Monday, November 03, 2008

Slowing down, Tuning in

Never enough time. There is always something else to do, and we run ourselves ragged from dawn to dusk, chasing the carrot dangling before us, thinking that one day we will get there. In the meantime, we surround ourselves with an increasing number of objects whose obsolescence is built in, and most often are nothing but completely useless when their end finally comes. And we tell ourselves that all we want is to be happy, we want the magical ending at the end of the movie, where everything works out, and the life that we deserve will finally come to pass, happily ever after . . .

There is a movement taking place in pockets throughout the world, a movement towards a post-carbon world. This world is vastly different from ours. It is a simpler life, in greater harmony with our immediate environment, where things take a long as they take, and cooperation is not only beneficial but uplifting and liberating.

Check out this video, the one about "A Simpler Life."

I think the most common criticism of this simpler way of life, is that quite simply, it is boring. It minimizes the numerous and constant distractions, the spectacles, the dramas and emotional imbalances that make our lives increasingly like TV, and TV increasingly like our lives. But ask yourself, would you be willing to give up that artificial, spectacle induced intensity, for a deeper and more steady intensity, for peace of mind and the release from your fears and self-inflicted worries?

I would.

There is a tacit connection between the solutions posed by those thinking about the post-carbon future and the awakening of conscious evolution within our hearts. The two go hand in hand, and are indeed self-reinforcing. This is "what's next." This is the potential of the human future.

More later, dear friends.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Obama's War

Many moons ago, in a blog that may still exist in some wasted and forgotten corner of the web, I wrote that the two most dangerous terror exporting countries in the world are Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This belief persists. While either country presents its own unique set of problems and challenges, I feel that at this particular historical moment, Pakistan proves a worthy locus of examination.

Not so long ago, Presidential candidate Barack Obama stated that he would, as president, authorize an incursion into Pakistani sovereign territory if it meant capturing Bin Laden, and presumably any top Al-Qaeda leadership. McCain pounced unflinchingly, suggesting that Obama's statement - advocating a military action against an "ally" - reflected his lack of foreign policy experience and his lack of understanding on how to deal with complex global issues.

Now, it is a distinct possibility that what I am about to say will be lost on the average American. Despite our deep involvement in South Asia, it remains an ill-understood region. A blog is perhaps not the best place for a lecture on Pakistan 101, but let it be said simply that Pakistan has been engaged in colonial action in Afghanistan for the last 15-20 years, and this has largely been at the command and control of the Punjabi military elite and everyone's favorite intelligence service, the ISI.

Afghanistan may not have become a haven for Al-Qaeda. Afghanistan may not have become a country ripe for the kind of ultra-paternalist brutality of the Taliban. Without ISI inteference, Ahmad Shah Masood may well have taken control of Kabul, and kept the opium funded warlords out. Make no mistake, the chaos in Afghanistan and the lawlessness in places like Wazirastan are no accident, but rather the result of duplicity and machination. Pakistan has held imperial ambitions on Afghanistan since Pakistan's very birth. The chaos of the last 20 years have given it its finest opportunity.

Obama has implied publicly what many won't dare speak out loud. Pakistan is not a reliable partner in trying to rid the world of Al-Qaeda. Pakistan's ambitions are solely her own. The sooner we realize this as a nation, the sooner we can stop wasting vital resources supporting corrupt military regimes in a country whose relationship with democracy is casual at best. Some support will remain necessary, particularly with regards the protection of nuclear weapons and materials within Pakistan, but this can be done with an international effort, and does not require a "special" bilateral relationship.

Staying in bed with lesser demons to get the devil out of your house sounds at best like many nights spent in hell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The wasted suburbs

Today I made use of Sacramento public transit for the first time. A beautiful morning began with a brisk sunlit walk through downtown with my lovely partner, then onto the sac to roseville commuter bus. A quick twenty miles down interstate 80, and I emerged on the street in front of the Westfield galleria, just blocks from my office. Someone else did the driving while I read, and I even got some exercise. Brilliant.

I know that having a car means getting home sooner,which proves critical if little Cody needs a ride to ballet, or little Katie a lift to b-ball practice. I, not being possessed of little ones, have found another valuable reason for having a car in a place like Roseville. Put simply, to avoid having to experience the absolute crap land use that defines contemporary suburbia.

Above is an example of a sidewalk and setback on a major arterial. The concrete sidewalk is about fifteen feet wide, plus landscaping that pushes to ten feet in spots. Then the setback begins, fifty feet on some spots. What's the reason for this depth?Ostensibly, the size of the arterial requires such a distance. But if that is true, why not increase the greenspace, or the bike lane? I was the only one walking, and I don't need fifteen feet of sidewalk.

It has been said that suburbanization is perhaps the greatest misuse of resources in human history. Get out of your cars and start looking around, and ask yourself, is this really the best we can do?

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Joe six pack is a drunk

I have, on occasion, been accused of being a hippy. No, I don't wear tie-dye t-shirts nor do I insist on the consciousness-expanding possibilities of certain pharmcopia (anymore). I don't smell of patchouli, and I can only name two dead songs, one from the 80's. Yet, I must ask the question, as has been asked before, what's so funny about peace love and understanding? Nothing really, I'm all for, um, that. I agrre with hippies and their hippy-like ilk on a number of issues. I think we should all just get along, man. I just try not to say it with a slack jaw while moving my long hair to that place behind my ears from whence it will inevitably fall again as soon as I look down to lip the bong. I like to think of it as the substance without the style.

Similarly, there are things, very few things mind you, that are said by conservatives that I actually agree with. If I may revisit the Costello lyric, what's so funny about small government and fiscal responsibility? I don't expect I will become a NASCAR fan anytime soon, or give up drinking imported beer. For me, it's all about substance not style.

So, dear reader, you may well inquire why I am telling you all of this. I imagine most of us believe ourselves to be basically moderate in our views. Sure, we might self-identify with one or the other end of the ideological spectrum. However, the so-called cultural divide tends to wither once we get some distance from the talking heads of the 24 hour news cycle and engage in everyday life.

Friends, the challenges that confront us do not require hockey moms, or joe six pack, or even liberal progressives. They require simply that we start being grown ups, being honest with ourselves and each other, while resisting the blitz of polarization and misrepresentation. It's the right thing to do.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Congress Saves Rubber Stamp for Another Day.

Today's vote on the $700 billion dollar bailout planproved to be a stunning example of emotionally potent oversimplification, executed with classic split-screen tech narrative cut and paste. Fox News, the guardians of irrationality, showed the electronic vote tally from the floor, alongside a ticker ticking out the rapid descent of the DJIA. All the while, a manicured talking head repeated rhetorical refrains of "Despite the fact that they were told by the President . . ." And when it turned out that it was overwhelmingly Republicans who shot down the plan, quick fingers pointed hysterical blame at Speaker Pelosi. Her charge? It seems that Nancy stands guilty of persuading a dozen or so Republicans that being members of the GOP typically means that you don't go in for quasi-socialist nationalization programs. Fancy that.

Brazilian President Lula Da Silva was quoted today as saying that developing nations such as his own should not be made into 'victims of the casino erected by the American economy." I'll go him one further and say that the American people should not be left to pay the house either. Clearly, the financial system is in tatters, and the reverberations will be felt for some time to come, as well as some distance. Already, banks in Germany, Iceland and the UK suddenly find themselves in the grip of national bailout schemes. However, I for one think that for seemingly the first time in a long time, the congress might have doen something right. Now, dear reader, before we get ahead of ourselves, don't for an instant think that I have suddenly become a believer! No. It just seems that for once, despite the jarring repetition, the oversimplification and the fearmongering, Congress today voted to look for an alternative solution to the first one put in front of their rubber-stamp-in-hand faces.

Now, if we can come up with something better . . . say, giving the money to the the people defaulting on loans, so that they,um, don't default, and then the mortgage backed securities that have created the bad debt for the financial intitutions will no longer be, um, like, bad debt . . .?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fool's Gold

Two states in competition for regional status, both major oil producers, both with drastically different roles on the global stage, Saudi Arabia and Iran have both reacted to near record oil prices today. Saudi Arabia, the pliant, desperate and profligate friend of the US has announced an increase of regular production of approximately 200,000 barrels. It is unknown how much of a dent this will make in market prices, but perhaps the strategy lies in leading the way for other OPEC nations to take similar measures and attack prices as a supply side issue.

However, so much speculation still revolves round the actual causes of the record prices. Some say it’s the weak dollar, increased demand from China and India, even market speculation that has driven prices artificially higher and separating price from supply and demand considerations. It is most likely - as is usual in complex systems - that all factors play some role, with emergence likely occurring between factors (such as a feedback mechanism by which food-miles increase the price of foodstuffs, and currency being made available for basic resources is increased, thus driving the dollar down further exciting the price of oil against US dollar reserves, etc.).

Iranian President Ahmadinejad has almost simplified it for us, calling the price of oil "fake" and the result of political and geopolitical machinations. Strangely, and perhaps a bit frighteningly, his explanation has so far proved one that is at least willing to consider the complex systems explanation for macro-level events, such as setting the global price of oil. Wall street has a tendency to find a narrow angle and exploit it, using one or two factors, but never much more than that, if for no other reason than the fact that complex analysis is time consuming and often blurry at the fringes, and not perceived as a useful model for business. So I must, with a bit of reluctance, give credit to the Iranian prez for doing two things that the Walking narcoleptic is very interested in: 1) Looking at macro events as non-reductionist, structural events embedded within complex systems, and 2) Defying the redctionist tendencies of oversimplified discourse that obscure in the name of clarity.

Remember, truth requires rigour!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Khan Younis

We don't need reminders of the cost of war. At the time of this writing, the American economy staggers in the wake of predatory and avaricious finance schemes, and while the high definition chatter bemoans the "blood on the streets" in the gilded halls of Corporate Board rooms, the cries pass silently over the dying inner cities, the withering middle class neighborhoods build on flimsy dreams and too much sweat. While the average American watches decades of wealth slowly disappear, the war machine rages on.

According to recent studies, at least $10 billion dollars has gone completely unaccounted for in Iraq. In the Pakistani Tribal regions, a dozen Pakistani soldiers lost their lives today in a hail of confusion, confusion compounded by the digital fog of instantaneous information, equally agile in deception as truth.

Israel, the nation that receives the largesse of our American generosity, raided Gaza today, resulting in the death of Hadel Afnere, an 11-year-old girl. Surely it was a mistake. One that happens all to often on both sides, on all sides.

Our contemporary economic system depends on factors such as risk management, externalities, hidden costs, and cost/benefit analysis. Taken at a glance, when the system is looked at holistically and with emergent properties accounted for, it doesn't take long to realize that the "endless" war in which we currently find ourselves engaged, is about as bad as business can get.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dispatches from the static . . .

For almost eight years now, we have been living with a Chief Executive with a unique ability to take a "buzz-word" and pound it into unintelligibility with coarseness and a painful lack of persuasiveness. This morning, while driving, I heard him exhibit this rustic skill with the word "destabilizing." Hamas is destabilizing, Syria is destabilizing, Iran and Hezbollah are destabilizing.

Now, to be sure, the use of the emotionally potent oversimplication is nothing new. One can trace it back, in its modern context as far back as Walter Lippman. However, an enterprising intellect can travel back as far as the earliest forms of public discourse and find analogues. What strikes me most about the president's use of this technique is the utter obviousness and transparency of it. It is clear to me, with every Texas-tinged utterance of "destabilizing" I grow increasingly less convinced that either myself or the president knows exactly what it means.

Clearly the idea is that the actions of certain, um, actors, persist in disrupting the formula and execution of the status quo. This is what destabilizing means. What the destabilizing descriptor misses is the fact that the status quo is not stable to begin with. The original "destabilization" took place long ago, and the ripples have run through decades of dictatorships, covert marriages of violent convenience and the crushing of popular, democratic resistance. As we come upon the 60th anniversary of al-Nakba, let us remember that Bush does not mention the destabilizing effect of the continuous, illegal construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Let us remember that he does not mention the destruction and needless loss of life in Iraq, and let us not forget that he does not mention a how our "partners" in the region, presumably stabilizing agents, daily jail opposition activists and close dissident publishers. The point here, boys and girls, is not draw moral equivalences, but to understand the nature of the game, and to not be deceived by the oversimplification that suggests that if only so and so would behave, the Middle East could really be a nice place to take the kids on vacation.

Pardon the poison pen. Until next time friends . . .

Friday, April 18, 2008

Seriously overdue. What can I say about Ziad Abbas? After so many talks, so many activist meetings, after so many cookies with coffee, if this sound I had heard before, I would have been shaking my fist a long time come now. I am blessed beneath his simple eloquence. Not your usual expert, but a man who has created something humble but profound, in the ashes of Deheisha Camp. Ziad’s history, both familiar and suddenly intimate, treats statistics as simply a reinforcement of a story that retains pride. Despite the checks and barriers that keep Abbas from returning home, he never intimates inimical will. The key, as well as Abbas and Ibdaa cultural center have reckoned, rests in the possibility of multimedia communication, the cheap stuff of the communication page. In fact it could prove potentially devastating.

But please, save those arguments for another hour. Take what has been given and go.

I had considered changing the thrust of this a bit. The tables are open, so let us slow ourselves to drink and put our money on the high numbers.

Of something yet to come . . .

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Acceptable Bloodbath

It is perhaps reasonable to ask, from within or from without liberal circles, what represents an acceptable intervention and what does not. Inaction in the face of perceived atrocity brings upon the apathetic a tumult of scorn, the most public of progressive voices take up the task of calling for the charge. Yet when the powers that be exert force in spite of the public, indeed, even in its virtul absence, these same voices find reason for dissent.

Criticality is key. History has uncannily keen eyes. At the time of this writing Kenyans face an escalating crisis. Over at the Department of State, Scott McCormack backs away from remarks made by the effective charges d'affaires in Africa. I quote:

"Very often, the case with these kind of circumstances is that you don't have a full understanding, a complete picture of what happened until after the situation is over and things have calmed down,"

Indeed, such was very much the case with Rwanda. In other words, too early to bandy about the "G-Word." Of course, African blood is cheap, and there is little of use in Kenya. Truly dear reader, forgive my moment of weakness, but where else to begin such an exploration of the thought? Should there be some kind of intervention in Kenya? Nato, a coalition, anything? If the simple answer-as I hear it stirring in your chest- is yes. So where do we draw the line, and where haven't we drawn the line already.

When juxtaposed, Africa and the Middle East present us with a series of episodes in which the schizophrenia of the Western project lays uncomfortably bare upon bloodstained earth. Critical questions must be asked, and the house indeed requires some keeping up. For it is the janus-like visage of the self-conflicted liberal that stands in there own way, not capital or media ot guns.

More later . . .

Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Memoriam, Al-Hakim

Today marks he death of PFLP founder, and Palestinian Patriot, George Habash. Also, known by his non de guerre, Al-Hakim, Habash's passing comes at a time when the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza continue their struggle against the imperial abuses they suffer at the hands of Israel. It is perhaps fitting that as habash leaves this world, the spirit of resistance among the Palestinians remains unchecked. Habash's own uncompromising stance, as well as the aggressive tactics of the PFLP, often put both he and his organization at odds with the mainstream of the PLO in general, and Yassir Arafat in particular. And while the PFLP and its ultra-left agenda has waned in popularity over the years, the organization still remains a vital player in the PLO, promoting a vision combining endless resistance against occupation and oppression, and economic and political equality among all Palestinians.

Al-Hakim, may god keep you, even if don't expect to see him . . .


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Does it surprise anyone that Palestinians in Gaza would storm the Rafah Crossing with Egypt? Does it surprise anyone that the Egyptians meet these desperate, starving and choked people with resistance rather than embrace? Israel claims that rocket attacks born in Gaza warrant the suffocation of over am illion Gazans, whose land already amounts to little more than an open-air prison. The Egyptian government, in yet another act of betrayal against both the Palestinians and Arab unity turn hoses and spotlights on those who dare to break throught the barriers that imprison them as the cordon tightens.

Does no one dare to speak against these blatant violations of basic humanity? I have never condoned violence, and I strongly condemn any attacks committed by any groups within Palestine that target Israeli civilians. Most of the world would likely side with me on that. But how is it that Israel can continuously reproach an entire population with such heavy-handedness, with tactics that would land other actors squarely in the sights of the Hague and ICJ?

Today, I am left with only tattered rags of hope. I am left with little to make me believe that the world will ever know peace. When power and self-interest dress in robes of messianism and claim a monopoly on truth, all the world suffers. It is not just the Palestinians who are being suffocated, it is all of us who feign to believe that with another passing generation humanity will right itself, and find its final salvation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Its been awhile . . .

Ok, so I should begin by dusting off the edges of my little virtual space here. Tis true, dear reader, I have long been absent from my post as promulgator of passionate prosody, I stand in dereliciton of duty, drifting dreary - Alright, i'm done. The long and short of things, life has a way of pulling you by the tail when you least expect it. If this were a different sort of blog, I might actually indulge your curiosity, but alas, it is not.

So, onto topics, well, topical. The issue of "the long absence" is appropos today. During President Bush's recent (and only) trip to the Middle East, the chief executive and other members within the administration alluded to the idea that the Palestinian issue holds a place of particular centrality regarding the overall stability of the region. I will not delve into why this is correct or incorrect here, I believe I have done that in other entries. What strikes me as a basic blunder is, if it is in fact so central, why did it take you seven years to get your ass over there? Truly, pardon my detour into the parlance of our time, but really, is anyone buying any of this? I can tell you - with great confidence - who isn't buying it: the Arab world.

Comprehensive peace between Palestinians and Israeli's, greater freedom from "terror:" in the greater Middle East, a democratic Iraq, a weakened Iran. I really hardly even understand the motivation to have him go there in the first place. Bush is the first American president to conclude that the "facts on the ground" will likely prevent a Palestinian State from wholly regaining land up to the '67 border. he visits Hosni Mubarak and stresses "Egypt's" vital role in partnering for a resolution o the Arab and Israeli conflct, but can't be recieved in Cairo because both he and Mubarak know well that throngs of moderate, democratically minded Egyptians will wonder why The U.S. president gestures for peace with one hand, then embraces tyrants with the other. Meanwhile, back in Riyadh, the gilted house of Saud stand with arms open as Bushie promises high tech artillery and precision guided weapons to help contain Iran. Khamenei is cackling somewhere and Ahmadinejad is nearly choking on his luleh kabob.

Too little, and at times too much, too late Mr. President. The clock cannot be turned back on Iran's emergence as regional hegemon. Furthermore the shear audacity of the blatant double speak that has characterized this administrations general strategy in the region has worn thin, and the guise has given way to the truth: The Greater Middle East project has failed. In its pathetic wake lie the bodies of men, women and children who did not ask to be a part of this history. Thousands of broken homes and more broken hearts. The people of the region are not waiting for al-mahdi, they are not trying to destroy the West. They want to raise their families, see their children prosper, watch as their ways and traditions are carried on through time and contribute to their communities, just like the rest of us. Its time the people of the Middle East be treated with such dignity, and to that end I suggest Bush be asked not to return. Might not be a bad start . . .