Saturday, December 26, 2009

WS to IL: "YOUR Turn to Step Up!"

I've been known to clip an article -- or two (!) -- out of the newspaper.

This sometimes leads to organizational challenges. (What to do, for instance, with the great article on Russia's introduction of Cyrillic web domain names?.)

But the really good clippings help tie the world together neatly. For instance, when the end of the year comes, I reach the last pages of my desk calendar, and I discover a folded up clipping from a year ago -- William Safire's annual "Office Pool" column. You know the one I'm talking about -- the virtuoso column in which Safire would show that he not only knew how to comment on last week's news, but could do a pretty good job of predicting what would happen for the next twelve months!

Every prediction, like the one below from "Office Pool, 2009", was in the form of a multiple-choice question:

Toughest foreign affairs challenge will come if:
  1. Afghanistan becomes "Obama's War" or "Obama's Retreat"
  2. Iraq backslides into chaos after too-early U.S. withdrawal
  3. Depressed Russia moves on Ukraine
  4. India-Pakistan fighting breaks out

Safire, always a mensch, would step up to the plate and indicate his predictions at the end of each year's column . . . thus setting the stage for him to lead off the next year's installment with crowing or crow-eating, depending on his success. (I was always happy if I could even come close to his success rate.)

Alas, we lost William Safire this year, and there will be no "Office Pool, 2010." Of course, if we really wanted to honor him, we would step up to the plate ourselves and -- perhaps in the spirit of the Lexicographic Irregulars? -- swarm over the problem, providing a Web 2.0-sourced "Office Pool, 2010" of our own!

For me, doing so feels particularly irresistable, since it is nearly certain that any Safire-produced "Office Pool, 2010" would have contained at least one question about developments here in Illinois.

So . . . perhaps I'll take the first crack at it . . . .

Office Pool, 2010

In the year's most hotly-contested Senate-seat battle, Illinois voters:
  1. will turn out in droves to elect a "whip-smart do-gooder" who is all experience and no baggage
  2. will finally turn their backs on the politics of PAC money once and for all
  3. will turn off the Blagojevich trial and tune in to the Cubs instead
  4. will adopt a new state song
  5. all of the above

Well now . . . I think I know how that question is going to end up! (Maybe this prediction-writing business isn't so hard after all?)

What about you? Are you ready to step up in 2010?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Mr. Liu: The Prisoner's Dilemma in China

I spent many years traveling and conducting business in China. I've devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to learning the Chinese language, and studying China's history, literature, and culture. I still relish the opportunity to drop an apposite allusion or scribble out a few relevant characters to the delight of some new Chinese friend.

In the course of the '80s, I went through a period of exhilaration: China was developing so fast! -- and on trip after trip to places far and wide in China, I got to see the transformation firsthand.

Shenzhen and the rest of the Pearl River delta saw explosive growth. (My professor from college, Ezra Vogel, had foreseen how development there would be a model for growth throughout the rest of China, and described it in his book, One Step Ahead in China: Guangdong under Reform.)

The worm turned, of course, on June 4, 1989, at Tiananmen. It was a moment of government brutality against political expression.

For years, I struggled to understand the thinking of the Chinese government. No matter whether or not Beijing craves control, isn't it worried about scaring people away? On balance, isn't it going to lose more than it are gains?

A parallel struggle was understanding investors. Why didn't the lack of rights, law, and freedom of information in China cause people who had a choice to abandon China in droves? In particular, what about investors? Especially foreign investors, who have all the options in the world?

And yet foreign investors just kept tripping over each other to get into China. Why did the people with the $$ put up with a lack of legal protections?

This pair of questions began to obsess me at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China in the summer of 1997. I thought if there was ever a moment for people to wake up and smell the coffee, this was it. In fact, I imagined (!) that people in Hong Kong were actually in a position to dictate to Beijing that they needed legal protections to remain in place as before, or else they would take their money and skedaddle. Why this didn't happen -- couldn't happen -- puzzled me.

In particular, it was very apparent to me that people with money and human capital to invest in China seemed to underestimate their relative power. Beijing needed them!

Eventually, I came upon a decision-making model called "The Prisoner's Dilemma". It's a model that describes how, in a situation of power parity but unequal information, one monolithic party can prevent other parties (who are themselves natural allies) from working in concert to act in their own best interests. In effect, those other parties have no "choice" but to knuckle under.

Beijing has an intuitive understanding that, in a way that is determined by conditions of unequal information, it can monolithically dictate terms, and that other, "distributed," parties will be hard-pressed to stand up to those terms. Specifically, Beijing observes a cynical cost/benefit calculus which says, "Sure, a few players will always wise up and exercise their options to move away from us; but, by and large, everyone else is too paralyzed to move."

The case of the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo, puts a fine point on this. About a year ago, Liu and others assembled a charter of political and legal rights called "Charter '08". They called for a regime of rights for people in China along the lines of those present in every Western country. Leading Chinese progressives signed onto "Charter '08" in very large numbers.

Rights, laws, and a free flow of information. Sounds like it would be good for business, right?

Beijing didn't like "Charter '08."

Signers of "Charter '08" were detained all over China. (See map above.) Liu Xiaobo has now been sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Will the global investment community continue to yawn at developments in China? Sadly, they seem to think Liu Xiaobo and a few stray intellectuals are the only victims. Unfortunately, the real prisoner's dilemma is theirs . . . .

Related posts

It may be difficult to see today that the success of our movement in the future will depend on Chinese activists having the same freedoms that activists in the West enjoy. But, I predict, that is precisely what will make all the difference.

(See What is the US Peace and Justice Movement Doing for Dissidents in China?)

"How can it be that no one is speaking directly to what happened?" I wondered. "Should I say something? Is it just me? Can it be possible that most people aren't like me, tremendously troubled by how we should respond to what has happened in China?"

(See Remember June 4)

Memories of Occupy Chicago:
Posterboard and markers: $21.79
Leaflets: $7:50
Bullhorn: $99.99
Standing up for peace and justice when everyone around you is saying "Get a job!" and "GO F**K YOURSELF!": Priceless
(See Dissent: PRICELESS! )

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

American Rebellion: Just Think What They Would've Done with Twitter!

I'm reading all about Paul Revere. The book -- Paul Revere's Ride by David Hackett Fischer -- is un-put-downable!

Part of the attraction is that the places involved are all ones I've passed through so many times -- though never quite registered their significance or connected the dots.

Pondering more than just silver . . .
Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley

Another is the portrait that emerges of Revere the man -- someone active in several different circles, and pretty good at what he did, and probably a bit excitable (d'ya think?), but not a tremendously important man, relative to some of the "gentlemen" who ran the world he lived in.

And of course, David Hackett Fischer is a riveting storyteller.

But the thing that is grabbing my attention is the eerie similarity between events in the book and events in our world today. Take, for instance, this description of the colonists' reaction to a British military raid about seven months before Lexington & Concord:

"The largest supply of gunpowder in Massachusetts had been secured at a stroke, without a shot fired. It was a model operation in all respects, save one. The British commander had completely misunderstood the temper of New England . . . . "

" . . . Through the day, reports began to fly across the countryside. . . . . "

" . . . All day church bells tolled in the towns. At dusk great fire-beacons that had warned of war against the French were set alight, burning brightly across the open countryside. As far away as Connecticut, the militia began to march toward Boston. . . . . "

" . . . perhaps more than one third the effective men in all New England took arms and were on actual march for Boston. . . . . 20,000 men marched from the Connecticut Valley alone . . . . "

The British commander in North America did the obvious: sent a request to England for more troops -- lots more troops. "If you think ten thousand men sufficient, send twenty; if one million is thought enough, give two; you save both blood and treasure in the end."

More to follow . . .

Related posts

I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

(See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!) )

Because the forces of militarism control the vast majority of the tools of violence -- guns, jets, missiles, bombs, etc. etc. etc. -- on their side, we need to confront them with other means -- ones where we hold the advantage. In order to conduct an effective resistance, we need to ask, "What are our strengths?"

(See NETWORK the Resistance to NATO!)

Tuesdayistas are people who (a) take time each week to participate in a national (and now global) conversation about ending the war in Afghanistan; AND (b) help spread the word by reaching out to others (who will reach out to others (who will reach out to others .... to do the same!

(See I'm a Tuesdayista!)

Attorney General Eric Holder will speak at 3:30 p.m. today (Monday, March 5, 2012) at Northwestern University School of Law - 375 E. Superior on targeted killings of U.S. citizens.

What will Chicago tell Holder?

(See What Will Chicago Tell Holder? )

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who's The Boss? (Hint: Follow the Money!)

No one feels more gratitude to the pharmaceutical industry than I do. I start each morning taking a little green pill, and I am thankful to everyone involved in bringing it to me -- the research scientist who discovered it but also the sales reps who get the word out and the finance people who figure out how to keep the labs open year after year.

No one is more supportive of the role that lawyers play in our society than I am. One of the most rewarding phases of my career was when I was working in patent licensing, which functioned hand-in-hand with the system of patent prosecution and patent litigation. Hell, I put my kid through college doing that work!

No one believes more deeply in the value created by the trade and investment community than I do. I spent the first dozen or so years of my working life flying around the world negotiating trade contracts, and in particular was deeply involved in China trade issues. I strongly believe that, by doing so, I not only earned money but also participated in building peaceful, productive interactions between the U.S. and other countries, including some with cultures that are very, very different than ours.

Pharma and other innovation industries . . . lawyers and the court system . . . trade and investment . . . I want my representatives to understand these fields, and spend a lot of time listening to people in these fields, to learn about their needs and perspectives.

However, I also want them to remember who they work for.

We've got a Senate election coming up in my state, Illinois. Money is a huge issue. I've decided that my top priority is selecting a candidate who knows who "the Boss" is. That's why I'm taking a hard look at these websites:

Mark Kirk campaign contributors

David Hoffman campaign contributors

We ALL have a part to play in making the system work in a way in which our candidates do NOT have to find a few "bosses" with a lot of bucks. More about that in a future blog post . . . .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The World Turned Upside Down - Huff Post, Wash Post, and Twitter

"The World turn'd upside down"
A month or so back, I said I was bound and determined to figure out "this Twitter thing." Recent work I've been doing to promote the great Guantanamo film The Response has opened my eyes about Twitter, and a lot of other things . . .

I've been having a lot of little "Aha!" moments as I try to get the word out about screenings of The Response on Twitter. For one thing, I discovered that there is a whole group of people who are actively passing along the latest news about Guantanamo (and a whole range of other civic affairs), and they can be found by searching on Twitter. That in turn leads you to certain "hubs" who distribute and redistribute ("retweet") the news on a particular topic. The interaction between the hubs and the "spokes" allows for incredibly rapid dissemination (and *digestion*) of the right information by the right people at the right speed.

Hence, a big event for me was asking one of those "hubs," GuantanamoAndy, to spread the word . . . and within minutes seeing:

Tymlee RT @Tosfm: @GuantanamoAndy Excellent film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film category - ...

heyjude408 RT @Tosfm: @GuantanamoAndy Excel. film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film cat.- - Pls RT

Tosfm @GuantanamoAndy Excellent film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film category - - Pls RT

My messages have also been faithfully re-tweeted by "Satyagraha_ji" -- who has 3,672 followers on Twitter, all of whom, one can infer, are interested in social justice issues associated with Gandhi's concept of satyagraha.

The world really is changing -- public discourse is being shaped in an entirely new way. And from where I sit, it looks like power really is getting back into the hands of ordinary people! For about the past 20 years, my sister, Elaine Scarry, has been talking about the model of Paul Revere for how we manage information in a democracy. Now I finally understand how very true that is!

Another eye-opener for me has been the way in-person meetings, blogs, individual websites, Facebook, and Twitter all interact together. To get a taste of that, just decode this Twitter post:

hoffman4IL An earnest, skeptical voter in Evanston gives @hoffman4IL a chance, and becomes a supporter: Thanks, @Scarry!

This post is by the Hoffman for Illinois ("hoffman4IL") campaign, telling its followers about a blog post ("") by me ("an earnest, skeptical voter in Evanston") describing how I became a supporter, and indicate my Twitter address ("@Scarry") at the end. Hoffman is going to be great for Illinois, not least of all because he understands how to use new media to pull people into the conversation.

But the biggest single eye-opener for me came this morning when I was trading emails with Washington Post reporter Peter Slevin. I expressed amazement at the 286 comments that people had appended to his piece on the use of the Thomson Correctional Center to house Guantanamo detainees. (That's a lotta comments!) Peter said, "Yeah, well, that one got picked up by the Huff Post . . . ."

The Huff Post? Determining who talks about an article in the Wash Post? About a issue in northwest Illinois?

The World turn'd upside down:
A briefe description of the ridiculous Fashions
of these distracted Times
By T.J. a well-willer to King, Parliament and Kingdom
London: Printed for John Smith 1646

Maybe it's because the Paul Revere metaphor was fresh in my mind, but Peter's story, and the 286 response, and the role of new outlets like the Huff Post in changing the whole game, reminded me of the history fact we learned in high school: about how at the surrender of the British to the American forces at Yorktown, the band played an old tune called "The World Turned Upside Down."

Well, if this is another revolution, I for one am all for it. (It turned out pretty good the first time . . . . )

(For more on the Thomson story, see "Why Illinois is Central to America's Response to Guantanamo.")

Related posts

I've started to organize some of the practices I've discovered, starting with the ten "guideposts" below. I'll expand on these from time to time, and hope to spur continued conversation with all of you!

(See Twitter: Scarry's Ten Guideposts )

As I read the article, I kept hearing echoes of lessons that I have been learning in the last several years as I have worked to communicate online about peace and justice issues. Herewith the top of my hit parade, with reference to stories from the USA Today newsroom . . . .

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me )

I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

(See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!) )

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I Have Seen The Future -- His Name Is David Hoffman

David Hoffman clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

But if you're like me, you demand more . . . .

Yes, he's had a long career as a prosecutor. He's got all the right degrees, and has done various kinds of government service in Washington, D.C. He even has a remarkable "Mr. Clean" personna as the Inspector General of the City of Chicago -- one who has been willing to stand up to Mayor Daley. And yet . . . That's all fine, I thought, but now let's hear something that's truly senatorial."

And goodness knows we need somebody senatorial. We can only coast for so long on the euphoria of having given the nation Barack Obama. We need to fill that seat. Phantom limb syndrome is starting to set in.

So I went to the "Hoffman for Illinois" reception in Evanston this morning determined to be a tough sell. However, David was only talking for about two minutes before I started to feel my guard go down. He is the kind of smart, likable, articulate person who immediately makes you feel comfortable. After seven or eight minutes, I started to feel optimistic, and I could feel the mood in the room getting warmer by the minute. And after about fifteen minutes of listening to him, people were smiling, and heads were nodding, and it dawned on me: this is okay! . . no . . . not just okay . . . this guy's got it!

We all come to candidates with particular areas of interest, and I'm no different. So my ears really perked up when David talked about his experience reducing the homicide rate in Chicago -- both through traditional prosecutions as well as through more experimental "community policing" approaches. I also thought his views on the role of government in improving the credit environment and encouraging new business formation were very sensible. And so was his understanding of the impact of health insurance costs in constraining business expansion and new business formation.

What I liked most about him was his qualifications for tackling what is, in my opinion, the biggest problem facing our country: how to wage the War on Terror. In my opinion, the U.S. Senate needs to get out in front and lead on two enormous questions:

  • is fighting terrorism fundamentally a military operation? or a law enforcement operation?

  • do old-fashioned notions of "Constitutional rights" still apply when you're fighting terrorism?

Hoffman certainly seemed smart enough and serious enough to be great at addressing those questions. And then it occurred to me: Hoffman is ideally qualified to take on those questions: his career has been all about law enforcement and constitutional law!

So: in my opinion, Illinois, and the country, will be very well-served by having a senator like David Hoffman.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Hoffman did allay the assembled crowd's concerns about Rehnquist. "Supreme Court justices tend to have both conservative and progressive clerks. I was the progressive one," he said.

Thank goodness, I thought. Heaven forbid that we elect a senator who clerked for the wrong Supreme Court Justice!

Friday, December 4, 2009

I support the President's July 2011 promise

It's no longer a question of if -- or even when -- the United States withdraws its troops from Afghanistan. Now it's just a matter of sticking with the plan to carry out an orderly withdrawal starting in 18 months.

In the aftermath of the President's December 1 speech on Afghanistan, some of us were a little shell-shocked. Even though we had known for weeks that immediate withdrawal was off the table -- as was a massive buildup -- we were still disappointed that the magical outcome we had hoped for hadn't happened. I reflected some of those feelings ("That was a terrible speech!") in an interview I gave with the Washington Post the morning after.

It wasn't until that morning that I got my head around the fact that the President, in a very far-sighted manner, had sought to work through the Afghanistan problem by proffering a plan the country could unite around. He sees that we've got a lot of battles ahead of us (care to re-activate the Constitution, anyone?), and we need to fight them together.

And it wasn't until that afternoon that it finally occurred to me: wait a minute, those of us who have been arguing for withdrawal got our way! We no longer have to convince anybody that the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan - the President has already said we will. Nor do we have to wonder when it will happen - the President has put a date on the calendar.

To be sure, a lot of people are trying to say that the July 2011 promise wasn't serious. ("That wasn't a promise." "That depends on circumstances.") There are plenty of those people out there. I don't think they know their man.

As the President has demonstrated with his steady withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he does what he says he's going to do. Sure, the Afghanistan decision will require real backbone. Even at the excruciating rate of a brigade (5,000 troops) every month, withdrawal will pose enormous logistical and security challenges. But he's executed against just such a plan in Iraq.

Of course, we can help the President keep his promise if we let everyone know that we strongly support it.

So . . . the question for us now is: how can we contribute to supporting the sure and successful (read: safe) execution of the withdrawal plan set out by President Obama?