Monday, December 21, 2009

Teach for America essays

Letter of Intent:

I want to join Teach for America because I believe in the program's mission of providing equal opportunity and equal education for all students. School, as I understand it, has two distinct functions. One role is economic--to provide equal opportunity, to give students an equal chance to earn scholarships to top universities, and to help each student find a specialization they can use to make a living. The other role is social--to teach students how society as a whole works. In other words, school should not only determine where in the economy a student will "fit in", but also should give students an understanding of how the different pieces of society "fit together."

As much as we would like to, these two roles seldom can be combined. Someone can become a highly successful lawyer, doctor, or even (scarily) politician, without understanding much about the rest of society.

Standardization helps achieve equal opportunity, the economic role of schools, but makes it harder for teachers to explain how a topic relates to society as a whole. A student's "Why are we studying this?" is increasingly likely to be met with "Because we have to", "Because I said so", or likely the most common, "You want to go to college, don't you?" Such responses leave huge blank spots within a student's understanding of how different sectors of society are related.

I hope to teach mathematics. Often, mathematics is taught without mentioning non-mathematical subjects, and the subject can be taught quite well this way. Some students benefit from the focus on pattern-recognition that such an approach would bring out. But for others, the class can become needlessly boring. Technologies such as the TV, radio, and the electronic computer would never have occurred without mathematics. More relevant to most high-schoolers, mathematics teaches logic--it asks students to determine what they can know for certain. Just as we use logic in mathematics to determine what we know for certain about a problem, we can use logic in our lives to maintain consistency in our relationships.

During the past two years since graduating, I have spent time substitute teaching and volunteering in GED and after-school tutoring programs. Now that I have a 2.5 GPA, I look forward to continuing my career in education with Teach for America.

I believe many students are eager to understand how society fits together. I hope to provide that understanding to as many students as I can.

two examples of the jobs or activities that best highlight your leadership and achievement:

1 - interim Alabama organizer for 2008 Nader for President

What are/were your primary responsibilities in your current or most recent role?
As the Alabama State Coordinator, it was my job to collect the sheets of signatures that the state requires for a presidential candidate to appear on the ballot. I was in charge of collecting the signature sheets from 2 paid petitioners and from 6 or 7 volunteers. I also sent out a biweekly email updating donors about the campaign and took part in a weekly phone conference.

What was your most significant accomplishment in your current or most recent role?
I turned in the over 9,000 signatures to the Alabama Secretary of State's office in Montgomery, Alabama on August 19th, 2008, fulfilling Alabama's requirement of 5,000 signatures of registered Alabama voters for third-party candidates to be on the state ballot.

For number 2 I have two options - A) the conservative "after-school volunteer" or B) the more personal, but abstract "self-directed student" option

A) - Sarah Tate Reading Room

What are/were your primary responsibilities in your current or most recent role?
I served as an after-school tutor for 2nd-5th grade kids. After snack, I would work with one or two students usually on their math work. After working, students were free to play outside, use a computer, or create another activity such as a group game or chess.

What was your most significant accomplishment in your current or most recent role?
I introduced some kids to chess, helped them learn to use a laptop, and (most importantly) got to play some awesome games of wall ball.


Many people today define success within the game of limitless acquisition. They get jobs because it pays well, because it has “upward mobility”; usually not because they believe in their work. I believe my greatest success in school has been to escape form this approach to education, and begin to truly learn about our society, and how I can contribute to its progress.

(And I could reword some of that of course.)

Leaning toward option A)

hopefully math degree + caring about education + talking the phone interview about starting a technology club after school will be enough, so play conservative i'm thinking.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sufi Wisdom

Some quotes I especially liked from a book I read recently (Edenborn, good if you like sci-fi and thinking about broad social issues):

pg. 61 -
Echoes of my father's words permeate my mind and my heart. Vividly, I remember him sitting me down when twin fears of death and failure twisted me in their coils. He sat me down, dried my tears, and armored me with the wisdom of Abu Sa'id ibn Abi'l Khayr, a Persian Sufi master who lived a thousand years ago. The master said:
'Whatever you have in your mind, forget it.
Whatever you have in your hand, give it.
Whatever is to be your fate, face it!'
They are freeing words.

pg. 160 -
"This is an old trick," he explained, while unloading [coconuts] from my copter. "The monkey reaches into the hole to grab the treat but cannot pull his paw free without letting go. Because he is unwilling to let go, he is trapped by the force of his greed."
Though they are low-tech contraptions, my nieces and I find them wonderfully resourceful, the kind of outdoor-savvy skill set Isaac's kids have inherited, and Vashti and Champagne's kids have not. And Mu'tazz is Isaac's son in another respect as well, using the event as an opportunity to teach. "We all carry coconuts," he told the curious girls. "They are our problems, our woes, and we drag them around, shortsighted, too proud to let go and welcome God into our lives."

pg. 232 -
We remember your lessons We embrace the future. We fight for life with every drop of blood in our veins, but the microbes that threaten us come from God, and with God what can we do but surrender completely to whatever fate He has prepared?

pg. 254 -
When I tell the story about the frogs, I never tell it the same way twice. Sometimes they are green frogs, and sometimes they're brown. Sometimes I describe them with warts and other times without. They could be your common bullfrogs or Okinawan green tree frogs. They might even be toads. There could be ten, twenty, or a whole army of them, but the core of the story is always the same.

A group of frogs was traveling together, when two suddenly fell into a pit. The others rushed to the edge to see how very deep it was, and they realized the pair would never be able to get out. Don't even bother, they croaked, but the two trapped frogs started hopping anyway. They jumped and they hopped but they couldn't quite reach the top. All the time the crowd kept yelling for them to quit suffering and just give up, lay down and die. Finally, one of the two did exactly that. But the other ignored his fellow frogs and kept jumping with all his might. Against all odds, he made it out.
The others were amazed. Why did you keep trying? they asked. Didn't you hear us yelling for you to quit?
Oh, is that what you were doing, said the bewildered frog. I'm afraid I'm going deaf. All the time I was down there I thought you were encouraging me.

Monday, November 16, 2009


Why do we demand that our popular music have words? For the same reasons that American pop culture remains so emotionally stunted? That when the individual is made to feel politically and economically powerless, when economic life dominated by the interests of big government and big business, it leads to an emotional regression in the general public? Probably so. (Maybe separating words from music is what allows Jay-Z and Lil Wayne to sound more authentic/honest about their life?)

But no matter. Music is still awesome. It writes the stories we live by. It both defines and reflects our emotions. This is all as it should be. A story ties together emotional progressions. A melody ties together chord progressions. It’s a tight analogy. ‘Melody’ and ‘story’ are very much synonyms.

Take Beethoven’s Fur Elise. It starts in darkness, in a minor chord. Not quite darkness though, just a shady dimness, as we move from the tonic A minor, down to dominant E major (0:04 to 0:05), then back to the tonic again(0:05 to 0:06). This progression of minor tonic, down to major dominant, back up to minor tonic--from darkness, then a distant flicker of light, darkness again-—repeats three more times (0:07-0:23). Then finally—Hope!—light penetrates our darkness, C major followed by G major chords, (0:23-0:25). This beam is quickly drowned out again by the canopy as A minor follows (0:26), but the memory of light echoes for a moment in our minds (the dominant E major) making us search upwards that much harder (0:28-0:30). We end in the darkness of A minor, as we must (0:31-0:37).

The chord progression of music IS an emotional progression at the same time. The melody in music IS a story that ties that progression together. If self-consciousness is primarily a story, music is quite literally the stuff our minds are made of.

“Breathe, breathe in the air,
Don't be afraid to care”
- Pink Floyd

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

If baseball were fair...

Tomorrow night, the Yankees and Twins open the AL playoffs. Both teams have deserving players, but so do some of the teams that were left out of this year's playoffs--that's bound to happen when a 30 team league only has 8 playoff spots. The problem with MLB though, is the disparity in teams' payroll.

What if baseball were fair? What if the playoffs were seeded according to the teams that earned their wins, rather than buying them? To find out, I seeded the teams according a new metric I call "final grade", calculated by dividing a team's number of wins at the season's end by the 4th root of team payroll.

Without further hesitation, here are your 2009 deserving Division winners:

AL East Tampa Bay
AL Central Minnesota
AL West Texas
AL Wild LA Angels

NL East Florida
NL Central St. Louis
NL West Colorado
NL Wild LA Dodgers

Interestingly, both LA teams deserve wild card spots, with the Dodgers and Angels finishing just ahead of the Padres and Red Sox, respectively. 5/8 of the deserving teams made the actual MLB playoffs. The players for the Devil Rays, Rangers, and Marlins are more deserving than those for the hulkishly-rich Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies.

More interestingly, without needing any adjustments, the ratio produces a report card-type score that gives fair assessment of each team's season, punishing neither big nor small market teams. (I think most reasonable fans would actually agree with the final grades the system cranks out.) Pretty cool!

Other notes:
*** Again, final grade was calculated by the equation:
Final grade = Total Wins / (team payroll in dollars)^(1/4)
*** The Marlins won 2.36 games/million dollars spent, almost 5 times that of the Yankees, who led the majors in victories but still finished dead last in wins/million dollars spent at 0.51.
*** Obviously, the system does not take injuries into account, which played a large part in the Mets and Indians poor seasons.

Team Wins Wins/ "final grade"
$mil spent
Marlins 87 2.36 1.12 A++++
Rockies 92 1.22 0.99 A+
Twins 87 1.33 0.97 A+
Rangers 87 1.27 0.96 A
Dodgers 95 0.95 0.95 A
Rays 84 1.33 0.94 A
Angels 97 0.85 0.94 A
Cardinals 91 1.03 0.94 A
Padres 75 1.75 0.93 A
Giants 88 1.07 0.92 A-
Red Sox 95 0.77 0.90 A-
Phillies 93 0.82 0.90 A-
Braves 86 0.89 0.87 B+
Yankees 103 0.51 0.86 B
Mariners 85 0.86 0.85 B
Reds 78 1.10 0.85 B
Brewers 80 1.00 0.85 B
Athletics 75 1.20 0.84 B
Tigers 86 0.75 0.83 B
White Sox 79 0.82 0.80 B-
Blue Jays 75 0.93 0.79 C+
Cubs 83 0.61 0.77 C+
D-backs 70 0.95 0.76 C
Pirates 62 1.27 0.74 C
Astros 74 0.72 0.73 C
Royals 65 0.92 0.71 C-
Orioles 64 0.95 0.71 C-
Indians 65 0.80 0.68 D+
Nationals 59 0.99 0.67 D
Mets 70 0.52 0.65 D-

Oh yeah, and my world series prediciton:
I'm gonna go Angels over Rockies in 6.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

on trying to see reality I

Beauty is the in the cutting through/the liberation from the illusions our minds build up. Our minds build up illusions, systems that we use to operate in the world. But utility has a price—we become addicted, we become dependent on formula, routine. The systems we at first freely chose, become our prisons, our chains. But, sometimes, a new experience will cut away the chains, tear down the prison walls, and set us free. Beauty is found in the cutting through. The more powerful the original formula, the deeper is the beauty that liberates us.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Education and Work

The big problem in our schools today is NOT mandatory standardized tests. The big problem is that educational policy, (and overall federal policy), is too closely linked to corporate interests. Our schools are designed on a corporate model. Mandatory standardized tests are simply a tool corporations use to streamline their control.

Schools have been designed on a corporate model for hundreds of years now, since the industrial revolution. The difference is the economy. During the industrial revolution, when the vast majority of workers were either farmers or factory workers, it made a lot of sense to require everyone to learn to read and learn basic arithmetic. Without these skills, you could not operate factory equipment, and therefore were mortgaging your future economic possibilities.

This is no longer the case. Factory jobs make up an increasingly small segment of our economy today. We are a post-industrial economy now. Our economy no longer depends on factory output. Communication, team-work and computer literacy are now more important than reading, writing and arithmetic. The service industry is replacing manufacturing jobs; “.com” has dethroned Steel as king of Wall Street.

Corporations use GPA requirements, attendance requirements, and mandatory standardized tests to separate the “winners” from the “losers”. The winners get scholarships, and, after college, get to pick the profession they want. This is perfectly fair. The vast majority of these people work hard and deserve what they are given. It’s the “losers” that get shafted. The problem is that they are forced to play the game, even if they have no interest in it. Let me say that again—they are forced to attend classes, forced to accumulate a GPA, and forced to take standardized tests, whether or not they have an interest in doing so. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at football to play football. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at swimming to learn to swim. We don’t force kids who don’t want to compete at acting to do theater. Why do we force kids who don’t want to compete for scholarships and corporate salaries to be graded and ranked with students who do?

This idea that grades=education is 1.) inherently ridiculous (no one’s come up with a proven procedure for bettering society) 2.) dangerous for our futures (innovation is more likely with unhindered variety, not perfected conformity). GPAs are great for students who want to show others their ability to excel and determination to work hard. But for others, why do we insist on 1.) wasting so much of their time, then 2.) telling them that the only way for them to better themselves is to “go back to school and make up for their mistakes”?

Why is unemployment considered a bad thing? (Well, because the investing class wants to maintain its current monopoly on our country’s wealth.) But there are plenty of productive activities that don’t require an extensive resume to work on. Make a movie! Or start something within your community. The open-source and free culture movements are growing rapidly through the internet.

People seem to have this idea that everyone needs a corporate or government-funded job. Purposeful work is extremely important to any good life. But purposeful work does not have to be in service to increasing GDP. Working within that systems can be ok. But the far more important message schools should send is, whether full-time or when you’re home from your “real job”, find some work you can honestly say that you love.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

God, Agape and Eros

In Plato’s Symposium, each guest is invited to give a speech on the nature of Love (Eros). After Agathon makes an elaborate speech praising the beauty of the god Eros, it is at last Socrates’ turn. At first he declines speaking though, claiming that his opinion would not fit in with the others’ claim that Eros was a great and beautiful god. His argument rests on the fact that the defining quality of Eros is desire, and that one cannot possess what she desires. [If we have good health and say we also desire good health, what we mean is that we desire the continuation of good health into the future.] So we cannot possess something and desire it at the same time.

Since the object of Eros’ desire is beauty, Eros itself does not possess beauty. And since all gods possess goodness and beauty, neither is Eros a god. Socrates recounts his teacher Diotima’s explanation:

"What then is Love?" I asked; "Is he mortal?" "No." "What then?" "As in the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean between the two." "What is he, Diotima?" "He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal." "And what," I said, "is his power?" "He interprets," she replied, "between gods and men… he is the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them… For God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse, and converse of god with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar. Now these spirits or intermediate powers are many and diverse, and one of them is Love. "And who," I said, "was his father, and who his mother?" "The tale," she said, "will take time; nevertheless I will tell you.

“On the birthday of Aphrodite there was a feast of the gods, at which the god Poros or Plenty, who is the son of Metis or Discretion, was one of the guests. When the feast was over, Penia or Poverty, as the manner is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Plenty who was the worse for nectar (there was no wine in those days), went into the garden of Zeus and fell into a heavy sleep, and Poverty considering her own straitened circumstances, plotted to have a child by him, and accordingly she lay down at his side and conceived love, who partly because he is naturally a lover of the beautiful, and because Aphrodite is herself beautiful, and also because he was born on her birthday, is her follower and attendant. And as his parentage is, so also are his fortunes. In the first place he is always poor, and anything but tender and fair, as the many imagine him; and he is rough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; on the bare earth exposed he lies under the open heaven, in-the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his rest; and like his mother he is always in distress. Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, he is always plotting against the fair and good; he is bold, enterprising, strong, a mighty hunter, always weaving some intrigue or other, keen in the pursuit of wisdom, fertile in resources; a philosopher at all times, terrible as an enchanter, sorcerer, sophist. He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father's nature. But that which is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never in want and never in wealth; and, further, he is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge.

The error in your conception of him was very natural, and as I imagine from what you say, has arisen out of a confusion of love and the beloved, which made you think that love was all beautiful. For the beloved is the truly beautiful, and delicate, and perfect, and blessed; but the principle of love is of another nature, and is such as I have described."

So Eros is not a god, nor even good and fair. He is the offspring of Plenty and Poverty, sometimes reflecting one, sometimes the other. He is a philosopher, a seeker of beauty and wisdom.

Agape love, charitable love, however, is possessing of goodness and beauty. 1 John 4:8 even claims that God is this charitable kind of love, (and what God is, must be good and beautiful.)

Have to pull out a Stephen Colbert Wag of My Finger to the 12th century monk who translated 1 John from the Greek as “God is love” rather than “God is charity.” I believe this is the root of a lot of confusion in modern Christianity. “God is Love” is perhaps the shortest possible summary of Jesus’s teachings, but it is a bad translation. I think the common perception among most Christians is that “yeah, I know the difference between “agape” love (charity/God’s love) and “eros” love (romantic love), but they are similar in a lot of ways, (after all they’re both love.)” Even Pope Benedict in his first Encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” claims that “God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape.” Plato would disagree. God’s love cannot be Eros, because God already possesses goodness and beauty. Agape and Eros, while both are important parts of a good life, are not really similar at all. Eros is seeking, wanting, desiring--Agape is enjoyment, beauty, and happiness. “God is charity” or “God is charitable love” is a better translation.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

So close!

Sensational! Once in a lifetime! Even though he lost, that is how Tom Watson's performance at this year's British Open will be remembered. The oldest player to win any PGA Tour event was Sam Snead at age 52--for a 59-year-old to almost claim a major makes that seem trivial. We certainly won't see it again any time soon (or at least until Tiger Woods is that old!).

How improbable was Watson's performance really though? (It certainly didn't hurt that Phil Mickelson stayed home and Tiger missed the cut). Sure older players lose some distance on their drives, presumably a little hand-eye coordination and all. But golf is a lot more about consistency than about ability to react, and consistency is not lost with time. The truth is that 50+ year-olds almost never get to play in major tournaments in the first place.

To qualify for the British Open you probably need to be high enough on the Tour money list. That would require you to play 30 tournaments a year, which is much harder on older players.

The only reason Watson got to play was because he was a former champion (this was his last year to qualify under current British Open rules, which only includes former champions under the age of 60.) Watson has made 5/8 British Open cuts since turning 50, but just 1/10 at the Masters. Nicklaus from age 50-59 made 8/9 Masters cuts and 5/8 British Open cuts, and finished tied for 6th at the '98 Masters at age 58.

If other top Senior Tour players were able to more easily qualify for Tour events, then would we see results like this regularly? Not regularly, as long as Tiger Woods stays healthy. But Watson proved it would not be out of the question.

That a 59-year-old did well at a major is perhaps just as unlikely as a 59-year-old getting to participate in the first place.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Seattle to Huntsville Without Corporate Assistance

The goal: Travel from Seattle, WA to Huntsville, AL without paying a large corporation for travel/lodging.

I’ve kinda wanted to try different ways of traveling lately. Seeing how my life currently has no deadlines of any kind, this seems to be a good time to try out rideshare/hitch-hiking.

Hitch-hiking is no more dangerous than riding in cars in general (as long as you don’t get dropped off in a dangerous neighborhood!), but can be frustrating if you set up at a bad spot. I don’t think I would have had the patience for it even two years ago.) But you do have to know how to do it, and you shouldn’t have any schedule to keep to, otherwise it could get very nerve-racking. (Also I made sure I wasn't carrying anything that I considered irreplaceable, and of course was careful to be appreciative and not offensive toward my drivers.) I had a few pointers from friends, but there’s also plenty of info online, and I bought a copy of this book, an excellent guide to “taking a road trip pilgrimage.”

Anyway, here’s how things went—

July 1st -

Here's what I have with me in Seattle -
way too many clothes for this kind of thing, but at least clothes aren't heavy so whatever.
way too many books that I brought for the bus ride on the way up.
Debit card with 32.85 on it.
Check from separate account with 110.26 in it.
Emergency credit card from my dad that I'm pretending doesn't exist

I'm thinking I may offer to split some gas costs with anyone who gives me a ride (craigslist rideshare, or hitchhiking)--this doesn't count as paying a large corporation since the gas would have been bought anyway, and I may also eat at McDonalds or other chain if my driver suggests we stop there for food. But I will try to the best of my ability not to pay a big company for travel or lodging.

Someone on craigslist is going olympia to colorado tomorrow--a couple things aren't ideal…

-------from Craigslist-------
I'm going to Fort Collins in Colorful Colorado tomorrow (Wednesday, July 1.) It would be great to have some company to help keep me awake and pitch for gas and I could take you as far as Denver, or drop you off anywhere along the way. I am a smoker and like the music loud but am respectful of my companionship. I am a good conversationalist and I'm not a serial killer. Must be willing to pitch for gas and as we are going to a Higher State (5,280ft) must be 420 friendly. I'll be leaving in the early afternoon, around two-ish.

maybe a little rough, but to get straight to Colorado in just one ride sounds well worth it to me. Plus could be interesting to spend 16 hours in a car with--we'll see if he takes me up.

----------from me--------
Hey, I could use a ride out towards Colorado if it's still available. I'm in Seattle now, but could meet you tomorrow off I-90 in Bellevue (if you're going through Seattle anyway) or off I-5 in Tacoma. I'm flexible as far as plans, and I'd be glad to contribute a tank or two for gas. Email back or give me a call if you think things will work.

Tom - 336-251-2196

July 1st –

Never heard back form that first guy but Ralph came through for me!

GOing to Colorado (Paonia )
[ Don't have exact first message cuz it's deleted from craigslist, but basically said he's offering a ride from Washington to Colorado for anyone that needs it, and left his name and cell number ]

I e-mail back, we call in the morning, and head out from Seattle to western Colorado around 1 pm!

July 2nd -

Ralph is a good dude. We communicate well, and I am very compatible with the songs on his iPhone (which includes a very cool reggae version of dark side of the moon)
He found a national park a little ways off the highway on his Iphone, so we camped there (that’s how he was planning to sleep anyways), and plus we communicate well and have similar interests. I'm in Salt Lake City right now, Ralph's staying with his brother who he says has a super small apartment and can be a "difficult guy", so I am either gonna get in touch with someone I know or crash in a hostel. It's raining so prefer not to camp.

July 3 -

Stayed at Avenues Hostel in Salt Lake City last night. Very good experience. Roomed with two English guys, who just happened to check in (they didn't know each other before). Phil (I think his name was) was from Wales, and don't remember the other guy's name but he was from Manchester City. The guy from Manchester brought a Australian movie that he thought was killer, and I did quite enjoy it--The Proposition--apparently based on a true story about a family of outlaws, but kinda reminded me of an Australian Apocalypse Now. Slept on the top bunk, and there was a clean bathroom/shower. Very reasonable at $18 a night (and $10 key deposit that you get back).

Next, I’m heading to Delta, CO with Ralph. Before dropping me off, we stop by a City Market to get some supplies. Ralph advises I get the large 30-gallon trash bags to water-proof my stuff. I also pick up a flashlight and sunscreen. He’s hitchhiked some before, says I shouldn’t have any trouble getting rides in the area, as long as I don’t get discouraged. Think I’m all set for some corporate-free traveling!

July 4th –

This was easily my most adventuresome day. Rode 250 miles with 5 different drivers, with an average waiting time of just 15-20 minutes (being in a hitchhiking-friendly area on a holiday weekend probably helped out). All different types of people gave me rides—Amy, a college student, took me to Gunnison. I get a quick 5 minute ride out of town from a couple in their 30s. Next Marcus, a 21-year-old born in Germany but has lived in the US since he was 11, then Hashish and Nidan, graduate students at UF who have a rental car in Colorado for the holiday. (Hashish mentions Into the Wild, and we cover as much ground in our 15 minute conversation as any other ride I have.) Finally, Jeff and Pat, both over 50, give me a lift into Pueblo, where they are meeting some friends to watch fireworks.

I needed a couple of supplies in Gunnison, so I relax there for the morning. It’s a very cool town, about 5,000 people, but basically all of them are coming to the park downtown for 4th of July festivities. The city is small enough to walk wherever you need to go, so the shops downtown aren’t sprawled apart by parking lots. The result is a very welcoming feel to the city. Would love to come back sometime!

After I am dropped off by Jeff and Pat, things get interesting. Turns out to be a bad intersection for rides. The best intersection would be the last one at the edge of town, but I don’t know if this intersection is near the edge of town or not. I stand there and hope to get picked up, but it doesn’t happen. Finally it starts raining a little, then a lot. Still haven’t gotten picked up. Now I’m worried; I break out a poncho, put a trash bag around the outside of my bags, but by now it’s pouring. The poncho isn’t doing a great job of keeping me dry, and I’m worried about my stuff. I’m on the wrong side of the road from nearest shelter. I can carry all my stuff when I can wear my bookbag, but not when things are in trash bags. So I have to carry one bag at a time across the highway, up to a dry area within a carwash right across the street. Drop bag one off, and go back for the other. Fireworks are still going pretty well by now, and I rejoice at at least having found shelter for now and pull out a book. After 15 minutes or so, still enjoying fireworks, I check my stuff. And it’s dry! The trash bags worked completely! Even against the torrential downpour! Total joy! (well maybe some boo-ya pride too—“I am the best homeless person out of all my facebook friends!”) I settle in, read my book, and enjoy the fireworks show going on all around me (apparently no ordinance against fireworks in the city in Pueblo).

The rain stops, the weather’s not too cold or anything (it is July after all), so I walk down the highway a couple miles, and find a suitable area for camping.

July 5th –

Foiled! Got 400 miles in one ride from Pueblo, CO to Wichita, KS, asking to be dropped at the public library at 3 PM, well in time to go online before the 5 PM closing time, hopefully find a craigslist rideshare headed toward TN, GA, or AL. Problem: the Wichita library is closed July 5th because of the 4th of July! Apparently July the 4th is a multi-day event.
Damn! Realized I rely on the internet for basically all of my information and am terrible at getting information from actual people. Took me 35 minutes to figure out there is an I-35 through Wichita. I had been told I must mean highway 135, but finally looked at a map in a gas station. Part of it is I have 2 medium-large bags and one medium-small—fine for walking around if you have an exact place to go, but not good for exploring/trying to gather information about a place.
In the rainstorm, I was still pretending—this is by far the more authentic feeling—“how in the world has life taken me to here?”

It’s harder to stay enthusiastic in the face of an unexpected crisis. I decide to try and talk to some people, get to know about the city. There’s a skate park on Broadway and Kellogg Parkway underneath the overpass. It’s hopping with people, many look high school age. I decide the crowd at the library is probably the better, less dangerous source of information, a conclusion I am later told is correct. I head to the park across from the library where people were earlier. One is still there, sleeping. When he gets up, I start up a conversation—Paul tells me he was there for a weekly pizza dinner that a local church gives out for free to the community. Paul is eager to talk, and I’m eager to listen.
Paul tells me about a few areas where I might sleep. “Best not to let me or anyone else know. Just find a spot out of the way, where you won’t be noticed, and you’ll be fine.” He also talks enthusiastically about other services that local churches provide for the homeless—as Paul put it later, “there’re helping hands in Wichita”—there’s coffee and doughnuts in the morning, a weekly lunch. “They bought me these shoes for free,” he says. “I walked in, someone asked me about the shoes I was wearing, then drove and got me this pair.” Carl walks up and listens in on the conversation. He’s less enthusiastic about the lunch—“Those folks don’t stay around long.”
The Salvation Army will buy you a ticket back to where you’re from, I’m told.
“I mean, I have enough to buy a ticket and all,” I mention.
“But you didn’t tell anyone that,” Paul says without blinking. “People will rob you if they think you have money; not me, but you still shouldn’t let me know.”
“They got someone three weeks ago down a few blocks from here for 75 bucks,” Carl adds. “Popped him when he came around the corner. He was always bragging, talking shit ‘I can afford this, I can afford that.’ He didn’t have to be down here; his parents would have paid for him to live wherever.”

Paul was very insistent that I not trust someone like Carl. “I don’t know him, maybe he’s an honest guy, but nothing’s for free with guys like him. Before long he’ll be asking for money, looking to buy alcohol.”
“You shouldn’t trust anyone down here. People here are always looking for something back, dollar here, dollar there. I’m not like that, I’m helping you because… I dunno, I’m just like that for whatever reason…”
Carl asks me for a couple bucks later. I give it to him. He’s friendly and all, but suspect Paul made a good read.

After Carl leaves, Paul says something that really hit me, changed how I saw my whole journey. He tells me he sleeps beneath a bridge (“open area, public land”) near what society considers a nice neighborhood. “Some of those people, they’re crazy. They’ll get drunk, be cursing, fighting with each other, just mean-spirited. But society accepts them. For people like me, though…”
Police drive them out of parks, businesses don’t let them use the rest room, (well they have one freebie at each place).

Without corporate assistance—here I was purposefully avoiding any corporate assistance, and I run into Paul who is denied the option. Our society’s corporate structure rejects people like him. And that’s the bottom line, despite a free lunch here, free pair of shoes there, people like Paul are perpetually without corporate assistance. What else does our society really offer?

It’s the top-down nature of corporate commercialism that scares me most—the security of the monthly paycheck, and the superficial relevance created by infotainment media. Homelessness is the observable, tangible lack of community, but how about sections of our society? How many of our interactions are like Carl’s, dependent on “getting something back”? The lack of community that characterizes homelessness is the reality that commercial corporatism tries so hard to cover up for the rest of us. It largely succeeds.
The movie Network states it better than I can:

From Network (1976) –

HOWARD BEALE: “We are right now living in what has to be called a corporate society, a corporate world, a corporate universe. This world quite simply is a vast cosmology of small corporations orbiting around larger corporations who, in turn, revolve around giant corporations and this whole, endless, ultimate cosmology is expressly designed for the production and consumption of useless things.”

NARRATOR: “It was a perfectly admissible argument that Howard Beale advanced in the days that followed; it was, however, also a very tedious and depressing one. By the end of the first week in June the Howard Beale show had dropped one point in the ratings, and its trend of shares dipped under forty-eight for the first time since last November.”

It worries me that I think he is right…

Corporate Assistance—addictive, hypnotic, and quite enjoyable. But is it real? Can it be the foundation for meaningful communities?


I wasn’t very tired that night, plus had I lot of thoughts I wanted to digest, so I decide to just stay up until the library opens. Pretty unreasonable I guess, but my options were either that or to hitchhike to I-35 S from downtown. Difficulty is I didn’t really know where I need to go. “I need a ride to a better spot for getting a ride out of town” basically. Or I could read a book sitting near the library until it opens tomorrow at 10AM, 14 hours from now. This is probably more of a rationalization and I’d probably be alright hitchhiking, but like Paul advised me “don’t do anything that would attract attention to yourself down here.”
The deciding factor was that I simply felt more enthusiastic about staying up and reading even though it seems far less reasonable. Authentic enthusiasm is very important to my decision-making, I like to believe, at least.

When the library opened, I bought a ticket home from Greyhound. ($128 because had to be routed through southern Illinois, making a 20 hour drive out of what google maps says is 12 hours). A good writer would have hitch-hiked all the way, probably, not betrayed the loyalty of the reader and all. Or better yet, I could have rode a Greyhound part way, and hitch-hiked the rest of the way in.
But Colorado was an amazing hitch-hiking experience, possibly partly due to it being a holiday weekend, everyone being in a generous mood, and just the overall outdoorsy nature of the state. So perhaps it’s better not to risk being let down by other states, just yet at least. I’ll do the Southeast some other time, when I have lighter bags!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thoughts from Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation

Flesh ultimately either becomes mud and returns to dust, or becomes spirit and ascends.

Life is mostly spent somewhere in between mud and spirit—flesh strives to remain strong and firm, but never finds an upwards purpose, continuously trying to sprout wings, but in the end remaining grounded. There is contentment to be found on the ground, the ground offers security, familiarity, and acceptance. In the end, it is a choice between body and mind, flesh and spirit—the body loves the ground, seeks to become dust and return to the ground. The mind or spirit, however, strives against the ground and, seeking separation, tries to build wings and explore the world above.

To honor your father means to honor God, and to honor your mother means to honor the Earth.

Pg. 346- The old law instructs you to honor your father and your mother; but I say, Do not imprison your heart within your parents’ home. Let it emerge and enter all homes, embrace the whole of the Israel from Mount Hermon to the desert of Idumea and even beyond: east and west—the entire Universe. Our father is God, our mother is Earth. We are half soil and half sky. To honor your father and mother means to honor Heaven and Earth.

The foundation for happiness.

(from Anthony De Mello's Awareness)
“People don’t really want to grow up, people don’t really want to change, people don’t really want to be happy. As someone so wisely said to me, “Don’t try to make them happy, you’ll only get in trouble. Don’t try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it irritates the pig.” Like the businessman who goes into a bar, sits down, and sees this fellow with a banana in his ear—a banana in his ear! And he thinks, “I wonder if I should mention that to him. No, it’s none of my business.” But the thought nags at him. So after having a drink or two, he says to the fellow, “Excuse me, ah, you’ve got a banana in your ear.” The fellow says, “What?” The businessman repeats, “You’ve got a banana in your ear.” Again the fellow says, “What was that?” “You’ve got a banana in your ear!” the businessman shouts. “Talk louder,” the fellow says, “I’ve got a banana in my ear!”
So it’s useless. “Give up, give up, give up,” I say to myself. Say your thing and get out of here. And if they profit, that’s fine, and if they don’t, too bad!” – Awareness pg. 8

The foundation is the body, we argue. Each woman is to become God to one man, each man God to one woman. In this way, all become God, and all are engaged in a continual worship. Heaven and Earth are thus joined into beautiful, joyful harmony.

Pg. 359 - “Jesus of Nazareth,” said the angel, unwrapping his wing from around him, “the two sisters lighted a fire, did the milking first thing in the morning and are now preparing the milk for you. On our way, didn’t you want to ask me the meaning of Paradise? Thousands of small joys, Jesus of Nazareth. To knock at a door, to have a woman open it for you, to sit down in front of the fire, to watch her lay the table for you; and when it is completely dark, to feel her take you in her arms. That is the way the Saviour comes: gradually—from embrace to embrace, son to son. That is the road.”

The foundation is the soul

On Wanting Happiness - pg. 10

“I was saying that we don’t want to be happy. We want other things. Or let’s put it more accurately: We don’t want to be unconditionally happy. I’m ready to be happy provided I have this and that and the other thing. But this is really to say to our friend or to our God or to anyone, “You are my happiness. If I don’t get you, I refuse to be happy.” It’s so important to understand that. We cannot imagine being happy without those conditions. That’s pretty accurate. We cannot conceive of being happy without them. We’ve been taught to place our happiness in them.

Pg. 78 – Happiness is our natural state. Happiness is the natural state of little children, to whom the kingdom belongs until they have been polluted and contaminated by the stupidity of society and culture.
[Why do we believe we need the “thousands of small joys” in order to be happy? That is the lie we are taught, conditioned since birth to believe in...] To acquire happiness you don’t have to do anything, because happiness cannot be acquired. Does anybody know why? Because we have it already. How can you acquire what you already have? Then why don’t you experience it? Because you’ve got to drop something. You’ve got to drop your illusions.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Conservative Christian argument for politically accepting gay marriage -- (reemphasize politically)

Sept. 10, 2009

I think I have a problem with wanting to start arguments for no reason, and tending to support contrarian positions. But anyways... the idea i've been getting at is this: for any issue that does not directly threaten the well-being of other citizens, whether the issue is religious beliefs, substance abuse, adult content in media, and even polygamy, regulation and control make more sense than a complete prohibition or ban. (The soul is never enriched by blindly following rules or “codes of proper behavior.” This is precisely why Jesus condemned the Pharisees.)

Sept. 4, 2009

Okay, so my original argument was extremely naive. (It happens, I guess.) There are valid arguments for allowing homosexual marriage without legalizing group marriages. (It comes down to "Should government put restrictions on how people organize their personal relationships?" Valid affirmative arguments can be made in the name of social stability.)

A better summary of the issues than my original post--

I really should have just found a message board that discusses this topic, but whatever. And
here's a site that makes a few of the points I was getting at (although it endorses polygamy religiously as well as politically.)

Final thought: Banning polygamous marriage tranquilizes the objectification of women into a socially acceptable, stable form. But is this a good thing or not? Wouldn’t Jesus say not? “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” right? (Matthew 5:28) The objectification of women (or men) in any form is as much a sin as adultery.

Original -- May 15th, 2009

--Why We should have Freedom of Marriage in the same way that we have Freedom of Religion--

The key idea is to realize that Freedom of Marriage is a technological change, and not necessarily symbolic of a changing morality in our culture.

Methods for controlling STDs and STIs have changed dramatically over the past 60 years. According to Wikipedia: “Sexually transmitted infections have been well known for hundreds of years” and “Prior to the invention of modern medicines, sexually transmitted diseases were generally incurable, and treatment was limited to treating the symptoms of the disease.”

Due to these factors, the values of traditional marriage, in addition to encouraging healthy community-oriented attitudes, have historically been used to control STIs. (funny WWII poster)

For obvious reasons, defining sexual expression as only appropriate during marriage decreased the amount of STIs within society—this is the rationale behind abstinence-only sex education. Now, of course, there are other effective methods for controlling STIs, which have made sexual activity far less dangerous to an individual’s physical safety. Sexuality is no longer the threat to physical safety that it once was.

Safety and Freedom
Government must balance physical safety with individual rights. Certain freedoms should be restricted in the interest of ensuring our physical safety—i.e., laws against hard drugs or owning bazookas. However, in cases where physical safety is not endangered, government should allow freedom for individuals to gather information and make their own choices. Crack cocaine still threatens people’s physical safety—sexuality now no longer does.

Still, traditional marriage is an ideal that I believe in—traditional marriage and the values that it represents are an important part of the moral health of a community. I am against my church or pastor performing gay marriages. As it currently stands though, churches that speak against gay marriage politically are positioning themselves to be perceived by the rest of society as discriminatory, because they are trying to use politics to impose their views on everyone else.

Standing up for traditional marriage and the values it represents is not discriminatory—trying to use politics to impose your view on others, when there is no longer a threat to the physical safety of individuals, is. Just as Christianity survived the idea of freedom of religion, traditional marriage and, just as importantly, the values that it represents, will remain strong after freedom of marriage.

Churches recognize the rights of atheists to be treated politically as equal members of society—rights regarding marriage now should be given to homosexuals, and to poly-amorous families as well (and no, James Dobson, this does not have to extend to brothers and sisters—that risks the physical safety of potential offspring—or to people and animals—that's still just ridiculous.)

Conservative Christians need to understand this—need to see that Freedom is not contrary to conservative principles. God gave his creation free will for a reason—because freedom creates the best possible forum for moral development to take place.

“Community” vs. “Job Market”

All this talk about “the values of traditional marriage” may seem outdated and obsolete—in today’s America maybe so. The benefits of traditional marriage are diminished outside of strong, personal communities, and (as all of us college graduates know by now) in America, the idea of community has been replaced by the idea of the “job market"—the fight for social justice should come first and all... So bottom line, basically, thank God for people like Ralph Nader.

—Okay, so, if you’re a conservative Christian who believes in the principle of Freedom, how can you disagree with any of that?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Sports experiments I would like to see

Baseball – Change to 8 fielders instead of 9.
The biggest advantage is it would reward hitting the ball, rather than waiting for either a walk or a pitch to slug, like the current system rewards. (So game would go faster, as a side advantage.) Great contact hitters like Juan Pierre, Michael Young, and Johnny Damon could legitimately be considered great players again, and Ichiro would possibly be the perennial MVP.

What would be the best way to react to this? I’m assuming have the pitcher cover first base? It’d be interesting to see what teams came up with. Other less drastic (but less fun) options are to make fields wider (but some stadiums would have to be altered), or possibly change rules about fouling balls off to stay alive (three foul offs and you’re out, or the ball has to move forward on a foul-off.)

Men’s tennis
– only get 4 faults per game.
This change would be the easiest to implement and I think has real potential toward making the game more entertaining. You can go for big serves still, but not an unlimited amount. And if the game is dragged on in deuce, the advantage would shift to the fleet of foot. This could make things really enjoyable I think.

– higher rims and bigger penalty for fouling, maybe?
The combination of both of these could be interesting. Make it harder on players like Lebron to take it to the hoop, but also give a greater incentive to draw fouls—a free throw and the ball, perhaps. This would really be too much of a change though. I like basketball for the most part how it is.
(Except NBA really needs to get rid of the stupid “Timeout moves the ball to mid-court” that has hurt the last seconds of games since it was adopted in 1976. Last-second, full-court passes/drives are awesome! Look at plays #7-#3 here—and #1 if you’re a Duke fan. But yeah. None of these ever happen with NBA rules!)

Football – too many options to even consider
Football has a bunch of rules. Too complicated to try to change them!