Dec 13, 2008

More than a feeling

There has been a lot of concern, as of late, about Obamas appointments. For the first 'progressive' president in a generation, he has been appointing staff from across the political spectrum, ranging from Robert Gates, the current Republican Secretary of Defense to stay in office, and rival Hillary Clinton coming in as Secretary of State.

Barack Obama kicked off his presidential campaign by writing a book, Audacity of Hope about this topic. It was an eloquent, and passionate screed against the ‘smallness of American politics.’ How the government today is so fossilized by partisan disputes today it is crippled. Not only is there a Republican/Democrat divide, but there are the extremes in both parties fighting to assert dominance. Obama burst into the national scene targeting this very topic, in his 2004 convention speech (“There is not a red America, and a blue America. There is the United States of America!”). The thesis of that entire book was that this partisan rancor has to change, and that can only done by meaningfully bridge the gap. In other words, get ‘buy in’ and advisors from across the political spectrum.

Obama suggested he wanted to change these political litmus tests (talk about audacity!) but knew he needed to win an election in a partisan society, so he ran a campaign dominated by vague phrases so he could be anything to anyone… Change & Hope (as if everyone else was pushing Stagnation & Despair). He’s said himself in his books and speeches, that people perceive him to share their values even if he doesn’t. There is something about his charisma that makes many of us (myself very much included) feel he agrees on everything important without him ever actually saying it. Obama ran on a feeling… and feelings are not legally or politically binding.

So, contrary to the Obama that I (and many liberals) felt was running, the Obama that is starting to assert himself is the one that he told us he would be. Although he has been against the Iraq war since he ran for the Senate he asked Hillary Clinton, an unapologetic supporter, to run the state department (the office that plans our foreign policy.) Today she can walk into a room and say ‘I, like most of you, supported the war. Now we need to get out.’ It’ll be an opportunity for political redemption for people across the political spectrum, even for those that had the spectacularly bad judgment to get us in the mess in the first place. The main thing that the ‘extreme anti-war liberals’ will have to show from this appointment is an end to a horrible, expensive, bloody never-ending war.

Personally, I think that counts for a lot.

Dec 1, 2008

Discovery of an entirely new direction

Before I moved back to Colorado, I never really understood the point of ritual. When I ask my devout Catholic friends 'Why?' their first answer is never about Heaven nor Hell, it is simply 'tradition.' That seemed harmless enough, but also seemed pointless. Why wake up early every Sunday morning to see something that you've seen before, and that you will always be able to see again?

Don't get me wrong, as a fan of a multicultural world I've never wished (most) human traditions would disappear, I just saw little reason to play a part in them myself. In Japan I joined in an intricate 'Tea Ceremony,' and found it fascinating and amusing. About 800 years ago a man dedicated his long life to 'perfecting' the art of making tea and has been subsequently mimicked by Japanese ever since. It's a long, tedious, detailed process to make cup of gritty tea that could be replicated (more or less) in 20 seconds with a teabag and a microwave. I appreciated it as something cultural that I could attend to get a 'Japan experience' but what could possibly be in it for eight long centuries worth of Japanese who just want something hot to drink?

It took me about a decade and a half after that to figure it out, but it's starting to make sense. Every holiday since I moved to Colorado, I've been a part of some unique family rituals. They are loosely based on Native American traditions adapted heavily by my uncle Stephen. One such tradition, that crops up on every major holiday and gathering, is a prayer to the six directions. In a nutshell, everyone faces each direction (compass direction + up and down) offering a prayer to what we find there. For example, towards the East we pray to the direction where the sun rises, the great plains, and the possibility of new beginnings... etc. After that we each, in turn, wave sagebrush smoke over us as a spiritual cleanse.

When Tyler and I moved to Colorado we dutifully joined in on these quirky family rituals to try to fit in as the prodigal sons from east, but before long I caught myself craving them. There is something I find incredibly powerful each and every time we do it. Every time I play a part I feel connected in some vital way to me, and the others there, doing the same ritual both into the past and into the future. To an outside observer, or a surly teenager, it is nothing more than an incantation spoken into a suburban backyard. And although that may well be accurate, it misses huge impacts in how it can inexplicably change how each participant sees the universe. The effect, for me, in some way fuels energy, focus and understanding that do alter how I face the world. When on Thanksgiving this year I felt myself connected to Thanksgiving '07, '06 I couldn't help but get an understanding of personal, and community evolution. I can't begin to explain it, but I can no longer deny it.

Beyond the personal benefits, rituals like this have a powerful way of connecting people. Although I only started a few years ago, I've been able to watch new people brought into it. Last year I brought my Chinese friend Zhuolun, this year his new wife Katie came too. When people circle up and we start the prayer new people fidget unsure of what they're supposed to do. Somehow, by the end, everyone involved feels a measure closer to the others and that comfort stays with them, long after the ritual is over.

It doesn't really matter why these rituals have such power. What matters is they have it.

For all the power of continuity, this year the ritual changed. Stephen took inspiration from a Lakota speaker and added a whole new direction. In addition to praying East, South, West, North, Up and Down we now also take a moment to focus Inside. It seems apropos, obvious in retrospect, but it also represents a brand new dimension in my spiritual evolution. Going into a new year, I'm looking forward to finding out what something so simple actually means.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Nov 25, 2008

Hey buddy, can you spare a dime....

... or $5 Trillion, so I can get a hot meal. Thanks!

I'd just like to say, kids are great. They have that wide-eyed innocence and naivete about them and they're quick to help out a friend in need (even if they haven't been born yet!) I just wish I had kids, so I could take out credit cards in their names.

Curious what I'm talking about? These bailout bills that keep showing up in the news are staggering in scope and I just found a blog post that puts them into context.
If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars.

People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Crunching the inflation adjusted numbers, we find the bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

TOTAL: $3.92 trillion

This doesn't mean we necessarily should not do it, leaving the next generation a crumbled economy helps no one. It does mean that we should expect and demand that the bailout should have a massive impact on how humans live on the planet.

As we sell the next generation of Americans into desperate debt the least we can do is leave them a well running planet. Or, perhaps, we should just continue to funnel resources to the greediest generation of Americans in history, the Baby Boomers.

Oct 20, 2008

Awakening from a Coma

Shocking fans world wide LiveDeliberately awoke today from a coma. In mid 2006, for no apparent reason, this wildly popular blog keeled over in front of friends and family and lost consciousness. Initially, all assumed it was a joke and the blog would soon be up and alliterating. As the days stretched to weeks, then months and years the gaunt frame of this once vibrant blog was only a pale shadow of its former glory. It lost weight, withering into the generic 'blogger' template. Aside from a short bout of delusional ranting in 2007 not a word has been heard from this once mighty internet pulpit. Until this moment.

I just blinked my eyes awake...bewildered by the bright lights of 2008. My last memory was something about a pool table and a dream in 2006, but that seems like a lifetime ago. So, what've I missed? Huh? An Obama is a what? Really? OK, OK, Wise guy. You almost had me believing that America was about to elect him president, until you pushed the joke too far with hints that the 'very experienced' Republicans chose a weathergirl to be VP. Cute. Seriously, who has Clinton chosen as her running mate?

It turns out, Micah has been a little more active than I have. When we fell silent he had just netted a dream job, and was anxious to plunge into life in Denver. Home was a Koi pond with an adjoining building, and the job was doing energy modelling of buildings at a little consulting firm. It had everything Micah was looking for interesting projects, brilliant colleagues, and meaningful work. It had everything, except passion.

Micah and Tyler moved into a large apartment in the up and coming part of Denver called Five Points, and were soon joined by their lovely cousin Crystal. This trio made the house home, and invited dear friends to use it as an entree into Denver. Peter, Holly, and Raph also started their Denver stories at that mansion on Glenarm.

2007-06-12 WheatfieldDays 37 of 70

Micahs 'dream job' didn't work out for anyone. Feeling down, because he had found the career he'd been preparing for since the last millenium made him miserable when he did it. Micah chose to to go into the Peace Corps and signed on with a tiny nonprofit called iCAST to pay the bills 'til the plane left... but didn't quite leave. iCAST gave Micah an opportunity to do more of things he hoped, with a lot of luck and hard work, he might do in the Peace Corps. It quickly became the best job he ever had. His coworkers are dear friends, and the projects were dizzying in scope and variety. Micah taught farmers how to make biodiesel, sited wind turbines, tutored students, upgraded homeless shelters, and generally working tirelessly to shrink the gap between fantasy and reality. The world woke up, green turned hip ... and iCAST quintupled in a year and a half.

In addition to the deliciously frantic pace during the week this blog was left all alone on weekends too because of the big lumbering giants to the west. In the grey northeast, blue skies can make a compelling argument to drop everything and go outside. In Colorado there are blue skies 300 days a year and Micah still can't resist going out to play in the mountains. Somehow, with good fortune and a tall tale about Herbert Hoover Micah met his muse. Erin is a teacher who has built her life around chasing hope, dreams and passion all over the world.

Micahs era at iCAST ended with smiles and hopeful handshakes. Today Micah spends his days talking to utilities about how they can make more money by polluting less.

But this, and the rest of the tale, is a story for another day. The ice has been broken, and once more this blog will share the unfolding saga of the Brothers MacAllen.