Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Seer's Story 01

With a tip of the hat to Jasper Fforde. A short story:

“The oral history is almost gone now. The passage of stories from one generation to the next through word of mouth is nearly memory. The seers do not mourn its loss. The seers have lost so much more.

The oral tradition was the first link to the other worlds. It was the real power of mankind. Humanity, for all of its complexities and self-aggrandizing, would be just another animal without the power of story. Man didn't discover fire. Man discovered story; imagination; the impossible.

The thing is, magic does exist. It's obvious that the fantastical must have some connection to what is known as the real. But it's not about fancy scars or anything obvious. It is the subtle vibration of the physical laws bending, twisting, changing into something else.

The first story ever told was Man's first foray into controlling magic. And so this story begins not with Mankind, but with the first storyteller. She was human, pre-historic, and simple. Simian in mentality and basic in instinct. She was an animal the same as all animals of this earth.

But probability is magic's friend. Every possibility has the slightest chance of occurring at least once. Every infinity yields things beyond comprehension. And a chance encounter, a random firing of neurons, a haunting dream, and a series of coincidences changed her brain.

When the signs persisted, when the patterns of life continued to present themselves to her, she finally spoke. She told her group; a small band of homo sapiens, living life at its most basic. She told them the story she had crafted. Warned them of a creature of a greater magnitude and power than they could comprehend, and she enthralled them with the first story.

It has been lost now; the first story. But that is not important; a story continues even if the seers cannot access it. A single vibration—a spark—and the laws of physics change and morph, opening portals to the world created through story. And then another universe vibrates in time with the spark, there forever.

The oral history was the first passage to the other worlds. It remains the strongest. It was the vehicle through which the seers transported themselves and their audience into the impossible. Story is thus the impossible.

After the first storyteller, everyone who had heard the story could become a seer. For a time, every human was a seer, ably transporting an audience between worlds.

An audience would sit enraptured around a fire, as the members took turns transporting each other between worlds. It was a potent weapon. The other animals could never catch a human. What can a lion do against a man who can disappear into another universe at will? Civilization arose quickly from there. The dream of the impossible showed the way to the things mankind could do. Cities appeared. Great structures built to capture just a little of the magic of story.

Then the first great loss happened. No one noticed it at first. Mankind was reaching new and greater heights, imagination was becoming resoundingly practical. Irrigation, farming, domestication, and trade to far off lands. Specialization, the creation of new forms of art. All flourished during the first great loss. And writing appeared. Writing, was a perfect invention, save a story so it can never be lost. Hold the magic in a vessel that lives longer than a man. But it didn't work that way.

The seers wrote to save the magic. They would transport themselves and record everything they could to keep it when they died. The ultimate hubris is that we can live through our works. Writing wasn't a way to keep the universe alive. Instead, writing narrowed the portal. It made it almost inaccessible. Writing hid the vibrations between the lines on the papyrus.

Imagine describing everything on this earth. The exact location of every molecule and how it will move for the next 1000 generations. When the seers told stories, they tapped into the minute vibrations of another universe. They did not need to describe it, the other worlds merely presented themselves.

A written story did not tap into the vibrations of another world. A written story described the universe on the other side through a pinhole. Once a story was written, the seer no longer had to hold the vibration in his body; he could let it go and hope that the paper would hold it. But it never did.

Mankind was too preoccupied with the invention of war and the product of its tinkering to notice that they couldn't open the portals anymore. By the time of the Romans, only a very few could seers remained in Western Civilization. A secret council of seers was convened during the sacking of Rome. As it burned the council elected to hide themselves from the public. They called themselves the Western Gate and disappeared as the Visigoths entered the city.

Time passed, mankind continued its 'progress' going through great periods of creative flourish and growth. The Western Gate watched; they traveled between towns, peddling a moment in another universe, keeping eyes out for the next generation. Sometimes they were taken as witches, magical beings exposing people to evil. Many seers were lost in witch hunts. The Western Gate was nearly gone until Shakespeare. Shakespeare was a prodigy; so powerful was his ability to tap into the vibrations that even his written word could sometimes transport his audience; the gifted ones at least.

Transport requires a powerful seer as well as a gifted audience. Children are natural seers, but most lose their ability as they grow up.

The Western Gate thought they had a solution in Shakespeare. Some seers had such a magical gift that they could keep the magic preserved in print. In a rush after his death, the Western Gate helped fund the publication of the First Folio. They then began searching for seers with the same potential as Shakespeare. They found few, and many could not afford the exorbitant cost of publishing a book. The Western Gate barely survived that period. They settled, hoping for a better solution.

But unbeknown to them, other seers were dying in droves. The New World was a land rich in seers and oral tradition. When Columbus arrived, he brought with him plague and destruction. The second great loss had begun. The vibrations could only be preserved reliably in a very few books, and only when authors and audience had sufficient talent to keep open the gateways. For every book that held the magic, thousands of seers died in the cleansing of the New World.

Several Western Gate seers became frontiersmen in the New World. They founded the Last Gate and worked steadily through the enormous continent to try to preserve every seer they could find. But death did not just come in the form of an advancing army. The seers brought diseases with them and only added to the second great loss.

The world grew and changed. The two Gates became scattered organizations. The population ballooned and seers popped in and out of existence without the slightest ability to find each other. Many became depressed artists, unable to express fully the worlds they had seen—Edgar Allen Poe was a famous example. In 1945, seers near Alamogordo in New Mexico lost their ability suddenly. The vibrations left their body; at the time they could not explain it.

After Hiroshima, the cause of the loss was obvious. Nuclear radiation, even minute amounts, could stop the vibrations. There were only 40 seers in Japan before the two nuclear warheads were dropped. After, there were 2.

During the Cold War, steady escalation of radiation in the atmosphere nearly destroyed the abilities of the seers completely. Today the best seers can barely feel the vibrations and even children have trouble finding their way into the other worlds.

But the internet has brought the small community together. The Western Gate, the Last Gate, and the various world organizations are connected by the power of technology. There are only a few seers left; a couple hundred at most. The world has long forgotten us. But we continue to hold onto the only real magic bestowed upon humanity, and we try to share it and preserve it, waiting for the day the world will need it again.”

Banking on Hamilton 2

America drifted around without a clear path forward until 1862. The period before 1862 is known as the Free Banking Era. Mostly because it was possible to buy banks for free—just kidding. But in the absence of a strong central bank, larger banks filled in the de facto role of a central bank: they provided deposit insurance, guaranteed their notes with bullion, and acted as a bank note clearinghouse honoring notes from collapsed banks.

Note that the US up until 1863, when the National Banking Act and Legal Tender Act went into effect, did not have a standard currency. The US government minted coins that were worth their weight but never a specific currency, e.g. dollars. That meant that bank notes were the only standard non-bullion currency (states were prohibited from printing by Article 1 Section 10 of the constitution). These notes were wildly different in their reliability and value; it depended solely on how strong the issuing bank was. The NBA and LTA established a national currency that the US government backed with reserves of gold bullion (the gold standard).

So, in 1846, the Polk administration started the change to a national system, eventually culminating in the passage of the NBA where a system of national banks was set up, all of them backed by the new national currency—commonly known as greenbacks. Banks were required by Gresham's law to honor other bank notes at par value, effectively forced to transition to the new currency (if they had not done so already) and to back up their notes with Treasury securities. That increased the general liquidity greatly. Hamilton would have been pleased.

It also had problems. Securities could fluctuate in value because the Treasury used Gresham's law as a way to also control monetary policy. While there was gold bullion, securities were released and held for policy reasons, effectively constraining markets for political reasons. Secondly, the system of banks borrowing from banks caused problems too. Small rural banks that needed currency during planting season drained reserves of large urban banks in seasonal cycles.

Some of these factors led to the Panic of 1907. The NYSE fell more than 50%. Of course rabid speculation on different unregulated markets also greatly exacerbated the Panic when the bottom fell out on those (do I even have to say it?). Basically big trusts and banks went bankrupt over the failure of a speculative insider bid to take over the United Copper Company. People panicked at the uncertainty created and tried to withdraw their assets from banks and trusts associated with the failed attempt. This constricted banks in their liquidity and forced many to default on their obligations.

The government was powerless to stop the downward spiral. There was no central bank to inject money into the system nor was there an adequate fiscal policy available to restore confidence. J.P. Morgan pledged a ton of his personal wealth to shoring up banks. He also convinced a bunch of other rich guys to do the same (very Warren Buffet/bank bailout of Mr. Morgan).

Obviously the government really didn't want that happening again. It had led to the collapse of many small banks, the amalgamation of Tennessee Coal, Iron, and Railroad Company with US Steel (J.P. Morgan's company), and a drastic failure of markets to right themselves (yeah, I know right).

Enter the Federal Reserve. Until the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, banks borrowed from banks and relied on a complex pyramidal system of loans to do business. When the Treasuries securities lost or gained value, the pyramid would skew wildly, tipping and nearly collapsing on several occasions. It took nearly seven years for a non-partisan commission to come up with and finally pass the Federal Reserve Act (Glass-Owen Act). The Federal Reserve Board of Governors is a seven member board appointed by the president and approved by the Senate. They are mostly left to their own devices, controlling monetary policy in America as they see would cause the most benefit. They are the men and women behind the curtain; they can drastically change how an economy will grow and develop using the instruments at their disposal. Their policies have been attributed to the bubble of the 1920s, much of the growth of the 1950s, stagflation in the 1970s, and much more. They are supposed to be non-partisan, but to believe that would be foolish. They try their best to stay non-partisan but their personal beliefs about how the system operates heavily influences the policy routes they choose.

In the 1950s the Fed expanded its power to its modern times, asserting its autonomy (past appointments of course) and reaching a deal with the Treasury as to how their duties would be split. This solidified the Fed as a centralized banking system for the US.

In the 1960s, America, under Nixon's presidency, left the gold standard and sent our currency into a free-floating system. This works pretty well as long as the big international governments remain on good terms and fairly stable, but huge economic shocks can create imbalances (this has been happening in miniature with the Canadian dollar, the Euro, and the Chinese Yuan). Countries still keep large reserves of gold to hedge their bets but use the US dollar—and more recently the Euro—as the reserve currency; a standard against their own currency.

In a more modern and less international context this all comes back to Mr. Hamilton. The advocate for a strong central bank, largely independent of the government, in control of the monetary policy of the US was all his idea. He argued aggressively that the free market was an unwieldy one subject to the greed and prejudices of those in control of it. He favored using the government and a strong intervening force as ways to control the wild fluctuations and corruption that he saw inherent to an unregulated system.

No matter how 'free market' a person may be, the market was conceived of by Hamilton as being firmly under control by a democratic people.

Banking on Hamilton 1

Open up your wallet. If you have a ten dollar bill in there, pull it out. Take a look at the face of the guy on the front. That's Alexander Hamilton, America's first Secretary of the Treasury and the father of our banking system. A bit has changed over the years but his mark has been indelibly left upon our economic structure: the first national bank, the role of government in finance, and the powers of financial institutions rest heavily upon his founding philosophy and tenacity to get his policies through.

The brief life of Alexander Hamilton can be read something like this: Alexander Hamilton was born in the Caribbean, fought in the American Revolution, proposed a strong (by early American standards) federal government, created the precursors for most of our modern economic institutions, and fought so furiously with his political opponents that he was eventually shot and killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. He was a man with strong opinions and a well-read background.

Modern Americans can thank Mr. Hamilton for a great many of our political views which we hold today. The idea of a national government that gives states some authority but maintains standing armies, levies taxes, and takes on large programs was Mr. Hamilton. The protection of American industry through tax breaks, levies, tariffs and other economic mechanisms can be called his. Even how members of the cabinet address Congress originated with him.

But his lasting achievement was in how he shaped our banking system. He proposed the mint, argued strongly for a central bank, and shaped how our markets ran. He got his way in the establishment of the first national bank, the creation of the Federalist party, and the establishment of the US Mint. Although the bank, which was partially owned by the government, was disbanded when Congress failed to renew its terms in 1811, it set precedent for the second national bank, and eventually the Federal Reserve.

Banks in America are quite hard to pin down. Jackson was vehemently against the second national bank on the grounds that it was a corrupt institution owned by foreigners who were trying to influence elections. So strong was his opposition that this is known as the Bank War. Jackson saw the private ownership of the very powerful, nationally funded bank as a monopoly with interests against the popular will (sounds familiar). He opted for state banks collectively known as 'pet banks.' These banks decentralized the system and took power away from Jackson's meddling foreigners but created a very unstable situation wherein many pet banks eventually failed. This is probably because Jackson, for all of his high handed rhetoric about fairness and populist justice, awarded federal investments to political allies as part of the 'spoils system' (remember that term from US History?). Anyways, this unstable system of uncontrolled and financially unsound series of banks without adequate regulation but plenty of government funds led, it has been argued, to the Panic of 1837.

This was America's second depression. Not the Great one, but just a regular one. Basically, the banks were not required to abide by many principles considered necessary to our banking system today. Banks weren't required to have a minimum percentage of physical cash in their vaults at any time to back up their loans and bank notes. In modern times the number is 10%. Because banks weren't keeping cash in reserve, they could loan out larger and larger sums on riskier and riskier investments (sounds familiar again); basically inflating currency until the bank notes didn't have much real value. Realizing this, banks changed policy and stopped accepting cash, requiring gold or silver as a deflationary measure. Well, that did deflate currency, but more in the manner of popping the bubble than drawing down pressure. Suddenly things like mortgages on houses couldn't be paid for because the property was worthless and average Americans were left with worthless bank notes (the coincidence is thick in this history). Martin Van Buren, newly elected president of 1837, refused to get involved reasoning (I bet you can guess) that the markets would even themselves out and government had no place intervening. Hamilton would have set him straight on this point, but he had already been shot in the abdomen by Aaron Burr—the founding father famous only for shooting another founding father in the gut.

Unemployment rose. A lot. And banks collapsed by the hundreds. To really drive home some striking coincidences I'd like to quote Edward M. Shephard, writer of The Life of Martin Van Buren: “They believed that Van Buren could with a few strokes of his pen repair, if he pleased, those blunders, and restore commercial confidence and prosperity. The panic of 1837 became, and has very largely remained, the subject of political and partisan differences, which obscure its real phenomena and causes.” And so it was a system of unregulated speculation, free of partisan politics that nearly crippled the nation of America. Burr wasn't very good at economics, but he wasn't solely responsible for the resulting depression.

Friday, October 28, 2011

After a thunderous boom

I read in a Wired article recently that a city isn't navigable until a blind person can find their way through it. I also wonder if rules about efficiencies in fluid dynamics could apply to creating a better network of roads. In the spirit of the hypothetical I will try to write a piece for the blind.

Short story: He heard the soft steps as they came down the walk. A light rap on the door and it creaked open slowly. He had gotten up to meet her but she was already inside the house. The young voice enthused, “hey! How are you?” The voice was a little closer than normal.

He lifted his arms and embraced her. Her scent filled his nostrils. Something light, just barely there—spring with the sophistication and sobriety of autumn. They parted and she guided him outside. He felt the sun on his skin and enjoyed the break in the gloomy weather. The night before he had woken up to the thunder storm. The house had shaken, the power of a storm always amazed him.

The rain from the night before still hung in the air. It came off the plants and the pavement. A scent that signaled the constant flux of the world. She spoke again, “where are we going?” She was wearing heels; she was taller.

“Downtown. But you are going to have to drive.”

She laughed and opened the passenger side door. He stepped in and wafted in the scent of old leather in a car. It was rich and earthy, slightly damp. The door closed. And she shuffled around on the gravel drive to the driver's seat. The door click popped open and she leaned in, “sorry it's so messy. I drove fast and forgot I left all these papers in the car.

“It's ok, It seems pretty clean in here,” he patted the seat and reached for the seatbelt. He found it and snapped in the seatbelt. The car started dinging lightly. She had forgotten to put her seatbelt on before putting her keys in the car. The door slammed, the belt buckled and she turned to him, “ready? You just direct me.”

And the car spun wildly, re-orienting itself in the opposite direction. He felt the pressure of the car accelerating, holding his body into the seat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Important to Teens

Leave it to a teenager to make you feel insignificant. I've dedicated so many blogs and tons of real life energy into getting established and moving in. My little sister Natalie asked me today, “have you moved in yet?”

It's funny how what one thinks is important can just get totally missed by the rest of the world. I think that is the way of the genius—or madman. Either way the two archetypes spend a lot of time on things that no one else finds important.

There are tons of homeless people in Seattle. It irks me that I have to walk by and hold up my hands, look at them and say, “sorry.” I say it so often and it is to every homeless person that I don't know if I mean it. I truly have no spare change to give. My wallet is empty. It doesn't make me feel less crappy. I see people in desperate need and I can't help. Walking around downtown everyday is a lesson in helplessness. A lesson in the things I can't do.

I try to stay informed. I believe in three things as key to a healthy life: arts, nature, and exercise. There are more, but I love having those things. Even just a brief walk to Olympic Sculpture Park to look out on the Puget Sound is a great daily dose of all three. It gets gloomy here, I am grateful for every second of sun.

But it's not as rainy as people say. Most of the rain gets caught in the Olympics—those are actually a rainforest. In Seattle, it's a patch of temperate micro-climate. Often it will rain lightly and get sunny by the end of the day. 77 days of sun is kind of a misnomer. There are plenty of partially sunny days to make it all worth it.

I miss my friends. I miss my family—even if they don't pay close attention to the big changes in my life. It's been nearly a year now. Just a couple of months left, and I will have written a blog everyday. I don't think I will stop. I have to decide if I'm going to change the format at all though. I fantasize about the future, but who knows what it really holds? I could drop dead anytime; so it goes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apartment Pics

Four Pictures of our newly furnished apartment (still in progress but this is damn close to livable)


View of the kitchen from the living room. Note the roses Ben sent and the chairs grandma sent via Adam.


Our studio space from the hall. Thanks to my parents for sending the comforter. And on top of that is the 'life blanket' Ciera crocheted. The bed was donated by Ciera's grandpa via her aunts Lynn and Jolie.


View of the kitchen and our new Goodwill furniture from the corner where the closet is. Check out our gossip chair and our funky brown couch lounger thing!


View of the hallway from the studio. Check out the awesome Target shelves filled with Ciera's rubberducks, her dvds, and candlestick holders donated by Nate and George. Also note the Goodwill rug and the boxes that still make up the majority of our raised surfaces.

Inner World Stage

And it was beautiful. The two were wed on-stage. And it took courage to stand in front of an audience of people you don't know—to say to the world, “I don't care if you approve, I am going to do it because I can and because I love this person.” And it was moving when they got married on-stage. And it was real.

But that was only one of the performances. On the Boards is a contemporary theater that takes the risks to give us great theater. They make performance accessible. They give performers a space to be safe and to try something radically new. And at 12 Minutes Max I get to see the blog version of their cutting edge philosophy.

Give Me Brilliance is a dance company that fuses mainstream modern music with ballet and modern. They are an all female group that takes dance and says, “we'll show you awesome.” Their performances were dispersed throughout and every bit that they did was a pleasure to watch. The all women's crew had their act together and they knew how to make it bold.

And the rest of the performers were good too. This being my second 12 Minutes Max, I was struck by how different the flavor was for this performance. The last one was all middle-aged high art hipsters. This one was the raw emotion of college performance, taking the old and the new and rubbing in a good bit of theory to show us something unique and emotional.

And I appreciate the theater more and more every time I go there. They consistently provide quality pieces of work that push the limits and present piquant surprises that send my brain off into a world that they create.

I think it's no surprise that in the last two nights my dreams have been wild shows of surrealist beauty. I dreamed I was Hunter S. Thompson traveling the country. I ran into vampires and found love and lost my camera. I dreamed of an alien invasion with weather. Enormous aliens in the guise of clouds, hovering over us; watching and experimenting by bringing in storms. When I wake up, I am happy. I live in the world I am creating.

Seattle Night Out

There was a prayer group at the top of the hill. Youths, probably college aged, stood in a circle and looked ominously religious. I paused in my steps, felt the soft earth give slightly under me.

“It's a church group,” Amber said it with authority. As we walked by it became clear that she was very right. “I knew it, I have a knack for knowing these things.” Amber was our guide for the night. She was a homegrown Seattlite who had just moved back. She was blond and tall, will an amiability about her that put me immediately at ease.

We were at Gas Works Park. Ciera, Amber, Blake, and I. It was the beginning of our night and it put me in the right disposition to know that the night would be good, and I would feel comfortable for the first time in a long time.

Let me be frank—but as Nick still. I haven't really hung out with anyone my age for a while. Sure we have gotten to spend some time with Adrienne, but she is just as lost as we are in Portland. Sure I could hang with my cousins, but the familial relation keeps us at a respectable social distance. Amber and Blake were right in my scope of comfort. They had both gone to college, and knew what the young hip bar scene looked like. We went to a low key bar. We went to a loud bar. We saw skeez-balls. We met Amber's roommate Eleanor. We did things that the young and the restless do. We stayed up late, had a few drinks, and ruled the city while the real adults slept. And I have not done that in so very long.

So I pushed aside the Book of Mormon hanging out in the back seat, and happily rode home next to Ciera. The streetlights cast shadows over our faces as the car turned and passed through the city.

I was in the middle of a story when he walked up and just stopped. Just stood there, filling in the circle as if he had been there the whole time. And he looked around, expecting us to entertain him for a moment. And then the silence descended. The long pause of an elephant storming into a room and demanding to be ignored. I barely held in my laughter. And then, from the intersection, in a car, “Scott? Scott?” And he left. We couldn't help but explode. A random individual had just walked up to us and stood with us as if he had been there the whole time. Then he disappeared. Rather, instead of jumping in the car of the person who was calling for him, he bolted up the hill and ran into the night.

I have been part of few things more bizarre. And it was all delightfully comforting. To be back in the land of late night oddities. 2 am munchies (this time they were tiny delicious pies) and people our own age. What a wonderful feeling. Feeling normal.

The Pie My First Political Cartoon


Finally got internet! Can you tell? Anyways, this picture is an accurate representation of the share of income gain from 1979. The top .1% have taken 20% of the pie while the bottom 60% have gotten only 13%. I drew 1 rich .1%er for 999 other people to give a sense of the scale we are talking about.

The Rain

A short story:

The rain pounded down heavily. It was nearly a waterfall. The drops soaked things to the core. Inside it was warm and orange though. The rain came down on a house that didn't care. It beat the pavement, demanding to be heard. The purple black night, for all its chaos and anger, retreated from the light that glowed steadily out of the windows.

Laughter rang out from the kitchen, a chair screeched against a floor. Someone shuffled. The white noise of a blanket held over a body. More laughter, a group of friends, unaware of the time on the microwave. The weak green digital reading said the early morning. The energy of the house said it didn't matter.

A drawer opened, silver clinking against silver, the taps of a fork against a counter.

The rain pounded on, demanded to be heard. It formed deep puddles, hidden in the darkness. The streets reflected streetlights, shimmering as the storm covered them with water. A flood of Biblical proportions threatened, louder the pounding came as the water fell faster.

The red door of the house opened, light streamed out, parting the darkness. Two shapes appeared; dashed to the car. The pounding of rain on a car, steady and rhythmic. Doors slamming shut. Giggling and laughter. A deep exhale as seatbelts were pulled over many awkward layers. The beeps and dings of a car about to start.

A car engine sputtering, grinding, pushing into gear. The gentle vibration of an engine, the low rumble of a motor. The blasting wafting of the heater. The squeak, swoosh of the wipers. The rain demanded attention. The friends brushed it aside with the wipers. It was darkness but for the headlights, tears streamed down the side windows. Vague settings passed beside the car everything but the few feet of road ahead was indistinct.

The rain continued to call from the darkness, carving its name in the soft soil. It pulled down the leaves of the trees. The rain called forth the worms who reveled in the moisture. The car drove on, unaware of the movement in the night. The rain was a dynamic force, changing everything around it. The car was a moving home, holding the sounds of two friends singing along to a song on the radio. The rain could not be heard.

The car stopped. There were no streetlights. There were no houses. The car turned off. And everything human was still. The rain shuddered angrily, made its barrage louder. I am here it called. But the two friends who sat in quiet for a moment felt so alone, isolated by the rain and the fog. The deep purple black night hid them from the real world. An empty and infinite sea. There was nothing beyond the tear streaks of the windows, the layers of cloth pressed down by seatbelts; the gentle breathing of the companion in the other seat. And the two listened to the rain and found it peaceful.

First Snow

A short story:

The apartment was old, the floorboards creaked and undulated from years of gentle sagging. Rachel wandered into the kitchen. Her bare feet touched the cool floor, pressing softly into the hard surface. Each step was a potential landmine; she knew it would creak. As she reached the refrigerator, the apartment squeaked in protest. She heard the groaning with a measure of surprise. She had expected it, but not the echo throughout the tiny space.

The refrigerator door opened and light poured into the tiny kitchen, illuminating the funky gas range-top from some indeterminate past decade, the pile of dishes in the sink, the makeshift rack of mixing bowls and pans in the far corner, and the window against the back wall.

She exhaled lightly. Her jaw loosened and she bit her lip inquisitively, looking for the juice. Rachel had always characterized herself as a juice junkie; she kept at least three varieties in the fridge at any given time. As she stared at the contents, she decided she wanted something else. She let her eyes wander. Half a stick of butter, some carrots, a couple of gray blobs in tupperware, some hot sauce, and an orange.

Oranges were always around this time of year, fresh from Florida. She dug her nail into the firm flesh. She felt her nail penetrate the walls of the fruit and release a tiny spritz of citrus into the air. As she closed the fridge door she turned and looked out the window. The apartment was part of several complexes that surrounded a courtyard. The courtyard had a couple trees and a bench but nothing distinct or interesting. The night was blue-gray. The sky was cloudy and the orange glow of the city outlined the buildings opposite the courtyard. Rachel looked with peace. Her fingers idly pulled apart the orange, tearing off large chunks of flesh.

It was going to snow she thought. As if on cue, she noticed a few flakes falling. She wandered closer to the window, stepping into the glow of the night. The snow would cover the leaves that had just fallen. The snow would cover the bench that no one used. The snow would hide everything in a blanket of white. The flakes fell softly, increasing their presence. Rachel thought, it's snowing now, I wonder how much?

Her stomach fluttered briefly at the thought of not having to go to work the next day. Rachel looked at her peeled orange. It was white now, ready to be pulled apart and eaten. She set the peeled rind on the table and took her thumb and placed it at the center of the orange. She pulled the orange in half slowly, watching as the skin separated to reveal a subtle and complex pattern that shone with a deep contrast in the winter light.

Oranges, my hands are going to smell like them now, Rachel thought. She put the first part of the orange in her mouth, tasted the sweet burst of an orange in winter. She savored the fruit as the flakes falling outside became indistinguishable. She stood on her tip-toes and inhaled. Rachel listened to the apartment creak again. A shiver ran down her spine.

She put another piece of orange in her mouth. Looked around the kitchen. She realized she was in a moment; sharing something special with herself. She giggled secretively at the thought; it was ridiculous. She was so happy in the moment; she put another piece of orange in her mouth and it tasted even better. It was the best orange ever, and she had the privilege of eating it. The snow would hide all the imperfections soon.

Rachel made a mental note to turn up the heat before she crawled back into her large bed.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Morning Walk


Still don't have internet. So this is me stealing it and trying to post everything. There might be a link with pics of our new apartment. Get excited. Also, the morning walk to downtown is really cool, this pic only hints at it.

The new apartment and some Seattle

Intern-al Dialogue

I got way fired up about work yesterday. In the Fac-PI retreat (Facilitation Public Involvement Team meeting that lasts for a long time) we talked about a lot of cool stuff.

I was told “you look like you are trying to impress people. You are here to learn. Don't try to impress us with your knowledge, impress us with your character.” I don't know how I feel about that statement. I may not know much, but I am not a blank slate. I was hired because I do know things; because my goals line up with the company's; because I don't need to be trained on the big picture stuff. I am trying to impress people, but that's secondary to why I say what I say. I want to share what I know and hear how that plays in the room. I want to know how the professionals in the business use the things I have been taught.

So yesterday, we talked about reflective listening. To anyone who has gone through Duke Fisher's awesome mediation training, you are aware that is square one. Good reflective listening is the core of his mediation training philosophy. I got jazzed because we talked about reflective listening in context to a facilitated dialogue—public involvement work with groups as opposed to small mediations. I shared my thoughts on the classic NOTE model that has been set-up at Skidmore. It was just a cursory comment about a tool I have used in the past to help me with my reflective listening skills and I wonder if that is source of the comment. Was it bad to try to converse on the subject I knew? Certainly I have used it to great benefit in my own life, and I hope that it would be helpful to Triangle. But “you are the intern, and you are here to learn.” That concept only goes so far. Real learning comes not just from listening but from interacting as well.

It also happens to be the core of reflective listening; let them speak, reconfirm, ask more. Listening does not involve just the ears. Sound cannot just be inserted and an exact replication made. The mind needs to create redundant layers of information to truly understand something. Thought moves four times faster than speech. Think about it.

Anyways, the point I'm trying to make is that what I heard in that meeting yesterday is exactly why I am at that company. They strive to maintain their neutrality as best as possible. They have built their reputation on creating a clear channel of communication between parties of all different interests and backgrounds. While Triangle may be hired by a specific client; we never push for a specified outcome. We merely try to facilitate a productive dialogue with an informed base of concerned parties. We are above all neutral. I like that.

So I'll keep my mouth shut for a while I guess. But I'm going to learn, and I'm going to make this place work for me. Because I believe in what they are doing. And I want to be a part of that.

Apartment Day 4

And I start settling in. But I'm not staying put. Gotta keep moving. I woke up for my first day of work from my new place. I can sleep in later and I walk to work. It's funny how a 2 mile walk is some sort of feat in this modern age. I feel so good walking in the morning. Sure there's the brisk moment where the air hits your body, your skin shrivels into goosebumps and a chill bite accompanies the first breath out. But then it's invigorating. I have heard that we can prevent most heart disease by simply walking thirty minutes every day. It is no skin off my back to watch the sun rise with the city. People and cars move slowly. Steam comes off almost every surface. And the light turns a yellow orange. Sunrise is wonderful.

I walked along the waterfront. Watched the ferries come in. Watched people bustle. The homeless asked for compassion, the business men walked past coldly. The morning has a chill that is more than the Seattle dew settling on its citizens. I strolled along the waterfront; wondering about chairs for the apartment. I wondered when I would have enough money to lie to a homeless man about what I had in my pockets. I walked by two homeless people with chairs and not much else. I felt a pang of jealousy for the men; they could sit in their space.

Ciera and I still don't have chairs. We keep smiling though. We are happy. Very happy and excited to be living in our apartment. The piers were warm and sunny, I looked at the tall buildings of downtown. Light poured through the space between the buildings, shooting rays of orange between the monoliths our society had erected. I felt happy. A walk to work, a short time out of a lifetime, could bring me back to center. By nine I was ready for work. I peeked in the windows of the many coffee shops, laughed to myself. Who needs coffee when you can wake up naturally?

Then I realized I was lying to myself. I always make a little coffee in the morning. I like the warmth and I'm sure my body enjoys the caffeine. More than anything, I like hanging out for a few minutes every morning with Ciera. I'm not sure if she appreciates me waking her up far before she has to but I like the time. I read somewhere that married couples talk to each other about 6 minutes per day. I don't want that to be me. That would be weird. I like talking to Ciera; she always has something to say.

We need friends. We saw the Potters and enjoyed a wonderful meal with them. Ciera's mom is in town; she has been helping us settle in. Ciera just got 40 hours per week at Village. She'll be really busy now. It will be good though.

Occupy Seattle

I finally went and saw the Occupy Wall Street protests in Seattle.

Olivia and I wandered around, looking at the variety of protesters there. It was big. And small. There were socialists and unions and hippies and homeless and students and working class and radicals and moderates there. There were stoners and straight-laced family and all sorts of people with their own agendas. And there were police. Just waiting for something to go wrong.

But the protests were small too. People drummed in circles, camped in tents, held signs, danced in neon tutus, smoked cigarettes, smoked pot, and wore masks. But there were few minorities and even fewer people who looked to vote down the middle.

We are the 99%. Well, no. Actually you are all part of the 99%. I didn't see the global demographic that was purported to be represented. Not that I think they are wrong or that the protests aren't big. I am saying that the point of improvement is to create more understanding about the movement. I am saying that when I come there everyday to protest for a little while, just to show my support, then there will be something. I am saying that when the people in business suits I see walking around town follow me, that will be the movement's core. Even if those people agree, they aren't putting their necks on the line.

When you can get the people who never put their necks on the line to submit to the possibility of getting guillotined the movement will have the sweeping force for change it needs. Most of the people I saw have already spent their lives as outsiders; they have congregated to show that they remain the outsiders. What happens when they start getting listened to? Do they leave and say the war is won; find another movement to be an outsider on? I hope not, but I can't be sure.

The people who see this through to the end, the ones that persevere to fight it out through the red tape and the dull legislative process are the ones in the suits. They are the ones who have the perseverance to show up everyday and work in a cubicle, they have the heroism to keep working despite pay-cuts and corporate shirking on benefits. They are the ones who work for Bank of America despite how much they hate their job. And they can get through the boring process of give and take that is our American democracy.

Some protesters maintain that capitalism is broken; perhaps socialism is better. Should we switch to communism? Should we start the armed revolution? No! Don't be stupid. And don't give up; relegating yourself to something that won't happen. That the OWS protests are happening is a testament to a potent form of government; one where change can happen without violence or radical action. Certainly radical thought is needed, but destroying our economic system is just pinning your underlying values to an untenable position. No one is going to impeach the president or hold recall elections for all 100 senators. That's ridiculous (and if it does happen, I stand thoroughly corrected).

What could and should happen—if we have any faith in democratic ideals—is a series of legislative actions that modify the system in place to guarantee personal economic growth for a wide a range of people, a strengthened safety net for citizens who need it, reasonable yet strict regulations on industry to prevent exploitation, and an informed citizenry focused on policy and its ramifications rather than the spectacle of individual elections.

Which tends to be a problem. The modern American voter tends to focus on just that—voting. Ratings at news stations are predicated on the horse-race of campaigns, the personality of individual candidates, and the winner versus loser mentality. But the real world is one where even the losers continue to shape the world. Remember John McCain? He didn't just disappear. He has been working on many legislative deals since his 'defeat' in the 2008 elections. He is one of the reasons the Senate gets routinely deadlocked (he tends to be fairly willing to compromise as well though so point for him there). Basically, politicians continue to work even after the dust has settled and the ballot cast. A good political career can span 50+ years—that's half a century of influence. It doesn't stop mattering on the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in November.

It's a little known fact that the Civil Rights Movement didn't happen just because a bunch of black people were walking through Alabama getting attacked by police; although they are very important and played their own role in knocking down the walls of segregation. Ending segregation and guaranteeing the rights of all Americans took a long time. It also took a lot of political maneuvering. JFK had the vision; asking for the Civil Rights Act. But he didn't have the political chops to make it happen. That was Johnson. LBJ is the little known hero of the Civil Rights Movement. Shortly after JFK's assassination he kicked the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into a position of priority, calling on the houses of congress to pass it in memory of the recently deceased president. He was even able to whip Dixiecrats into voting for the initiatives. He called in favors and put out threats. In the end, he was able to garner enough votes to override Strom Thurmond's 100+ hour filibuster. He took the political system and made it his little bitch. And that's what we need to do.

So, we occupy Wall Street. But we don't quit. And we stay informed. And we fight within the rules of our system—a flexible and accessible one. We keep going despite setbacks, and we stay peaceful. Revolution came to India without violence—well, open warfare. It was a feat that was scoffed at by everyone before it happened. It takes self-control and determination to make change that benefits everyone. It is nearly inconceivable that the OWS protesters can succeed in the face of the corporate monolith.

Except it's not. It's not inconceivable and it's not a monolith. Back door deals, public pressure, and the willingness to keep going will make this possible. It won't be drum circles and Communist literature. It won't be angry white punk rockers smoking pot—although they will help. It will be everyone. It will be democracy in action. It will be people getting informed.

Get informed. Stay involved. Demand logical non-partisan political reform. Make the entire 99% show up. For a minute, for a day, for a century.

The Move 3

After the dust settled I realized some things. One, I am extremely grateful to everyone for their kindness and support. Two, we need more furniture. Three, there are a lot of odd things about this place that I will have to fix.

First, I'd like to thank George and Nate for giving us so much stuff. Without those two, we wouldn't have really anything to stock our new little studio. They gave us a toaster, towels, silverware, and tons of other stuff in a box that means so much. Grandma gave us a beautiful dresser. Mama gave us wicker baskets. Liz made an excellent contribution, looking out for us and making sure we were ok. Nan's salad spinner will rock, I'm just sad that we couldn't take the big leather couch. Ciera's aunt Lynn contributed a blanket to borrow. And Ciera's grandfather has now made amazing posthumous contributions that have made our move possible. He gave us a bed with a bookshelf. He gave us his Buick (before it was totaled it was everything). Ciera's mother lent us her Envoy. Olivia has given us her labor. Mimi has opened up her home to us as we tried to establish ourselves. My parents are putting together a package to send to us. I know I am missing people. There was so much and it has meant so much. We really are nothing without our support systems.

Two, despite the many generous donations Ciera and I still can't say we have moved in really. We don't have any chairs or tables. We have only one knife. We want a bath mat. An area rug as well. There are no butter knives. Our refrigerator has almost nothing in it. We are living without much. We barely have blankets and sheets. But that's ok. We'll make it all work. I hope that is the case at least.

And finally, we are moving into an apartment. I don't know what the last renters were like. But the place we signed on to when we looked at it and the place we have now are both very different things. The murphy bed is falling apart, the sink has a leak, the shower pressure is weak, there is rust in multiple places, the last people to paint were sloppy, there's a pink stain on the floor of the bathroom, the ceiling looks like it's caving in, I can hear the neighbors, our south neighbor has a bright porch light he that they do not turn off, one of the outlets doesn't work, and it's a studio. But all of that is the territory. I don't believe you ever move into a place that isn't breaking in some capacity. The simple truth is that all things are going to fall apart, and even a nice new place will settle into its creaks and cracks. So I'm going to do what I can to fix the place up and make it look good. It's about the broad brush strokes that make the place quaint and lovely.

The Trader Joe's is just a block away, there is a strip of stores and cafes a block away, all the houses around us are adorable, the sky isn't falling, and I'm excited to be living in my own place.

The Move 2

Up. Good morning grandma. Coffee. Pack car. Dresser, toaster, box of goodies from George and Nate. Plan. Coordinate. Plan again. What are we going to do? Wave goodbye. Drive. Goodwill. Nothing? Bad furniture, stained fabrics, what the hell is that? Low flow showerhead. Hell yeah.

Mama's. Eat. Say hi. Vera, Ricky. Coordinate. Plan. Off again. Take David. Target. Tons of stuff. How much was all that? I guess that's not much. But our accounts are even more sparse. Oh well. Goodwill again. White sticky stuff on a blanket. No thank you. No furniture. Spirits waning. Pick up trailer. How do you drive this thing? We got up-sold. Fine, I'll get the insurance too. Pack it up. Salad spinner at Nan's. Eat some food finally. Slow morning. Slow afternoon. Take a break. Pick up O. Get on the road.

Truckstop blues. Too many white people. Too much fat. Too much sugar. Carl's Jr. is suddenly unappetizing. Too filthy dirty trashy white. Back on the road. Drive a trailer. Drive it carefully. But people drive like crap. Get cut off. People don't know how to merge; why are they surprised the lane ends when the eight sign's before said that the lane was going to stop? Too much construction. Bottleneck. Poorly marked lanes. Too dark. Headlights too bright. A little rain and there could be major consequences. Crashed cars remind me too much of that night. Pass 117 without event. Get tense because that was the time and place of the first accident. Relax.

Pull into the city. Arrive. Pull around the corner. Pull out the stuff. The bed barely fits. How does this go? So much trash. Oh cool what's this? Wait, I don't remember that.

Drop off U-haul in West Seattle. Travel the viaduct. What a crazy cool thing. It's going underground now. The Battery Tunnel is like a haunted house; abandoned and eerie. Seattle. The city I live in now. A place. A destination. A home.

Toast to success! We're moved in. We we so excited. It's Friday. And we moved in. Crash at one. We have a place. What an odd thought. Still no chairs. We don't have any chairs. Or tables. Is this our only knife?

Wake up so happy. Because we have a place.

The Move 1

We did it. With no shortage of bickering on “how you should drive because that was dangerous back there” and “I know but you missed that turn there, I told you that was the right one now we're stuck in traffic” and “can we just turn on some music” and “I don't want to listen to that, there's nothing good on.” It was Ciera and I moving in together.

But first there was a road trip. And that was difficult; mostly because Ciera and I can't agree what the proper course of action is when driving down I-5. Who would have thought that there could be so much room for argumentation on what is basically a straight shot south?

Ciera picked me up at work then we drove to South Lake Union. After, we went and dropped our stuff off at the apartment; everything that Ciera could dump in the car. It wasn't much, but it was our lives. We had been making the steady spiral into a place of our own since graduation. It felt like we were spinning slowly until the moment we said “yes.”

And then we were spiraling so quickly I couldn't remember the utter terror I felt at being homeless. Instead it was replaced with the sheer horror of “can we do this?” I think we did, because I woke up on Thursday morning with all of my stuff packed, tossed it into the car, worked a six hour shift, and hopped onto the road. We signed the papers, wrote the check and were off.

I felt the keys in my pocket. A mere two days ago, I had none. Keys were a foreign concept to me. Things that opened someone else's door. Having one's own set of keys holds so much meaning in this society. I was happy to feel the light jingle in my pocket. I had my own stuff. I had my own space. Well, Ciera and I did.

So we arrived in Portland. The feeling of entering Portland is one of complete safety. It holds so much family there and I never worry about where I'm going in the world. I know that I can always come back to Portland. At grandma and grandpa's we hung out with Jessi and Adam—my cousin and his girlfriend—who are trying to make a life for themselves as well. They are making the downstairs of my grandparent's house an apartment. It's so odd to see the basement transformed into my cousin's home.

Olivia stayed the night. She was going to be helping us move. She had just broken up with her long-time boyfriend and was having difficulty adjusting to life away from home. Transferring to Portland State was an abrupt push into the real world for her. She was homesick and missed her cat. Finding friends was difficult at a predominantly commuter school. But she was going to come up with us to help us move in. And get a little reprieve from the chaos of adjusting. She would help us adjust—and I've personally noticed that she is at her best in those moments of compassion and charity.

Andy refused to leave my side. He came up to me and was so loving. It was nice to see him; such a bundle of stinky fur. After putting the dog Andy to bed in Olivia's room(the big golden retriever was looking much healthier than when I had left him) Ciera and I tried to sleep, knowing that the next day was going to be even more chaotic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Privileged Information

The sociological categorization of people as privileged is something I have struggled to understand this year. In trying to establish dialogues at Skidmore I failed to see its relevance in how people interacted on a one-to-one level.

I still have many disagreements, but I understand more of it now. I understand that it is a way of framing the current or past state of our society in a way that individuals can understand. It lays out what advantages an individual is likely to get based on features of their existence that they largely do not have control over. It shows how a valedictorian can not know what a Mole is and how my modest high school GPA from a mostly white middle class high school gave me many advantages.

But I go back to the struggle of the description of privilege. It still doesn't bring about change. To me, in trying to frame it as a catalyst for change (the plan if you will), it rather perpetuates the problem it purports to solve. Privilege is the inherency, the current state of affairs. It is a statistically relevant relationship that measures the potency of different facets on our society to affect us.

It doesn't and never will provide us with the answers we need to make change happen. In looking at OWS we have pinpointed one of the most visible aspects of privilege. People who never have to worry about money. As I have laid out before, these people have become successful through a combination of good organization, favorable government policies, and their own ingenuity. There is always the “human element” to borrow the Dow's slogan. Very importantly though, no human succeeds alone.

Sociology has pinpointed the negative effects of the privileges we create in our world. Political Science looks at what policies exacerbate or hide those privileges. Our job as people in the real world is to take that knowledge and put it to use.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reform and Move

I don't really think I'm talking politics. But I could be very wrong. I think I am talking about what is important to me in the same way that it has been framed for me for many years.

I am asking for logical non-partisan political reform. Logical in that it is based off strenuous debate based in fact and well-studied phenomena; anecdotal is good, but has to relate strongly to a supporting body of evidence. Basically, people can't make things up because other people check them. Non-partisan means that people open up to the possibility of working outside their positions and start focusing on the needs of the people in a lateral manner. Creativity and openness are key. Political reform means the implementation of the previous two elements to guide public policy. Democracy is our system of government and should be used to create the world we collectively want.

Obviously there is utopianism in that statement. But I don't like what happens here right now and I seek to fix it. I want my logical non-partisan political reforms.

How about this, if we were to freeze the economy like it is for the rest of our working lives then the average American (that is, the majority) would make $3.6 million over their lifetime (which could be quite generous considering what I make right now). More simply, $50,000 times 45 years (20-65) equals $3.6 million. The average top 1% household would make that in 3 years ($1.2 million/year). Given my previous arguments that the government is pervasive in determining pretty much any aspect of how we live, I'd say that's a great place to start.

I value democracy (and its less pure democratic republic under which we live) over capitalism. Capitalism will always be subordinate to the rights of man for me. And that's how I choose to be an American.

Anyways, I meant to talk about how Ciera and I are frantically trying to move into our apartment right now. It's going to be crazy. But so much fun. And people are already making plans to visit. I am so stoked. I had a great conversation with the men from 5 Dayton last night and I have been having a wonderful time living my life. It is so peculiar to think of the way that I have dropped into Seattle. First everything is up in the air, and my toes touch the ground, then my soles, and I'm running. Flying. Not floating.

Government Interference

What is the role of government in shaping our economic system? I feel I haven't adequately addressed this point. The government has a complete say in not only who wins and who loses in the system we have, it also dictates the rules and the playing field.

Let me put it this way: what if there were a country that used grains of sand as its reserve system. For every dollar it distributed there was a grain of sand held in a national bank. And sand miners would become rich. The government levies heavy duties on imports of sand to protect its sand mining industry. All sand mining technologies are owned by the government and leased to miners (even shovels). Mining companies employ anyone who wants to work and guarantees a percentage of the sand each individual mines as payment. The government has tight permits on land leases to restrict depreciation of their currency. Only a few mining corporations can be maintained. The government knows that there is a lot of sand and generally allows a lot of under-the-table mining to go on because it doesn't significantly affect their economy. Only owners or shareholders of mines are allowed to vote in elections, but everyone can donate sand to specific pieces of legislation they want. And on and on.

I know that was a bit long, but the point is to illustrate that every aspect of our society is influenced by government action. If you can name it, government has been involved.

So the natural conclusion should be that government isn't bad, it's government. And we get what we vote or pay for. Americans aren't dumb either, they know that government is necessary to at least some degree. The argument tends to be over how much is too much. Lawrence Jacobs and Benjamin Page argue that Americans are “Conservative Egalitarians”. They are cautious about how much government to allow, but are very concerned with fair distribution of our vast resources. Notice I did not say redistribution; that is because in our world there are few instances where people truly acquire wealth completely independently. And even then, the amount of payout one receives is again heavily influenced by societal constructs (I'm sure an American would be very disappointed to obtain big bags of sand on payday).

I'm riding on a bus without wi-fi so I don't have all the details; suffice it to say that the Nobel Prize for Economics was just to two professors who have spent over 20 years looking at how government interacts with the economy. Their big takeaway (as reported by NPR yesterday) that our economic systems cannot be free of government. And they have created sophisticated models far better than the traditional Rational Actors Model or RAM that students of Econ 101 would be familiar with.

What's important about this seemingly obvious statement of facts? Well, the American perception toward government is the conservative egalitarian. But there are two confounding factors that have made this perspective get drowned out. The first is that our politicians don't perceive the public this way, and the second is that they add a radical. As Pierson and Hacker put it, politicians frame the American public as Conservative Inegalitarians—spiteful of those who do not make their own way, insistent that the individualism of this nation rest on exceptionalism and merit. This is in heavy contrast to the well-documented reality that political scientists, sociologists, and Nobel Prize winning economists know: through a network of well-organized and logical support systems certain individuals or groups tend to be favored.

It's the secret of the horse race of elections. Once someone is elected, there are policy decisions to be made, and those affect the constituency. So America is full of upstarts and genius level individuals that show a surprising amount of ingenuity and perseverance, but every aspect is reliant on not just networks and organizations but also on the government for substantial forms of support.

Take the case of Steve Jobs; someone who started out with Steve Wozniak and created a whole culture—twice. But he didn't do it alone. Favorable tax codes for new technologies and small businesses helped Apple get off the ground. The patent laws that protected the new technologies so that its inventors could make money off it. The huge network of experts, programmers, hardware technicians, and a myriad of other employees to conceptualize and build the product. And on and on. No man is an island, and no island is ungoverned.

Government is everywhere. Get over it. Shrinking government to reduce waste is overwhelmingly popular amongst Americans—liberal and conservative. But so too is the egalitarianism I mentioned earlier. Americans want to keep in place or create programs and laws that help everyone in America thrive. The culture war is not playing out with the people—although there will always be radicals and dissent. Largely the polarization on issues—especially economic ones—is the result of our ruling class; they have become blind to their constituency and focused on the few who vote and donate. But more on that later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ch Ch Ch Changes

So I was looking over my blog and a few things struck me. Not literally—I wonder what getting hit by my blog would feel like? A limp noodle? The biting wit of my excellent social commentary? Doubtful.

The big thing that I might have mentioned before but will make sure to mention again is that I added a new tab called “interwebs pages.” This thing has some links to blogs and stuff that I read. Go for it and take a look. Some of this stuff is excellent and I highly recommend you all take a look. It will be updated frequently as well so always check back.

The second bit is that my opinions have evolved around OWS. This isn't anything particularly new, as all opinions tend to evolve unless they are filled with the unsophisticated simplicity of the uninformed. What is interesting to me—what struck me if you will—is how writing and publishing as I have, has provided both a record for my opinions as well as an outlet through which they can form. Writing everyday has been so important to me, and I have found a deep therapy in its benefits.

I need a haircut, I'm turning into a little Asian girl; it is very odd to notice an old white guy checking you out on the bus and then seeing your face and getting a horrified look on his face. It's akin to when Quagmire (on Family Guy) was told the members of Hanson were all guys.

I guess that also means I need to work out too.

Moving is going to be tough. Ciera and I are bracing ourselves for a real hard go at this. I would love some tips and tricks from everyone who has any.

I re-watched Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas. It is a perfect movie as far as I am concerned; the gluttonous extension of the American Dream. The absurdist diary of a man looking to vindicate Willy Loman.

There are a lot of Star Wars fan films out there right now that are awesome. People are really making these things work on a shoestring budget. I'm very impressed. And also, why did George Lucas get the rights to such an awesome franchise. As far as I am concerned, he doesn't own it anymore because he ruined it all. It could have been so much better. And with the force, isn't it theoretically possible to bend or shoot the energy from a lightsaber at one's opponents?

That would be cool.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Organizing the Occupation

I had the pleasure of getting a reply from Paul Pierson about his thoughts on OWS (Occupy Wall Street). He is the co-author of Winner-Take-All Politics with Jacob S. Hacker, and is a professor of political science at UC Berkeley. I extend my deepest condolences to his team in their recent defeat against Oregon. I also received a well-thought out answer to the question that has been plaguing this movement, does it have the organization to create real political change.

Walter Lippmann wrote, “[democracies] have in literal truth to lift themselves by their own bootstraps.” The American democracy is a system built to allow people to access its potential at multiple points; a heavily redundant and overlapping structure to allow interests and citizens to be heard in many places. It is also a very slow system; resistant to change. It is a “maddening” system whereby the power of the few to block a majority is relatively easy; filibusters are probably the most prominent example.

Change comes slowly in America, and the key to making that change happen is good organization. Professor Paul Pierson said “the "1%" is organized, and in it for the long haul. It takes durable organization to effectively counter that, and this will be a huge challenge for citizens who, of course, face the strains of daily life, have many pressing demands on their time, and may lose faith in the absence of quick and obvious triumphs.” The 1% has the upper hand by far right now. They have organized lobbies that have successfully defeated even the most modest bills since the 1970s. “Unions were on the front lines of every major economic battle of the mid-century.” Unions were so powerful that distinguished voices like Derek Bok and John Dunlop were predicting a distinct shift toward the left.

But because of a well organized coalition of businesses (many of them initially small businesses) Unions suffered staggering defeats. Taking their newfound political might out for a drive, business started reframing the debate. In 1978 the businesses successfully lobbied to lower the capital gains tax. For the next 20 years unions declined in membership and funding, the capital gains tax nearly disappeared, and voter turnout steadily decreased. It left a power vacuum of dedicated lobbyists that found a sympathetic ear in politicians willing to believe in trickle-down policy and the necessity of business.

Unions came to represent something bad for America; just “another special interest group” that didn't have the majority in mind. The political result was that the government loosened its hold on businesses to the point that the minimum wage for work was never tied to inflation, the top 1% pulled way ahead of America in every way, and the American people were forced to bail out big banks to keep our economic system from collapsing. CEOs in the banking industry walked away with millions; trading volumes of bad assets on a nation crippling scale.

So that leaves us at OWS, “As unions have declined, there has been a huge void in organized political life where the economic concerns of ordinary Americans used to get expressed. The consequences of that void have been devastating for tens of millions. Washington not only looks the other way, but way too often those with political power seem hellbent on making things worse. I'm excited to see so many people now finding their voice, and a collective mechanism, for pushing back against these depressing trends.”

But hidden in this bleak picture is the light at the end of the tunnel, democracy's strength is its ability to change—even if reluctantly and in fits and starts. I have earlier drawn parallels of OWS with the Tea Party. At the core of the two movements is a message free of politics, “let me in. Let me have a say in where this nation goes.” Regardless of stance on political issues, people are tired of politics.

So OWS doesn't have a clear message. And there is no organization. The media has failed to give it enough lip service. And Pierson says “Jacob and I (not very originally) suggested, the new social media provide the best opportunity for mobilizing new forms of organization to turn things around.” It doesn't require the same input as anything else. Social media is integral to a “durable movement” and is the new grassroots. So does the message, “we are the 1%” have enough resonance to sustain a movement? Will OWS make it through the harsh Northeastern winter?

I think so, and I think that a little luck and perseverance will get OWS through its Valley Forge.

(Side note: most of what I wrote is taken from Winner-Take-All Politics, read it and understand)

Aspirations and Apartments

No Wall Street today. I'm just going to keep everyone updated on my life a bit instead. Suffice it to say that I have some exciting stuff in store on the subject of Occupy Wall Street.

So, Ciera and I have an apartment. We will now be living in Queen Anne on 1st Ave W. That means I am super close to the Space Needle and the Seattle Center. Way excited. I finally have a place to live. And I am making this work. I called Nan and Mama to tell them; gave them a heads-up that I was going to try to make my return to Portland.

I am so excited. But I realized that I don't actually have everything I need to live. I need a bed, bedsheets, a pot, a pan, dishes, flatware, cups, dish soap, a shower curtain, dresser/wardrobe, hangers, laundry detergent, food, oil, flour, sugar, food, and all sorts of other stuff. It is the tragedy of being mobile that parking is not so simple as signing a lease.

But that's ok. We are getting it done. And we are doing it. Ciera and I are living the lives we want to live. Some things I believe have made me happy.

Take risks—big ones, small ones. Lean on someone for support. Support people. Don't quit your aspirations; if your child self would be disappointed in you then you need to do more. Know where you are going. Be grateful and make sure to express it. Leave it better than you found it. Be generous with your time—sometimes it's all you can give, but it has value. Show up and keep trying. Relax and if it isn't ok, make it so.

It all sounds cliché, but I keep thinking how much those things have propelled me in this difficult year so far. I mean, difficult for a middle class male living in America. These things, cliché or no, keep me sane in my head. Ciera has been there struggling with me, and that has been a wonderful strength that keeps me moving. All the family and friends who have supported me in my move have my deepest gratitude; giving me a home and food and kindness and company means so much.

The year isn't over, but I feel like I'm passing through the storm a bit; perhaps I'm just in the eye. I guess that I want to give back some of this. I'm so happy to be ok right now.

Also, Auntie Marian is in the hospital, Ciera's mom is in town dropping off her car for us to use for a bit, my friends are doing fine but I miss them, Olivia seems to be enjoying PSU, I continue to edit Land Leave, and people are finally organizing a bit to champion the cause of the 99%.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pre-occupied with Wall St

Here we go again. I feel political reforms kickin' in. But all we need to do is get a little organization through.

“There is nothing automatic about democratic responsiveness”—Winner-Take-All Politics. We have to make it work. So the next question: is this your fight? Do you, an American, really need to care?

Well, yes. In a democracy where our politicians have failed to be accountable to us, it is time to make that happen. Let me put it this way (rather, let my awesome political economy book that has been keeping me feeling pumped about social and economic reform tell you) “Larry Bartels and Martin Gilens” have found a strong positive correlation to policy success for those in the top tier of wealth, that is, “there is a pretty high degree of congruence between senators' positions and the opinions of their constituents...in the top third of income distribution...When the opinions of the poor diverged from those of the well-off, the opinions of the poor ceased to have any apparent influence.” Simply put, the poor don't get squat of a voice.

And why should they? Americans don't give a damn. “In 1980...38% of Americans surveyed believed that the Soviet Union was a member of NATO.” And it hasn't gotten better, “in 2000...only 55% knew the Republicans were the majority party in the House—a success rate only a little superior to a random guess.” At least it's better than “the less than one third of Americans [who] know that a member of the House serves for two years or that a senator serves for six.”

And I repeat the mantra: I am asking for logical non-partisan political reform.

I want to organize to make the fight worth fighting. I want to shed light on an ignorant and feudal political backroom. I never want to fight for these things again. There is no reason that my outrage should originate from people not listening. From people not thinking. From a political system that does not ask, “what do we know and how can we help everyone with that information?”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Severance

Bob Nardelli was a CEO at Home Depot until 2007. All of the numbers are based on real take aways from Nardelli or other top executives and financiers. Dick Fuld really exists, and he was a major reason your home is worth squat now. A semi-fictional short story:

“We really aren't very happy with your performance,” the chairman was stern and motioned for Bob to take a seat.

Bob, for his part, complied. It wasn't something he did often. As CEO he had the power to steer the company however he saw fit. And he had been raking in the short-term stock options for it. The company had made some short-term gains but they were catching up now and Bob's company was going under. He thought to himself, “I guess the ride's over.”

“We think you've done a great job, and we like you. But the board has decided to ask for your resignation. There will be a big going away party, a bash. And don't worry, your secretary won't be invited,” the chairman winked at Bob. It was a well known fact in the boardroom that Bob had been having an affair with the secretary. I guess she doesn't come with my resignation package, Bill thought.

“What's the package?” Bob asked. He knew that given how he had basically run the company to near collapse his package would be less than generous. But he wasn't too worried, he was good friends with everyone on the board and they wouldn't put him out in the cold.

“210 million,” the chairman said. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. His stock broker had pulled in nearly a billion last year. But who could really keep up with financier Joneses? Bob nodded to the chairman, he knew that it wouldn't be awful. At least he wasn't still on the wreck of a ship that was now the chairman's problem.

Bob Nardelli knew that he had one more chance to maximize gains before he left, “can I back date my options?”

“Of course, your severance package will force you to sell all your shares within nine months, but they are backdated to our highest performing periods. Your $210 million should amply increase soon.” The chairman gave another wink. Bob knew that appointing the self-effacing cheese-doodle in the place of chairman was the best insurance policy he could have had. Even in the wake of several labor scandals and huge employee lay-offs, Bob had probably stayed CEO for too long and he knew it.

“No pension?” Bob looked at the chairman hopefully.

“Unfortunately no. I know that some of your yachting buddies have that million dollar a year pension, but especially since shipping tried to unionize we can't really afford to do that. I think you'll be ok.”

“Are we done then? I'll draft up my letter and you guys get a party going. I have to meet Dick,” Bob was getting to meet Dick Fuld, his buddy down at Lehman Brothers. Unemployment would be nice, he could finally write that novel. And it's not like the losses were even his.

Why I Would Occupy Wall Street

Why I'd occupy Wall Street

You can be right but you still have to be humble to win.

Jacob S Hacker and Paul Pierson have written what I would call the definitive work on not just the financial collapse but on the political reality that has shaped our economy for the last 30 or so years. The crux of their argument is that no economy can ever be purely capitalist and government has a hand in all transactions. This means that the government does create conditions for who wins and how. Winner Take All Politics puts to rest the argument that leaving the markets be is even a possibility.

Since 1979, average gains in median household income (the amount of money that the highest population of American households make in a year) gained marginally (about 1.5% per year). So in 2006 (the last year where data is available) the average household was making nearly double what it did in 1979 in real terms. But look at the amount of hours added to make that money and it is no surprise. Since 1979 more women have entered the workforce, effectively accounting for the majority of that gain. Compound that with skyrocketing healthcare costs (not to mention a myriad of other costs) and the average American household has not gained much.

By contrast the top 1 percent of households (that is 1 in every 100) gained an astounding 256% percent in their incomes. Stratify that even more; the top .1 percent (1 in 1000) made an average after tax income change (in adjusted dollars) of $20.3 million.

This isn't class warfare. Before 1979 average income growth was almost equal amongst all income earning groups; that is, there were rich and poor, but they were all growing at the same rate. Then in 1979 something changed and the top 8-ish percent of income earners pulled ahead. In the top 1 and .1 percent of earners they gained even more and even faster. Most political scientists and economists have not even stratified the top earners, but suffice it to say that someone earning $250,000 a year versus the average of $1.2 million is a big difference. Even moreso when you look at the top .1% who are earning $24.3 million per year. Scientists and the government have effectively hidden from us the excessive wealth that the top 15,000 or so families in the United States have taken in.

I believe in democracy governing capitalism. “The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth” said Theodore Roosevelt, one of the toughest independents who also understood that westward expansion could not have been possible without the postal service or the army clearing the indians or a myriad of other government services that paved the way for American entrepreneurship. Everything about how we function rests on a well-functioning government that regulates the excesses of all classes. “Wherever there is great property there is great inequality...Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality, instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all” said Adam Smith, the founder of economics.

Democracy and capitalism can go together, and for a functioning society they must. But my rights as a citizen must always take precedence over the economic value of another, for the same reason we no longer use asbestos to insulate our homes, or radon in our water, I say that we must no longer allow the slow poisoning of our civil and economic rights for the benefit of industry.

I will occupy Wall Street. At least in spirit. Because I know what I am fighting for now. I am asking for logical non-partisan political reform. I want logical non-partisan political reform. I want it now. I want the runaway 1 percent controlling 60% of my pie to give just a little to the 52 million Americans now below the poverty line. I want the financial industry to adjust its rules so that it can't externalize its risks on the American people. I don't care if the top .1 percent remain in that margin. I don't buy the pundits' argument that there will be something trickling down. My slice of the pie is smaller, and so is everyone else's, except for the richest. I want more pie, and I want my legal and political system to stop giving it to people who have already had plenty either through action or neglect.

I am wary of defenders of the status quo, after all Montesquieu argued, “to men of overgrown estates, everything which does not contribute to advance their power and honor is considered by them as an injury.” So give me logical non-partisan legal reform. Something where the numbers give us a course of action unrestricted by political mantra. I'm not seeking to overthrow some sort of established order. I am asking democratic governance to do what it is meant to do, carry out the people's will. There is no revolution. Only democracy, and I want it now. I want non-partisan political reform.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Why I'm Not Occupying Wall Street Yet

This country is getting angry. In the latest round of grassroots movements the Occupy Wall Street protests have gone to over 100 major cities and filled our financial districts with liberal crazies blaming their woes on the cronyism and corruption of the top 1% that control over 60% of the wealth in the country.

We are all quite familiar with the Tea Party movement. Their mantra has been to blame their woes on the cronyism and corruption of the government's largess that has resulted in a bloated social system that generates lazy immigrant welfare queens that are destroying social security. They were the first.

I can tell you right now that factually speaking, the Occupy Wall Streeters have a much stronger footing. But are they different in their approach? Do they demand some sort of consensus building arrangement whereby we stop having government shut-downs every time a budget item comes up? Well, no...

What these two movements show unequivocally is that something about our system has cracked. That two large-scale movements exist despite a democratic system unprecedented in its scope of suffrage and accessibility; it is says that something has failed. “Where are our leaders?” Both sides cry. “Why am I still facing hardship?”

“Why do the idiots in charge still seem to be in charge?”

These are the questions being asked. This isn't, more than anything, about specific policies or some hidden agenda to destroy the middle class or take away guns. This is about people, all over this nation struggling in a profoundly different way than they have before. And they perceive our traditional outlets of voice and action to be an empty rhetoric under which an oligarchy has claimed leadership over this country.

So why am I not at Wall Street? Because I am doing what I perceive to be the radical way I can make change—for now. I work for a company called Triangle Associates. They are an environmental facilitation firm—more generally, they use the principles of conflict resolution to generate solutions to public policy problems in the Northwest and the country. In the course of archiving its 32 years of history, I have come across projects that astound me. The firm has been able to successfully mediate agreements on contentious issues with groups that seemingly have no common ground.

I spent most of my college career staying up late. Most of those nights I was up it wasn't because I was partying (although I did more than my fair share of that). It was because I was trying to decipher the hidden code to managing our future 50, 100, and 150 years from now. I worked with professors, colleagues, and community authorities on a wide range of issues to try to tackle the problems of even the simplest and most tolerant of communities. Even at a small Northeastern college there are tensions, and with my cohorts we tried to solve the problems. We didn't do sit-ins or protests, we didn't hide behind anonymous on-line comments, and we didn't shut out those we believed to be our enemies. We talked.

And we talked. And they are still talking; hopefully they will continue to for a long time. Real change—real prosperity and hope—comes in a world where we treat each other as equals and approach challenges with an open mind. No one likes compromise, everyone loses a little. And no one likes losing—especially when the other guy won. The things I have learned, and the open-mind I have been asked to have, has consistently shown results wherever I have seen it applied. This isn't about being a voice lost. This is about honing in on the moment when we stopped listening to each other. We must embrace the logical next step, listen again. This nation is ready for it, more than ever.

And I'm open to change. Convince me that my time would be better served yelling at buildings on Wall Street than listening to people regardless of background. If you do, I will be happy to stand there and get angry with a bullhorn, yelling until my ears are ringing, drowning out the noise of everyone else.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Status Update


A view of the vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright Inspired Sammamish City Hall from the vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright Sammamish Library.

So I am trying working on cleaning up Land Leave for a query letter to a publishing agent, and hopefully on to stardom and the rewards of authorship from there. But Land Leave needs a lot of work; principally a new title. I can't quite find one though (hint: suggestions welcome).

Ciera and I went to Salmon Days, a festival held in downtown Issaquah every year to celebrate the coming of the salmon upriver to spawn. It's a lot of fun and there are tons of crafts. The food, while good, was way overpriced. We picked up some smoked salmon and ate it with our homemade soup. Homemade veggie soup is harder to make than you might think. Eventually Ciera had an epiphany about that and pureed our concoction and added some spices that really slowed down the flavor.

The soup is now delicious; and I look forward to it until we run out. Ciera has become a great cook, inventive and adaptable, I have been excited by everything she has made recently. And even though I love my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches everyday for lunch I am always up for a new dish.

Ciera and I didn't get the apartment. We were really looking forward to moving in but I guess that's how it goes. I suppose that we'll have to keep searching. And with dogged perseverance we are back on the road, searching for someplace to live. Mimi has been wonderful about the ordeal; encouraging and generous, “you don't have to rush, you still have a place to stay here.”

We finally got a proposal on the Buick. $4100. Not bad for a totaled car with a Kelly Blue Book price of $3500. But that means we need to find a new car. So we are doing that too. I looked at the car's damage again. It has a tire mark on the back side where the truck hit us. We were actually driving for a time with a wheel in the side of the car. That's such a scary notion. I am so happy we are safe. I still need to see the doctor though. That's a mess. I don't even have a home address to get the forms. And we have to deal with insurance agents; not that they are bad (they are quite friendly) but I just want a check and a new car. And I want to feel that I got properly compensated.

But who knows? It all gets so tough and convoluted. Can I just watch Community?

Salmon Days 2


Salmon making their nest in Issaquah Creek. Salmon Days is a festival held in downtown Issaquah every year to celebrate the coming of the salmon. It's a lot of fun and I recommend it.

Salmon Days 1


Salmon in the holding pen with the reflection of a woman in the glass. These things are big.