment in history. The strikes around the world, pitting people struggling to make a living against companies or governments who also struggle to do what they think is necessary for the future. Pension cuts, job cuts, contract negotiations collapsing, governments against workers, corporations against workers, public opinion against strikers, the conflicts and alliances go on and on.

Of course I’m too young to make some bold statement that this is some unique moment in history. Whenever I ask more experienced people they give me a mix of reactions, that these things happen in cycles and this is just the return of old stuggles as old as time itself.

In a recent interview for a forthcoming podcast, I asked a very excellent journalist who covers labor, if he thinks we’ve reached some climax in the struggle to make ends-meat. He didn’t see it as a climax, yet he did talk about what a huge boom of interest there is for his work now more than ever before. More and more individuals want to know about their rights as working people, and have a clear idea of their wages and benefits and they’re using the internet to find out about these issues.

Still I’m left wondering… is this truly a unique moment in history? Is this more of the same or the return of some age-old cycle?

One Year Ago Somalia

by bicyclemark 3 Comments

Greetings from Amsterdam, where winter has set in nicely.

While I have a tremendous amount of love for independent podcasters out there, I still look to many alternative and even get what I get from mainstream media podcasts as part of the quest to piece together what is really happening in our world.  One of my favorites for this purpose is the Guardian’s daily podcast. The program is actually an excellent example of how newspapers and magazines could create an original podcast that makes use of, and even promotes, the material in their newspaper.  I get an excellent overview of the Guardian each day when I tune into this podcast.

Recently, in their Friday edition, they had a guest on who’s been writing about the one year anniversary of the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia. Of course, always one of those regions of the world that is under-reported and in fact, quite difficult to get reports from, Ethiopia invaded after so-called Islamists took over Mogadishu and intended to form some kind of fundamentalist state in Somalia.  At least that’s what the few reports making the rounds taught us last year.

The reporter spoke about how when Ethiopia invaded to prevent that government from exercizing power , they were successful in that mission. However, in a familiar turn of events, after being there one year they are finding themselves the targets of frequent attacks and in desperate need of help.

It brings me back to what has become a classic question. To do or not to do, and if to do… then how? If your neighboring country is being taken over by an extremist group, do you try to stop them? Do you use a military to do so? My initial answer, and even more after seeing what happens, is NO.  Yet, I don’t believe in isolation. I don’t believe you ignore suffering when you know full well what is happening next door or anywhere in the world. Then what to do? What kind of engagement? What kind of action or dialog?

As I biked down to frisbee practice, re-listening to this report, I could not think of an answer.  I know I believe in nonviolence. I know there is plenty of evidence that this method of occupying a country by force is not only wrong but also disastrous.  So what then?  The only thing that comes to mind is to understand the problem before it happens. To look at the ingredients that lead to such a government taking power, that drive people to support such groups or policies, and work at an international level to alleviate these symptoms before they result in what we’ve seen in place like Somalia.

Sustaining Paris

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

Greetings from Paris, where I’m spending a few days to have a few meetings and mainly, to attend a conference dedicated to sustainable investment and corporate social responsibility. Ha.. some people are thinking “those are buzzwords!”… you might be right, which is part of why I came down to see for myself.

Oui! Travelling down here by hitching a ride with friends and co-workers, I’m once again exposed to the huge elephant in the room for Europe (among the other elephants): automobiles. Everywhere I look, from the Netherlands through Belgium, and into France.. it is so painfully obvious that this part of the world is living beyond its means… it cannot sustain this many cars, and yet people keep right on driving. Some of the best train systems in the world, and they keep driving. Traffic jams everywhere, and yet they keep driving.

They love to point to the United States and say, “Americans and their cars.. ha!”… but when one looks around Central Europe.. especially this region… it is the pot calling the kettle black. And symbolic carbon trading, token political speeches, or pointing a finger and holding a nose towards the US… that isn’t going to solve what has become a cultural problem.. the culture of the car.

Of course I will try and bring this topic up as part of a few podcasts I intend to record from the conference. Many attendees are so-called experts, which might be interesting to talk to but as a podcaster, I’m as interested in the regular conference go-er working to make companies act responsibly as I am to speak with some CSI rockstars.

As an added bonus, I happen to have arrived in Paris during the largest labor struggle in a decade, *film at 11.

*=old American TV expression.