Archive for October, 2009

Letter From New York October 20, 2009

October 20, 2009

Or, as it seems to me…

The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has issued dire warnings that failure to create an agreement at the Copenhagen Conference in December will result in even more dire consequences to be revealed in weather catastrophes. As I read his dreary statements [and Gordon Browne seems a dreary sort to begin with] I wondered [and here I must admit I was pushed toward this thought by the musings of my friend, the writer/philosopher Howard Bloom], is there no hope in the world? Have we become ostriches with heads in the sand because we hear no one saying there is hope anywhere? It is dire out there, whether climate changes are happening naturally, are being accelerated by human actions or are solely the result of human actions, we are living on a planet that seems to be going through a…change? Menopause? Something. Something is happening and to shrug it off is irresponsible as is ignoring it, as it is acting as if we are as doomed as the passengers on the Titanic after its brush with an iceberg.

While it is true that something significant is happening climate wise, it is untrue that it is completely out of our control. We are a remarkable race that consistently does remarkable things, often when our backs are against the wall [why do our backs have to be against the wall?]. So where in this desert of despair in which we so often seem to be living do we find a voice of hope? Who is going to stand up and say, yes, we can! [Oh wait! Obama said that and for a moment we thought we could and now seem to be slipping back into ennui, a tenebrous state of enervation. In others words: dark, gloomy, exhausted, without much hope.] And while it is more than a tad gloomy out there, we have survived gloomy periods before.

The Great Recession is not infrequently compared with the Great Depression, eighty years ago and there are some striking similarities. Now that was a pretty gloomy time also – and in the end the west pulled itself out from that period’s ennui through the vastly unpleasant shock of World War II, an event that united individuals and nations in a common cause against a frightful enemy. Do we, today, have to be that confrontationally threatened to wake up and react? Perhaps.

We have challenges in front of us [and, in fact, more challenges than we might actually need (certainly more than I personally want)] and we need right now a someone [thank you, Howard Bloom] to stir us with the same passion that John F. Kennedy stirred us with when he said: ask not what your country can do for you but what can you do for your country. It has been nearly fifty years since those words were spoken and yet they still have the power to excite and move and stir us in the fiber of our beings, a call to something beyond ourselves.

According to promos I saw on television this week, this is a week of volunteerism, a celebration of getting out and doing for someone else. God knows we have a lot of people who need doing for [I read a report of a 97 year old woman who is living in her car] and we have a lot of people who need to be doing, to stir themselves out of that ennui, the tenebrous state of enervation, out of the dark and gloomy space which really surrounds us but which we do not necessarily need to be victim to…

Letter From New York, October 12, 2009

October 12, 2009

Or, as it seems to me…

Last Friday, as on most days, I was awakened by the sound of NPR. I had been in a heavy sleep, deeply tired from having awakened at oh dark hundred the day before to catch the early train into the city. The announcer was telling the world that the Nobel Peace Prize had gone to President Barak Obama. I rolled over and buried my head under a pillow, not wanting to get up and wondering how Barak Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize had worked itself into my dream state, as I was sure that Obama and the Peace Prize were part of a very confused dream I was having.

However, it wasn’t a dream – Barak Obama had, indeed, been awarded the Nobel Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons. Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics.” [Announcement of the Norwegian Nobel Committee] I was stunned as I sipped my first cup of coffee of the day, wondering what had caused the Nobel Committee to make this choice? It didn’t seem like he had done anything to deserve this award at this time, even taking in the words of the Committee. Everyone I spoke with seemed perplexed, including friends who are ardent Obama supporters.

Even Obama himself seemed puzzled.

As the weekend progressed, it seemed to me that Obama was awarded both for his aspirations and his attitudes while at the same time the Norwegian Nobel Committee was also rewarding the United States for electing someone who had changed the American dialogue with the world from the bumptious, fractious tone of the Bush era to something more… and here I get stuck for words. Under Obama the tone of American diplomacy has been, well, diplomatic. It has also left doors open as opposed to unilaterally closing them. Whether diplomacy will accomplish something is still to be seen. However, we, at least, aren’t alienating most of the world and most of our allies simply by opening our mouth.

The Nobel Prize to Obama has set off a maelstrom among political pundits giving conservatives an opening to ridicule the President. Senator McCain was thankfully muted, simply proffering congratulations. As puzzling as the award may be, the vitriol with which it has been greeted on the right is, unfortunately, not unexpected. Deeply saddening was an article this week reporting that threats against Obama’s life are occurring thirty times more frequently than they did for his predecessor. This fact reflects badly upon us, a counterpoint to what the Norwegian Nobel Committee seemed to be praising us for – the election of a man of color with diplomatic tendencies who chooses words designed to bridge rather than divide, someone who has reflected hope on many levels on the world stage upon which he acts.

Also happening this weekend was a march on Washington by Gays and Lesbians, a National Equality March, highlighting the desires of the LGBT [Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered] Community to have full “full Federal equality” including the right to marry and to serve openly in the military. On Saturday night, Obama pledged to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to thunderous approval of the crowds at a Human Rights Campaign even though the President took it on the chin on Sunday morning from some gay activists for not having set a timetable. Within the gay community there has been division over whether energy should have been spent on such a march when so much is happening and needs attending in states like Maine and Washington where important issues will be faced at the ballot box next month.

I am not sure whether energy should be focused at the state or federal level. However, what remains amazing to me is that energy is being focused on both those levels on issues I did not think I would see addressed in my lifetime any more than I thought I would live to see an African–American President.

Letter From New York October 5, 2009

October 5, 2009

Or, as it seems to me…

The weekend was spent curled up, for the most part, at the cottage, rain falling, the yard slowly littering with leaves, watching back episodes of Mad Men [without a doubt one of the finest television dramas ever], doing a little reading, some straightening up and, as best I could, ignoring the fact I had left the power block for my laptop at the office…

I spent the weekend digitally deprived, basically cut off from the broadband universe I so heavily rely upon, only using the computer on battery power for absolute necessities…paying bills that were due, responsible things, not for the fun things I normally do like surfing through HULU looking for some video to watch, or writing my weekly missive. Or, on the task side, taking care of the work that I had put off saying – I can handle that on the weekend.

Digital disengagement was not liberating. I thought perhaps it might be – ah, I could spend the time I would be working on the computer doing things I don’t always have time to do – read more, for example. The reality is that I have become dependent upon my ability to interact digitally with the world – or even with myself. My journal resides on the desktop of my laptop. I keep my checkbook balances on an Excel spreadsheet, my addresses are organized in my Entourage, my calendar – almost all the bits and pieces of my life are on my laptop which is why backing up is almost a religious ritual.

Oh sure, I had my iPhone and it wasn’t the same and it wasn’t enough. I can’t really type on my iPhone – it’s great for short emails and it was great because that way I wasn’t cut off, completely. But I missed my full functionality, missed being able to type out my thoughts, missed being able to surf the Internet unfettered by the constraints of a smaller screen and a slower connection. I missed my bigger screen.

In other words, I am tethered to my electronics in ways I only think about when I am not able to exercise what seems to me to be my constitutionally guaranteed right of web access. In other words, I am a man of the 21st century, a man who is electronically dependent and geared toward utilizing those electronic devices to define and refine his life.

Wired. That is what I am, a wired person. And because this wired person was without his computer, he did not get to write his weekly blog. I attempted to put some thoughts to paper, long hand. My handwriting has deteriorated to something that would cause the nuns who shaped my penmanship heartburn. I sometimes have trouble reading it. It is embarrassing to go back to notes from a meeting and realize you have no idea what a certain word is because it is so badly written. I am embarrassed when I think of it which, most of the time; I don’t because I don’t need to read my own writing that often. I do so much of it on my laptop.

So this is what has happened to me. I am so dependent on having my laptop I am not very capable of workarounds. I am a man of the 21st Century; I am a digitally dependent chap who finds it difficult to cope without his digital devices so much so that it brings my life to a minor halt. Am I unusual or am I just like everyone else? Probably not just like everyone else.