I was invited to the Bilderberg conference this year — embarrassed I hadn’t known anything about it before, and more embarrassed I hadn’t known anything about the controversy around it.
But having been there, and done that, I confess I don’t get the outrage.
It’s a conference. There’s no agreements, or planning, or anything beyond people speaking in panels, and people asking questions (or “asking questions”) of the speakers. Or at least that I saw. (Sure, it might have been that between 10pm and 8am (the only time we had off) there were secret meetings held by the rulers of the world. Suffice it, they didn’t invite me to them if they indeed were happening.)
The venue was nice, but not opulent. The topics were wide ranging. There was a great panel on Syria and on medical research, but every other panel was interesting as well. The audience wasn’t representative of the world, but it was mixed. There were strong critics; there were views expressed that most there didn’t agree; and there were more of that than came just from me.
True, the meeting is conducted with Chatham House Rules, meaning while the ideas expressed can be shared, the identity of speaker can’t be shared. Again, I don’t get the outrage about this. I’ve been to many conferences with the same rules, and many times I’ve recognized why they make sense. Especially if you’re someone in authority — CEO of a company or minister of a government — while you should be held accountable for your words, it’s fair your words not be taken out of context. Or at least, I get why people would only choose to participate if they were confident of this modest protection.
There’s a business model to protest. I get that. There’s value in rallying the people. But here was yet another time I thought: if only we could get this sort of passion directed against something real, or something that mattered. Outrage about people meeting to hear at least some ideas they don’t agree with doesn’t seem to me to be the highest and best use of outrage.
I’ve been collecting research about the Framers view about the potential for American aristocracy. My RA, Dennis Courtney, found this fabulous quote from Patrick Henry at the Virginia Ratifying Convention (emphasis added):
It has been said, by several gentlemen, that the freeness of elections would be promoted by throwing the country into large districts. I contend, sir, that it will have a contrary effect. It will destroy that connection that ought to subsist between the electors and the elected. If your elections be by districts, instead of counties, the people will not be acquainted with the candidates. They must, therefore, be directed in the elections by those who know them. So that, instead of a confidential connection between the electors and the elected, they will be absolutely unacquainted with each other. A common man must ask a man of influence how he is to proceed, and for whom he must vote. The elected, therefore, will be careless of the interest of the electors. It will be a common job to extort the suffrages of the common people for the most influential characters. The same men may be repeatedly elected by these means. This, sir, instead of promoting the freedom of election, leads us to an aristocracy. Consider the mode of elections in England. Behold the progress of an election in an English shire. A man of an enormous fortune will spend thirty or forty thousand pounds to get himself elected. This is frequently the case. Will the honorable gentleman say that a poor man, as enlightened as any man in the island, has an equal chance with a rich man, to be elected? He will stand no chance, though he may have the finest understanding of any man in the shire. It will be so here. Where is the chance that a poor man can come forward with the rich? The honorable gentleman will find that, instead of supporting democratical principles, it goes absolutely to destroy them.
Legal scholar and developer of the Creative Commons licenses that have opened up access to intellectual property old and new, Lawrence Lessig has also been focused on the corrupting influence of money on American elections and politics. Earlier this month he “retired” his popular lecture about this issue and spoke with AMp hosts Brian Babylon and Molly Adams this morning about his hopes for transforming Legislator’s dependence on funders’ money and not on voter’s opinions.
Thanks to Jonny for this perfect followup to my whining about bike lanes.
The Boston area is working hard to add bike lanes wherever they can. As a biker, in principle, I like the idea.
But as I’ve watched a busy stretch of road convert from no bike lanes to bike lanes, here’s what I’ve noticed most: more people park illegally. Somehow the bike lane operates as a permission to “temporarily” park at the side of the road. This morning, for example, I had to weave around 5 different illegally (but “temporarily”) parked cars; before the bike lanes were added, I literally never encountered a similarly parked car.
Weaving doesn’t sound terrible, except I worry that drivers are less attentive when there’s a bike lane than when there isn’t one. There’s a subconscious sense of “that’s your space, and here is mine” that I fear makes them less attentive.
Of course, this doesn’t mean cities shouldn’t install bike lanes. But they also need to adjust the rules about temporary parking. And schmucks need to learn that walking an extra half block to get your double tall carmel latte won’t kill you. Indeed, and as an extra bonus, it would make it even less likely to kill me (or a bigger concern, my kids).
It is the last thing in the world that I want to do to continue the debate over the prosecution of @aaronsw. But my colleague, Phil Heymann, father of the line prosecutor, recently delivered a paper at a faculty workshop criticizing my views and others. A number of people have asked me for a response. Here is the response I circulated, and all I’m going to say just now.
Today, the wonderful people at TED release my TED talk. At the same time, we’re releasing an eBook based on the talk. And as an innovation still, if you get the book through the TED platform, you can hear me read the text of the book too. (We’re going to release the audio book (an aBook) through Audible as well, but that process is slower).
The point of the talk and the book is to offer a clear way to understand the nature of the corruption that is our government. It builds up my earlier work, Republic, Lost, and One Way Forward, but the framing is different, and the remedies evolved. One Way Forward announced itself as the first version of a plan to respond to the corruption described in Republic, Lost. Lesterland is version 2.0: a rev on the description, and a rev on the plan.
Consistent with TED policies, the talk is CC licensed. I am very happy that TED has also agreed to allow the book to be CC licensed (CC-BY-NC) from its launch. (If your copyright notice doesn’t quite say that, it will update to correct that error soon. The first release hadn’t corrected the default template.)
Finally, a note about eBooks: This will be obvious to most, but trust me (and I have the emails to prove it), it is not obvious to everyone: An eBook is a platform. It is distinct from a device. So if you buy the eBook from Amazon, it is a “Kindle” book, but it can be read on a Mac, a PC, an Android phone, an iPhone, etc., if you install the Kindle software. If they got the settings right, the book is not DRM’d, and you’re free to share them. The only restriction the CC license imposes is that you can’t exploit the work commercially without talking to me first.
Enjoy, and thanks to the friends at TED for working so hard to enable this experiment.
On Saturday I returned from .GE — where I didn’t sleep at all. Saturday I slept some, but last night critical, as I had two final days to put the final parts on the lecture I must give Tuesday: Aaron’s Laws.
But alas, at 1am, my incredibly sweet 3 year old daughter did what she has now formed the habit of doing — coming into our bed, flopping about like a stranded fish for 15 minutes, and then falling asleep.
Usually it is a minor annoyance. Jetlag turned it into the end of the nights sleep. So at 2am, I got up to begin today’s work.
15 hours later, I’m finished for the day.
This is a really difficult talk to craft. In principle. And in practice. There are too many points where I need a strategy to avoid spinning into blubbery. I am hopeful that if I can persuade sweet Tess of the wonders of her own bed, one more day’s preparation will do it.
If you can make it, come. If you can’t, it will be webcast. The info for both is here.
So as I packed for the trip to Tblisi this morning, I was happy to read that they’re in a warm spell — temperatures in the low 60s.
On my way (by train via DC to avoid #Nemo) to Georgia (as in .GE) to help/learn/think about their latest constitutional crisis. Twenty years ago this work began, with a delegation from Georgia traveling to the University of Chicago and drafting their first, post-communist Constitution. What happened then is the story remixed in the West Wing episode that portrays me as old as I now feel …
It is a weird and strong bond I feel to this country — weird, because there’s no ancestry to account for it; strong, because over the past 20 years, I’ve come to know the genuine and serious struggle of people trying to build a constitutional Republic.
It is once again a critical moment, and the President and his party have an enormous opportunity to be for Georgia what Adams et al. were for America. Indeed, this was exactly the lesson that I was first taught by Aleksandr Davidovich Chikvaidze when I first went to Georgia in the early 1990s. As I waited to meet the President, Eduard Shevardnadze, Chikvaidze quizzed me: “What was the most important moment in American history?” he asked. I had no idea what he was thinking of, so I offered all the obvious dates. “Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG,” he scolded. “March 4, 1801.” “Why that date,” I asked him? “Because that was the date that America had its first peaceful transfer of power between two fundamentally opposed parties.” One party (the Federalists) accepted its defeat, but showed the world that democracy had come to America, because they showed the world, they could step aside (the judiciary is another story…).
This is precisely the question in Georgia right now. A new party has swept the parliament. The President now must decide whether and how he could be Adams, or be every other Georgian president since the Soviet Union fell. Mikheil Saakashvili has likely done more good for Georgia than Adams did (as President) for the US. His fight to end the corruption of the Georgian police is world-historic and an amazing success. And there are many in his party that have real questions about the party that now demands the right to govern. But he and everyone else involved in this struggle must now bridge a critical trust gap. Not sure it’s possible. But it would be extraordinary if they can.