Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ralph Nader

I saw Ralph Nader speak last night at FSU. I have never had the opportunity to see him speak before, so I was eager to take advantage of the situation. He was brought by CPE, and this speech was not part of promoting his presidential bid.
He spoke about things that you would expect him to speak on. He talked about how he became interested in consumer advocacy, starting with DDT killing off the birds in the area and how he worked to force auto manufacturers to improve safety in motor vehicles. He talked about how technological stagnation and lack of interest from the "experts" was institutionalized into society in a way to intentional make sure the situation would not improve.
He then went on to discuss how our political and economic system is rigged to ensure that only big businesses and multi-millionaires had their interests being looked after on the backs of the average citizen. He went on about how our duopoly of Democrats and Republicans where looking to make sure that nothing changed in this regard, as their seats where not funded by, but actually seated by the big business interests.
I thoroughly enjoyed his speech, but I thought that many times he would lose focus of the topic at hand and go of on a tangent for a while. He also didn't spend much time articulating his points, other than just stating that it was a problem and giving trivial evidence to back it up. That is fine with me, as I'm really just listening to someone tell me something I already know. For the audience of young college students who are just beginning to explore complex political issues, I think it is a little disingenuous. It is also not teaching the kids what they really need to learn, which is how to look at the facts behind the issues.
One example is where he talked about how we in fact do not live in a sue happy society. This is a well known fact that anyone who has looked beyond the rhetoric and at the figures could tell you. The fact is that we sue less-and-less than we used to. Ralph pointed out that in the late 1800s we sued twice as much per capita as we do now. I don't remember the real number, but it was something like that. What I would have actually liked to see is a graph that showed how much Americans sued per capita since the 1800s, and graph that shows how much the world has sued for during this time frame. This would have provided a good look at the raw numbers over a long period of time so that the people, mostly young students, would have come away with is a real understanding of how litigious we have been over a long period of time.
After he was done with his talk, he took questions from the audience. I found few of the questions interesting. Most of them highlighted the fact that most people in the audience where young and idealistic. I could have probably guessed with pretty good accuracy what Ralph's opinions where on these issues. He did have interested anecdotes to the situation that comes from someone who doesn't follow the same old Democratic thinking, but is a more "outside the box" thinker with many years of experience. Still the questions where only self serving to have the person reinforce his or her view on the subject. I would have been more interested in hearing about issues that aren't so clear, such as when is government regulation appropriate and when is it inappropriate. I wanted to ask a question about how he felt about making crimes, such as knowingly selling products that end up hurting and killing people prosecutable as manslaughter or third degree murder instead of just fining companies that can afford to absorb the cost.
After he was done taking questions he allowed a line to form behind a table to do book signing. I waited my turn, even though I didn't have a book and wasn't planning on buying one. When I got up there I shook his hand and asked him if he was familiar with Free and Open Source Software, Linux, and the Creative Commons license. He seemed glad to answer. He told me that he has been providing logistic support for the movement since the beginning. His aid showed me a chapter in one of his books where he wrote about the problems that Microsoft and proprietary software cause technological stagnation. The chapter was only one page front and back. Ralph said that he does not have a computer, so I guess this is an issue he believes him, but is not very important to him on a personal level.
Overall I was very happy to get to meet Ralph Nader and listen to him talk. If he comes by again I will definitely make a point to see him again. I will not be voting for him this time, as I will either be voting for Obama, because I actually like him, or I will be voting for Hillary, but only as an affirmative action vote.