"I don't think that parents want their kids as young as kindergarten being taught about same-sex marriage, period, whether the teacher thinks it's appropriate or not," Brown said.In other words, in the minds of Yes On 1 supporters, teaching gay marriage can mean merely saying that it exists, although, inevitably, gay-loving teachers will go further and tell children it's a good thing. And the Maine law does nothing to prevent this. "I'd like to see that in writing, guys. Show it to me that it's not going to be taught in schools," Marc Mutty, chair of Yes On 1, said this week in a local news segment. "I dare you to guarantee me that this subject will not come up in schools. I don't think they [No On 1] can do that."
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
The article is here, it's a discussion of the House of Lords, and how to better structure the House of Lords. The opening two paragraphs:
From there, he goes on to lay out more details about his proposed structure for the House of Lords. The content of his argument isn't really the point of why I'm bringing it up (although his logic seems rather sound). I just want to point out how he's thinking about the problem: practically.
Since it is widely believed by those outside the House of Lords itself that it should not, in its present form, continue to exist, and since the only models of reform suggested – appointment, election, or a combination of the two – are open to compelling objections, the case for total abolition is strong. But the Lords also does invaluable work, particularly as a revising chamber and in the work of its specialist committees. To bring that contribution to an end without replacing it would adversely affect, in a serious way, the quality of government in this country. Time and again, not least in recent years, we have had cause to thank providence for the House of Lords, which on occasion seems more closely attuned to the mood of the nation than the popularly elected house. If the Lords were abolished, could it be effectively replaced?
I think it could, by establishing a body which – for want of any better name – I shall call the Council of the Realm ("the Council", for short). This body would differ from the House of Lords superficially in that membership would involve no outdated pretence of nobility, and it would differ fundamentally in having no legislative power. It could not make law. It could not (save in one respect which I shall discuss shortly) obstruct the will of the Commons. There would be no persisting democratic deficit.
In the United States, our government was reformed in waves and waves ever since Andrew Jackson first introduced the concept of America as a Democracy, and usually the reforms have been aimed at making things "more democratic." Some of these steps were clearly good ones--steps toward universal sufferage. However, not everything done in the name of Democracy is necessarily a good thing -- the Republican aspect of our government is equally important.
This is the sort of discussion I'd like to see more often: how power will actually be worked, case scenarios of abuse.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
The history of copyright is somewhat illustrative of the difference between involvement and power relationship. Originally, copyright was granted by the crown, and it was a way of creating a monopoly. Specifically, one particular company run by the Corporation of London (which is what they call their city council, illuminatingly) was given monopoly over the entire publishing industry.
This was a gross abuse of government power, that basically allowed the goverment to profit by all publishing.
Compare that to the scope of Copyright within the Constiution:
To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.
The way in which it was originally implemented in the United States--a notification of copyright to the US Copyright office giving you the right to protect your own work for a period of 7 years--gave benefit to people without giving the US Government rights over the work. It still required government enforcement, but the enforcement was a positive one--it came from the will of the people.
There isn't a "copyright division" of law enforcement that runs around enforcing the law, the law is invoked in civil suits, meaning that the government doesn't control how copyright suits are structured. The Bush Administration couldn't sue Shepard Fairey to block the Obama poster in an effort to hurt Obama's election chances. In fact, the US Government isn't allowed to have copyright, so that it can't manipulate the ways in which information is distributed.
If you want an example of how a law might be abused if it's enforced by government rather than civilly, look at this election news from NYC:
The City of New York has fined mayoral candidate Bill Thompson nearly $126,000 for putting up campaign posters on city property. City rules bar candidates from hanging posters and fliers on public property and the Sanitation Department says its workers regularly rip down unauthorized material.
So far, the Thompson campaign has been ticketed 1,677 times over such postings.
Bloomberg's campaign has been fined too, but just 70 times this year. That's a big drop from four years ago, when Bloomberg was fined nearly $308,000 for poster violations.
Now, I don't know for a fact whether or not Bloomberg was involved in this, or how that drop came to pass. It's very possible that there's another set circumstances. But even the appearance of corruption is a problem (that's something I learned from Lawrence Lessig). But the potential for abuse exists.
So if we're going to take a look at a government involvement in a sector, the question is, what enforcement methods do they have? Suppose you decide to strike out on your own. What tools for enforcement can the US Government bring to bear?
Healthcare: there are some provisions for enforcement in the healthcare bill. Ironically, these are the very bipartisan measures that seem to be commonly agreed upon by both parties. It regulates the insurance industry. It doesn't add much more regulation to the doctor-patient end of things (those are already well-covered by the FDA, in terms of their ability to jail doctors who perform unapproved treatments).
The FDA's power is a big, dangerous power, actually. Imagine if a really Fundamentalist Christian FDA chief decided that the current methods of abortion are "too risky." He could, by fiat, ban abortions. Would the Supreme Court intervene on that issue, saying it contravenes Casey v. Planned Parenthood? I'm not sure how that vote would go down.
On the other hand, what's the worst thing the US Government could do to an insurer? The regulations are defined, they're not so open-ended. They could force insurance companies to pay for lots of unnecessary procedures, and support lots of people who are very expensive. That might hurt their bottom line. Even that worst-case scenario doesn't sound terrible. Or they could levy millions of dollars of fines on the insurance companies. That's onerous, but not any more massive of an intervention than the FDA.
However, I'd probably want to read the provisions of the bill before I decide whether we've given reasonable regulation of insurance companies. There are some power issues there that need to be resolved.
As for the Public Option, it doesn't give the US Government new power, except over the people that choose to enroll in it. Now, some might find that a government mandate for healthcare and a lack of viable alternatives may force them into the Public Option. But even there, the power that the US Government will have over them will be no more than Blue Cross has over me today.
What it might give the US Government is leverage, in the way that Medicare does currently. It gets them lower rates, for instance, which makes doctors complain that they are underpaid by the US Government.
It is not, however, a Government-Run healthcare, for the simple reason that it doesn't give the US Government a direct control point.
Now the other example, the National Day of Service, is even clearer on that subject. Suppose I'm an arts charity, and I sign up for the National Day of Service. If I do something that the US Government doesn't like, the worst thing that can happen to me is that they won't list me on their site.
That's the worst that can happen. I might not get the boost of some free advertising by the government.
Considering all of the pressures on non-profit arts organizations, that seems like a fairly laughable threat. "I'm not gonna list you!" That doesn't even get to "The New York Times won't review your show" levels of terror. Not getting an NEA Grant is worse than that, and God only knows how few organizations actually rely on the NEA's grants. There's no real financial loss, no threat of punishment, or anything. You just might not get as much help. You'll live.
To compare that to Animal Farm is just laughable. After all, Napoleon isn't a dictator in Animal Farm until the dogs appear. Napoleon had direct articulation of policy backed up by enforcement. That's what made it power.
I say this because, in a strange way, this somewhat esoteric-sounding set of interests have become the center of our national dialog right now--a dialog that people in my generation take for granted as having been ended, but which a determined fringe continue to place at the center of discussion, the central ideological conflict of the Cold War: what are the responsibilities of the government?
Obviously, this is a genuinely interesting and complex set of issues. But in the Cold War, this became a Manichean conflict, wherein there were only two sides: Democratic-Capitalism and Authoritarian-Communism. For my generation, that Manichean conflict seems rather silly. Most people I come into contact with realize that since FDR, the US has been a socialist country, and that even at the height of Leninism was more capitalist then its ideals would admit (when I was young, I assumed that the Soviet Union had no currency, because why would a country that apportions goods equally need currency?)
This is what the problem is today: in the wake of the Cold War, we need right now to take a deep breath, step back, and really ask: What do we expect from the US Government? What are the responsibilities of government, what powers should it have, and which ones shouldn't it have?
In the last century, we've given the US Government broad powers over interstate commerce, and national surveillance. For instance:
- The US Government now has the right to track people's reading habits
- The US Government now has the right to measure the quality of foodstuffs
- The US Government now has the right to apportion radio wavelengths, deciding who has the ability to broadcast
The problem is, we're not having a healthy discussion as to what our government should or should not be involved in. The Health-care Debate is a clear example of this. I have not yet heard a compelling, intellectual argument on either side as to why government should be involved in health-care. I've heard practical arguments on behalf of government intervention, and I've heard emotional arguments for and against.
It may seem like an academic exercise, but the fact that we're not bringing our critical thinking and intellectualism to bear on this issue is a problem. The Founding Fathers may have written the Constitution on largely practical grounds, but they made sure to explain everything intellectually.
Now, the reason I brought this conversation up is because I commented on a conference call I was on with Kalpen Modi about the 9/11 National Day of Service. This prompted a rather surreal backlash against me from people I've never heard of, who found my blog because of a Big Hollywood article (which I haven't read and am in no hurry to go out and find).
What I was curious about was that they had attacked me for being a naive artist who did not question the power relationship between grassroots organizations and the government that was interacting with them. For example, one of the closest to being a measured response (it starts off as a real comment, and then slides away at the end):
You wrote, "My sense...is this: the Obama Administration wants to create a grassroots arts policy..." This is a contradiction in terms. If the policy is created by the administration, it is not grassroots. "Grassroots," by definition, means coming from the bottom up, from the lowest possible level. What the administration intends is to create the illusion that the policy is grassroots and whoever buys into it is a willing tool of deception.
Partly, this comes from a mistatement on my part. The commenter sees me as advocating allowing the government to come up with a policy which we grassroots supporters will carry out as willing partisans. My meaning was not that. my meaning was that the Administration should come up with a policy that interfaces with the existing grassroots organizations, to help them in whatever they're already doing, rather than creating their own policy and imposing it.
In other words, instead of directly running an arts program, they just want to help arts programs that are already out there. In the same way that the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives doesn't run a church, it just helps existing faith-based programs (that's another good question: does helping existing faith-based programs violate church and state, if it turns out to be truly equal opportunity?).
What the commenters seemed unable to distinguish is what the relationship of power involved is. Here are some hypothetical relationships between government and artists:
- Government A buys art organizations and appoints NEA officers to run them.
- Government B gives the NEA powers to license performances: unlicensed performances are made illegal.
- Government C passes rules saying that the NEA can only fund Pro-America productions. The NEA evaluates grants based on their content.
- Government D creates a web listing of currently existing arts-charity programs, to help donors find them.
Now, Government D (which is the US Government, if you didn't catch my thinly failed allegory) is not controlling the arts. It might be subtly highlighting arts it likes over art it doesn't like, but that's not a gross abuse of power (if you want to see gross abuses of power, see parts one-three).
In the current anti-government liberatarian extreme climate, even the third is considered untenable. Because there is no examination of power going on, no real examination of how the government is getting involved. You just say "the government might be involved" and the response is "NO THAT'S AUTHORITARIANISM."
And in other debates, the same conflation is going on. The current health-care debate is so far centered around comparing the Public Option to Government-Run Healthcare. But it is not. There is currently no mechanism in the Public Option that allows the Government to run Healthcare. However, if the US Government had a public option and was given broad powers to interfere with its competition through regulation, there might be some trust issues to be raised. That's an argument I'd be interested in hearing.
The idea that the government will get between you and your doctor is valid. But only because insurers are already a step between us and our doctors. The current system does not allow you to simply accept whatever treatment your doctor proposes. And the argument that the government will tell your doctor whatever treatments they can or can't prescribe is silly because the FDA already does that.
Those are power relationships. The FDA's power to regulate what procedures are allowed is a power relationship. Having people rely on the US Government's money is a power relationship. The Insurance Companies, however, also have power relationships. They have the power to grant or deny care. We rely on them for their money. And we have very little power over either of them. Our democratic voice is a somewhat indirect check on the US Government (for a number of reasons), and our "consumer choice," in practice, is a rather poor check on insurance companies.
Instead, we need to pit them against each other, because their weapons against each other will be a much better check than our weapons against either of them. When Alexander Hamilton talked about political parties in The Federalist, he talked about how our government was designed on the assumption that government officials would be greedy and ambitious. The way he solved that was by trying to pit the different ambitions against each other.
Artists do need to be wary of the government. The government may propose partnerships in the future that are not so loose and free. But if we don't figure out how to talk about those power relationships, how to understand what really are the checks and balances involved, then we're just going to get into irrational arguments about the powers of government.
Fun fact: If you Google the word "Kerfufle" (the mispelling of the word "Kerfuffle"), my opinions on the "Health-Care Kerfufle" come up at position #2. I was thinking of fixing that typo, and then I realized I'd lose all that valuable traffic...
Also, the easiest way to find my blog is to google Kalpen Modi. I guess that's why the Big Hollywood crowd found this blog.
Which reminds me: today I've committed to myself to write that blog post I hinted about earlier, about the origin of the grassroots and whether governments/campaigns can interact with them without rendering them as astro-turf.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
So. A friend of mine who is in the Peace Corps in Senegal mentioned to me that she is embarking on a set of projects in a small town in Senegal (approx 20,000 residents). She chiefly wants to tackle cultural gender issues, and create an outlet for creativity that she says is stifled in the local schools. She asked me for advice.
I am drafting her an email with my own pearls of wisdom, but I wanted to ask the general community its thoughts. If you're reading this blog, you've probably spent time thinking about issues related to this one. What's the practical advice/solutions/directions you'd want to pass along?
Friday, October 9, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Speaking of Createquity, the last few days has seen Ian posting some conversations he had with Barry Hessenius. The second installment caught my eye, because it deals with art education.
The part of Ian's response that stuck out to me was this:
The reason is simple: the kids who fall in love with learning to play the tuba or do a pirouette today are the adults who are going to be competing with each other for gigs and grant money tomorrow. If we are successful in our efforts and ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience all the arts they want to during their formative years, what happens to them once they get to college?Now, Ian precedes that statement with an important set of disclaimers about how he's not dumping on the concept of studying the arts, and he doesn't want the arts to be an elite discipline--all of which is valid, and I appreciate what he's getting at.
So the question is a good one. What would we do in our dream scenario that arts education doubled the amount of people interested in the arts?
The problem, I think, is with what our arts education currently frames its goal to be. The goal, as Ian sees it, is framed right there at the top of that chunk: "the kids who fall in love with learning to play the tuba or do a pirouette today are the adults who are going to be competing with each other for gigs and grant money tomorrow."
For the arts education system today, arts education is a professional system: it exists to create arts professionals. And in the higher-education world, this is correct, and is as it should be: once you're majoring in theater, you should be aiming to be practicing theater for your life.
Yet for some reason, this thinking exists even in elementary school. When we teach elementary school-kids music, we teach them how to play the tuba. And then the expectation is that, if they're good at it, they'll keep playing tuba and eventually get a good job at an orchestra playing the tuba. If they're not good at it, well then, they'll get something out of the rest of their education.
I'd like to contrast that with English. The philosophy behind English education, at least as I was exposed to it, was that English was a language, and therefore it enfused every part of the world around us. It didn't matter whether or not you were going to go into the literary criticism field one day, as a bank teller or as a media mogul or as a tuba player, your ability to think critically in English and communicate fluently in English was a key part of your job.
That's how we should tackle art. Our elementary school program should be an artistic literacy program, not an art professional program. Kids should be learning how to listen to music, how to express themselves in music--whether or not we train them in specific skills.
The example that resonates for me comes from Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed. Boal describes a short-lived Peruvian artistic literacy program where students were given cameras, and asked a series of questions which they had to answer through photography. One question, for example, was "Where do you live?" and one student responded to it with a portrait of his older brother, whose lip had been chewed off by rats in the night. The teacher asks, "Why did you take that photo to answer 'Where do you live?'" and the student responds, "Because I live in a country where these sort of things can happen."
That student learned something powerful about arts, communication, and critical thinking. Ian seems to imply that this student will now want to become a professional photographer, and therefore we'll need to make space for him. I'm not sure that's necessarily true. Condoleeza Rice was given a beautiful full training as a concert pianist, but that didn't take her away from the realm of foreign policy.
Actually, I'm being a little unfair. What Ian really means is this:
If we’re trying to hook 55 million children on the arts in a system that pours 3.2 million new high school graduates into the market every year, even if only 10% of them decide to pursue professional careers, what happens to them when, by the NEA’s own figures, only 2 million artists can coexist in that market at any given time?The 10% figure is a lot more reasonable. But on the other hand, it is somewhat looking at the glass half-empty. So, 10% of 55 million children on the arts adds another 5.5 million children to our 2 million artist ceiling. That leaves 49.5 million art-hooked but not professional people.
So, there's two options to what those 49.5 million will do. One is they'll say, "Well I didn't get to be an artist," and then never call us ever again. The other is that they'll say, "Boy, I love the arts, and I want the arts to still be a part of my life." And then they become our concert-goers, our donors, our audience.
If they become our audience, then the 2 million cap that Ian references will probably be raised. By how much? Difficult to tell. But surely as our audience grows, so do our artists.
But I agree with Ian that it won't just happen. If we teach those 49.5 million kids that the only way to participate in the arts is by being a professional, we shouldn't be surprised if they fail to materialize in our audiences. But if we teach them to hunger after any sort of connection with arts, and give them the opportunity to connect with arts in however their lives can connect to it, then they'll be the engine that drives the 5.5 million who practice it full time.
And suppose those 49.5 million turn into voters, into advocates for the arts. Then we'll have a much better chance of turning around the negativity towards arts funding, the lack of public support. And then we'll definitely have a shot of shifting the 2 million.
My apologies for having left you behind somewhat, after a productive summer. I have lately been rather drawn in to the actual practice of the arts--putting up a show, working on publishing, etc. and therefore have not had the time to write at length about the things that go behind it.
Part of this, as well, has been that my time for writing arts policy was spent very productively: I'm pleased to announce that my first contribution to the fine blog Createquity is up. It's an analysis at length of a report called Breakthroughs in Shared Measurement, a report which I think is one of the most important reports to hit the public in recent days.
Createquity is one of the few extremely high quality arts policy analysis blogs, and it was an honor when Ian Moss contacted me about contributing. He has been very supportive of this little blog here, and it was great to get to write for him.
Anyways, stop reading this post. Go and see my analysis. I promise I'll have fresh content here soon.