Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Adeline almost didn't notice the paper in the muddy road.

It was the 60th year since the world had been saved and the girl was rushing to the Parade of Life. She hoped to be a miracle child. Every year the Leader bestowed a miracle on a child. And because it was the 60th year, 60 miracles were to be distributed throughout the provinces. Each miracle would be different. Every miracle fulfilled the dreams of the individual child.

She remembered the girl the year before. Verite. She was the most beautiful girl, 14 years old and poor. Poorer even than Adeline. Verite's father had been crippled saving the Leader's portrait from a fire. And he had been crippled when a beam had crushed him.

Verite's miracle was a sight. Adeline watched on television as the leader kissed Verite's forehead and motioned to her father. Verite burst into tears and hugged the Leader closely. He hugged her back with the warmth and personality that the greatest leaders have. And Verite's father cried out. The camera panned to him and he rose, shaky at first, and then he stood. Tears poured down the man's face and Verite ran to her father, no longer weak, no longer crippled.

That was last year. This year, the leader would travel to each province and perform 5 miracles. Five wonderful, amazing, magnificent miracles.

Adeline thought only of this as she ran to the Parade of Life. Maybe the Leader would choose her and give her a miracle. Maybe the Leader could bring her mother back. No. She wouldn't come back. She had to remember what the quiet man had said.

The quiet man worked for the Leader. Adeline's mother was needed for the country, to keep the world safe. The quiet man explained that Adeline's mother was special—an untouchable. When Adeline heard that her sadness had overcome her. The untouchables protected the country but they never came back. The untouchables had some of the same magic that the leader did. They were needed to keep the country safe. It was said that with meditation and coordination the untouchables could bring the rains and save dying crops. They kept the country safe, but they could never be with their families.

The quiet man gave her a silk handkerchief and guided her to the orphanage—he let her keep the handkerchief. Silk was rare; the quiet man must have been very important to have the handkerchief—let alone to give it to a little girl.

Her mother. Adeline said her mother's name quietly to herself as she walked toward the parade, repeating it under her breath to keep her safe. It was said that the untouchables could hear the slightest whisper of their closest loved ones. Adeline whispered this and smiled.

And that was when she noticed the paper in the muddy road. Cold fear ran down her spine as she saw the blue logo of the demons. The demons conjured the deadly papers and laid traps for the peaceful. The Leader's father, the Founder, had saved the world from the demons, carved out the peaceful land Adeline lived in. But they still lurked on the edges. Only the untouchables, with the help of the Leader, kept the demons from entering the land.

The papers were a common demon trap. People who touched the papers were said to burst into flames. Adeline shuddered at the thought. She should get an officer, they would clear the area and eradicate the demon papers. She stepped carefully around it, but then a gust of wind blew it over and there was a picture of her mother.

The demons were tricking her. Adeline knew it. They were trying to kill her. But Adeline couldn't pull her eyes away. Her mother, there, printed so perfectly. She looked older, but she looked relieved and happy. Adeline wondered if the demons had heard her whispering, had heard her wish. And they were tempting her.

She wanted to touch it. To hold it. But she couldn't, she would burn. She would burst into flames and die. Adeline loved life; did not want to fall prey to the demons.

But she didn't have to touch it to read it. Didn't have to burst into flames to see what it said. She tilted her head and took a careful step toward the demon paper. Under her mother's picture was a title—Escaping the Death Camps of the Untouchables.

Adeline was perplexed. What did that mean? Whose death camps? Why wasn't her mother in the borderlands protecting the country? How had she appeared on a demon paper?

It was a trick. It was a trick and the demons had bored into her soul to trick her. Adeline ran toward the Parade of Life.

I must find someone to help me, Adeline thought, to destroy the demon paper. She bumped her way through the crowd, the noise swelled and she got lost in the push of men in coarse wool coats and women wearing store bought dresses. The Parade was an occasion to dress up, to celebrate the Leader and the grand achievement of a land safe from the demons.

Short Story: what happens when the culture of personality hides the truth?

Adeline found herself at the front of the crowd. A large missile on a wagon pulled by twenty beautiful horses slowly walked past. The coats of the horses shimmered.

And then she heard it. The rumble of a car engine. It must be the Leader, she thought with unadulterated excitement. She squealed with joy and realized that she was cheering with the crowd. He was magical. He was the Leader, and he would kept the land safe.

His car was shiny and ran without pops or starts. Even the tires looked new. Adeline had never seen a car so beautiful. The headlights were on too, both working. It was rare to see a car in such fine condition—even if there was one, it was even rarer to see the headlights on. Every drop of gas counted.

But the Leader could celebrate for a day. Could put on the headlights and show his people that they were safe—that he was their guiding light. As he passed, Adeline screamed for him, she cried and hoped he would look her way. He hoped he would grant her a miracle. Hoped that he would protect her.

As he passed he turned and smiled at her. Then the moment was over. And Adeline was left with the same hole in her stomach—the miracle hadn't happened for her.

She stood in that spot for hours. The parade subsided and the crowds dispersed. The day turned to dusk and she turned back toward the orphanage.

Adeline felt alone as she watched her shadow extend past her feet in a long arrow guiding her back. One foot in front of the other. The road had dried, and the footprints of the morning crowds were pressed into the road.

She nearly stepped on the demon paper. It was buried into the mud by a footprint.

There were no signs of fire. Just paper in the mud in the middle of the road.

She stole a match from the kitchen that night and creeped out of the orphanage under the light of an almost full moon. She had little trouble finding the paper in the road. The moment was so stark in her mind, she knew she would never forget it.

She knelt down, lit the match and set the paper on fire. There was no such thing as magic, and there was no such thing as demons.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Neutral Milk Hotel

I just started listening to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. I was warned it would be a good album.

I wasn't prepared for this. I'm on the first song and I'm...feeling?

“Music is like no other art.” It is communication but it isn't, it is representational, it is figurative. I believe that music is potent because it taps into our gut. The animal brain activates; elicits an order we didn't know existed.

Somehow it fires on the other senses. I smell things, taste things, crave things, and see colors I can only imagine.

And it makes the body move.

Good music taps into the emotional core; create a physical space without doing anything.

I've said this before and I'll say it again. There are very few perfect albums out there. Abbey Road is a perfect album. This year Regina Spektor gave me a perfect album—What We Saw From the Cheap Seats. The Flaming Lips had a perfect album in Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.

Perfect albums are the albums that you listen to and hear something new each time—the surprises for the repeat listener.

But a perfect album is not everything. Some of my favorite artists have never had a perfect album in my opinion. But they have plenty of perfect songs. And just good songs. And songs that suck.

This album isn't perfect. Graceland is a perfect album.

This album is good though. It screws with my sense of space and time. It sounds like the 90s that I want to remember in a grunge folk nostalgia. A hot summer's day, a dusty living room, a stuffy car. It is the music that was somehow a soundtrack. A background noise that quietly entered the spaces I occupied. And just as quietly played.

I never heard it, but it was there.

And that's what makes this album good.

And the album is short. Eleven songs make the album only 39:55.

This album is the unrestrained tension and anger, the disenfranchisement, the disaffection of gen x when they realized that they had everything but none of it belonged to them. Mom's car, dad's job connections, and a changing professional world. Too young to be behind the curve, too old to be ahead.

The album does what they did, it lashes out at the world; a fuzz noise that deters those who refuse to understand and conspiratorially pulls in the attentive listener. It's telling a secret to the lost teenagers of the 90s.

And as a young adult of the 10s I can hear the message, without the same sense of loss, but certainly the same sense of being lost.

I stepped back two decades and heard the ghost of a generation. I wonder how this album resonates with them now?

The album just ended. The room is empty. I didn't know I would miss it this much.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pub Mix

Why has writing become so foreign?

What about settling into my life has made writing so hard?

I sat with Ciera at the pub. We had been there so many times. The alternate times, the ones in the summer, the ones in the fall, the ones with friends, and the ones where it was just us two.

We were in our pub.

But it could have been any pub. Two bodies in chairs at a table, looking at a serif text. The seasonal beer, the pub food, the din of adults, the flash of tvs.

This time it was cold and the air was damp. The fall leaves hung heavy under the harsh street lights. And one block and a half seemed like a trek through a slick blackness—a dark humor that had exited the body and settled on the cobblestone crosswalk.

The pub smelled a deep rich brown. The color of whiskey, the tang of mustard, the sound of coats shuffling and settling.

We spoke of our futures. Where we were going. How to make what we wanted real. And we planned. In doing so we learned about each other. The warm yellow incandescence lit the London themed interior. The easiest relationship is the one where the familiar mixes seamlessly with the novel.

It's the same with all art. Something reminiscent, something jarring. The senses never rest—the raw nerve is not damaged from exceptional contact, rather it is brushed or grazed lightly; as if accidental.

Yet fully intentional. And in our conversations, she wakes me up and I learn something new. And she learns something new from me. As we spoke together, our words drifted effortlessly across the table; two conspirators against the world. Young and lost, but happy in each other's company.

I drifted to the Saturday previous. I drifted to the opening night of Domesticity. After a successful performance we had made our way to a bar full of beers. Binders full of beer.

We had gone with friends and filled a table while we conversed with new people. The night passed.

I reflected on what it meant to be part of our generation. A generation that was on the cutting edge of a paradigm shift. We would be revolutionaries in a Huxleyan world. Instead we had become gluttons ignorant of our ignorance and drifting slowly away from the generation before us. Rapidly evolving into a dependent lifestyle—unaware of our shift. What we gained technologically we lost in depth of contact. Hundreds of friends allowed ourselves to compartmentalize our needs.

A little digital universe in which we could be who we wanted, but only one fragment at a time.

The internet generation was in danger of melting away like fat on bone, feeding a fire which we couldn't control.

But for the moment we were just iphone loving money bags enjoying a beer. Uncertain of the future. And very interested by it.

Letter to the president's cabinet of Skidmore

The letter below was written in response to a proposal by the President's Cabinet at Skidmore to extend permanent funding for mediation training to students.

Dear Members of the President’s Cabinet,

Mediation training at Skidmore is an invaluable skill worth far more than the sum required to continue annual or twice-yearly training. As a 2011 graduate and former president of Skidmore’s Conflict Resolution Group (Fight Club) I cannot emphasize enough the impact the training has had on me.

The training has been an integral part of alternative dispute resolution on the campus. Turning out classes of about 60 trained mediators a year, students are given the tools to reduce conflict on their own. In Fight Club we worked hard to not only cultivate these skills but to give every student access to them at all times. There are several “crash courses” of alternative dispute resolution training on campus every year for many student leaders—residential life, inter-group relations, and club trainings. Mediation training, however, remains unique in its comprehensiveness as well as the official state certification that it bestows on trainees at the end of the training.

The training is just the beginning though. With a robust campus community of ADR enthusiasts as well as the support of the local mediation program—Mediation Matters—students are given a unique opportunity to cultivate, hone, and refine their skills for the real world. By the time I left Skidmore I had been mediating for 3 years—a first-year could have 4 years of experience by graduation. These are directly transferable skills. When many jobs require 3-5 years’ experience in a field, this gives graduates a substantial leg-up and competitive with graduates several years their senior.

That was the case for me. I started at Triangle Associates in the Fall of 2011, gaining employment almost immediately in this down economy. Triangle Associates is a Seattle-based facilitation and public involvement firm that uses the principles of ADR and applies them to questions of policy. At Triangle Associates we act as neutral third parties that help diverse interest groups come to consensus. It is not an easy job, and it would be even more difficult if I had not been versed in the principles of ADR.

Every day we work with clients on high conflict, high stakes issues. Recently we facilitated the Bristol Bay Draft Environmental Assessment public hearings. These hearings assessed the possible environmental impacts to the Bristol Bay watershed if an open pit mine were constructed. Subsistence tribes, salmon fishers, congressmen, senators, local politicians, mine representatives, and many more commented on the importance of the area. Their comments were all taken and the hearings run in a fair and open manner by our staff. If we had not been trained in ADR and experienced neutrals we could have faced enormous consequences—not least of which would have been the dissolution or de-legitimization of these important comment sessions.

This last spring Triangle Associates also facilitated the King County School Siting Task Force. At the end of the process there was 100% consensus on the recommendations for school siting compliance with the Growth Management Act. This is something that will have a tangible impact on how the Seattle and King County regions will grow and develop for the next 50 years—policies that will impact over 3.5 million people today and millions more in the future. Without mediation training or ADR, the group could have easily strayed and lost their focus. During initial stakeholder interviews, many potential sources of conflict and misunderstanding were present. Through our commitment to open dialogue we were able to help the Task Force reach their goals.

Internally, we spend much of our time looking at how we can craft an environment conducive to effective conflict resolution for our clients and ourselves. In our many and varied dialogues I have found my opinions are valuable contributions to how Triangle conducts business.

My training in mediation was supported by the commitment of Mediation Matters and the school to my professional development. With the downturned economy, those funds came into jeopardy, and by the time I graduated, the next training appeared to be the last. It wasn’t—barely.

While at Skidmore, one of the single greatest stresses for the fledgling Fight Club was the uncertainty of funding for the following school year. It consumed many hours of my—and the e-board’s—time. This effectively reduced the quality of services and depth of conflict resolution skills that any one student at Skidmore could achieve or provide.

While I have successfully gotten my foot in the door at Triangle Associates, Skidmore’s conflict resolution program is still in its infancy and can do much more for the student body. By guaranteeing funding for basic mediation training at Skidmore, the President’s Cabinet has the opportunity to give Fight Club a place to expand. The majority of Fight Club’s annual budget has been dedicated to this basic training with subsequent means of professional development truncated into one hour lectures or recommended reading lists.

If Skidmore were to have the funds guaranteed, then each subsequent class will have the opportunity to drastically increase the quality and depth of their conflict resolution education. This will translate into students positioned to make direct impacts in the world that advance Skidmore’s strategic goals. People willing to actively listen to the nature of conflict and dedicated to its resolution at all scales.

Mediation training afforded me something that very few academic programs offer: the opportunity to descend from the Ivory Tower and apply the philosophy in real world settings. I was a volunteer mediator at Mediation Matters. I helped facilitate—if incompletely—the dialogues at Skidmore after the Compton’s incident. If building community and preparing students for the real world is Skidmore’s destination, then mediation training has—for me—been the light on my path. And I venture to guess that there are few alumni of the program that did not find a valuable and applicable skill from this training.

I urge the President’s Cabinet to approve of this proposal. The opportunities afforded to me should be afforded all students, and by giving the program this funding, the President’s Cabinet is laying the ground work for an extraordinary and meaningful program.

Thank you,

Nick Hara
Class of 2011

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Grandma Talks about Arranged Marriage

Yone and arranging marriage

Inuzuka Reunion 2012 Day Two

Here's the rest of the reunion!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

What's (the) Objective

Something that has struck me as odd—although it really shouldn't—is the lack of objective standards in this election.

It is a basic tenet of conflict resolution. After all the emotions and values and touchy feely stuff is done we build. And we build together. Y'know, touchy feely build together as a collective community stuff.

But it's not just touchy feely. The best mediators, the best resolutions to conflict, are ones where there is an objective standard that is measurable and achievable. If the job of the mediator is to level the playing field, an objective standard is the giant steamroller that makes it happen.

And so the basic premise—if my metaphors aren't too confusing—is that achieving goals is a measurable way of knowing something. And we do this all the time in politics. Somehow though, the spin nullifies the measurements.

I think this is the most striking thing here—if the numbers don't jive with the narrative, then the numbers are wrong. Obviously both sides are culpable for this one. And I'm not here to be a referee. I'm here to lay out a disturbing trend.

Three weeks ago O was up in the polls and the GOP fired a line of thinking that the numbers were somehow skewed. Post-debate Mitt made a push and the GOP critics fell silent while Dems started making their foray into the spin zone.

When the jobs numbers came out showing unemployment at 7.8%; Jack Welch—former GE CEO—got up in arms and started a line of thought that the numbers had been trumped up. The cold hard truth is that the numbers have been collected using the same methodology every month for years. Years. If the numbers are inconsistent they are consistently so. Because of that, a fundamental flaw in the methodology is feasible, and would reflect on every report going back to the time that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has been using that methodology. In simple terms, levying an attack on a jobs report without a scientifically rigorous counter-argument is absurd. If anything were a blatantly political maneuver it would be less that the jobs numbers reflect a marginal growth in employment for the month of September (one data point among hundreds) and more that the critics are suddenly unhappy because it doesn't reflect a trend they like.

And believe me, it's a trend. Unemployment in this country has been slowly reflecting a decrease over time. While not politically great for the Republican cause there is little reason to doubt that the numbers are wrong. Further, being “right” on this issue doesn't even have an integral role in the Republican narrative. Overall, their narrative is that they can do better if they were in power, a claim that all sides take when not in power.

Let's take a moment to dissect that message. The easiest way to look at this is through goals. Goals are sometimes not in alignment (pro-life and pro-choice) but very often they are and easily so. Republicans and Democrats both want more people employed and the economy to thrive. Simple enough. Of course, the techniques for achieving this vary greatly—basically, how do you improve the economy?

So, given this divergence, many people are left wondering a basic question, “which is better?” And while the answer varies as the numbers do—should we measure GNP, GDP, employment, inflation, the value of the dollar—the numbers are measurable. And, like it or not, economists (read scientists well-versed in the language and methodology of scientific rigor) largely agree on these numbers. These are the way “points” are scored. Obviously economics is a social science and the human condition—its uncertainty, its irrationality, its passion that so many poets romanticize—makes its way into the numbers. But not in a wildly unpredictable way. As long as variables remain largely constant, large sets of numbers can mostly negate the irrational behavior of a single person. And boy do they have large sets of data!

So, politicians can reliably find numbers that give us a ballpark view of the nation's economic state. The same is true for many other matters of policy. How does the teen pregnancy and STI rate compare in abstinence only education and safer sex education? How are violent crime rates affected by the number of police officers in a given area?

Of course, there is the classic correlation is not causation argument. It is certainly absurd to believe that because ice cream sales and crime both increase during the summer months that they are causal. Committing crime does not make one scream for ice cream or the reverse. But they are good hints that there is a causal relationship somewhere—perhaps heat, open doors, summer break and juveniles unattended, or even the dastardly presence of a high pollen count?

The point is that by making political accusations against scientifically rigorous datasets that have been shown time and time again to reflect observations in the real world we are degrading the integrity of debate. If there are conflicting views or approaches that is one thing. If the data can be shown to be flawed using a similarly robust set of data, there is room for debate. But blind indictment of things that are hard to hear and sometimes contradictory to a position is ignorance of the highest order.

It makes stupid and childish a legitimate debate, it insults the intelligence of the public, and it stalls any collaborative progress that may be had. No political office, no ad hominem attack, is worth the detriment it causes to our international reputation, our collective attitudes toward science, or our future as a whole. Because, when the election ends and only the numbers you want are viable, then only your views will matter, and America will have shed itself of democracy. Not to be dramatic about it, but think about it a bit.

Domesticity Floor Plans

These floor plans all count as their respective days--totaling six I believe.  This is a sneak peak into how the scenes will move in the spaces.  Get pumped and buy tickets to see the show!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Generation Behind

I am moving into my new apartment. I am writing proposals for work. I am building websites. I am drawing floor plans. I am traveling to the most beautiful places in the world. I am consuming mind-expanding media. I am creating. I am commenting on the state of the world. I am figuring out the problems of my modern time.

But none of it is making its way to my blog. And for that I'm sorry. And I'm not.

We are the generation that will fill in for the baby boomers. The self-centered eternally optimistic children of the nineties. And we will go further than our angry nihilistic gen-xers that came before us.

That is, if the media is to be believed. And that's probably not true.

What is true is that Gen-y is the only generation with a population large enough to fill in the gaps in the professional industries in which the Boomers are rapidly retiring from. Sure X will have its day but they will need the filler of the Y.

In the next 5-10 years the majority of the Boomers will retire from work. Because of the thin population of X, there will be a vacuum of skill. And most of Y is a bunch of young lost childults that couldn't possibly fill the gap.

That leaves the US with a drastic moment of impending change. Forget the Great Recession. Economic recovery will never happen if we don't do something to address Y and get them ready to work with a fraction of the leaders that X had.

Are we ready to become a country of entry level workers submissive to a plutocracy that refuses to share a larger and larger portion of the pie?

The next five years will be a time of enormous change. Don't be surprised if well-established businesses go under because they couldn't shift gears. And don't be surprised when highly mobile businesses spring up overnight; businesses that are little more than work farms. People who are happier doing the things that maximize their iPad time and minimize their brain expenditure—thinking.

And this doesn't mean it will be everyone, but as the Boomers exit the mainstream of power politics they will leave not just a vacuum, but evidence too that they never used it. The problems that loom in organizations as well as in a macro-economic context are generations away from being solved. And in this transitional period, many aging Boomers will choose to simply wait until retirement and pass the buck.

It happens.

So now, more than ever, is the opportunity to start building the world in which I will spend the majority of my adult life. As generations clumsily hand off the baton we are given the rare chance to get ahead. How will organizations react as the landscape shifts?

Who knows.

I see the chance to create a world of change. A chance to really try to make it all a bit better. And I just need to find that moment of hesitation in the switch. Everyone else better as well. Because this is the next leg of the journey—it's going to be bumpy.