Book Review: Break Through (Part 1)

Aluminum cans are one of those things that I really feel stupid throwing out because I've read that making aluminum from raw ore takes about 2% of the worlds energy and making it from recycled cans takes 95% less.

A few weeks ago I was helping do some repairs at a building that was being turned into a transition house for kids. It was simple demolition, construction and finishing work, and there were about 40 of us on site. After lunch
I tossed my soda can in the trash becasue they "weren't set up for recycling."

I'll get back to that story in a second...

My latest library book was Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility. How's that for a sub-title?!?

In the book the authors (25 year veterans of environmental activism) systematically attack the tactics and claimed successes of environmental activists. They suggest that activists are no more than a special interest, have never actually succeeded, and in some cases suggest that their activism is counter productive.

The basis of their argument is as follows:
  1. People behave according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You can tell people they should worry about global warming until you turn blue, but if they don't have food and safety they are not going to care.
  2. When you scare people they exhibit behaviors leaning towards fascism.
  3. The environmental movement was born because of an economic boom following WWII that enabled people to address their lower level needs thus giving them the time to start hugging trees.
  4. A politics of limits (CAFE Standards, using less stuff, etc.) has never been successful.
  5. Motivating people works best when you provide a compelling vision of the future. Trying to avoid a long term catastrophe and hugging polar bears" isn't a very powerful motivator.
They provide some compelling evidence for these points. But it was the Aluminum can memory that made it real for me.

When I was driving home from the house where I tossed that Aluminum can I felt really dumb. I'd been recycling everything for years, and out of my element for a few hours I didn't hesitate to toss one of the earths most expensive and useful material resources in the trash! I could have just grabbed a bag and brought everyones recycling home with me. It didn't even occur to me until I left. What a missed opportunity!

I didn't think my outlook on protecting my environment was the result of a comfortable standard of living but there it was. It didn't even phase me when I faced what I perceived as a more urgent need to finish the house.

It got me thinking... I imagine if I was doing that work for a living and had to worry about having money for food or medicine... I was a little surprised to conclude that if it came down to feeding and caring for my family over saving the polar bears, we'd have a house full of bear skin rugs, and probably some in a box in the basement in case heating prices went up.

And I think polar bears are wicked cute too! (image from wikimedia commons edited by me)

Seriously, polar bears are great, but if it means my kid's gonna starve...

So despite the cuteness of polar bears the first part of this book had some very compelling arguments defining the problems with the current face of environmental activism. But my review isn't all glowing praise and arctophobic rants. In the next post I'll go over their proposed solutions and share my thoughts on why **hugging polar bears might not be such a bad idea.

** Hugging in this context is meant figuratively. I do not suggest or condone the actual hugging of a polar bear as human bones have been shown to be bad for polar bear dental heath.

Staggeringly Depressing Irony

Christine and I are expecting some cable rewiring in our future and this morning, no-doubt fearing for her life, she pointed out this story from the KCTV website.
Man Fatally Shoots Wife While Installing Satellite TV - Patsy Long, 34, of Deepwater, died after being shot in the chest with a .22-caliber handgun on Saturday. Her husband, Ronald Long, fired the shot from the inside of their home after several unsuccessful efforts to punch a hole through the exterior wall using other means.
Now this is really sad. Just overwhelmingly tragic. Frankly I think it was just too sad for me to really comprehend... I found that instead of focusing on the soul crushing sadness of their loss that I couldn't help but think that I've seen a .22 bullet and a co-ax cable and I don't think a .22 would make a hole big enough for the cable...

Sure enough, wikipedia has the width of the bullet at .224 inches and the width of the cable at .332 inches, and that's not including the connector on the end of the cable. So not only was this effort to install cable homicidally reckless, but it doesn't appear as if it would have worked.

Christine and I have agreed that any future cable installations in our house will not include the use of firearms; even if we come across a .38 which is, in my opinion, the smallest firearm capable of being successfully used in cable installation.

Some stuff is just so sad you just have to laugh.



Meow Kitty Backhoe Song

The other day Conner ran to get his guitar while demanding "Daddy Watch Me!" Then he sat down in front of the fridge and started strumming and signing an up tempo ballad about his two favorite things. Thus was born the Meow Kitty Backhoe Song.

Backhoes and Meow Kittys

Conner the Builder

Conner did some work on his Nanna and Pop's guest bed. He's a very focused handy man.





The Acela: NY and Back

Train Information

Last Friday John, Mike and I took a trip to NY on the Amtrak Acela. We sat in seats just like the ones pictured below and it was a blast!

On the way down the ticket master/taker/guy told us that we were in a quiet train and couldn't talk. It was like a little slice of heaven. I sat and read and listened to music. Bliss... There were power outlets and the computers came out after a bit.

Every once in a while we'd try to communicate with gestures and it got pretty silly.

The country passed by as we relaxed on the train. Somewhere in CT John handed me my iPod headphones and whispered "look out the window." I put them on, he hit play and all of a sudden I was Benjamin Braddock riding the bus to find Elaine. That music is timeless.

I was blown away with the comfort. It was quiet, smooth, and there are no seat belts. It beats the heck out of flying and is way more relaxing than driving. Even so, I was surprised how much it cost. $233 for a round trip ticket. If I'd driven my Civic and parked in the city it would have been closer to $100. How is it not cheaper to run a train with common infrastructure than to have everyone drive their own infrastructure around? US subsidies are really screwed up...

When we walked out of Penn Station workers were hanging a an advertisement.


Clearly we were no longer in Kansas... Nuff said...

The Return Trip

One the way home I was planning to finish my book, but the train was crowded. John and I ended up sitting with two professors from Fairfield University. One of them noticed my book and struck up a conversation. The four of us talked all the way to New Haven on all sorts of topics the environment, economy, politics, aeronautics, the physics of pulling a plane out of a dive at mach one, academics, raising kids... Really nice guys.

After they jumped off the train I made my way over to a guy working on an XO laptop. It had been on and open the entire trip, so I figured he might have a solution to the Suspend/Resume bug. Instead of a fix he had 3 batteries. He turned out to be campaign manager for the Free Software foundation. He works on the XO project and was a wealth of knowledge on everything XO. I learned a tun and it looks like there is hope for youtube on the XO. More on that later.

The rest of the trip was a pretty ruckus conversation between me, Mike, John, a freelance photographer, his son, and a Jazz musician/producer and his fiend. Talk about our reasons for travel quickly lead to the economy which lead to politics.

The photographer went on a bit of a rant on his plan to vote for Clinton because he had never heard of Obama doing anything. By, and I'm guessing that this was his logic, the osmotic principal of proximity to his ignorance, he concluded that "No one on the train could tell him one thing Obama had done."

Holy crap did he pick the wrong crowd. The restraint coming from John, Mike and me was palpable. John could have verbally eviscerated this poor guy, so I was a little comforted by the trickle of blood that signified he was biting his lip. I managed to only tell him one thing Obama did.

After that things lightened up a lot. The jazz producer was an older black guy (his words so relax). He was the definition of cool. The coolness probably came from the jazz scene... Anyway, he jumped in with:
"Hillery should totally get Barack as her VP. She could walk down the middle of the street naked... [big pause] There'd be red necks jumpin out of every where to make sure she was OK... Do you have a sniffle Mrs. President? Let me get you something for that..."
Everyone in earshot was rolling in the isles.

I was exhausted when we got home but very relaxed. I don't remember the last time I had that much fun actually traveling. I'll definitely take the train next time I go to NY.

A More Perfect Union

I have a feeling that people will talk about today's speech by Barack Obama for years to come. It was brilliant.

The full text of the speech is copied from Barack Obama's website.

Philadelphia, PA | March 18, 2008
As Prepared for Delivery

"We the people, in order to form a more perfect union."

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution - a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters....And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about...memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

With Apologies to NORAD, We're Moving

The average family in the US doesn't get called by NORAD. All I can say is they're trying to hard... You see, we're moving. There's a lot of logistics to moving, but only if your a Russell can you have an impact on a large military institution during an otherwise mundane real estate transaction.

Perhaps I should start with some background...

The second law of thermodynamics, states that the total entropy of any isolated thermodynamic system tends to increase over time.

Another way to say this is there is a natural tendency for things to get messy.

Anyone that has visited in the last 5 years knows that the Russell Household has been acting as an entropy sink for much of North America. The house itself is in good shape, but we tended to have a lot of stuff piled up inside... Boxes, wires, extra dishes, toys, clothes, lumber, rocks, berries, churches and a duck, to name a small sample. We're not sure where the duck came from.

Despite having more kitchen cabinet space than all of our ancestors (dating back to 1847) combined, much of this stuff didn't have a home so it migrated towards disarray. Most would call this natural entropy but while entropy does tend towards an increase in disarray, it went faster in our house...

My father recently pointed out that we were providing a service to the world by taking on such a large entropy burden. Things literally stayed neater for others because our house was such a disaster.
I should note at this point that the disaster is almost entirely my fault. Christine has fought a constant battle against the forces of entropy and disarray since the day we met. But I've had the second law of thermodynamics on my side... It wasn't a fair contest.
A few months ago we took a big step in moving and put our house on the market. That meant we had to clean the place up. And I use the word "we" lightly as I had a man cold for most of the previous month. Christine was kind enough to explain the details here. But the house got clean. And not just sort of clean. I mean really clean!

The call from NORAD came just as we put the house on the market. Apparently the elimination of our entropy sink produced a series of seismic shocks throughout the mid-west. NORAD's initial analysis of the situation had them talking about locusts and famine. Strategies for addressing global warming were put on hold as there was a serious concern that the world was about to end. The word cataclysm was used.

After a few tense conversations we assured them that we had established a new base of operations for our entropy sink (a.k.a put an offer on a house) and would have it up and running ASAP.

Hopefully the house sale will go quickly and we can establish an equally powerful entropy sink in our next home. And I'm not just saying that to be altruistic. Our house looks great like this, but I can't find anything!

In the mean time the department of homeland security, in a joint effort with FIMA is looking into re-flooding New Orleans as an interim entropy stop gap.

Intentional Obsolescence in Windows?

I have a theory that Microsoft has archetected obsolescence into their OS. They make your computer appear to gradually slow down so you think the computer is old and go out and buy a new one.

I have no proof, but I'm going to rant about it anyway.

Oh, and don't let the picture fool you. This isn't a Linux or MAC fan boy post. It is specifically a Windows Sucks post...

When I get a new computer it is the fastest Windows machine I've ever seen. Click on a folder and BAM! there's the contents of the folder. Or click on a program like Microsoft Word and WHAMO! instantly you're able to start typing...

Six months later after doing little more than surfing the web, sending email, and using MS Office it's slowed down to a crawl. Click on a folder and WAIT! WINDOWS IS THINKING and a few seconds later a window opens and a second after that I can see my files... Or click on a program and DRIVE TO STARBUCKS FOR A COFFEE BECAUSE WINDOWS IS CHECKING WITH MARS VIA SMOKE SIGNALS TO SEE HOW LONG TO PAUSE BEFORE OPENING A BLANK DOCUMENT and then when the message gets back from Mars that now would be good, my coffee is cold and I can start typing...

I've de-fragmented, cleared temp files, removed every possible extra memory resident application, and rebooted... No Change... In fact if I wait till the 1 year mark the computer becomes a high powered paper weight with a donkey-esque attitude.

But if I reinstall Windows it flies just like the first day I got it...

And computer's don't just get tired. I've used Gentoo and Ubuntu Linux for years and they don't slow down. And my MAC is a year old and it's as spry as the day I got it.

I'm about at that year mark with my current Windows machine. It's called a Mobile Graphics Work Station. It's the sort of machine one would use to render Jurassic Park and I'm a bit surprised they didn't put the word YANG right in the machine's title.

After a year of running Windows XP, my Mobile-YANG-Graphics-YANG-YANG-Work -YANG-YANG-YANG-Station takes 3x longer to boot than my completely YANG-LESS XO laptop. So very sad...

This afternoon I clicked on My Documents and opened Internet Explorer while I was waiting... Seconds passed... Windows was considering responding to my request and I was getting tired of waiting for the YANG to kick in.

I had Task Manager open so I looked to see if anything was hogging the CPU or eating up memory...
  • 97% System Idle (Read: my computer is doing nothing)
  • over a Gig of Ram free (Read: my computer has more unused memory than your computer)
  • the hard-drive is only 6 % fragmented (Read: I'm a big geek.)
What the $#@& is slowing this machine down?

I've decided that Microsoft is.

They made windows so that it slows down to make us think our computers are old and decrepit... So we go out and buy a new one and Cha-Ching Microsoft sells another copy of its OS and maybe their office suite...

And in the mean time I spend a large portion of my day waiting for a computer that is at least a 1000x faster than the one they used to go to the moon!

I want my Jurassic Park rendering YANG back you cheesy headed electric donkey bottom biters!

Huh... I actually feel better...

No facts were checked in the writing of this post.

XO a Few Months Later

I've had the XO for a few months, and learned some interesting things.

I'm used to the tiny keyboard. Frankly I didn't think I was going to get used to it, but I don't think about it much anymore.

Youtube and other flash based Video just doesn't work. While flash works, and it can play downloaded video files full screen without a hitch, the XO doesn't have enough processor speed to play flash videos without a lot of choppiness. Based on some discussions with the XO support team, it sounds like the problem is that the standard flash encoding used on sites like youtube is very processor intensive. The answers I got were a bit vague but it sounds like there are alternative ways that flash can be encoded that would be less processor intensive to render and that they are talking to google about supporting different encodings.

I'm thinking that the special encoding that youtube is doing for the iPhone is one of those less expensive encodings so I'm going to try it out. I'm far from understanding exactly what is going on, but its worth a try.

Causing Wireless Trouble
The XO makes it really easy to connect to wireless access points. I just hit the neighborhood button and it gives me a graphical display of all the available networks in the area. Then you just pick one and the XO is on the web.

When I brought the XO over to my brothers house I pressed the neighborhood key to find a network and his wireless network went dead.

It took us a few reboots to realize that every time I hit the neighborhood key all of his other wireless devices lost their connection. It seems like a major flaw in a wireless router if a computer can knock out all connectivity but I confirmed it on the OLPC IRC channel and there's some mention of this problem on the OLPC wiki.

So the XO is great at connecting most of the time, but there is the slightest chance that any time I use it I might be breaking my neighbors wireless router.

Suspend & Resume
My one complaint is that Suspend and Resume isn't yet working. That means that when I want to stop using the computer I need to shut it down or I'll use up the battery as fast as if I was using it. Booting the XO takes a few minutes, so its not the sort of thing that I like to do. Suspend and Resume is slated for the next OS release which is about a month late at the moment.

Once they get the software working, suspend and resume is supposed to be as easy as opening and closing the top. Because it's solid state it should take less than a second to wake up. Pretty cool!

The thing I really enjoy using the XO for is reading. Its great for eBooks or my equivalent of reading the Sunday paper which is reading the latest feeds in Google reader. The screen is great and e-reader navigation buttons are easy to use.

Other Apps
Alex is a big fan of the Speak app. You type in text and it says whatever you typed in a number of different accents. I fed it the entire text of Who's on First.

Overall I think the XO is very good at what it was designed for. The big challenge is one of the users mind set. For people that are new to computers it's a non issue. Alex started using it without any instruction. But I find myself having to stop trying to do things they way I would on a PC or MAC because many of the conventions don't map to the XO.

Once I got passed that mindset switch and started using the XO the way it wanted to be used it became a lot more fun. I'm looking forward to the next OS update. I think I'll get a lot more use out of it when I can turn it off and on in less than a second...

Cleaning The Table

A few weeks ago I decided the boys were old enough to clean the table after meals. At 2 and 4 years old, I figured it was a bit of a long shot that the table would get clean, but worth a try. Boy was it worth it! Clearing and washing the table is now a fun filled after meal ritual for the boys. Best of all the table looks great when they were done.

For their sake I hope their enthusiasm for cleaning the table sticks with them.

Here's a link to the same pictures on flickr.

Almost A Real Debate

I wrote this post back in late January but before I posted it I came down with a man cold. Seemed silly to just toss the post, so here it is.

Out of morbid curiosity I watched the first half of the SC Democratic debate on CNN. The presidential debates aren't debates by any measure of the word. They are typically nothing more than an opportunity for the front runner candidates to get some TV face time.

But for a brief moment the SC debate was different. Clinton and Obama had been focusing on each other's campaign techniques and an hour of presidential debating had passed with the substantive value of reality TV...

And then it happened...

Wolf Blitzer (the moderator) apparently went on a five minute break just when Edwards pointed out the fact that he and Clinton had a different health care strategy than Obama. Obama then began to explain the reasoning behind his plan.

It was like there was a momentary laps of reason and the candidates came very close to almost thinking about the idea that maybe they should consider the possibility of discussing, and to a lesser degree debating, the premise and validity of their health care plans.

I was quite literally on the edge of my seat. The candidates had clearly gone crazy! They were dangerously close to debating a policy plan based on it's merits! Now Obama has been known to explain the details of his positions in his podcast, but what was happening here was unprecedented. The hair on my arms stood up. I was holding my breath... There was ringing in my ears but that was unrelated as I have tinnitus from years of playing in loud bands...

But seriously, the idea that this "debate" could contain an actual debate of policy had me dizzy with anticipation. I've never heard of such a thing happening.

Unfortunately, someone in the CNN control booth caught on to this monumental occurrence and prompted Wolf to get the candidates back on message. He quickly launched a new question at them and they got back to talking about campaign strategy. Pivotal moment in history averted.