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Posts Tagged ‘elections’

Two stories were prominently on display this past week: Jon and Kate; and the protests in Iran. They aren’t comparable, of course – except in their ubiquity.

To catch you up: Jon and Kate Gosselin had sextuplets, which, in addition to their two older children, gave them a family of eight to raise. They are currently doing a fifth season of a reality program, during which time they’ve apparently been adversely affected by fame and paparazzi, though they seem to enjoy the money. Monday night on their show, they announced they’d filed for divorce, which surprised no one who cared in the first place. Now you know as much as I do and no, I have not watched a single episode. jonkatex-largeI know what I know because other forms of media seem to think this is an important “celebrity” story. We can bicker about whether any celebrity story is important, but I can think of about fifty such stories that would be loads more entertaining and less painful to follow. I managed to have a little fun with this story because Open Salon, a blog to which I contribute, sponsored a contest to come up with what the announcement really ought to be. I wrote a  fake press release noting that Jon and Kate were giving their kids away to needy families.

The show will apparently continue. Fortunately, there are other forms of escapist fare,  from several terrific shows on USA Network or TNT, or any number of quality fiction books.

The other major story of the week: the protests in Iran. Is there any international story more deserving of the dominant place in the news? We here in the U.S. are likely sick of the endless bickering over health care (do something already!), or the sight of state governments from California to New York imploding, and we don’t want to play “Where in the world is Governor Mark Sanford?” any more. Besides, this election, the result, and this protest are important in a number of tangible and symbolic ways, not the least of which is that we can learn what’s happening, despite the typical post-election government crackdown on outside communication.  The fact that the news coming out of Iran is mainly via Twitter has not only thwarted government attempts at media suppression but also has the talking heads talking themselves blue in the face about what Twitter means for the future of journalism. As fantastic a tool as it obviously is, especially for people denied many freedoms (see my post below), Twitter isn’t perfect; a tiny number of observers are noting that these instantaneous messages, even those accompanied by visuals, are hard to verify or put in context.

 6That isn’t the point, of course; neither is the fact that the 3 million votes that appear not to have been counted might not by themselves be enough to change the outcome of the election. The point is, a large, educated, heavily female, mostly young group of citizens is standing up to a repressive government and inviting the world to see what that means. That’s a form of reality television you can be certain isn’t scripted.

It’s understandable everyone wants to report on, analyze, discuss, and dissect the events in Iran.  A variety of issues intersect with this event: how democracy and a particular interpretation of Islam will work; what the U.S  relationship with a nascent nuclear power can be; how women’s quest for equal rights may be affected; and, of course, how communication technology promotes a sort of freedom that can’t be contained.  But there’s another point to be made: While mainstream media tries to chase the Twitter phenomena, while alt media shakes its head at how out-of touch mainstream media really is, and while a shrinking corps of journalists risk their necks to get stories, I hope everyone will notice there’s a lot going on, not just with the Gosselins and not just in Iran.

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TwitI am not the most backward person I know when it comes to technology but neither am I in the vanguard. Some of that relates to my skill set (not innately tech-focused  and my age (the dark side of fifty). I also find the immediacy of certain kinds of high-tech communication leaves a lot to be desired in the in-depth department. Texting is fine when you are running late (or L8) and sending a tweet that says “help” when you’re sinking in quicksand might make sense, but as for reporting (not to mention analyzing, deciphering, dissecting or opining on) the news, I want quality, I want depth and I want complete sentences.

Let me now revise that.

protestIn the space of a few days, Twitter, that ubiquitous and previously irritating form of communication favored by second-strong celebrities, has become a force for real revolution: the kind that allows ordinary (or extraordinary) citizens a voice even in the midst of a government crackdown on communications. Of course I’m referring to Iran, where young protesters are broadcasting minute by real-time minute about their protests in a way that CNN has been absolutely unable to do.

There are a number of reports that talk about this new use for this new medium, including today’s New York Times and a recent post by Andrew Sullivan online at the Atlantic Magazine.

But what I’m most excited about is not just the on-the-spot, heartfelt reporting (one demonstrator sent a tweet that proclaimed “Ahmadinejad called us Dust, we showed him a sandstorm.”) but also the response of the other social networkers around the world. They are providing support both emotional (a large Facebook group as well as a number of followers around the world plugged in to “listen” to the opposition reports) and practical (supplying proxy server addresses for Twitter accounts when the government shuts down local Internet access).

Think about it: a democratic uprising takes place in one part of the world and people all over the globe can mobilize world opinion and perhaps more in a nanosecond. Are there young people in North Korea who, drawn to the social power of Facebook or Twitter, will also be drawn to protest1the power of freedom? What about Cuba? What about Saudi Arabia? Moreover, what does the involvement of twitterers say about the potential to interest an entire generation in the politics of communication and the possibility of change?

Twitter will still be used for inane reports about the breakfast habits of wanna-be A-listers and as a cruelly simple way of engineering a breakup, I suppose. But the idea that it can be used to sustain a social democracy movement has me as excited as I’ve been in years. I’m ready to open an account if I can sustain the required manual dexterity; I want to keep up. peace

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The primaries are over and we have a semi-clear front-runner on the Republican side, albeit one despised by a wing of his own party and no clear front-runner on the Democratic side. Voters and would-be voters, who seemed to be impassioned now seem to be getting worked up into hysteria. The media has a lot to do with whipping people into a frenzy which frankly whips me into a frenzy; the writing and reporting these days is often as ugly as the candidates’ assaults on each other. But no one is blameless, including voters and would-be voters. So herewith, a list of behaviors and actions which are FORBIDDEN – or would be if I had any enforcement power:

  • To the candidates: You are welcome, even urged to keep working towards the nomination of your party. We know you believe yourself to be uniquely qualified to be the next President of the United States. That doesn’t mean you’re entitled. So don’t you dare get personal or allow your surrogates to do it for you. Don’t incite your supporters to anger; you’ll just jeopardize the enthusiasm this primary season has generated against all odds. Think about what’s best for your party and your country. Know when to say no. If you need a lesson in graciousness, call Al Gore.
  • To the surrogates: Watch your mouths.
  • To the Democrat and Republican National Committees: Okay, it’s still going to be a two-party election. It’s your duty to highlight the policy differences between the candidates and make the case for your person’s stand on issues of concern. However, I don’t want to hear one word about “attack machines” or see them in evidence. I don’t want to see fingers pointing or party officials claiming “they started it!” And don’t let me catch you underhandedly funding outside private groups to run nasty Swiftboat-type campaigns and then claim you didn’t know.
  • To the media: Focus more on what is important, not which candidate cried, which one coughed, who snubbed who and who wore what. Since when is that political reporting? Special note to the editorial folks: stop trying to imitate the tone of the nastiest blogger or most venal radio talk host. A dwindling handful of us still depend on you to observe, analyze and share your insights but we’re not looking for you to gleefully wallow in your skills at being snide.  If I want shrill and nasty, I can hit any number of so-called political blogs or visit a chat room, where you can be exposed to some of the most paranoid, hateful and generally uninformed opinions to be found anywhere. But that’s democracy.
  • To the voters:  I’m not going to argue whether voting is a right or a privilege because what it is, first and formost, is a responsibility. Every citizen of this country over eighteen who has not been convicted of a Federal crime is eligible to vote. I’m already hearing supporters of one or the other Democratic candidates threatening not to support the eventual party nominee and several wing-nuts on the other side are urging their listeners to “stay home” on Election Day if a certain war hero is the standard-bearer. Are you people crazy? We’re halfway around the globe trying to stick democracy into countries where it might not take and you want to sit out an election in a country where it works? Don’t even THINK about it.

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As I watch Obama glow and Clinton tear up, McCain expound and Romney stumble, Edwards lecture and Giuliani skulk and Huckabee appear momentarily irrelevant, I find myself squirming a little bit. I just can’t figure out whether I’m getting too much information or too little. I can certainly tell you who’s losing his or her voice but I still can’t comfortably parse the various front-runners’ decision-making processes and I don’t know if my fellow Americans can either. I could take a cue from the competitors’ ads – just assume the opposite of whatever the candidate is asserting about his rival, although  sometimes the ads at least alert us to discrepancies in statements made by the other candidates. I get that electing a President is about that elusive thing called popularity but I want to believe we’re going to make our choices based on more than reports about who’s laughing, who’s crying or who’s croaking, figuratively speaking. To do that, we could probably use a little less cuteness or cleverness from our friends in the media and a little more substance.

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It’s interesting to watch democracy in action in other countries.  In Russia, the elections seemed almost as controlled as in Communist days, consolidating more power for a man nearing the end of his constitutionally mandated limit but showing no signs of departing.  The charasmatic and infuriating leader of Venezuela tried a power grab and his referendum appears to have been defeated. Last year, Hamas swept to power among Palestinians, the year before, Hezbollah won a decisive victory.

Here in this country, we have hanging chads and faulty voting machines but in general democracy works well.  Free elections are accompanied by freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and the freedom to nominate the same kinds of candidates year after year. Democracy works differently in other places, subject to culture, history, religion and the strength or influence of a particular leader or group. It’s tempting to interfere but often more instructive simply to watch and wait and see how it all unfolds.

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