Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

16 Sep 2004, 16:29 p.m.

World Phenomena Worry Me

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2004 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Despite my pro-Democrat tendencies, I can see how US citizens who don't follow politics very closely could think the two major parties are "two houses both alike in dignity" and therefore write them off equally with "a plague on both your houses."

Topic for pondering: are Republicans more like the Montagues or the Capulets? Can you somehow shoehorn into this question the weird fiasco that leads the Illinois Republican Party to ask its members to vote for Alan Keyes instead of Barack Obama? (Thanks, Sarah!)

Anyway. So I take a break from depressing US news to survey some depressing world news.

Russia. I remember when I thought "Putin might not be so bad; maybe they need economic improvements more/sooner than the freedom stuff." I am ashamed that I ever thought that. Russia under Tsar Vladimir is a ratchet, occasionally tightening and never loosening government control of public and private life. And it makes me sad that I wouldn't feel safe going back to that country that I liked a lot.

India and the subcontinent in general. The far-right network of Hindu fundie organizations, including the RSS (darn them for taking such a nice abbreviation), gets money from the Indian diaspora in, say, Silicon Valley. Oh, we're just collecting money for charities, for international friendship, that sort of thing, don't mind us. As maddening as it is to see anyone using religion as a pretext for violence and oppression, I find it even more maddening when it's my religion. (Yes, when I'm religious at all, I'm a Hindu.)

Meanwhile, Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts in the past 12 months. He's one of those "pro-US strongmen" and evidently he doesn't just kill everyone who opposes him, so I kind of hope the assassins don't succeed. I should do more research to figure out whether I should be rooting for anyone at all.

Darfur. Yes, it is so ghoulish that I can't think about it. I am a small speck of a human.

North Korea. I wish I could just laugh at Kim Jong Il, since he is so ridiculous, instead of worrying about whether his arsenal could reach the West Coast, and wondering whether that mysterious explosion portends doom. To further this goal I shall watch Team America: World Police.

Hong Kong. The LegCo elections went okay but not great. (I keep thinking the Hong Kong legislature is the LEGO.)

In a political science and/or recursion sense my intellect likes the weird meta-electionness. Back in my UCB days I learnt about a three-level model:

  1. The actual set of people elected/appointed to run the country on any given day have particular ideas and policies and try to get certain things done.
  2. More deeply and less ephemerally, the general worldview of the people who have power and influence indicates what's desirable and what's possible in the long term.
  3. As a foundation, the rules of the game (how and when we choose leaders, for example) confer legitimacy on the whole process. Breaking these rules is heresy. (For best results, make the rules of the game very hard to change. By the way, the US has a very demanding procedure for amending the Constitution. India doesn't. The US has had 27 amendments in 205 years; India, 92 in 58 years. So cluttered!)

Here in the US we supposedly believe that a government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed (Jefferson got it from Locke). I've been rereading Cryptonomicon so the legitimacy of governments reminds me of the viability of currency. If following the rules of the game is like putting gold into a vault to back your currency, then breaking the rules is like removing that gold and converting to a fiat money system, but since many currencies today are fiat money I'll have to work on my analogy.

Anyway, Hong Kong uses simple elections (ordinarily the province of the most superficial level of governance) to decide on the rules of the game and whether the Red control of Hong Kong has any legitimacy, not to mention the intermediate "what is desirable in general" ideology battle. Imagine a Hong Kong sample ballot:

Referendum A: Resolved that The People's Republic should just get off our backs, man. Don't make us act like Taiwan!
Referendum B: Shall the city increase the number of antiphone booths from 4 per square kilometer to 6 within that same area? (ed: an antiphone booth is a booth where phones don't work)
Referendum C: Tapioca pearl tea: passé or retro trendy?
Referendum D: Instead of making noise about those silly "rights," could we all sit down to a nice orderly cup of green tea?

For LegCo MucketyMuck (please vote for only one):
Ling "IndyMedia" Li
Wei "Jiang Zemin (Or Whoever It Is Now) Has The Mandate of Heaven I Mean The Nth Party Congress" Lo
Ralph Nader

Anyway, it's meta. Leonard was on the right track; The international channel in SF should carry a West Wing ripoff set in Hong Kong and its name should translate as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."