Climate Change and Me

July 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm (Uncategorized)

Leading scientist John Holdren says “global warming” is not the correct term to use; he prefers “global disruption.” “‘Global warming’ [is] misleading. It implies something that’s mainly about temperature, that’s gradual, and that’s uniform across the planet,” says Holdren. “In fact, temperature is only one of the things that’s changing. It’s a sort of an index of the state of the climate. The whole climate is changing: the winds, the ocean currents, the storm patterns, snow packs, snowmelt, flooding, droughts. Temperature is just a bit of it.”  —Democracy NOW!

Feast or famine. Drought or flood.  Why climate change works this way is disturbing and unsettling to many populations.  In your personal life climate change is annoying.  Isn’t balance the secret to happiness?

I’ve been job searching for months trying to find the right fit for the nebulous, mid-level, IR professional.  Despondent, dejected, and rejected I couldn’t bear to craft one more cover letter or one more coffee date.  The offers that came were more depressing than the present.  When an offer I liked finally materialized, I snatched it up. I rejoiced the end of checking job sites daily, of trying my luck on Linked In, and stealthily sneaking out of my office for informational interviews.

I am grateful for having a job during these past two years of economic recession.  The week I literally accepted a new offer I started getting interviews.  Yes, interviewS.  Places that I had networked and applied to months and months ago finally wrote back.  I’ve found the untimely news stressful, but an opportunity.  When it rains it pours.  I’ve just been without rain for so long I don’t own an umbrella. I left it in the coat check at some lame party in my more optimistic twenties. I’m huddled under a soggy newspaper navigating unchartered waters, thankful I’m wet again, just wish I wasn’t wearing jeans.

Life never gives us what we want at the moment that we consider appropriate. Adventures do occur, but not punctually. –E.M. Forster, A Passage to India

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In Honor of Mix Tapes

July 27, 2010 at 7:21 pm (Uncategorized)

Yeasayer Made This Mixtape Just for You

Mix tapes are special.  How else can someone dedicate 19 songs in row without any musical or lyrical talent?  I suppose even the new Jersey Shore Soundtrack falls in this category?  We all discover new music in different ways–like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s pornography, I know it when I hear it–or read about it, or someone talks about it, or, in the highest levels of love, they gift it.  Some tracks remind you of a feeling, time, place–or they are perfectly poised in the present (think “song of the summer”), but I’ve always loved the time travel effect.  Music doesn’t just remind you of past sentiment it literally alters your brain waves. Just ask the mice at the NIH.

Mix tape art is part sharing, part learning, part selfish, and part selfless.  As Rob Gordon discovers toward the end of High Fidelity, if the highest percentage of your mix tape intent is to please the recipient, then you have a good mix.  Not that you aren’t still selfish–throwing in a song or two or three that you love, that you think this person must love, that you can’t believe they don’t own.  However, the scales should tip toward what you think they enjoy.  Sometimes you fail, sometimes you succeed–it’s a bit like sharing within a relationship.  You can’t always be magnanimous, but the best lovers at least make the attempt.

[High Fidelity, last lines]
Rob: Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all you’re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing…The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules. Anyway… I’ve started to make a tape… in my head… for Laura. Full of stuff she likes. Full of stuff that make her happy. For the first time I can sort of see how that is done.

Here are some sites that honor mix tape culture:

  1. Tiny Mix Tapes makes the mix for you! Just submit a category or theme–nothing is too small, random, or cliché.
  2. Check out this mix tape blog.
  3. Every year, New York Magazine publishes summer and other fun-themed mixes. Sometimes various artists chose the songs.  Here’s their latest!
  4. And for cheesy kicks, the inappropriate puppets of Avenue Q.

Thanks to all my peoples for sharing and listening throughout the years.

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Yankee God is Dead, A Soccer Fan is Born

July 13, 2010 at 6:57 pm (Uncategorized)

R.I.P. Bob Sheppard

The 2010 All-Star Break has been a tough week for New Yorkers.  While we all love to hate the Boss, Mr. Steinbrenner, I’m still grieving the passing of fellow Baldwinite and the voice of God, Bob Sheppard.

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My favorite non-baseball work of Sheppard’s is Billy Crystal’s one-man show, 700 Sundays. His booming voice asked my BoSox loving theatre companion and I to turn our cell phones off.

As for Steinbrenner, I prefer to remember him like this and this.

Today, the Yankee franchise starts a new era in their new stadium, but I have to admit South Africa enthralled me with Fútbol.  Could DC United be the first non-New York team I root for?  A budding love for the world’s pastime or am I just another American who mocks the MLS and cares every four years? What’s the MLS you say?–My point exactly. To be continued…

Till then, Go American League!

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Thank you IFC!

July 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm (Uncategorized)

No, not the International Finance Corporation* branch of the World Bank Group, but the Independent Film Channel which–much to my delight– is re-airing the canceled late-90s teen comedy Freaks and Geeks.

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Sam Weir: What am I gonna say to Cindy?
Bill Haverchuck: Don’t say anything. Be dominant. It’s all, all about dominance. I saw this monkey show on PBS, if you talk to her first, it’s a sign of weakness and she will not pick you to be her mate.
Sam Weir: Are you drunk?
Bill Haverchuck: I think so, yes I am.
Sam Weir: Aw, man, go into my room, lock the door, and don’t drink any more.
Bill Haverchuck: [after Sam leaves] That’s very dominant.

*It is worth noting if you Google “IFC” the World Bank Group is the first entry after a “sponsored ad” by the film channel.

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“Friendship in an Age of Economics”

July 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm (Uncategorized)

by Todd May

When I was 17 years old, I had the honor of being the youngest person in the history of New York Hospital to undergo surgery for a herniated disc. This was at a time in which operations like this kept people in the hospital for over a week. The day after my surgery, I awoke to find a friend of mine sitting in a chair across from my bed. I don’t remember much about his visit. I am sure I was too sedated to say much. But I will not forget that he visited me on that day, and sat there for I know not how long, while my humanity was in the care of a morphine drip.

The official discourses of our relations with one another do not have much to say about the afternoon my friend spent with me. Our age, what we might call the age of economics, is in thrall to two types of relationships which reflect the lives we are encouraged to lead. There are consumer relationships, those that we participate in for the pleasure they bring us. And there are entrepreneurial relationships, those that we invest in hoping they will bring us some return. In a time in which the discourse of economics seeks to hold us in its grip, this should come as no surprise.

The encouragement toward relationships of consumption is nowhere more prominently on display than in reality television. Jon and Kate, the cast of “Real World,” the Kardashians, and their kin across the spectrum conduct their lives for our entertainment. It is available to us in turn to respond in a minor key by displaying our own relationships on YouTube. Or, barring that, we can collect friends like shoes or baseball cards on Facebook.

Entrepreneurial relationships have, in some sense, always been with us. Using people for one’s ends is not a novel practice. It has gained momentum, however, as the reduction of governmental support has diminished social solidarity and the rise of finance capitalism has stressed investment over production. The economic fruits of the latter have lately been with us, but the interpersonal ones, while more persistent, remain veiled. Where nothing is produced except personal gain, relationships come loose from their social moorings.

Aristotle thought that there were three types of friendship: those of pleasure, those of usefulness, and true friendship. In friendships of pleasure, “it is not for their character that men love ready-witted people, but because they find them pleasant.” In the latter, “those who love each other for their utility do not love each other for themselves but in virtue of some good which they get from each other.” For him, the first is characteristic of the young, who are focused on momentary enjoyment, while the second is often the province of the old, who need assistance to cope with their frailty. What the rise of recent public rhetoric and practice has accomplished is to cast the first two in economic terms while forgetting about the third.

In our lives, however, few of us have entirely forgotten about the third — true friendship. We may not define it as Aristotle did — friendship among the already virtuous — but we live it in our own way nonetheless. Our close friendships stand as a challenge to the tenor of our times.

Conversely, our times challenge those friendships. This is why we must reflect on friendship; so that it doesn’t slip away from us under the pressure of a dominant economic discourse. We are all, and always, creatures of our time. In the case of friendship, we must push back against that time if we are to sustain what, for many of us, are among the most important elements of our lives. It is those elements that allow us to sit by the bedside of a friend: not because we know it is worth it, but because the question of worth does not even arise.

There is much that might be said about friendships. They allow us to see ourselves from the perspective of another. They open up new interests or deepen current ones. They offer us support during difficult periods in our lives. The aspect of friendship that I would like to focus on is its non-economic character. Although we benefit from our close friendships, these friendships are not a matter of calculable gain and loss. While we draw pleasure from them, they are not a matter solely of consuming pleasure. And while the time we spend with our friends and the favors we do for them are often reciprocated in an informal way, we do not spend that time or offer those favors in view of the reciprocation that might ensue.

Friendships follow a rhythm that is distinct from that of either consumer or entrepreneurial relationships. This is at once their deepest and most fragile characteristic. Consumer pleasures are transient. They engulf us for a short period and then they fade, like a drug. That is why they often need to be renewed periodically. Entrepreneurship, when successful, leads to the victory of personal gain. We cultivate a colleague in the field or a contact outside of it in the hope that it will advance our career or enhance our status. When it does, we feel a sense of personal success. In both cases, there is the enjoyment of what comes to us through the medium of other human beings.

Friendships worthy of the name are different. Their rhythm lies not in what they bring to us, but rather in what we immerse ourselves in. To be a friend is to step into the stream of another’s life. It is, while not neglecting my own life, to take pleasure in another’s pleasure, and to share their pain as partly my own. The borders of my life, while not entirely erased, become less clear than they might be. Rather than the rhythm of pleasure followed by emptiness, or that of investment and then profit, friendships follow a rhythm that is at once subtler and more persistent. This rhythm is subtler because it often (although not always) lacks the mark of a consumed pleasure or a successful investment. But even so, it remains there, part of the ground of our lives that lies both within us and without.

To be this ground, friendships have a relation to time that is foreign to an economic orientation. Consumer relationships are focused on the momentary present. It is what brings immediate pleasure that matters. Entrepreneurial relationships have more to do with the future. How I act toward others is determined by what they might do for me down the road. Friendships, although lived in the present and assumed to continue into the future, also have a deeper tie to the past than either of these. Past time is sedimented in a friendship. It accretes over the hours and days friends spend together, forming the foundation upon which the character of a relationship is built. This sedimentation need not be a happy one. Shared experience, not just common amusement or advancement, is the ground of friendship.

Of course, to have friendships like this, one must be prepared to take up the past as a ground for friendship. This ground does not come to us, ready-made. We must make it our own. And this, perhaps, is the contemporary lesson we can draw from Aristotle’s view that true friendship requires virtuous partners, that “perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good.” If we are to have friends, then we must be willing to approach some among our relationships as offering an invitation to build something outside the scope of our own desires. We must be willing to forgo pleasure or usefulness for something that emerges not within but between one of us and another.

We might say of friendships that they are a matter not of diversion or of return but of meaning. They render us vulnerable, and in doing so they add dimensions of significance to our lives that can only arise from being, in each case, friends with this or that particular individual, a party to this or that particular life.

It is precisely this non-economic character that is threatened in a society in which each of us is thrown upon his or her resources and offered only the bywords of ownership, shopping, competition, and growth. It is threatened when we are encouraged to look upon those around us as the stuff of our current enjoyment or our future advantage. It is threatened when we are led to believe that friendships without a recognizable gain are, in the economic sense, irrational. Friendships are not without why, perhaps, but they are certainly without that particular why.

In turn, however, it is friendship that allows us to see that there is more than what the prevalent neoliberal discourse places before us as our possibilities. In a world often ruled by the dollar and what it can buy, friendship, like love, opens other vistas. The critic John Berger once said of one of his friendships, “We were not somewhere between success and failure; we were elsewhere.” To be able to sit by the bed of another, watching him sleep, waiting for nothing else, is to understand where else we might be.

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Japanese Toys That Scare Me

July 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm (Uncategorized)

…and it has nothing to do with 2-D Lovers (as scary as that is)

Check out Robotic Cat, for people who want the cat without the cat litter…or heart.

Yume Neko Dream Cat Smile Robotic Cat by Sega Toys

I agree that U.S. schools should increase the quality of their math and science education to remain competitive in a globalized world.  But, maybe Japan can ramp up their humanities requirements as well?

Shout out to my real cat-loving friend for the link.

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E.Q.

July 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm (Uncategorized)

Emotional Intelligence is not taught in school.  I wonder if it’s a nature or nurture quality?  Here’s a good definition of what E.Q. really means and how it can improve daily life and relationships.

The most socially skilled among us — those who project the emotions they intend, when they intend to — are not wedded to any one strategy, Dr. Hofmann argues. In a paper published last month with Todd Kashdan of George Mason University, he proposed that emotion researchers adopt a questionnaire to measure three components of regulation: concealing (i.e., suppression), adjusting (quickly calming anger, for instance) and tolerating (openly expressing emotion).

“These are each valuable strategies, in different situations,” Dr. Hofmann said. “The people who get into trouble socially, I believe, are the ones who are inflexible — who stick to just one.”

This past week’s New York Time Magazine featured the King (or should I say Sandman) of E.Q. on the mound.  Mr. Mariano Rivera is the closer of closers and inspires the glory of past greats in this beautiful black and white photo.

The feature mentions the word “sage” a number of times to describe the 40-year old baseball demigod.  I get chills on hot Bronx afternoons when I start to hear his opening music while he strides from the bull pen to the mound. And he’s on my side.  How a deeply religious man from Panama got Metallica entrance music on Yankee turf is wonderful American tale.

Rivera often states that (along with God) once the physical is perfected it’s the E.Q. that makes the difference between winning and losing.  Let’s hope that some of us without physical perfection (or Christ) can still benefit from E.Q. performance off the field.

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Happiness, the Founding Fathers, and Sinatra

July 2, 2010 at 5:19 pm (Uncategorized)

In honor of the Fourth of July, I decided it was time to reread the Declaration of Independence.  In 8th grade, I voluntarily memorized its famous second paragraph and recited it in an elocution competition.  I didn’t win, but till this day knowing these important words by heart have enriched what it means for me to be a first generation American.

Happiness is mentioned twice in that paragraph.  Of course no guarantees, but the honest pursuit.  I actually think it is what makes the document uniquely American and revolutionary.  “Life” and “liberty” get all the glory–but our political philosophy ancestors both in the West and East had written about these concepts before–even if they were not always practiced.   The freedom to make your own mistakes and just maybe, every once in a while, find your own personal happiness. Well, it’s just so old blue eyes Franky…and so red, white, and blue American.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

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