Inviting Friends in Pakistan

Upon arrival in Brussels today I was pleased to receive an email from the Pakistani blog community I had written to, requesting their participation in an upcoming podcast about what people are writing about during this “state of emergency.”

Throughout the long train ride today, it seemed like every podcast I listen to was covering the situation. I heard that same Musharraf speech about not letting the country commit suicide, over and over. Many of the public radio podcasts included callers in the US, most of Pakistani descent, calling to express their disapproval of the situation or in some cases, approval for the Pakistani presidents strong arm tactics.

As I walked into Blueberry Girl’s apartment here in Brussels, I heard that an old classmate of ours has been assigned to the German embassy in Islamabad. Seems like everything is turning up Pakistan for me this week. And rightfully so when so many lives hang in the balance.

I’m curious to hear the thoughts of the people on the blog community. Skimming the site, it is obviously still very new and just like in the US and communities like livejournal, people seem pretty self absorbed with work problems and personal reflection. Despite that fact, I’m looking forward to hearing from people running the site about their experience launching this community and how it relates to how Pakistani society, especially on the internet, is reacting to what is happening in their country.

bmtv59 Majority Rule

In Federalist Paper Number 10, James Madison warned of the dangers posed by majority rule or small groups of people being able to control a nation. On today’s internet we are once again faced with the tyranny of the majority in the form of popularity. Any site you go to values whatever gets voted for or “dugg”. Yet just like in Madison’s time, we also must protect against the tyranny of the internet majority.

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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.

Media Should Not Be Business

Capitalism, at least the version that is commonly practiced in this era that we currently live in, has a long list of terrible drawbacks. The one I was thinking most about this evening, as I cruised the canals of Amsterdam, is the marriage of business and media.

Let us take a step back for a moment. While pure capitalism seems to push for a world where everything is a commodity and everything can be bought and sold. We know, in fact, that many things cannot and SHOULD NOT be for sale. Examples of this include matters of public safety, like the Fire Department. Many centuries ago they experimented with private fire brigades in the US, but of course houses that didn’t pay for service burned down and led to other houses catching fire. Clearly, fire protection was deemed something that cannot be a business.

Let us return to media, a far cry from the world of fires and fire protection. Media is widely operated around the world as a business. While there are numerous public media run from public funds, a majority of the world’s information comes from media companies that are private businesses. Why even in terms of language (english anyway) you hear this cultural norm in the term “the newspaper business”. Yup, when you talk about media, you’re almost always talking about business.

Yet everywhere you look there is evidence of what a terrible and detrimental marriage this is. News reports mixed with advertisements to the point you can’t tell which is which. Media companies buying other media companies and cutting staff and budgets in order to increase profit margins. News programs covering topics that will attract the most amount of people in order to attract the most amount of advertisers, appealing to people’s insecurities, fears, or dreams. Ignoring news that makes people uncomfortable about their lives, their government, or the companies they help fund. Firing or marginalizing reporters that dare to challenge this system, by direct or indirect orders of business managers or sponsors.

Over and over again, now of course, on the internet, we are told that media is a business and that is just how it has to be.

People ask me, “Maybe you could make a living out of your work on the site by having ads or a sponsor”, and I make some excuse about not being sure what to do. The truth is I am very sure it has been and would be a mistake. More than that, I disagree with the global norm, the widely accepted tradition that this is how media works and the world will be fine if this continues. It’s not fine. We are not ok, and one of the most basic reasons is the way our media system functions… the business of reporting the news.

And so I carry on without the sponsors. Without the money that journalists need to survive. Like many of my friends and fellow reporters on the internet, I try to formulate a better way. Or more often, sit here hoping that if I keep doing my work, that new day will finally come when media breaks free from business and finds a better way to exist. One where reporting about people and injustice gets the priority, and funding comes without the need to sell something or compromise the essential principles that make it possible to shed light on what has been left in the dark for much too long.

85% Voter Turnout

Greetings from an almost secret location in Belgium where I’ll be stationed for a few days. Coincidentally, just close enough to France so that everyone is this area is clinging to the French election results, and for the most part, pulling their hairs out in disappointment and frustration.

While it is hardly under-reported news, it is interesting, watching these elections in the global context. An old friend of mine in France once said, as much as his fellow citizens would never admit it, the French are very similar to Americans in many things. Every now and then, like in these elections, I think she was right.

He plays on fear. He threatens to be tough on immigrants and to cut taxes and benefits and whatever else he can cut. He goes on and on about national pride and what a great country it is. He could basically be a president candidate in the USA, but in fact, he is the new president of France, Nicholas Sarkozy. (or as I heard him referred to today, mini-bush)

As people learn the result of today’s election, you’ll hear lots of disgusted responses. “So embarrassing” people will say. Sounds familiar.

But unlike the US, where even if you bus people to the polls you can’t get a 50 percent turnout, reports from today say that turnout was at 85%! 85%! Now at first glance, that’s impressive. People can say, and they are, that it is a healthy sign for democracy because people are participating.

Then again, 85% voting for, with more than 50% of them choosing a pretty hardline conservative candidate also makes it hard for a country to deny who they are. At least in the US you can say “hey.. thats only half of the 40+% that vote who chose that bum, we’re not really like that”. In France, you can’t say that anymore. So if Sarko ends up rounding up all the immigrants and putting them in labor camps. Or joining the US military in its latest adventure to invade and bring democracy somewhere. It won’t be just a small percentage of crazies that took over the government. Nope… it’s a majority of the country that actually shares (at least some of) these values.

Once again, I don’t have a better idea yet, but western democracy is still overrated.

bm199 What these Elections Will Do To France

Media coverage of the French elections has spiraled into the typical who looks tougher who will lose reporting, as is the norm for mainstream media today. But there are real policies that will harm or help real people throughout and France, depending on the outcome. In this podcast, with the help of Chris of Americablog and Jessica in London, we will identify what changes will come and what it means for French, as well as the effect on Europe.

I recommend Chris’s latest post on round 1 election results
Also Mentioned:

We Discuss:
-The top issues that will HAVE to change regardless of who’s elected
-The economy and jobs
-The 35 hour work week
-The green movement, or lack there of
-The Health system
-Selling “American Style” to the French
-Racism as an election tool
-Europe Union issues