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mercredi 18 avril 2012

What does Garry Kasparov have to say about Democracy?

The power of pawns.
Earlier this month, your blogger had the opportunity to see Garry Kasparov. And what does chess have to do with democracy, you might ask? Quite a lot, it turns out.

After reminiscing about his chess career, Kasparov got down to political business. Here's the gist of what he had to say:

   1.  It's important to work across ideologies. If we wait to work together only with people whose views we share entirely, we'll never get anywhere. For instance, in Russia, leftist, nationalists and others all need to work together. Another key part of protest needs to be the principle of non-violence. Non-violence lets you keep the moral high ground.
Kasparov was also adamant that Revolution seeks dignity, and fights against corruption and impunity. He warned that it is unwise to say that certain groups aren't ready for democracy and one of the worst things that other countries can do is provide democratic cover to countries like Russia by pretending they are functioning democracies and including them in groups like the G8. He emphasized that appearing at conferences like that is a huge propaganda win for authoritarian rulers.
  1. He reiterated the importance of crowd-sourcing and social media as conduits for expression. He compared them to many drops, which together make a wave that can be very powerful and that the trends build over time. Then he compared the web to print and evoked Luther and the Reformation and the dissemination of those ideas with Gutenberg's press. More than ever, now, according to Kasparov, information is easier to access and is no longer an elite privilege.

  2. Then he spoke about progress. He said he was very, very worried because of the slow down in innovation and that people are afraid to take risks. He gave some examples; the moon landing, the development of credit, automobiles. All in the past. While these are important developments, new things aren't happening and if they are, they are in tiny increments. He said don't be satisfied with the status quo; always question it.

None of this is specific to Russia. They are applicable to the Arab Spring, to many African nations, and to people everywhere who are hoping to make their societies more equitable and transparent.

lundi 2 avril 2012

What's going on in Mali?

If Kal at the Moor Next Door can post first thoughts in response to something, your blogger thinks she can too.

Every day seems to bring new news about the coup in Mali, so any definitive view is premature. So far, coverage has mostly been negative.  Latest reports also indicate that in addition to sanctions by fellow West African nations, the coup leaders lost control of Timbuktu to the Tuareg rebels. 

Here are the main thoughts, which will be developed later:
1. Is this really so surprising? Things have been getting out of hand in Mali for a while, but regional focus had been on Wade in Senegal and his desire to extend his term.

2. Foreign Policy had a blog post asking "Why are coups always led by colonels?" but specifically in West Africa, there are even more junior officers: Rawlings in Ghana, Tolbert in Liberia was ousted by privates and NCOs, Thomas Sankara was a captain...

3. Noise has been made about US training of the coup leaders. That might be important or it might not. Lots of people do military training in the US, because the US has facilities and resources. It doesn't automatically make every trainee a US agent, any more than doing a post-doc at CERN commands a scientist to work forever exclusively for Switzerland's benefit.

Finally, your blogger has been doing a lot of catch-up background reading. However, she'll need to bump up Why Nations Fail since it's just been mentioned by Tom Friedman and therefore will probably be hugely popular with library patrons.