Thursday, August 18, 2011

Party time!

I’m not a party guy. I like people well enough – just not necessarily in large numbers. There’s the occasional birthday event and of course the requisite holiday things that are fine so long as I know everybody in advance. My ex was the party one. The house would be filled nearly weekly with dozens of people. Early in the relationship there was a confusion about my return from the Cannes Film Festival. After nearly 20-hours of travel I stumbled home to find dozens of people I’d never seen before hanging out. I went to the bedroom, kicked a few people out, closed the blinds and promptly crashed. Our ying-yang approach to socializing was one of the things that actually worked about our relationship.

Social organizing has changed in the past few years. Want to have a group over? Send a tweet and within hours the place will be rockin’. Having a more traditional event? Set it up on Facebook or eVite a group over. It’s easier and easier to gather people quickly.


The various demonstrations and protests in the Middle East in early 2011 have been credited to Twitter and Facebook and other Social Media sites. The services allow people to quickly and easily disseminate short bursts of information to their network of friends. So it’s the modern equivalent of those 1970’s Fabrerge commercials – where you tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on. U.S. politicians use the same sites to generate interest in their events. Not sure if there’s an event for something you’re interest in? Check out MeetUp.org.


When Syria, Iran or Libya shuts down the internet and effectively eliminates the population’s ability to connect via Social Media, freedom loving westerners are outraged. China’s largest search engine Baidu closed its version of Twitter this week  leaving the country with virtually no social media outlets since Twitter, Google and Facebook are already banned. In London, after a week of riots, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron suggested that Blackberry Messenger be shut down after it was learned that most of the rioters were organized using the anonymous service.  It’s not surprising that the U.K. would overreach. London has tens of thousands of cameras at a cost in excess of $350 million that are supposed to reduce crime. Instead most of the videos go unwatched and 80% of the crimes go unsolved.

Censorship – whether it’s banning a book or limiting communication opportunities – rankles American sensibilities. Well, it used to anyway.


Each year the American Library Association publishes a list of books that have been banned. Yes, books are regularly banned in the United States.

Philadelphia claims to be the home of liberty. Last week the Mayor has ordered anybody under 18 to be off the streets by 9pm. Any child who doesn’t comply? The parent pays a $500 fine. Shocking and infuriating as that is – the same law has been on the books in Los Angeles since 1998 and dozens of other cities across the US.
 



In San Francisco this week officials went one step further: Bay Area Rapid Transit officials shut down cell phone service to several stations that were reported to be targeted by protesters.

The First Amendment allows for freedom of speech and religion. It also guarantees freedom of assembly. How helpful is it to practice free speech and freedom of religion on your own? Not so much. It’s much more effective with others – so logically the Founders provided that opportunity by prohibiting “interfering with the right to peaceably assemble.”

A civil society must have rules, regulations and laws that prevent anarchy. That structure has been in place for generations. It’s clear, however, that those rules are becoming more and more excessive to the point where government now legislates behavior instead of facilitating order.



The Constitution is the framework that outlines the relationships of the Federal Government with the States and the people. The Bill of Rights does not grant citizens rights; instead it sets limitations on what the Federal government can do. Together they form the bedrock of American society.

When we as a nation decry the tactics of another country because it offends our sense and illusion of freedom, it’s particularly mortifying to find identical examples in our own backyard. Legislation and actions that limit social media, prevent people from freely gathering to voice opinions and punishes other people for somebody else’s actions are all incremental steps that puts the kibosh on the party known as American Democracy.





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