Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Kiva! Help save the world… for FREE!!

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I’ve been using Kiva for a little bit now and I’m very impressed with it. It’s basically a web-based micro-lending site, where you make loans of, usually, 25 dollars to people who can really use them. Then when the loan is returned, you can reinvest it with someone else.

It’s great. Go to the site. Check it out.

The thing is that for a limited time Kiva is allowing members like me to offer a free trial whereby you can make your first 25 dollar loan for free. There are only a limited number of these so please act now!

Here’s the link http://kiva.org/invitedby/leon9175

DO IT!

You’ll be glad you did. I promise…

I’m (relatively) rich!

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

I’ve been back in NYC for a few days now, watching the country try to figure out if it’s panicking, hopeful or just normal. Stories about those “Thank you Sarah Palin” (I used the name) videos. Stories about people who used to contribute money to food kitchens in the DC area, showing up for food. Bizarre discussions about how the new administration is going to be for comedians (now THATS a slow news day).

All this in the context for me of returning to the Big City, during the holidays. A time when the romance of this place is hard to miss. I sat next to a woman on the flight from Atlanta who was visiting the city for the first time. She was older (60s?), from Tennessee, and was traveling with her family. They had no relatives or friends in the city, and although this was her first time, her children make the trip almost every year. The focal point was the Macy’s parade to kick off a weekend of shopping. Not that I would want to judge, but it didn’t seem like these people were particularly well off. Somewhere in the vast white middle class at best. I was oddly moved, and as much as I find the commercialization of the NYC brand distasteful (that new “Go [heart] your own city” shirt is great), as a resident of the city that this nice old lady was visiting, I couldn’t help but feel like we had company. When we landed, I didn’t make a big deal of it, but I welcomed her, and wished her a pleasant time in our city.

I’ve been saying, ever since the economic (insert word. Suggestions: Downturn. Collapse. Catastrophe. Melt-down. Apocalypse. Correction. Comeuppance. Whoopee-cushion. From-hell’s-heart-I-stab-at-thee. Elegant-demonstration-that-Reagan-was-wrong. Buddy-could-you-spare-a-dime. etc), “It’s a good time to not have anything.” The idea being that those of us who didn’t have millions couldn’t lose them if we tried. There actually is a practical advantage, psychologically, to having very little to lose. There are also, the well documented, and very practical disadvantages, but what’s the point of whining about that? I’ll leave that to the newly poor.

But the terms “rich” and “poor” are completely relative. The majority of people on the planet, get by on a tiny fraction of what I consume. By any reasonable global standard, I’m filthy rich. I have to consciously limit my caloric intake. That’s crazy! I have to exert energy to exercise my will, to NOT eat. To quote Oliver Stone “Man, you gotta be rich to even THINK that way.”

But compare me to the average guy my age, at my level of education (not necessarily in my field), in my city. I’m WAY below average. I’m pretty close to poor. But here’s the thing: Thanks to the recent economic dilly-oh, a lot of those guys lost millions and millions of dollars. I didn’t. That means the disparity between us has closed by millions of dollars. Its like I just MADE millions of dollars.

Now if only I could convince Citibank of this… Maybe I should show up in a private jet and ask for a bailout. Arguing that I’ve made stupid choices in the past and therefore should be given a boatload of money…

I am Iraq

Monday, November 24th, 2008

This is a little bit random, but following up on the last post: I heard someone singing S&G’s “I Am A Rock” the other day, and the following, slight, adjustment of the lyrics occurred to me. Its essentially the same joke as “Iran is a country between Iraq and a hard place,” but the more I thought through the entire song, the more poignant it became. And funny.

Of course there’s a problem with the line “I am an island.” And at first I tried to find something like “I am not Ireland.” But ultimately it became more interesting to imagine Iraq thinking of itself as an island.

So enjoy! Sing along if you know the tune…

“A winters day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am Iraq,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
Its laughter and its loving I disdain.
I am Iraq,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the word before;
Its sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am Iraq,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am Iraq,
I am an island.

And Iraq feels no pain;
And an island never cries.”

Living in a Cartogram

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Yes. I’m still writing about the election.

So there were some jokes I’ve been telling after the election. My favorite is “It’s good to have a crypto-Muslim back in the White House. This country hasn’t had that since Filmore…” I’m also fond of pointing out how this whole change thing is a sham. Gravity (or what have you) is still just as strong.

There was another joke I was telling the day or so surrounding the actual election, about how I thought we should be a Quaker country and we’d have to wait until we had unanimity on the president. Until every last person agreed. This qualifies as a joke because it contains some truth. If I could choose I would prefer the country where everybody wants Obama to be pres.

So NPR’s Science Friday, which is a kind of dorky show but I listen to it (Pod catching) every week because I often learn amazing things, posted this video. At first I was kind of “Yeah, yeah…” about it but for some reason it stuck with me. I kept thinking about how we over-simplify our thinking about our society. How we sometimes fail to see that there’s actual beauty in our situation. How boring it would be if the world was the way we wanted it to be. It is the job of science to constantly remind us that the world is actually much harder to understand, and much more beautiful than we though.

Enjoy!

OMFG!!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

President Elect Barak Obama!

What a pleasure it is to type those words in that order and know that it’s a description of a person who actually exists. A fact instead of a jinx.

I keep waiting to wake up, and at the same time realizing that we are finally waking up from the nightmare.

While listening to President Elect Barak Obama’s speech last night, my mind would occasionally flash to an image of our still current president, and a reversal of a bit of Hamlet would ring through my ears: “So excellent a king that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr…”

I am filled with a sense of purpose that exists on two channels:

  1. Hyperion Obama is right. All we have accomplished at this point is the securing of an opportunity to change things. The real work starts now. He is not some sort of messiah or national magic negro. He’s our community organizer. We’re his community. So get organized. Get to work. Look around you. How did this happen to this place? Clean it up! Fix it! He’s calling us to service. Answer!

  2. We MUST learn not to let what happened to this country in the last eight years (or more) happen again. We are ALL culpable. It was not the fault of the “red states.” Get past that. There is a good chance that we will one day look back and think fondly of the Bush years, cause they were so much better than the Palin administration. Obama is opening the door to a change that will make the divisive politics of the past a permanent part of the past. To make this stick, we have to find ways to reach out to the people on the other side of the alleged cultural divide in this country and find ways to talk to them. This is not a time to gloat. This is a time to reach out to the MILLIONS of Amearicans, who are terrified that we just handed the keys to the oval office to a racially inferior, old-school socialist, cryptomuslum terrorist. To call them ignorant losers is not what the country needs right now. We need to find a way to allow them to open up in ways that they are going to find difficult. Those of us who are not scared must find ways to help those that are. If we do not, then we leave them open to the schemes of those who would manipulate that fear for their own political gain. The divisions that divide us go deep. They are not going to go away easily. The fact of Obama’s election is one of the best footholds we’ve had. Let’s put some weight on it, and put it to work. This is not his job. This is our job as citizens. He’s got other fish to fry. He has to save the world.

This is possibly the highest quality human being we’ve elected in a really long time. Let’s not waste the next four years on wishful thinking, and unsupported expectations. Don’t ask him to help you. Help him.

We now have a real leader.

Let’s get out there and see what this United States thing can do…

A meerkat on the eve of election

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

I’m back in Boulder Co. One thing I’ve learned about coming up to this altitude is that physical exertion (and daily Emergen-C) is the best way to acclimatize. To me, the most attractive physical exertion available round these parts, is hiking in the front range of the Rocky Mountains. So I’ve been going out almost every day for extended sojourns into the almost stereotypically beautiful woods.

There is an astounding degree of horticultural and geological variation in the few square miles of public lands just outside of Boulder, and the well groomed and well used trail system is a testament to a community that knows what’s it got here and doesn’t take it for granted. Aside from serving as a large scale dog-run and non-threatening casual date spot for the E-conscious CU gang, it is also a training ground for a wide variety of athletes. There’s a good number of olympians and other serious performance junkies who live up here specifically to train at this altitude, and there’s nothing in the world like the feeling when you’re picking your way up a steep rocky trail in all your hiking gear, and a guy in shorts tee-shirt and running shoes (no water) bounds past you up the slope faster than you can run on a flat surface at sea level.

Near the end of the time that I was here in March I hiked to the summit of Green Mountain (8144’). This suddenly connected the hiking that I was doing here to the “mountain climbing” that I used to do in Japan as a teenager. The difference here was that I was doing it alone, whereas in Japan I always went with other people. Now that I’m back here I find that I’m drawn to summits. I’ve already been up on Bear Peak (8461’), and South Boulder Peak (8549’). Although these are far from serious mountains on the scale of mountains in the world, these climbs are significantly more strenuous than the flatter trails people are walking their dogs on. They require a modicum of planning and preparation, and I find that, at my current level, I need recuperation after them.

So I’ve been trying to figure out why it is that I’m so drawn to these peaks. Getting to the top of a mountain is a singular thing. Tibetan monks prescribe it as a cure for depression. It is literally elevating and suspiciously spiritual. But in my experience a sense of conquest is not a part of it. I’m acutely aware that I’m not climbing these things cause I’m a boy. Part of how I know this is that back in the day in Japan, the sense of conquering the mountain was more a part of it. Now it’s coming from something else.

I think it’s the meerkat in me. Walking around in the woods, I want to get up above the trees to look around. Not to command. To locate. I want to know where I am. To experience where I am. Turn my head and see Denver, a mile high below me. Turn my head and see the Nazca lines of Aspen, telling the space aliens where we ski.

Green Mountain is very present when you’re in Boulder it looms above the Flatirons like a theatrical backdrop. But when you actually walk to it, it’s much further back in the range than it seems. The Front Range is actually deeper than it is high, which is hard to feel in the foreshortened perspective from the Whole Foods parking lot. Maps hint at this, but a map is not the territory. I “know” that I’m on the surface of a sphere, but when I look across the sweep of the Rockies at peaks I know are higher than the mountain I’m standing on, and they’re “below” me, I’m actually experiencing the curvature of the earth with my senses.

The map is not the territory and a picture is not the scenery. There is no way to climb a mountain except by climbing it. Putting one foot in front of the next. One at a time. This is catnip to my current philosophical obsession with the idea that the really important truths about reality are not only obvious, but self evident and right in front of our noses. We have used our massive cerebral cortex to invent confusion and ignorance.

But the reason the meerkat stands up is because it’s scared. And it’s scared because there are things threatening it’s survival which seek to exploit limitations in it’s sphere of awareness. If it ignores a slice of it’s sensory pie, thats the angle the predator will use to come in.

It’s possible to see the woods as a Disneyscape of benign peace. But it’s also a corpse strewn deathscape filled with nervous animals desperately scratching out their survival between the crush of last winter and the next, amongst the cadavers of trees, shattered and rotting. The other day, there was a fly buzzing around me and I thought to it “What are you doing?” And it answered, “Checking to see if you’re dead so I can lay my eggs in you. What are YOU doing?” “Touche!”

It has been found that if you were to translate into human emotional terms, the experience of being almost any animal on the planet, the default state is one of fear, bordering on terror. Yet, when I look at the birds, squirrels and deer along the trails, I see them not as scared, but alert. It is clear that this fear they live in is not a negative thing. It is an essential component of their vitality. When they lose it (in a zoo for example) they are in a way similar to many humans; dead.

There is something deeply compelling about walking into a place where a misstep could result in serious injury, and a mountain lion or bear, could in an instant remind me where I actually am on the food chain. And as beautiful as it is, when I’m out there, part of the experience is that I’m afraid. I think that’s normal. I think that’s healthy.

I’m going to go to the top of the mountain and look around. See what’s coming to get me.

Sarah The Candidate.

Monday, October 27th, 2008

This morning, I watched a rally by the republican vice presidential candidate who I am committed to not naming on this blog. She was talking about Joe the Plumber and Cindy the Citizen and Bill the Builder etc, and I suddenly realized what she’s doing and why I have a problem with it. She’s not running for vice president of the United States. She’s running for vice president of Sesame Street!

Then the crowd started chanting “Use your brain. Vote McCain.” It wasn’t so much that they were chanting this, but they were chanting it brainlessly. I mean have these people never heard of irony?

So these rallys, which a few weeks ago were “Nuremburg-Lite”, are now “Elmo Live” events, playing to a crowd of Zombie children.

I know it’s bad form to speak ill of my fellow citizens on the other side of the alleged cultural divide. But there’s a lot of buzz about how her Veepness is now positioning herself for power plays within the RNC after a McCain defeat. If this is true (and even if it isn’t) this is not the last context in which we will have to deal with this person and the tripe that flows so bitterly from her. Although this is good for Tina Fey’s career, I think we need to keep working to wake the zombies up. These people have brains. And they are not children. This is why it’s so offensive to see them acting like the Children of the Corn.

I am beginning to actually have hope that Barak Obama may just pull this off. Like most people I’m afraid to say this cause it’s just so tempting and it seems so easy to jinx, but I’ve always said that the more the election is about the economy, the more chance Barak has. Who could have predicted this economic collapse, and how it is finally edging Obama into something like a lead that might have some traction?

I don’t have enough to lose much in the current situation, so although I know it’s short sighted and cold blooded to say so, if it takes an economic catastrophie to get Obama in the White House, then so be it.

This being said, I hear stories every day that remind me it’s not over.

So keep working! I don’t want to live on Lobotomized Sesame Street.

Fear (addendum)

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

After I posted yesterday’s entry I was watching some Ted talks (as I am wont to do), and saw the new one by Jonathan Haidt. I’ve seen him speak before and he always challenges me in really interesting ways, but the more I thought, and talked about this talk, the more profound it became to me. I also couldn’t escape the relevance to what I was trying to get at in yesterday’s post.

I haven’t read it yet, but Anne Bogart says that Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom is one of her favorite books.

Enjoy…

Fear

Friday, September 19th, 2008

It would seem that the folks who have hi-jacked the GOP and turned it into a heartless power-mongering machine, have managed to steer this election back towards the territory of the oft commented upon “Culture War” in the United States.

At the end of the DNC, I had hope that we were not going to go down this road…

I don’t want to name the individual who’s selection to run with McCain has been the most polarizing move in this game. I will not use the name because I don’t want to add to the number of times that name is out there. However I will say this:

It is profoundly confusing to me and many of my friends, to find ourselves in a country that has a significant number of people who will enthusiastically get behind this person. Some are reacting by blaming the media, saying that there really aren’t that many people behind her. I think this is wishful thinking. Others are just throwing mud and saying that people are just stupid. I think this is unfair. I think there are a lot of things going on but one of the big things that is going on is that people are scared.

It is hard to argue against the idea that Barack Obama represents change. He is, I think, appealing to the better angels of our nature. For many of us, this is exciting, and downright necessary. I happen to think our lives depend on it. But I also think that we need to come to terms with the extent to which this is scary for a lot of people.

We are in the midst of environmental and economic catastrophe. We are also at war. This is scary.

On top of this I think that many people look at Obama and feel fundamentally uncomfortable. It could be because he’s black, or because he’s educated, or because he’s new. In any case this feeling of ill-ease is scary.

So. I think people are looking for a reason to not support Barack Obama. They NEED a reason to not support him. For example: Many people in the United States have been culturally trained to not express racist sentiment. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have racist sentiments. It just means that those sentiments don’t get aired and don’t sit easily in them. So they will grasp for any other excuse to run from Obama so that they don’t have to say “I don’t like him cause he’s black.”

People who have two or three SUVs in their driveways, are afraid to change things that they see as fundamental to their lifestyle. So they chant “Drill, Baby, Drill!” It’s reassuring.

I don’t think these people are stupid. I think they’re scared. They feel trapped, and they’re looking for a way out.

They’re grasping for this new VP candidate because she seems to offer that way out. On a completely superficial, cultural level, she seems to offer comfort. We need to understand this. To ignore why this is happening is to be out of touch with our fellow citizens. To write it off is bigotry.

We don’t help them by telling them how irrational they’re being. We don’t help them by telling them they’re greedy, racist, idiots. I think we help them by helping them chill out. Calm down. Think about what’s going on. Look around. Listen to what people are actually saying. Pay attention, and take action based on consideration and rational thought.

On the other side, there is so much fear in how we are reacting to this new member of the McCain ticket. Hatred and fear. I don’t disagree with the reasons for these feelings, but I do disagree with the response. Chill out. Calm down. Think about what’s going on. Look around. Listen to what people are actually saying. Pay attention, and take action based on consideration and rational thought.

The result may be the same, but let it come from the better angels of our nature. Not the devils of fear that these power-mongers need to conjure in us all.

That’s what I think today…

Dear Mr. Obama,

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Dear Barak (can I call you that?),

I have a favor to ask of you. I understand that you have a complicated vision of what needs to be done in this country. It is sophisticated and comprehensive (although an arts policy would be nice). I understand that you can’t boil our situation down into one single issue and hope to get elected.

But this, so-called, “Climate Crisis” thing is a pretty big deal. So here’s one thing that I’d like you to do. Please.

  1. Become president of the United States (I’ll try to help with this if I can).

  2. Once sworn in, create a new cabinet level (or higher if there is such a thing) position called “Climate Tsar” or “Superman” or whatever.

  3. Appoint Al Gore to this position.

  4. Give Gore almost unlimited power, with the mandate of saving humanity. Give him the same power you would give him if he were conducting the largest military war we can imagine, against the most vicious and evil enemy ever. Give him an obscene amount of power, and then take it away if he abuses it.

Pretty please?

I am not saying this because I think he should be president and you should not. I think you should be president and not him.

In case you need a refresher on Mr. Gore here’s a vid of him at TED this last April. If you haven’t seen it, take a look. It’s about 20 mins long:

See. I think he’s valuable.

You’re going to have a lot on your plate. You have to take care of all sorts of people and issues. On top of which you’re a senator from the most nuclear state in the country. You’ve gotten a lot of campaign money from the nuclear industry. I get that, you’re a politician. You’re doing what you have to do. I seriously don’t have a problem with this.

As you have so eloquently pointed out, we’re going to have to start transcending politics. Maybe someone like Gore who has left the political fray has something important to offer. He represents the best chance we have to address this particular problem. I think one of your jobs as president will be to utilize the resources that we have. Al Gore as a citizen of the United States, is a really valuable resource.

Tap some of that!

Your buddy.

Leon.