Monday, September 29, 2008



I posted last week about the proposed Ecuadorian Constitutional language giving inalienable rights to nature. Yesterday -- September 28, 2008 -- the people of Ecuador passed the new constitution.


Andrew Revkin has a post today with some interesting links exploring the deeper issues at DotEarth.

One interesting angle is that:

"The language in these provisions was evidently written by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based group providing legal assistance to governments and community groups trying to mesh human affairs and the environment. It is derived from language already adopted by a scattering of communities in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia, according to the defense fund."

There seems to be an emerging trend in scientific and conservation circles to view the rights of people and nature as intimately connected. Please let it become the environmental consciousness for the 21st Century.

[UPDATE: Cyril Mychalejko provides a very good discussion of the deeper issues involved in Ecuador's new constitutional provisions for nature at]

Saturday, September 27, 2008


1st Debate
Photo: Doug Mills/The New York Times

According to CNN's "instapoll" it looked liked this:

Thinking about the following characteristics and qualities, please say whether you think each one better described Barack Obama or John McCain during tonight's debate:

• Was more intelligent: Obama 55%, McCain 30%

• Expressed his views more clearly: Obama 53%, McCain 36%

• Spent more time attacking his opponent: McCain 60%, Obama 23%

• Was more sincere and authentic: Obama 46%, McCain 38%

• Seemed to be the stronger leader: Obama 49%, McCain 43%

• Was more likeable: Obama 61%, McCain 26%

• Was more in touch with the needs and problems of people like you: Obama 62%, McCain 32%

Even the FOX News Focus Group says, "OBAMA WON THE DEBATE".

By the way, the New York Times created a great new interactive tool where you can watch the debate, read the transcript, and check the facts for the various debate points.

And, if you are a poll junkie like me, here's great website for in-depth analysis from some of the scholars at Princeton.

[Update: My cousin suggests that poll-and-statistics junkies might also want to visit Thanks Linda, it's excellent.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008


VP Candidate Sarah Palin (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

Palin says, "What The Bailout Does Is Help Those Who Are Concerned About Health Care Reform"

Actually it's worse. As reported by Ryan Power at THINK PROGRESS

This morning on the CBS Early Show, Katie Couric previewed the second half of her interview with Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK). During the interview, Couric asked Palin why she believes the Wall Street bailout is needed.

Palin responded incoherently by claiming that the bailout would “help those who are concerned about health care reform.” Palin then appeared to look down at her notes and says, “Oh, it’s got to be all about job creation”:

COURIC: Why isn’t it better, Governor Palin, to spend $700 billion helping middle-class families struggling with health care, housing, gas and groceries? … Instead of helping these big financial institutions that played a role in creating this mess?

PALIN: Ultimately, what the bailout does is help those who are concerned about the health care reform that is needed to help shore up the economy– Oh, it’s got to be about job creation too. So health care reform and reducing taxes and reining in spending has got to accompany tax reductions.

In the blog comment section, McWars asks:

"Just who in the name of atheism is this person?"

Check out the whole business here.


Obama_Ashland_3rd Street
Photo by John Seligman

Breaking News from Third Street,
Ashland Oregon, USA

Every person in every house on this block is voting for OBAMA

John says that this is "100% for real".

He has a pretty neat photoblog that you can visit here.


Coat of Arms of Ecuador

Can you imagine Land-Air-Water (LAW) with human-supported rights?

A New Law of Nature: “The South American republic of Ecuador will next week consider what many countries in the world would say is unthinkable. People will be asked to vote on Sunday on a new constitution that would give Ecuador’s tropical forests, islands, rivers and air similar legal rights to those normally granted to humans. If they vote yes — and polls show that 56% are for and only 23% are against — then an already approved bill of rights for nature will be introduced, and new laws will change the legal status of nature from being simply property to being a right-bearing entity.” Clare Kendall reports for the UK Guardian September 24 2008.

Viva Ecuador! Most of us would assume that nature has a natural right to exist. Now in Ecuador, this right could finally be codified in human law. The articles listed below, were passed on July 7 of this year by the 130 member Ecuador Constitutional Assembly elected nationwide to review the constitution. They will be voted on by public referendum next week.

Proposed Ecuador Constitution to say:
Nature Has Rights

Art. 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution. Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Art. 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration.
This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.
In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation on non-renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Art. 3. The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Art. 4. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Art. 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow well-being.

The environmental services cannot be appropriated; its production, provision, use and exploitation, will be regulated by the State.

‘Public organisms’ in Article 1 means the courts and government agencies, i.e., the people of Ecuador would be able to take action to enforce nature rights if the government did not do so.’

One can hope that Ecuador is leading the way toward a new people-and-nature approach for our planet. This could be the kernel or meme for the true 21st Century planetary paradigm shift in awareness and practice leading toward survival and sustainability for all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times


Upheaval on Wall St. Stirs Anger in the U.N.

NY Times
Published: September 23, 2008

Go to Original

UNITED NATIONS — Wall Street and the Bush administration’s record of financial oversight came under attack at the United Nations on Tuesday, with one world leader after another saying that market turmoil in the United States threatened the global economy.

“We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all,” said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil in an opening speech that reflected the tone of the gathering.

The annual opening of the General Assembly habitually casts a shadow over New York every September, snarling traffic and tempers. But this year it is New York, or at least Wall Street, projecting its shadow back across the United Nations. Virtually every president or monarch from around the globe made some reference to the financial upheaval, and the looming cloud was also the buzz of the back corridors.

With a pillar of American power — its financial leadership — so badly shaken, there was a certain satisfaction among some of the attendees that the Bush administration, which had long lectured other nations about the benefits of unfettered markets, was now rejecting its own medicine by proposing a major bailout of financial firms.

But there was also serious concern that the United States had not policed its markets carefully enough to prevent the damage to its economy and others, making it much harder to raise money for the world’s most vulnerable people.

“The global financial crisis endangers all our work,” said the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who used his opening remarks at the General Assembly to question the reliance on free markets. “We need a new understanding on business ethics and governance, with more compassion and less uncritical faith in the ‘magic’ of markets.” Read full article

U.S. debt growing larger and faster...


National Debt Increases under Democrat (Blue) and Republican (Red) Presidents...


Nothing more to say!

Sunday, September 21, 2008



Yup, today is the first day of Spring in the southern hemisphere. Overnight and today here in Brasilia we've been blessed with the first serious rains of the season. The Queen seems to be bursting forth and multiplying in endless variety everywhere.

It's inspiring. Or is it "inspringing"?

Here are a few bursts from the computer, "just for fun."





Friday, September 19, 2008



A few years ago my Brasilia friends Cesar, Paula and Roberta visited one my favorite giant Coastal Redwoods in Jedediah Smith State Park located in California just south of my Oregon home.

And here's my tree-hugging friend Katherine Roncalio from Takilma.

Katherine with Redwood

In today's New York Times there's a travelogue about taking a vacation tour through this Land of the Giants.

Fortunately, a lot of the California area has been protected. Now, there's a special opportunity to achieve more protection in Oregon. Here's the action alert from our grassroots environmental group...

Siskiyou Project Masthead

The US Senate is about to vote on a major package of public lands bills. This package contains over 90 bills, including several that will protect critical areas in Oregon. Please call Oregon's Senator's Smith and Wyden.

Oregonians have worked hard for years to protect places like Mount Hood, Copper Salmon and Soda Mountain. Protecting these areas are a top priority. The proposal includes:

* Copper-Salmon Wilderness - protects an intact watershed in the Siskiyou Wild rivers area that is home to healthy runs of wild winter steelhead, fall Chinook, coho salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout.

* Soda Mountain Wilderness - protects one of the most important wildlife corridors in Oregon, linking the Cascades and the Klamath Mountains.

* Lewis and Clark Mount Hood Wilderness Act - protects wildlife habitat, carbon sequestering forests and clean drinking water in the Gorge and on the slopes of Mount Hood.

* Spring Basin and Badlands Wilderness - protects wildlife habitat, high desert wildflowers and ancient juniper trees near Bend and along the John Day River.


Call Senator's Smith (503-326-3386) and Wyden (503-326-7525) and let them know you strongly support the public lands package (bill # 3213) and urge them to ensure Oregon's natural areas are protected this year. Encourage Senator Smith to make sure his Republican colleagues don't try to stop this important bill from passing.

For more information contact the Siskiyou Project at:

213 SE H. St.
Grants Pass, OR 97526
Office: 541-476-6648

or visit The Siskiyou Project website.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


In the video the dolphins are playing with silver-colored rings which they make under water. It isn't known how they learn this, or if it's an inbred ability.

As if by magic, a dolphin does a quick flip of its head, and a silver ring appears in front of its pointed beak. The ring is a solid, donut-shaped bubble about 2-feet across, yet it doesn't rise to the surface of the water! It stands upright in the water like a magic doorway to an unseen dimension. The dolphin then pulls a small silver donut from the larger one. Looking at the twisting ring for one last time, a bite is taken from it, causing the small ring to collapse into a thousands of tiny bubbles, which head upward towards the water's surface. After a few moments, the dolphin creates another ring to play with.

An explanation of how dolphins make these silver rings is they are "air-core vortex rings". Invisible, spinning vortices in the water are generated from the tip of a dolphin's dorsal fin when it is moving rapidly and turning. When dolphins break the line, the ends are drawn together into a closed ring. The higher-velocity fluid around the core of the vortex is at a lower pressure than the fluid circulating farther away. Air is injected into the rings via bubbles released from the dolphin's blowhole. The energy of the water vortex is enough to keep the bubbles from rising for a reasonably few seconds of play time.

They say that Dolphins are pretty wise. It does seems as though they know how to make a fun life.

Off-Message or Right-On?

No Right Way?
"Is there no way to the right?"

New York Times Politics Blog
September 16, 2008, 3:22 pm

Fiorina Sets off Flap, Saying Palin Not Ready for Big Business
By Leslie Wayne
Go to Orginal

Updated | Having once been dubbed the “most powerful woman in business,” Carly Fiorina, a top economic adviser to Senator John McCain and the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, knows a little something about executive talent.

After all, until she was ousted from the executive suite at Hewlett-Packard, Ms. Fiorina was a Silicon Valley legend, breaking glass ceilings wherever she went. But today, Ms. Fiorina veered off-message when she was asked to cast an eye over Sarah Palin and how she might fare in the corporate world.

On the McGraw Milhaven Show on KTRS radio in St. Louis, Ms. Fiorina was praised by Mr. Milhaven for having worked her way up from being a secretary to running the computer giant. He went on to say that in tapping Ms. Palin, Mr. McCain “thinks she has the experience to be president.” But, the line of questioning went on, what about running a company: “Do you think she has the experience to run a major company like Hewlett-Packard,” Ms. Fiorina was asked.

“No, I don’t,” Ms. Fiorina said.

But, added Ms. Fiorina, “that’s not what she is running for.” Returning to the McCain campaign message, Ms. Fiorina went on to say she finds it “quite stunning actually” that the Obama campaign is questioning Ms. Palin’s executive experience.

Later in the day, Ms. Fiorina defended her comment on MSNBC by adding others to the list of people who could not run Hewlett-Packard either: Mr. Obama, Joe Biden and, also, John McCain.

This gave the Obama campaign an opening to fire back. Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, said “If John McCain’s top economic adviser doesn’t think he can run a corporation, how on Earth can he run the largest economy in the world in the midst of a financial crisis?”

Late Tuesday, CNN confirmed that Ms. Fiorina had been scheduled to appear Wednesday on their program “American Morning,” but that she had canceled.

Aw shucks, Ms. Fiorina, I hope you will appear on many more shows. Please keep enlightening us.

PS: There's an interesting piece of history showing that if you want to heal an ailing US economy with policies that lead to both more economic growth and more income equality a turn to the left is what doctor ordered.
Here's Alan Binder's article about it.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Psssst... do something.

I'm posting this devastating video as a public service. It comes with a recommendation of sending out to your lists. Good idea because the Electoral College outcome which is tied to the state-by-state races (not the national polls) is showing a very close race now -- a virtual tie or a McCain Electoral College lead.

If you'd like to follow the day-by-day polls with the deep analyses by a very smart group of folks (they have the best record of prediction), check out the web site of the Princeton Election Consortium.

One of the problems in assessing the polls is that they draw those surveyed from the lists of home telephones. This leaves out the cell phone crowd of mostly younger people. The impression has been that this tele-and-cyber-communicating crowd is more favorable to Obama. But there are plenty of conservative youth who were lukewarm about grandpa McCain and are now all gung-ho for Sarah. The joining of McCain and Palin at the hip can be seen as the counter to the Democratic strategy of making the link between McCain and Bush.

Perhaps the deconstruction happening on Wall Street will change all this
"power of positive un-thinking". The issues favor the Democrats but the Republicans have an uncanny ability to trump the facts with infotaining distractions and the politics of fear.

Psssst... do something.

UPDATE: Here's the latest Obama ad...

If the download is slow, here's the link.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Tired of listening to all the Palin crap?
Want a positive political vision?
Check it out.

After the fun, and on a much more serious note, watch these two one-minute long videos that tell the deeper story of what is underlying our politics.

First, the latest greatest ad from Chevron:

And here's the political remix:

Of course, mixing stereotypes is what the advertising people do all of the time but now there's a growing counter video literacy movement erupting on the Internet. Read more about it here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


visionary flight
"Flight of Imagination" by Lou Gold

Another one in the series of making images "just for the fun." I guess that what's behind this one is the dream that -- with a clear shining vision -- we might connect the earth and sky, do something about climate change and the need for more food and, of course, be surrounded by beautiful trees. I hope it's not too "far out."

Watching the election from far away makes you wonder,

what's going on
"What's going on?"

Pigs and Lipstick

Sex Education for Tiny Tots

This whole advertising and media-driven campaigning that dominates modern election politics in the US is weird. The Bush-McCain folks are doing everything that they can to divert attention from the real issues and the working press is now hot on their tails with endless fact-checking (thank God).

Sometimes someone really seems to cut through the crap to see there's something a lot deeper than this stupid play of partisan politics.

In the Seventh Year

New York Times
Published: September 10, 2008

Go to Original

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought.

For the wreckage begat greed; and it came to pass that while America’s young men and women fought, other Americans enriched themselves. Beguiling the innocent, they did backdate options, and they did package toxic mortgage securities and they did reprice risk on the basis that it no more existed than famine in a fertile land.

Thereby did the masters of the universe prosper, with gold, with silver shekels, with land rich in cattle and fowl, with illegal manservants and maids, with jewels and silk, and with Gulfstream V business jets; yet the whole land did not prosper with them. And it came to pass, when the housing bubble burst, that Main Street had to pay for the Wall Street party.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did neglect husbandry.

And he took his nation into desert wars and mountain wars, but, lo, he thought not to impose taxation, not one heifer nor sheep nor ox did Bush demand of the rich. And it came to pass that the nation fell into debt as boundless as the wickedness of Sodom. For everyone, Lehman not least, was maxed out.

So heavy was the burden of war, and of bailing out Fannie and Freddie, and of financing debt with China, that not one silver shekel remained to build bridges, nor airports, nor high-speed trains, nor even to take care of wounded vets; and the warriors returning unto their homes from distant combat thought a blight had fallen on the land.

So it was in the seventh year after the fall of the towers. And still Bush did raise his hands to the Lord and proclaim: “I will be proved right in the end!”

And around the whole earth, which had stood with America, there arose a great trouble, for it seemed to peoples abroad that a great nation, rich in flocks and herds and land and water, had been cast among thorns and Philistines; its promise betrayed, its light dimmed, its armies stretched, its budget broken, its principles compromised, its dollar diminished.

And it came to pass that this profligate nation, drinking oil with insatiable thirst, could not cure itself of this addiction, and so its wealth was transferred to other nations that did not always wish it well.

Wherefore the balance of power in the world was altered in grievous ways, and new centers of authority arose, and they were no more persuaded by democracy than was the Pharaoh.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation, and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did neglect the costs of wanton consumption. And he believed that if the Lord created fossil fuel, fossil fuel must flow without end, as surely as the grape will yield wine.

Therefore, in the seventh year after the fall, with 1,126 of the slain still unidentified, their very beings rendered unto dust, their souls inhabiting the air of New York, it seemed that one nation had become two; and loss, far from unifying the people, had sundered the nation.

For the rich, granted tax breaks more generous than any blessing, grew richer, and incomes in the middle ceased to rise, and workers saw jobs leaving the land for that region called Asia. And some fought wars while others shopped; and some got foreclosed while others got clothes. And still Bush spake but few listened.

Behold, so it was in the seventh year, and it seemed that America was doubly smitten, from without and within.

And, lo, a strange thing did come to pass. For as surely as the seasons do alternate, so the ruler and party that have brought woe to a nation must give way to others who can lead their people to plenty. How can the weary, flogged ass bear honey and balm and almonds and myrrh?

Yet many Americans believed the exhausted beast could still provide bounty. They did hold that a people called the French was to blame. They did accuse a creation called the United Nations. They did curse the ungodly sophisticates of Gotham and Hollywood and sinful Chicago; and, lo, they proclaimed God was on their side, and carried a gun, and Darwin was bunk, and truth resided in Alaska.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought — but not how the damage would be undone.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Matt Taibbi at the RollingStone asks:

What's confusing about Obama is that he's so successful at projecting an air of genuineness and honesty, even as he navigates the veritable Mount Everest of fakery and onerous bullshit that is our modern electoral system. And the reason it's confusing is that we've grown so used to presidential candidates who fall short of the images they present in public, we don't even know anymore what a man worth the office would look like. Is this him?

Obama on the Trail

He's delivering the same message Democrats always rely on. So why does it sound like a clarion call this time around?

by Matt Taibbi

Go to Original

On the campaign trail with Barack Obama, four days before the Democratic convention. Another teeming high school gym in another halfway-to-somewhere town, decorated with still more banners proclaiming the heroic exploits of the Local Sports Team, in this case the football studs of Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Virginia.

In the audience are the same characters you see everywhere on the campaign trail: the bare-armed cheerleaders congregating near the bleachers, the sullen-faced union workers dutifully decked out in matching T-shirts, the heavyset Soccer Moms cheering from the back rows with that weird overhand applause style they all seem to use, their fingers curled back so as not to ruin freshly painted nails. There are the same Secret Service agents waiting to herd the press into the same windowless concrete filing room, and the same exhausted, khaki-clad campaign staffers with the rapidly thickening backsides ready to queue up behind the journalists to fill their buffet plates with the same Regionally Appropriate Cuisine (pork ribs and hush puppies in the South; steak, corn and potatoes in the Midwest) made up with pride by the local caterers.

And to top it all off, there's even the same speech.

Four years ago, I listened first to Howard Dean and then to John Kerry as they went through the motions of promising to support the middle class, to create jobs through investment in renewable energy, to punish companies that exploited tax loopholes by moving overseas and to find the real terrorists in Afghanistan. They trod the same ground as Gore and even Clinton, coughing out the same paeans to the same lost paradise of the middle-class lifestyle, to those same vanishing days of our history when hardworking, patriotic Americans could live with comfort and economic security on one decent manufacturing job. At stake, they insisted, was nothing less than the American Dream itself. For Dean, it was "time for a change in America." Kerry sometimes ended his speeches by presenting his campaign as a choice of "change versus more of the same" -- a phrase he actually borrowed from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign.

Here in Chesapeake, Barack Obama offers up the same milky hodgepodge of middle-class tax cuts, investment in alternative fuels and consequences for job exporters and terrorists. And rhetorically, he uses the same old magic trick for his main theme, talking about how all Americans want is to leave a better world for their children.

"That's the essence of the American Dream," he tells the crowd, echoing his predecessors. He goes on to tell the already-famous story of John McCain's seven houses, then explains that someone who has seven houses can't possibly understand what the middle class is going through. "You need a president who's going to be fighting for you," Obama says, to thunderous applause. He concludes by declaring, "We are going to fundamentally bring about change in America" -- a message punctuated by the huge banner hanging behind him, emblazoned with his infuriatingly omnipresent campaign slogan: "Change We Can Believe In." Obama has even taken to borrowing some of his theme music from other candidates: I was mortified when his rallies began to feature the worst of the Hillary standbys, the excruciating "I Won't Back Down" by Tom Petty. The painful predictability of it all was summed up by a front-page headline in The New York Times after the first day of the Democratic convention: "Appeals Evoking American Dream Rally Democrats."

All of this saccharine talk of "change" is so transparently a mechanical come-on that if it were anybody but Barack Obama uttering the word, you'd want to throw up at the very sound of it. And yet, as I watch Obama deliver the same hackneyed act I've seen hundreds of times before, I feel against my will that I am actually watching something different at work. After Kerry and Dean speeches, I often heard people say things like, "At least he's not as dumb as Bush." But after Obama speeches, I see audience members stumbling around in all directions with orgiastic smiles on their faces, as though they've been splashed with gallons of magic pixie paint. In Raleigh, North Carolina, where Obama knocked dead a massive town-hall crowd at a local fairgrounds with a speech that said almost nothing at all, I ask a woman named Melanie Threatt why she thinks her life would improve under an Obama presidency. "It just will," she says. When I press her for specifics, she says, "I just think doors are going to open." You hear stuff like this a lot on Planet Obama, and it makes you wonder just what it is you're encountering. Obama's followers implicitly believe in the things he says, and the fervor of their belief is more religious than intellectual, closer to faith than to reason. Watching him at work, you realize that Obama's remarkable success has almost nothing to do with the same-old product being marketed by the same-old political machine, and almost everything to do with the specific qualities of the individual who is selling it. The same stuff that sounded like hollow, invidious horseshit coming from Kerry and Gore sounds, as dispensed by Obama, like nothing less than a clarion call to collective action. And every time you feel his pitch working, you wonder: Is this some chat-room robot I'm falling in love with? Or is this an actual human being on the line, offering me an opportunity at last to fulfill my deepest desires?

Such, it seems, are the pitfalls of both love and politics in the Internet Age. Too many embarrassing false steps make it hard to take that leap one more time.

One thing that makes the cult of Obama difficult to dissect is the method of its dissemination. The technology of campaign propaganda has advanced to such a degree that the concept of campaign-trail "journalism" is now indistinguishable from corporate PR. The wall that once separated campaign staff from the press corps has broken down completely; those paid by the candidate and those covering him might as well be two different shifts on the same factory ship, working together to bring the world frozen fish patties by the ton. On the shimmering 757 that Obama uses to jet around the country, reporters have plastered the press section in the rear of the plane with cheery, offbeat photographs of themselves captured with campaign staffers in various goofy scenes (clowning with boom poles, quaffing beers, drooling while asleep on buses). The collage seems lifted straight from a high school yearbook; the press might as well have titled it "Our Cool Campaign."

Maybe it's natural that a certain camaraderie would develop between staffers and the press, given that the two groups are prisoners in the same campaign jail for months at a time. The constant Secret Service security protocol leaves everyone On the Bus roped off from all external human contact from morning till night; at the events in between, the press is often kept in windowless rooms behind closed doors or curtains, where reporters sit and listen to the candidate's speeches fed in via loudspeaker. This hilarious setup makes it possible for so-called "political journalists" to cover a candidate without (a) seeing him, (b) seeing his audiences and (c) receiving any information at all that is not fed to them directly by the campaign. On one recent swing through the South, I actually witness a reporter sitting in a concrete filing room during a town-hall session, checking his BlackBerry for an e-mail from the campaign staff to find out what town he is in.

Hemmed in by such restrictions, America's top political journalists have nothing better to do than flog their expensive college educations by playing games like Guess the Identity of Obama's Running Mate. At a VFW convention in Orlando, when Obama mentions "my friend, Senator Joe Biden," reporters -- we were all walled off in a basement room hundreds of yards from the actual speech, watching the candidate on a little TV -- actually break out in hysterical cries of "That's it! It's Biden! It's Biden!"

The rest of the time, reporters think about food. When's lunch? Will there be snacks in the filing room? Is there booze on the bus this time or no booze? When we roll into Richmond, Virginia, one night, I hear an older female reporter complain to another, "They didn't even have white wine on our bus!" Reporters on the campaign trail are like the migrant laborers I met on assignment years ago in an Orthodox monastery in central Russia. With every minute of every workday exactly the same, the laborers devoted themselves to guessing what would be served at lunch, the one slot in their schedule that was different every day. Would it be borscht or cabbage soup? Mayonnaise with their bread or no mayonnaise? I heard conversations an hour long on that theme.

This is what the journalists have been reduced to: the level of indentured field hands at a Russian monastery. With such a castrated press corps in tow, Obama doesn't have to work very hard to "sell" his message. The whole process has been streamlined, politically and culturally, to smooth the spread of the party's propaganda: The speech is already written, the press is already on board, and everybody's already working together to crank out those fish patties.

So here's the interesting part: It's surprising that there is an interesting part. Someone like me -- someone who has actually sailed on this factory ship long enough to get sick at the first whiff of fish -- is instantly dismissive of anyone who dirties himself by entering this world. If the second coming of Jesus Christ stepped on the bus to run on the Democratic ticket, I'd be wondering who paid for his robe and why his message cribbed so much from the New Testament. But even I find myself being seduced by Obama, despite everything I know about the party he represents, its record and where it gets its money. There's just something about the guy; he has that effect.

Obama manages to appeal somehow to that part of us that is tired of there always being another side of the story when it comes to our presidents. We don't want to live in a world where there's always a set of lurid secret tapes that will come out someday, or a mistress with a cigar in her twat hidden off-camera somewhere, or a backroom deal to juice a prewar intelligence report for a bunch of oil-fat-cat golf buddies.

We've become trained to look for the man behind the mask, for in real life there is no one whose emotional life is confined to a lifelong, passionate love for his high school sweetheart wife and their two children, an undying appreciation for the sacrifice of soldiers, awe before the flag and concern for the future of the middle class. Oh, and a burning passion for reducing dependence on foreign oil 30 percent by 2018 and for full federal funding for special education. Because that's the standard we set for our presidential candidates; anyone who reveals himself to have other things going on inside, to be more human than that, never makes it this far.

But I'm not sure there is a mask when it comes to Barack Obama. It sounds crazy, but he might actually be this guy, this couldn't-possibly-exist guy, inside and out. I heard Joe Lieberman talk about his middle-class dad, I heard Hillary plaster every corner of Pennsylvania with talk about her grandfather's sojourn in the lace factory, I heard John Edwards tell everyone who would listen, and even some who wouldn't, about what being the son of a millworker meant to him, and in every case I could feel the cold hand of political calculation crawling up my shirt as they spoke.

Then I hear Obama tell audiences about his grandmother and her time working on a bomber assembly line during World War II. Intellectually I know it's the same thing -- but when you actually watch him in person, you get this crazy sense that these schlock ready-for-paperback patriotic tales really are a big part of his emotional makeup. You listen to him talking about his grandfather waving a little American flag on the Hawaiian beach as he watched the astronauts come in to shore, and you can almost see that these moments actually have some kind of poetic meaning for him, and that he views his own already-historic run as a continuation of that pat-but-inspirational childhood story -- putting a man on the moon then, putting a black man in the White House now.

Obviously, Obama has some off-script moments of anger, and ill humor, and ego; his personality sometimes comes out looking well short of iconic. During his appearance in Chesapeake, a teacher gets up to complain about her long working hours since the passage of No Child Left Behind and starts to say something about how no one should have to work 13 hours a day, and --

"Not unless you're running for president!" Obama quips rosily, thinking the audience is with him. Instead, many in the crowd grow silent, drinking in the rock-star candidate's curious decision to compare his admittedly tiring-but-still-thrilling quest for ultimate earthly power with some dreary educator's slavish pursuit of a paycheck.

Obama also makes dumb jokes, and flirts with his audience ("Y'all are silly!" he told a group of girls who overdid the shrieking-Beatles-fan act when he took off his suit jacket), and overdoes it on the gooey poeticizing (his gushing over the beauty of America "from sea to shining sea" is particularly atrocious). But all in all, you never get a sense that there's a more interesting side of Obama lurking underneath somewhere. Oddly enough, the guy only really lights up when he starts delivering those same ham-handed lines about the American Dream that fell out of the mouths of Dean and Kerry like dead bullfrogs.

And maybe that's the difference. When those other guys took this act on the campaign trail, it was obvious they were just reading lines in a bad script. But maybe it sounds different coming from Obama because he actually means what he says, as weird as that would be. The American Dream, after all, is dying. We do need something new. That much is painfully obvious.

What's confusing about Obama is that he's so successful at projecting an air of genuineness and honesty, even as he navigates the veritable Mount Everest of fakery and onerous bullshit that is our modern electoral system. And the reason it's confusing is that we've grown so used to presidential candidates who fall short of the images they present in public, we don't even know anymore what a man worth the office would look like. Is this him? Or is this just a guy with a gift for concealing the ugliness of the system he represents? As I watch Obama on the campaign trail, I know I'm listening to the Same Old Shit, delivered by a candidate who could cross the Atlantic on a bridge constructed entirely from Wall Street cash culled for him by party hacks and insiders. But I suddenly don't care. It's not just that the alternative is four years of the madman John McCain. It's that, if Obama wins, it will be interesting to find out, at long last, if there really can be something truly different about someone who sounds so much the same.

[From RollingStone Issue 1061 — September 18, 2008]


Collage by Lou Gold

Andrew Rifkin, in his DotEarth blog at the NY Times, reports on a new online book from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature called "Transition to Sustainability: Towards a Humane and Diverse World". It's a really well done review of the state of our planet and the challenges that lie ahead for the many beings that inhabit this vast earthly network that we call Nature. It's a short book that's well worth reading.

As is usual at DotEarth there's also some interesting discussion in the comments section. I was deeply moved by the prayer offered by Alex Washburne:

Dear God,

It’s me again. I know I’m just one of the billions of people you have to listen to every day and night, so I’ll make it quick - I’m worried about your creation, and I’m praying tonight for help.

You have given us so much. Whether it came in seven days or with a big bang (I wasn’t there to see it, and I assume others who insist on a story weren’t there either), your munificence has led to a planet whose inhabitants were blessed by a previously unfathomable wealth of resources – seemingly infinite pastures - available even to the ungrateful as a testament to your compassion. We’re grateful for all that we have, whether we voice it or not, and you can see that evidence in the way that so many of us try to live as many days in this beautiful place as we possibly can.

However, the reason why I’m praying tonight is that I feel like we’re losing touch with you and/or your creation, and that it’s resulting in a sinful misuse of our pastures. I feel like we’ve been selfishly taking advantage of your munificence, and I feel like we’ve harmed your creation in the process. Though we know very little, our best and brightest are finding evidence that our use of your nonrenewable resources – your limited gifts - has given this planet a fever that we don’t know how to cure. We’ve wasted your cherished, nonrenewable gifts – gifts that were not just for us to use, but for us to pass on to future generations as well – and we’ve created a fire we can’t extinguish in the process.

Nobody knows what will happen in the face of the fire. Will it extinguish itself before it consumes us all? Will it blaze through our poorest villages, suburbs and cities before dying down at the rich man’s doorstep, or will it consume us all? We all hope for the best in all of this, regardless of our beliefs. Nobody wants to spoil the Earth, yet not everybody lends their ears and open minds to our best and brightest when they say, with 95% confidence, that our actions have hurt the Earth. Our best and brightest may be wrong – if they’re wrong and we fail to act, no harm will be done, but if they’re right and we scoff them off the stage, what will happen to us then? Nobody wants wells to run dry, villages to starve, storm clouds to gather or levees to break, but yet not everybody cares to clean up the mess we’ve made, much less recognize that we’ve made a mess, and ensure that our kids inherit a world that is a testament to your munificence.

But I care, and I know there are many people out there like me who also care. I want to clean up this mess. I want my kids to see a beautiful Earth as I have seen it – even if it wasn’t as beautiful as my ancestors saw it. I recognize what our best and brightest are saying, and I want to cure the fever we’ve caused. My parents named me Alexander – defender of mankind – because they knew that my generation would be faced with problems of global importance and they wanted to contribute to the solution by bringing up a boy who feels a sense of responsibility for his and his brothers’ actions. I want to live up to my name and my expectations and protect your oversized flock against the wounds it has dealt to its undersized pasture. I really want to do everything I can to help us live in harmony, but… I feel virtually powerless as just one drop in a sea of over 6 billion people. I’m just a man named Alexander.

I guess this is where you come in. I’m not praying for you to snap your fingers and fix this – we both know you’ve got a whole universe to attend to and there’s no way you’ll have the time for us. I’m not even praying for you to clean up our mess – I feel awful whenever other people have to make up for my faults and correct my mistakes, as I fail to learn the error of my ways whenever I don’t have to fix the windows I’ve broken. I’m definitely not praying for you to send one of your kids down to show us how to love each other, our neighbors and your creation so that we experience a collective enlightenment and, seeing the error of our ways, come together to solve the problems we face – we both know that, despite your best intentions, the last time you sent a son down, it lead to centuries of crusades and inquisitions and generations of John Hagees and Pat Robertsons, which haven’t exactly contributed to the general harmony. I’m not praying for you to give me superpowers so I could do it all myself, because that’s too much to ask, and because I would love the publicity too much to be a worthy recipient of such noble powers.

God, I don’t know what to ask. Considering your schedule, I don’t know how you could help. Besides, as I said earlier, this is something we have to solve ourselves. I guess… I pray that we can fix this. We’ll need help, and even though I don’t want to obtrude on your already busy schedule, I pray that you can help us. I pray that you can help us help ourselves, because… if we don’t help ourselves, then who will?


— Alex Washburne

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Morning Light
"Morning Light" by Lou Gold

As the morning sunshine floods into my room in Brasilia, I'm reminded of a similar light in a verdigris garden in São Paulo.

I guess I opened a door to something with yesterday's post. Making images really is a delight for me -- sort of treasure hunt through color and light and quite a relief from the realms of meaning and purpose. A simple plant, an old weathered wall and a little photoshop are all that's needed to enter the play of light and life.

Monday, September 08, 2008


The polling data is starting to reveal the consequences of last week's Republican Convention. The RealClearPolitics average for the tracking polls of September 5-7 now gives McCain a 3.2% lead.

Here are the specific polls:

CNN: Tie
USA Today/Gallup: McCain +10
Rasmussen Tracking: McCain +1
Hotline/FD Tracking: Tie
Gallup Tracking: McCain +5

I don't know about you but my email has been full of links to stories that sound like the high school gossip line -- you know, who's gonna be the prom queen, whose pregnant, with whom, etc -- the bottom line being that she-is-dumb-and-he-is-reckless. The scary stuff is really not about issue positions or qualifications but about how much like a high school election our media-driven politics have become.

It may turn out that the Republicans have grabbed the only possible winning strategy in a year when the issues work heavily against them. So far, it's clear that the soap-opera stuff has completely overwhelmed the issues.
It's surely a volatile situation but the most recent polls show that McCain-Palin strategy is anything but stupid.

The competition is now for the swing voters who tend to be the least informed and most impressionable group in the electorate. The democratic model gives us an ideal of a rational voter. But most intelligent, informed and rational citizens have already made up their minds. How could you be uncertain about where you stand unless you were politically uninformed or viewing the election as a reality show about choosing an American Idol?

The Republicans have this uncanny ability to sail forth in the billows of contradiction. They can attack celebrity status and inexperience and then use it to their advantage -- complete with an ideology that says only God could perform such a miracle.

It's possible to condemn the whole process as like selecting the King and Queen of the Prom but it's more important to remember that they get chosen by winning an election.


Emergence by Lou Gold
"Emergence #01" by Lou Gold

It's a crazy world, for sure. Order and Chaos. Life and Death. Angels and Demons, all dancing. It's stimulating and scary, exciting and overwhelming. For sanity, I like to create images -- photos, paintings, or stuff invented in the computer -- sometimes, just for the fun of it. And, of course, part of the fun is in the sharing. So, I'm going to occasionally make posts like this, "Just For Fun."