a weblog by Schuyler D. Erle

Fri, 01 Aug 2003

[15:22] Why I'd Probably Vote for Howard Dean

Actually, I'd rather vote for Dennis "We Did Not Authorize" Kucinich for U.S. President, since his avowed politics look more like mine, but I really don't think Kucinich has a snowball's chance in middle America, sadly. Nebraska just isn't Ohio. Also, as Rich points out, Kucinich really isn't running as savvy a campaign as Dean seems to be: last month, Rich donated money to Dean's campaign, and his wife an equal amount to Kucinich. Rich heard back from the Dean organization within 48 hours; Heather (to my knowledge) still hasn't heard back from Kucinich's.

Having said that, I think I could live with voting for Dean, in spite of his relative hawkishness -- he's been quoted as saying that he disputes military spending cuts "when we're in the middle of difficulty with terror attacks" -- even though we already spend far and away more money in on weapons, etc., than much of the rest of the world has to spend on anything, period. Still, I think I could vote for the guy, because he seems to have a somewhat realistic picture of the world, and, moreover, he seems to have a conscience about his role in that picture. Here's an excerpt from a recent Slate article that forms the cornerstone of my opinion:

[Dean] wants to renegotiate NAFTA to include labor and environmental standards--his lone departure from Clinton-style Rubinomics.... (Dean's theory in a nutshell: The structure of wealth in the United States before labor unions resembled that in Third World countries today, so in order to create middle classes in the developing world, we need to bring labor unions to them.)

Won't Dean's plan make the price of goods go up? "Yeah," he says quietly. "But so what? .... Because in return for making the price of goods go up, you've fixed the illegal immigration problem, you've fixed the drain of jobs problem, you've created a middle class that can buy American exports. There's a lot you get for that."

Now that is laying it on the line. It is a fact that Americans, and probably western Europeans, too, enjoy an artificially inflated standard living brought on by the availability of goods manufactured with inexpensive foreign labor. It's a fact. Any commitment to world peace involves globalizing our standard of living, because enforced economic inequalities will necessarily result in violence sooner or later. Now, of course, in the same breath, I have to add that said standard of living, be it higher or lower than what we currently enjoy, needs to be environmentally sustainable, or it, by definition, will never last. And yet it's not clear that helping Third World workers unionize will necessarily solve the root issues of corporate globalization -- for example, the total abolishment of immigration laws, whereby the freedom of trade can be matched by the freedom of labor to go where the jobs are, as Christina Noren once suggested, would probably go a lot further towards that goal. But which of these two options is more likely to gain traction on the global political stage in 2005?

The point that I'm trying to get at is that America today needs leadership that, first, has the vision to see that the survival of the "American way of life," whatever that is, is inextricably bound to the fate of the rest of the world; and that, second, has the courage to make the hard choices that the big picture entails. The change that Dean alludes to will someday happen, whether we like it or not: either America will either lead the way to a sustainable peace and prosperity in this ever-shrinking world, or she will be torn to shreds, trying to lord her wealth over five and three-quarters billion people, and so much the worse for everyone involved. Now, you look at the cowards that run this country today, and you look at Howard Dean, and you tell me: which of them is most likely to bring about which outcome?

(Those of you who have been keeping up will probably want to know why a self-described anarchist is even considering voting in probably corrupt elections. All I can say is that, whatever your credo, when in the service of a better world, you have to use every tool at your disposal that doesn't prevent you from one day turning your adversary into your comrade. Voting, of course, is merely the beginning of democracy, and not the end of it.)

[02:23] Metadata Mania!

I've created a FOAF, or Friend-of-a-Friend, document, which I'm keeping here, and I more or less plan to try to keep it updated. FOAF, if you're unfamiliar with it, is a way of specifying "machine readable Web homepages for people, groups, companies and other kinds of thing," to quote Dan Brickley, one of its creators. All kinds of neat stuff can be done with an interconnected network of these pages, such as the co-depiction project, which connects people together based on other people they have appeared together in photographs with. If you're keen on creating your own FOAF document, you should by all means start where I did, namely with Leigh's FOAF-a-matic.

Meanwhile, I've been telling anyone who'll listen that, even though it's like three years old now, FOAF is still the Semantic Web's latest, greatest hope -- especially now that RSS has been smothered in the cradle by politics and blather -- FOAF could be the big hook that makes everyone go: "Ah, I get it now," the one killer application everyone needs -- Friendster's sure proved that. Meanwhile, the Semweb languishes on in obscurity, save for the attentions of a few very very bright and mostly British people; otherwise, for the most part, even people who should know better, like my boss Dale, who's normally one of your more visionary technologists, talk trash on the Semantic Web and claim that it hasn't lived up to its promise. Now, maybe metadata really is dead, or, just maybe, like Edd claims, it's merely still in its infancy, like Linux-in-the-Enterprise was back in '98 or '99. Still, if I was someone who really wanted to sell the world on the benefits of the Semweb's promised meta-utopia, you better believe I'd be pushing FOAF on an otherwise unsuspecting public with both hands and a trowel.

BTW, Edd is also doing interesting things with FOAF and Dashboard. I am so jealous of Dashboard I cannot even begin to say. Since just after ETech I'd been working with Jo and Rocco and the #bots crowd on something similar, a project called proximity, whose purpose in life was to once and for all answer the question: "Where did I leave that web page?" But proximity has the same basic upward goal as the Dashboard, which is to provide you the user with information relevant to what you're doing this very moment, always, in keeping with my thesis that computers are smart enough that, far from being mere mute repositories of information, they should instead seek to become active participants in our search for knowlege. Danny O'Brien has some really good musings about how this task should be circumscribed: "I like the look of Dashboard partly because it feels very informative, rather than anticipatory. It's not really making deductions about what you want to do, but throwing you extra information about what you're doing now. Think status bars versus paper clips." And yet I can't help but think how cool it would be to turn a proximity bot loose on a website I've visited, or better, on every site linked to from every site I visit, and then have it come back and give me its best guess on sites I haven't read yet that I might be interested in. Really, I just want something to help me optimize my attention (since I'm pretty bad at it myself).

So, in a fit of metadata mania, I've also annotated this blog with what they used to call in the old Usenet days its ICBM address, thus rendering the site indexable by Josh Schacter's geourl crawler. Now you can go see which websites represent things physically close to yours truly in meatspace, like Rich, for example. Josh also has a public USA-wide geocoder up there, based on the Census Bureau's TIGER data, which makes me happy because it spares me the trouble of having to set one up myself.

Speaking of Rich, check out the help wanted ad he found in the local paper recently. No, we can't figure out what they mean by "8oz.", either.

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