June 01, 2009
Domestic Terrorist Strike in Kansas
Read Huffington Post's Michelle Kraus on a domestic terrorist strike in the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.
She writes: (be sure to read the entire post)
"The murder of Dr. George Tiller is horrific. It is an act of domestic terrorism at its worst. Gunned down at his peaceful place of worship in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. Tiller was targeted as he served as an usher in church and his wife sang in the choir.
He was an unassuming man who did not choose his destiny. Rather he was drafted to fill the shoes of his father in providing desperately needed health services to the women of Kansas, and those across the nation."
March 14, 2009
Economic Slump: Time to Tap into Nature's Ancient Wisdom
Ever notice that when you stop writing for awhile, writer's block takes over and cripples you? I've known for awhile that I needed to take a couple months off from blogging and from the web in general, but not because I grew tired of writing or new stuff. Disconnect from the web and new media when its your bread-and-butter? You must be mad I can hear you say.
When I was in Africa late last year through early 2009, I had laptop in hand and blogged but not nearly as much as I expected. Nor was I connected as much as I expected I'd be.
I've lived in Africa three times, so its not as if I didn't know what to expect and yet somehow I figured I'd be so inspired since it had been awhile since my last visit, I wouldn't stop writing. Blog posts would be pouring out of me.
But no. Not even close. Notice the break in between my last South African blog post and the most recent ones. The closer I got to nature -- on a regular basis -- the more disconnected I felt from the blog. It was all about immersion.
Think about it: all of the best coaches in the world pitch immersion and language courses based on immersion or living in the country are the best way to go. That's what off-site business retreats are based on and one of the reasons why the Aspen Institute and Renaissance weekends are so insightful and inspiring.
We're human. We need immersion or as the Aussies put it: walkabout time. Frankly, most of us don't get enough of it. I read a Brad Feld tweet recently that updated us on his run in the mountains behind his house and that because of it, he was "completely and totally broken."
Of course he was. Bravo. Nature does that to people, particularly when you're really present with it. It's our roots - all of us regardless of what continent we were born on or connect to.
There was something about being so close to the African earth, particularly in the parts of the continent where humanity began, that begged me to listen to its silence. Over and over again. Listening to its silence calls for a dismissal of machines, at least it was the case for me. As much as I was inspired to write, I couldn't do so on a "machine." It would have disrupted the silence. And so, I took it all in, digested it and secretly hoped it was getting 'baked' into my DNA so I wouldn't ever lose the feeling.
I felt the same way in the Israeli desert, the Arizona desert and when I drove across country a few years back. I thought I'd blog about the whole trip and instead, took notes along the way and blogged after the fact.
The downside of the latter is that the posts ended up reading like a travel log rather than the richness you get from live-blogging. I'm a fan of the latter but when I'm that close to dirt, flowers and trees, its as if the force of Mother Nature herself pulls me away from anything that has a power cord or battery.
Isn't it a great time to reconnect with nature, in an era where you've either been laid off, your contracts are smaller than they've been in years or you have a full time job but most of your budgets have been slashed by ten?
When I was 21, I traveled around the world with my 32 year old British boyfriend, who was at the time a marketing rockstar in the London scene where we were living at the time. He took nearly two years off if I recall correctly, but not without thought. Would he be able to slot back in after being intimately plugged into every thread and conversation twenty four months later? After all, he was a 32, not 22. Unforgiveable? Perhaps, but certainly not traditional. We returned, he got a job and life carried on.
Years later, I did the same thing. I took off for a few years - Africa, Europe, you name it. I'll never forget an experience I had a month or so after my return.
I used to do PR for Computerworld so there were a ton of old copies of the magazine in my grandparents basement where we stored everything at the time. The industry stories hadn't changed all that much and while there were new versions, new companies and new solutions, I couldn't believe how easy it was to slot back into the industry without being connected with anyone for a few years. It took me three long days of reading to get back up to speed.
Today, the story may be a little different. With countless examples of Kurzweil's Singularity coming into play, everything is moving at a much faster pace and jumping out of the game and back in a couple of years later may be tougher. Perhaps true, perhaps not.
This much I know. Despite all the articles and blog posts I've read that traditional media and PR is dead, Jeff Jarvis' WWGD book tells me that the middle men are dead and that the economic recession means marketers will starve for quite awhile, there are always opportunities.
Remember Helen Keller's famous quote, something I remind myself of often: "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us." Newspapers have been doing this for years, Hollywood too.
Wherever there are threats, there are opportunities; it just may mean taking a step back (for awhile), taking less money (for awhile) and looking at the world a little differently (for awhile). Reinventing oneself or simply a role can be magical and rewarding.
If you're good at what you do and you listen and think strategically, there will be a need for your skills even if they get used in a way you never imagined. And trust me, if you're in marketing or communications, they will.
Ignite the universe, spend a little time with the trees and ask them for ancient wisdom. Ask them what your "real value" is. And then listen. In that silence, you may just learn something very powerful about yourself and about what is happening around us.
Remember that not just the industry is seeing a significant shift, but the world is undergoing a dramatic change as well and if you're not tapping into that energy source too, you're missing the mark (we just elected a black president baby and money is getting pumped into energy at home and countless other things.....)
While it may sound like a flighty "new age" solution to the changes we're undergoing, I'm not suggesting that asking the ancient skies and trees for guidance is all you do. I'm simply suggesting that you do it.
August 27, 2008
On Being Fearless
Fearless seems to be on people's minds. Arianna Huffington wrote a book on Fearless, which I blogged about earlier this year. Diana Palmer and Jack Campbell also wrote books called Fearless, although their books don't fall into the self help and motivational categories.
Books that have Fearless in a broader title weave self-help messages throughout, such as Guy Finley's Essential Laws of Fearless Living: Find the Power to Never Feel Powerless Again.
One of Chandler's key mantras is that "Success is just a mindshift away." There's no question that fear is a key element that holds us back. I'd go so far to say is that it is nearly the only factor. There are some factors that are beyond our control, but those are not the ones that people spend their time feeling paralyzed over.
I've read numerous books that use fear as a way to demonstrate a point. The Secret does this too. I increasingly find people who have issues with the book. Shift your mind, shift your life. Frankly, I think people take this stuff too literally.
Having experienced the mindshift that Chandler talks about, I know this stuff works. When your mind shuts down and your heart takes over, you'll discover blissful magic if you allow yourself to stay there long enough.
Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and numerous others write about fear and the power of shifting your mind in a second from fear to love, fear to courage, fear to faith, fear to commitment.......in other words, values that oppose fears (or thoughts, because that's all they are), that sabotage your life.
Chandler's approach is extremely simple. Each chapter ranges from one to three pages and they offer valuable "lessons," the kind of lessons you'd hear at a Sunday school, yet none of his references or examples involve religion or even reference spirituality. They do however ask your mind to take a break.
Here he implores us to see and accept that this state, which is based on an erroneous identification with the egoic mind, is one of dangerous insanity. What I'm most looking forward to is his detailed descripton of how our current ego-based state of consciousness operates. When our minds are overactive and begin to spin, this my friends is where fear has a field day.
Tolle is complex. While I love his writing, it takes me time to get through his books. Chandler's style is much more informal. Think storyteller around a fire, where you'll leave with a lot of interesting reflections.
Through his short breezy chapters with great names (Death is like the rose, Books have always changed lives, Dance me through the panic, Before birth and after death, No fear like money fear, etc etc), you rediscover witty and important lessons that are so basic, you find yourself thinking - "but of course, this is hardly profound or new."
Yet we still let fear get in the way. He almost makes you feel silly for allowing fear to impact our lives. Once we can reduce a fearful thought to silly, we're on our way to leaving that fear permanently behind us. Quotes from greats like Lao Tzu, Henry James, Rumi, and Leonard Cohen also make their way into his lessons.
Time is never disappearing. He writes, "a lot of fear arises when we think about disappearing time. The sand running out of the hourglass. But while feeling that way, you miss something. You miss the secret truth (and therefore beauty) beneath this gathering storm of unfinished tasks: you have all the time in the world. You have nothing but time."
He continues, "time is what being alive is made of. If you'll slow down, you'll feel it." I love this by Ambrose Redmoon: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."
My favorite chapter name has to be this one: Why am I living like a caged animal? Hmmmm, did he ever meet Howard Hughes? You don't have to think like Hughes to be living like a caged animal. He observes parents at a basketball game, who were furious with the referees or the coaches. It's the watchers that have the problems he says. The passive who go crazy with rage.
He asserts that "fearless means you're not just watching. Not just imagining. Not just picturing and attracting. You're actually doing things. You're in the game. Fearless means that you yourself are building the birdhouse."
August 23, 2008
Technology & Leisure Time
One of technology's many promises was that it would increase available leisure time. It has, but it does not feel like it is so, because we choose to spend most of our extra time with technology itself.
Like all peoples, we've chosen our deities, and technology perches higher than time in our pantheon. A jealous and totalitarian God, technology seduces us into its meeting houses, where we congregate to work and play in a strange, shared isolation, for hours and days and longer still.
We invent Gods in part because they console us in our fear of death. When death is suddenly imminent, we make foxhole deals with a God we may have largely ignored most of our lives. In the course of normal days, thoughts of death appear less dramatically, but still unsettle.
In olden days it was enough to be told by preachers and judges and fathers that justice and vengeance were the Lord's (and often theirs, by self-designated proxy). They said there was a reason for everything, that the final accounting will be in Heaven, and if you do as we say, you will be rewarded in the next life.
But we are an inquisitive and acquisitive people, so this paternalism is not sufficient.
We know that time is not our friend. What does an extra two hours of leisure time a day or four more weeks of annual vacation mean when we are dust in 80 or 90 years? But now we are told that immortality may be within reach in our lifetimes.
Fountains of Youth existed long before biotechnology, but our Elixir of Life comes from a source that has proven its power in wonderful and frightening ways. God sent the Flood but we split the atom and we know that our technology can destroy us more completely than the Bible's God ever could. Even a "natural" disaster like an airborne flu becomes a global epidemic only because of transportation technology.
But if technology taketh away, it also giveth. Technology, with disease control, aging reversal and synthetic corporeal reality, can beat time. We are in awe of this and we covet this and so we worship.
The idea that the surfing and work we do online in some way feeds the single maw of a hungry technology deity which returns the favor by granting us prostheses and gene therapy is perhaps a stretch. If you believe in collective energy and unconscious purpose the stretch isn't quite so far. And if you compare our activities with the spiritual give-and-take between pre-industrial mortals and their Gods, the deal-strike seems familiar.
So if you're wondering where all your time goes, why you spend so much time in front of the computer, you can think of it as being in church, with your leisure time as a sacrificial lamb.
July 05, 2008
Fiji Recalls the Strongest of Senses
This past week, I returned to Fiji's magical aura. After soaking up as much humidity and sun my body could take in a cafe at the far end of Savu Savu's dusty town, I followed the main drag by foot in the direction I had come by taxi some six or so hours earlier.
I tried to retrace my steps from six years ago (was it six years, five or was it seven?), the last time I sat foot on this road, then with two kiwi men in their late thirties I met at the local Yacht Club, which I discovered by accident. I learned very early on that it was a hub for visitors from around the world, largely return visitors who were either captaining a boat, sailing their own or here on business from down under.
My two new friends fell into the latter category and were well baked into the local politics. No surprise given that their work was a mishmash of commercial real estate, construction and solar if I recall correctly. We never kept in touch after I left the islands or perhaps we did for a month or two.
It's not as if I spent a chunk of time in this tiny village -- the bulk of my stay was in a very remote house in the middle of dense tropical brush overlooking the ocean (owned by one of the kiwi's pals) and the other half was spent at the Namale resort, some 15 or so minutes by taxi.
Yet, I remembered the Yacht Club so distinctively that I felt I would smell my way back to it despite my lousy sense of direction.
The new cafe I discovered was quiet and rustic and like all tropical cafes like it around the world, they had fruit milk shakes made with fresh coconut, mango, papaya and pineapple. An Aussie couple sat down next to me for drinks and even though it was my side that faced them, my feet were propped up on a chair in the opposite direction and I was clearly engrossed in my Maori-authored novel, they opened up a dialogue.
Whether you're an ex-pat or not, Fiji has that uniquely familiar ex-pat feel to it, at least that's the case on Nadi and Savu Savu. It was the case five or six-ish years ago and appears to be so today.
The most remarkable difference was the number of cell phones and laptops, even though a cafe that advertised wifi in its window didn't necessarily mean that it worked. "Depends on the weather," I'm told, not unlike my Comcast situation at home which seems to flake whenever there's a storm.
The local market remained unchanged as far as I could tell but the main street was much more developed than I had remembered. Foreign investment poured in between then and now, mostly from Aussies and Yanks.
The Aussie couple lived "on-the-road," or should I say "on-the-sea." He was a captain and she went along for the tanning benefits. A few Fijians had apparently painted his aluminum seated benches on the back of the boat that morning, the same day they had planned a day trip. A dozen or so tourists sat on wet paint, some of them stuck so securely that their shorts ripped when they stood up.
He rolls his eyes as he tells me the story and her smile beams in between her sunburned cheeks and nose. "They're demanding 50% discount off the cruise," he says as if hoping I'd offer a suggestion or two. I don't.
I ask, "what color did they paint the benches?" thinking it might clue me in to why they did it in the first place. He doesn't seem to be expecting that. "Gray," he responds. "They painted them gray." I wondered how many women's sundresses were ruined that day and wished I could have witnessed all of it from a land-based dock a dozen or so feet away.
They got up to leave as I took the last bite out of my gingered veggie crepe. "See you at the Yacht Club?" they ask as they walked out. Ah yes, the Yacht Club. I was about to ask "where is it again?" but instinctively decided not to.
Every hour or so, the sky would grow moody and gray and grace us with showers. It remained balmy warm though so I barely noticed. A half an hour later, the sun would break through. This pattern repeated itself through four chapters of my book and two and a half diet cokes. They also sold those peach and mango flavored lipton iced tea drinks that I've only seen in third world countries and foreign tourist destinations.
The prices seem to have gone through the roof. A few regulars told me that tourism was significantly down, so the locals doubled their prices to make up for it. Hmmmm, I thought, remembering the $22 pizza and $5 coffees at the Nadi airport before I boarded the 14 seater puddle jumper.
During a late afternoon sun break, I slowly made my way along the dusty paved central drag in the direction of the Yacht Club, so I sensed. On the way, I scoured through a few of the supermarkets like I always do when I first arrive in a foreign country. I've been doing this for as long as I can remember; my first precious memory was when I discovered a cheap aluminum tennis racket in a Tiajuana supermarket when I was around ten.
When my grandfather realized it was less than one U.S. dollar, he threw it into his hand basket with the bottled water and crackers for the car. It still amazes me what they sell in village supermarkets abroad. I love discovering old American products with the same packaging they had in the states in the sixties and seventies.
It brings me back to a long ago time when my memories were largely filled with dance routines wearing my grandad's oversized shirts, wool top hats, twirling around the den using Great Grandma Bert's cane for support......my nose in the air like a female Snoopy character in love with music and bright colors.
Life in Fiji is so simple.....the pace goes along with it, a reminder that some of our deadlines at home are self-imposed and maybe corporate America might be a lot happier if they encouraged their employees to breathe, smile and think like Fijians every now and then.
I find my way to the Yacht Club as instinctively as I thought I would, as if I had lived here for years. It was as if I smelled something familiar and followed my senses to the path that brought me to its entrance. There was no sign and its British pub-like corner setting isn't well marked.
Set in the back of a small plaza they call Croapashend, I walked in like a regular and a familiar face behind the bar asks me what I'd like as I glance at him. A Fijian man in his early sixties wears a silver moustache and a warm smile. His name is Obini and he's been there for eleven years I learn when I ask him. "You bought me a drink five or six years ago," I say. "I believe so," he says back.
Incredulous. It wouldn't be if the rest of my day didn't spook me in the same incredulous remarkable way.
He looks like he's been selling beer and scotch to foreigners for far longer than eleven years. And, he appears to love people as much as toddlers love chocolate ice cream.
Except for a picnic table of Aussies in their early twenties, the place was empty. I found a table outside on the protruding deck, one with a breathtaking view of mountains to the far right and at least a dozen parked yachts between them and me.
It was late afternoon so the light was exactly as I had remembered it. The most memorable night here was after an afternoon of skinny dipping in a remote cove diving for shells and laughing at absolutely nothing at all except for the sheer bliss of being there.
Our skin was nearly the same deep brown as the locals at that point and we were living off freshly caught fish and local Fijian beer. I had a fresh flower cut in my hair that night, wore a brightly colored sarong and the light and smell was exactly as it was the day I returned.
I begin to write at what feels like a hundred words a minute. It all flowed through the end of my blue paper mate pen so quickly that onlookers might have wondered, "if we interrupt her, she might stop breathing." I might have if I were them.
The sun had nearly set by the time I next looked up. I had not even noticed that I was writing in the rain, even though it was only a light dusting. The place had filled up and not only was I surrounded by people on all sides, but a small band had set up behind me and I had not noticed them either.
Obini gives me one of his warm smiles -- all so familiar. I hear a few Yank accents but mostly Aussies and Kiwis and years later, I can still tell the difference.
I'm the only one drinking iced tea and wonder if anyone has noticed my anxious writing, quiet sense of solitude, and deep concentration.
Bottles of local beer, wine and scotch glasses surround me as do cigarette packs stacked in the middle of the wooden carved tables. Nay, it ain't Marin girl.
The music starts. Above them, foreign flags hang from the ceiling. Sweden, England, Australia, France, New Zealand, Holland, Germany and few I don't recognize.
A Fijian in his late twenties sits near me in a dark green soccer shirt, leans his head back and blows smoke into the air. The rain stops altogether but I move my chair in under the blue nautical-like canvas covering nevertheless where I'm closer to "group energy." I'm surprised I do this.
Just like old times, when I backpacked around the globe, I was surrounded by hoards of people -- always in groups even if they be small ones -- and there I'd be in a corner or smack in the middle, taking it all in, listening, writing, shooting, thinking....
Last time at this yacht club was different however -- very different. We finished our pitcher of beer and through my Kiwi pal's connections, we went off to the mayor's house for a barbecue. We were the only three non-Fijians and I remember feeling silly with the flower in my hair although all the women smiled at me when they saw it.
Back to present.
Obini seems to have changed his shirt. Maybe? He starts to make his way through the crowd selling some kind of local raffle tickets for $2 a piece. I later learn its a donation but didn't learn for what.
I see that everyone is suntanned at that moment and then.....the familiar smell and light that set on the bay just outside the yacht club patio. Three deep Fijian breaths, a smile and then back to that great novel I was reading.
The last line was meant to be the last line of this lengthy post, and it would have been had I not jumped into the first taxi that was passing by on my way out of the Surf & Turf restaurant adjacent to the yacht club. I decided to stop in for a quick bite of freshly grilled Walu with coconut sauce before heading back to my hut.
"$2 or $3?" I ask, since I'm told it could be either, so I always play the either or game to see what they'll say. "$3," he says. It's very dark but there's something about his reflection in the mirror that feels oddly familiar. I say, "gorgeous night," and he agrees.
He wonders how long I've been here and where I live. When I say San Francisco, he asks me if I know where San Bruno is and says he has a lot of American friends. A lot of Americans have bought property here in the last five years he says, "driving the prices through the roof?" I add. He nods.
His voice is uncanny. I know it. He keeps talking. That voice. "How long have you been a cabbie here? More than five years?" Yes, he says, eleven years. Isn't that how long Obini has been at the Yacht Club?
Disconnect but then it connects again.
I know that voice.
"I think you drove me to Namale many years ago," thinking what a ridiculous statement that is and how many people in the past six years he has driven to Namale. On an island that has 40-60,000 depending on who you ask and the town itself has 5-7,000 depending on who you ask. Large enough and long enough ago not to remember a generic American accent and face in the dark.
"Was I sick?" I thought and found myself saying it aloud. He glances at me through the rear view mirror and finally smiles. "Ahhhhh yes, I remember you. You were not sick, I was the one who was sick," and then it all came back. That voice, that distinctive voice. "I had to stop to throw up and you brought me back to my family. You were with friends. From near Auckland," he adds.
"Yes, that's right," I say. "Stan something," he says. Incredulous. I had even forgotten his name but it was Stan something alright. He reaches his hand back to shake mine over the seat, "Gopen," he says. My jolly incredulous God. As familiar as if it were yesterday. And I remembered his name - it was short for a much longer name.
The house, he went on. "I drove them around on and off for a few days. Before I dropped you off, he gave me some homemade 'something' and vodka. It was a hot day. No wonder poor Gopen got sick. Gopen, who I later learn also is a manager of the Yacht Club.
That familiar Yacht Club. Obini. Eleven years. Gopen. Eleven years. He, throwing up outside his cab. "The same cab," he says with a smile and that ever so distinctive voice as if it were a long lost cousin not a Fijian cab driver I met twice. (229,000 miles btw - I had to know)
I felt bad I guess. Must have. He drove me to the airport after my retreat at Namale. "Do you remember?" he asks laughing. You left with a plastic bag full of vegetables you carried over your shoulder. We fasted and I was ten pounds thinner by the time I left. In a healthy ten pounds thinner sort of way. My skin had been glowing, my energy level was through the roof and I was in love with those damn vegetables.
"When we got to the airport, we ate them before you got on the plane." Such a memory Gopen. Such a memory. Such a voice Gopen. That voice.
I get out of the cab and leave him a healthy tip. I need to go back near there tomorrow, a new site up on the hill near Namale I tell him.... tomorrow. Forget any other taxi driver I think. Gopen is my man. He hands me his card and I recognize the moustache. Same cab he said.
"You sent me a bag of stuffed animals for the children," he reminds me. I sent three boxes but couldn't remember who the third went to and didn't have it written down anywhere I could easily find.
The senses on this island are too much.
I'll call Gopen tomorrow I think as I make my way back to my room. Joseph and Moses come into my mind as I walk along the pathway to my bungalow, the last on the left. The other two remarkable Fijian men who left an imprint on my mind and the other two who received boxes of stuffed animals for Fijian children.
Tomorrow is another day.
June 22, 2008
PUSH Conference in Minneapolis
I've been wanting to go to the Minneapolis-based PUSH Conference for awhile now but since its always in June, there has always been a conflict. This year was no different as I was in launch mode, but I somehow found myself on a Northwest flight heading to the midwest last week.
President Cecily Somers often has a hard time describing the event, which she puts in the 'brain food' category. It's a miniature Davos in a way, in a mini-TED-like format, so its small enough that you can still meet nearly everyone at the conference if that was your goal.
The theme this year was "The Fertile Delta," which while it has a great name, is hard to summarize in one line. It addressed one of the things I've been feeling in a bigger way over the last eighteen months - the widening of gaps in the U.S.
After visiting Mexico last year, I was not only reminded that our dollar is in decline, but it was thrown in my face. And it wasn't just the dollar that I felt in Mexico and every other international trip I've taken in the last year or so. America is turning into a third world country (some argue that it already is) and the transition is gradual like they so often are, that many living in the top 20% barely notice, or if they do, its easier to turn a blind eye than to face it.
Issues addressed at PUSH including some of these very themes, here and abroad:
--while globalization is bringing more players to the table, many more are being left behind.
--this widening gap in resources, wealth, education, technology and healthcare is a destabilizing influence --this trend is unsustainable and we need to re-think business models and social systems for agility and for solutions that are truly sustainable (look at the state of our education and healthcare system for example) --Phrases such as the "Digital Divide" and "Two Americas" refer to this growing chasm within.
Where The Fertile Delta comes in, is that "while this space in between faces extreme challenges, it represents enormous, untapped opportunity."
Cecily hopes PUSH will leave people with at least a few reasons why polarization never looked so good.
This brain food event brings in together academics, politics and international issues. While so many of the issues discussed were global in nature, the attendee base was largely from greater Minneapolis and other pockets in the midwest, unlike last year which was closer to 50/50. The slowing economy and soaring airline costs could be part of this shift.
A couple of my favorite speakers included Thousand Hills Venture Fund co-founder Antoine Bigirimana and University of Rochester Assistant Professor of Religion Anthea Butler.
While based in the states, Bigirimana spends the majority of his time in Rwanda as a philanthropist, supporting the Kigali Center for Entrepreneurs. Bigirimana was born in Rwanda and is a central figure in Rwanda's information and communication technologies (ICT) community.
He talked to us about how Rwanda is making a transition from agricultural subsistence to a knowledge–based economy that will act as the information–technology hub for neighboring countries in Eastern and Central Africa. Because Rwandans reached bottom, sustainable change is happening in remarkable ways and quickly. Implementing some of these changes in neighboring countries could have a profoundly positive impact on central Africa.
He was incredibly moving and inspiring and gave us hope that change can happen rapidly on a continent that has suffered a series of slow starts over the decades. His passion centers around technology and to-date, Bigirimana has been successfully building Internet infrastructure in Rwandan villages, programs which can be replicated elsewhere in the region.
Speaking of inspiration and passion, enter Anthea Butler who recently wrote Women in the Church of God in Christ. Able to fluently blend women's issues and religion, her stance on the PUSH stage was on fundamentalism.
Up right after a speaker on Islam, she encouraged us that while the radicals get most of the media stage, there's another point of view, another way of behaving within the same religion. These are the stories so rarely told and even when they are, they often get buried. Be sure to listen to her on video on the PUSH website.
April 16, 2008
Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre
It has been more than two decades since I last walked through Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre (black and white shot is of the church in 1885).
A deeply spiritual and moving place, a Greek orthodox woman prayed to my left, a Polish catholic priest led a group to my right and every religious variation in between stood among me. Within its walls, you can either pray or quietly reflect with every other walk of life from around the world and be at peace.
I took a few short video clips while inside which are captured below. Click play.
As I took these earlier today, they were streaming live on Flixwagon.com, a real-time video solution by an Israeli start-up. More on them later.
March 18, 2008
A Tech Story Most of the Media Missed
Here's a fun, quirky and fascinating story about UFOs in the LA TIMES. Only here can you hear the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey says.
I sent this idea to my LA Times friend, introducing him to two former cops who have become private eyes....and are on the case of a mysterious UFO spotted not far from my home.
No, I didn't set up the drone picture. There are enough people who take the picture seriously to pay these guys to search for this mysterious telephone pole. Personally, since I know what can be done in Photoshop, I'm a bit skeptical.
Two of my favorite quotes got cut from Glionna's story by editors, (who are too often drones themselves).
One was TK Davis's theory of why UFO hunting is back in, with shows on the history channel and magazines devoted to them. He said that with all the controversy in hard news, and the way the country is split, UFOs provide some relief. Also, he said, they are aliens that no one is condemning.
And, there are all kinds of interpretations of what the writing on the drone says here.
My favorite had me laughing out loud: "All your base are belong to us." The editors-surprise- didn't get it.
The other speculations show there is great humor in the techie world (Invasion from planet Jiffy Pop; Martians for Obama).
February 18, 2008
The Furniture Psychic
In January, I took a side trip to Sedona, historical Prescott and Jerome, Arizona. It was, if you will, a rustic furniture-buying mission. When it comes to design and decorating, I'm one of those people who loves vibrant colors, spontaneity and change, so I'm moving a slick silver clean-lined table out of my office and into the hallway in favor of the first rustic one that jumps and says "I'm it."
Speaking of energy. Speaking of rustic. All three places made great choices for such a mission.
I browsed through numerous stores ranging from holes in the wall and high-end furniture stores to vintage and antique shops.
At the tail end of a desert road just outside Sedona, I discovered a store that had oodles of things I'd be happy with, all of course with price tags that were certain to break the bank if I stayed too long. Add shipping to that, and it turned into a browsing experience without action.
Before this realization, however, a woman came over to me and watched how I was responding to some of the items and then how I'd share a potential decorating idea with my traveling companion. We learn that she is a furniture psychic; at least that's how she referred to herself. No joke. It gets better.
She informs me that I'm not quite ready to buy and that I shouldn't make any purchases in the next week. I was "in Sedona after all," and I should be spending all my time lying on red rock and connecting with the earth. It's what people do there. She had a point and it wasn't as if I didn't have red rock "time" planned, and yet there was still something 'intense' about her advice. Then I learned why.
She's not only a so-called furniture psychic (whatever on earth that is), but she dabbles in cards. You can learn more about her particular approach by picking up The Little Book of Cards by Hathaway and Crick.
The original playing cards were developed in medieval times to safeguard an even more ancient system. The 52 cards correspond to the weeks in a year; the 12 royal cards to the months in a year; the four suits to the number of seasons in a year and weeks in a month, as well as the four elements. The birth card for each birthday is summarized, as well as ways to interpret them.
It plays a little differently than merely reading your horoscope. Click on the image below to get a larger view of the birthdates and what card they match up to.
What intrigued me enough to buy this little book was the correlation between the way we think and act towards people, professionally and personally. Also, the weight we give relationships versus things and basic value systems. The furniture psychic was so intriguing and her assessment of the handful of people she rattled off details about based on their birthdates were so eerily spot-on, that I had to find out more.
Do I believe in this system? We don't know what we don't beyond the realm of our own understanding or what can be proven. What I did learn is this: after reading roughly a couple hundred people over the course of a month or so, I discovered that Spades only came up in my life a few times, whereas Clubs comprised 90% of the people I interact with on a regular basis.
While this is quite general, clubs are "head people," diamonds gravitate around success and money (thankfully I have some diamonds in my life) and hearts, well, they're all about giving and love of course. Regardless of what I really think, the patterns were oddly accurate and compelling enough, that its worth a read.
February 05, 2008
Lost American-Made Men
I was in a small town in the Northeast last month, where I was fortunate enough to spend time with a lot of older men, many of them friends of a 67-year-old local man who had just passed away.
Most of the men I saw in the town were at least 55 years old. They reminded me of my grandmother's brothers and their crowd in a Pennsylvania coal region, and also made me think of a line from one of Pete Dexter's novels: "There are no intact men."
The men in this town tended to walk a little crooked and required some effort to get in and out of their chairs. Some of them strode alongside their wives, protective in their energy. Many of them wandered alone. Hands were thick, leathery and sometimes gnarled.
They wore faces of experience, some tough and others worn down. Eyes, when sober, were sharp, with whites clear as cold autumn air, the eyes of creatures that have survived longer than most in the state of nature. The eyes say: Inside here there is much to see and learn.
This kind of man is disappearing and is not being replaced, because what they are made of came from a life of manual labor combined with a respectable, honorable place in their communities, a state almost impossible to achieve now in a country with a consistently shrinking blue-collar workforce and an economic landscape hostile to stability and security for those who remain.
You will notice that the people who are becoming homeless in this housing market are the lower-middle class folks who would have never been able to afford a home in the first place without a supply glut and unsupportably cheap money to borrow. Their American dream of home ownership started disappearing decades ago, with the housing boom of the 2000-aughts just a trick of the twilight.
I'm not saying we need to return blue-collar jobs to the United States, or turn back the economic clock. But we've lost something. We've lost Ralph Kramden, John Walton, Archie Bunker and Howard Cunningham. (I don't watch TV. Are there any workaday blue-collar heroes on TV these days? Was Tony Soprano the nearest thing?)
I'm not sure that this older generation necessarily worked harder - without an apple-to-apples comparison it's hard to say. I look at some of my clients - professional snowboarders, Silicon Valley startups, spiritual healers, real estate brokers, editors, website designers - and they are all working a lot of hours. Statistics support the view that we spend a lot of time at work.
Nor am I saying that what we used to produce was more valuable because it was tangible. It's merely a point of view. But there is some relationship between what you create and how you walk through your life. Oil workers and loggers earn their pay through extraction, and tend to deplete their wallets as fast as they are filled. A farmer has a different carriage than a venture capitalist.
It also has to be different when day after day you come home physically spent from work, sore or injured, rather than exhausted from thinking, conferencing, sitting, typing, staring at a screen.
Another major difference between today's man and yesterday's is that while we may be every bit as much the maker, we are definitely more takers now.
We expect a lot more in return from life than did our forefathers. I don't think this is necessarily a bad development, but is this expectation based on a fair trade for labor or is it based on a lazy sense of entitlement, that we are owed something by the boss, the state, the community?
We leave trash behind everywhere in a world that encourages the disposable. We expect to replace our electronics every few years instead of drawing out a 15-year-life by darning them like socks. We accumulate more and more toys to support our technoconomy.
Since Exodus we've always coveted our neighbor's oxen and ass, and his wife, it's just that now there is a lot more ass to choose from. These men I saw last month were not looking for their $10 million pot of gold and I don't think most of them were 30 years prior.
They carried themselves as if their contract with life had been written early and in language somewhere between backbreaking labor and a barroom fight, and signed with no promises about the outcome.
Every time I go back east I see how the towns never seem to change and so are slowly dying. With this last trip I saw the men in these towns, also dying, a much greater loss. We're losing a certain kind of masculine energy and I think we're out of cultural, familial and spiritual balance as a result. I of course speak in generalities. Every generation has its proportion of do-ers and watchers, the corrupt and weak.
And yes, a nostalgia check. None of this is coming back, and change is part of life. It's a good thing that fewer people are dying of black lung and in grain bins. Opportunities and challenges today are exciting and limitless. We can make our futures as shining as we are willing to work for. I get that. But how about this?
The economic and cultural changes over the last 40 years (including the ascent of women in the workplace, the impermanency of family, shallower roots and fewer anchors in all parts of life) have profoundly dislocated men.
We're somewhere between definitions of what it means to be a man and it is very confusing. I think this is one of the causes of the sub-optimal politico/economic situation in which America finds itself.
And I think this is one of the reasons for the burgeoning trend of lost young men in this country, with university admission rates in decline and dropouts soaring, depicted in all those movies about successful young women stuck with guys who are a mess.
So, fellas, can you see a picture of the kind of man I've been talking about, this older generation? If you've known them, then spend some time with them if they're still around and pull in their spirits if they're not. Or just find someone. A stranger will do.
Look into their faces and draw from their strength, constancy, sacrifice, honor and dignity. Carry it in you, graft it onto your core, make this tradition part of yours. Our clients need it, our neighbors, our rivals, our communities. If you call yourself an American, then your country needs it - a LOT. And our women and our kids, perhaps more than they can say or know.