Sunday, March 29, 2009

Blogging the Big Stuff

Alaskan bloggers spent much of the weekend [It's closing in on Monday morning, March 30, here in Chiang Mai as I write] lamenting that one of their own is no longer anonymous. While I recognize that this was a difficult weekend for that specific blogger, other families in Alaska had family members seriously ill and others even died. But we spent no time on them. I don't mean to belittle the issue which is about, among other things, the right to practice one's free speech rights anonymously. But I think that counterbalancing concerns about secrecy as well and concerns about people anonymously wielding power are legitimate. I also tend to feel (I haven't thought is all through yet) there is a real difference between the anonymity of a blogger whose actions are in the open and the anonymity of political operatives whose actions are both anonymous and secret. While these are important issues, I think we have a yet bigger project.

What concerns me as a human being, is the need for all of us to understand the bigger issues - by that I mean the issues that will have the greatest consequences on our lives and on the world itself. And then to act on that knowledge to make the world a safer, healthier, more just and more free place to live. As newspapers die and as television news turns into partisan propaganda, we have this new technology that allows us to talk to the world. Do we have something worthwhile to say?

A number of my fellow bloggers have been experimenting with how to use this tool positively and I know that many of them are fiercely committed to making the world a better place. And their posts - unpaid and written, mostly, while working full time jobs - have made important contributions to what Alaskans know. But I think we need to envision - and there's been some email chatter about this among bloggers - a less hit and miss way to do this.

There are lots of issues that are extremely complex and difficult to tease out. What really is happening and likely to happen to our economy? How do we make sense of this and translate it into stories that most people can understand? How do we gain trust, not only of the people who think like us, but those who are skeptical of what we believe in?

Wesley Loy at the ADN writes today about a story that Phil at Progressive Alaska has raised several times:

Pollock is the nation's biggest commercial catch by weight, worth well in excess of $1 billion after the white-meated bottom fish are processed.

Depending on how stringent the chinook cap is, the pollock fleet could be forced to pull its huge nets from the water and stop fishing before the normal quota is reached.

According to one major fishing company, that could mean the loss of more than 2 million cheap seafood meals for every thousand tons of foregone pollock catch.

People on the other side of the debate, however, say a tough chinook cap is vital to prevent the fleet from netting salmon on the high seas before they can return to the Yukon and other rivers to spawn and to provide commercial, subsistence and cultural opportunity for villagers.

I've talked about externalities before. It's a concept everyone needs to understand. Externalities are the costs that are not born by the producer of the good. In this case, one of those costs is the loss of Chinook salmon to the Yukon and other rivers and the people who live off those fish. So, these cheap meals are being subsidized by the people of the Yukon and other rivers where those fish would have returned. Not to mention the impact on the ocean food chain of having "billions of pounds of pollock" (not to mention the by-catch) scooped out of the sea. How long can we do that without making the Bering see the waste-land that has occurred in the North Atlantic?

The New York Times reports today that
A Spanish court has taken the first steps toward opening a criminal investigation into allegations that six former high-level Bush administration officials violated international law by providing the legal framework to justify the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an official close to the case said.

Baltasar Garzón, front, in Madrid. He has built an international reputation by bringing cases against human rights violators.

The case, against former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and others, was sent to the prosecutor’s office for review by Baltasar Garzón, the crusading investigative judge who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The official said that it was “highly probable” that the case would go forward and that it could lead to arrest warrants.
How do we deal with those who say we should just move on? How is it that we've filled our prisons with casual marijuana users, yet we have people who think politicians and their minions, who, in the eyes of many, have devalued the US Constitution, should just be allowed to get on with their lives? Should the US continue to hold itself up above international justice but insist that others are subject to its judgments?

The Trustees for Alaska has sent a plan to the Governor's office calling for immediate action to protect oil stored in what could be the path of mud slides on Mt. Redoubt. It begins:

[Update: Progressive Alaska has the whole letter up.]

There are lots more issues out there that have great consequence. We need to figure out ways to use the power of these blogs not simply to call people to task, but to help our readers understand the really complex issues we face, and to point to options that could make a positive difference. That means tapping into those who understand the issues and finding ways to empower normal folks to elect ethical, competent, and committed representatives who can work with others to resolve problems.

We have to establish forums that people of different perspectives trust.

I'm not sure how we do this. Logic tells me that we have to divide up the issues and gain individual expertise in various issues and/or tap into people whose lives are spent in these areas and making sense of what they tell us.

And Alaskan bloggers are doing some of this. The oil spill letter above, I got from fellow blogger Phil Munger at Progressive Alaska. Erick at Think Alaska, has been getting out information about candidates. Celtic Diva, Mudflats, Andrew Halcro, Shannyn Moore, the Immoral Minority, and many others regularly get important information out.

If we want to speak to more than those who already agree with us, we have to pull back on the snark, and praise what's praiseworthy and protest what's not regardless of political affiliation. (OK, I know you can now all point to a Democrat on the firing line.)

But we also need broad generalists who can tie together the linkages across the issues.

This is not to say that everyone needs to get on this path. We each have to do what we do best. But we do need a way to take on the big issues in a more organized way and establish respected forums that people trust and turn to when they want to understand those issues.

I'm not sure how we get there, I just know that enough of us need to go in that direction so that more and more people are conversant with the issues we face at more than a superficial level. The random serendipity of many different bloggers has a certain appeal too and google lets us find it. But I think in addition, some more organized approach would be useful. Not to replace, but to supplement what is already there.

OK, I know I have to lighten up a bit.


  1. It is the principal of the matter! Accountability for your actions? The Powers to be in Alaska are bullies and need to be taken down a few notches! Why do we accept bad behavior? Check your own actions and move on!

  2. I'm surprised and disappointed that you didn't acknowledge that AKM's family, home and business were deliberately put at risk of attack from Palin freaks. And one of them WAS attacked.

    It remains to be seen how much more damage will be inflicted, but you certainly have no right to make light of what happened.

    Aussie Blue Sky


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