Calling To Service

In his speech on Tuesday night after winning the election President-elect Barack Obama spoke about the need for sacrifice and called us to serve our country.Vodpod videos no longer available.

On a side note, as much as I loved hearing that message I am afraid that we are relying on the office of the President to push us into vounteerism, when there are plenty of great organizations that make it easy to volunteer. Like many volunteer centers throughout the country, the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center (where I live) provides a website and other services to make volunteering for an organization that fits your areas of interest really easy. Even so, hearing these words from the top elected official in our nation made me feel very hopeful. And here is why.

In the days following the election I heard Tavis Smiley speak about the attention mandate. The amount of people paying attention to this election was huge, no matter what political party you belong to. Smiley’s point was that Obama’s mandate was to do something with that attention. Also during the last few days Bill Moyer’s spoke about his experience in the LBJ White House when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He talked about how our democracy has been fundamentally broken by lobbyists, interest groups, and I think most importantly a lack of trust in not only the process but the people as well.

The other day I blogged about how the attention that people were paying to this this election made me feel proud and patriotic. With the economic crisis we have an opportunity that was squandered after 9/11. After 9/11 we were asked to serve our country by going shopping.

So about now you are probably asking how do these random thoughts fit together – calling us to serve, the attention mandate, a broken democracy, the economic crisis. In calling us to service to our country Obama is I think providing an answer to how we can mend our democracy as well as fix our economic crisis. By taking all of the people who are still paying close attention to every step our new President-elect takes and calling them to volunteer, and get involved in government, Obama is asking for our help. I believe that a large part of why our democracy is broken, the lack of trust, has stemmed from people feeling like they have not been heard, from a disconnection between what we do in our everyday lives and what happens in Washington. By bringing us back into participating in civic life we can feel more a part of government, we can feel a greater sense of ownership in our community and our government.

By asking us to go shopping after 9/11 President Bush played to a much lower aspect of our society – mass consumption. As a consumer society we have turned to buying things in times of crisis. Mass consumption has created its own set of problems, destruction of the environment and the tendency to ignore social problems such as poverty and hunger. While the economic crisis has been really hard for a lot of people, and I certainly don’t want to minimize that, maybe in some ways it can be a good thing. In trying to fix the problem we can turn away from a consumer-driven society, band together to provide answers to societal problems, and build trust in our democracy.


Forgetting vs Remembering – How to Heal A Nation

I think my political hangover is about come to an end. I still can’t help talking nonstop about the election, but it is getting to be less and less. I have wept for joy and relief, laughed, gotten sad about the hatred, bigotry, racism, and homophobia that still exist, but mostly just marveled at the enormity of it. Now it is time for me to put some thoughts down about what all of this has meant to me.

I was born in the late ’60s. For me the world has been tinted by national events that for the most part have been negative – obviously there have been good times and great times, but I am talking about those singular moments when you say “I remember where I was when…” I remember where I was when I heard that we had invaded Iraq the first and second time, where I was when hostage were taken during the Olympics, and of course where I was when I heard about 9/11. The only exception I can think of is the Berlin Wall which was an amazing thing, but to me it was fairly remote and to put it mildly hasn’t effected my life like the other events. Ah yes, another one just came to mind – when Nelson Mandela was released from prison. But, this election is one of the few times where I can say “I remember where I was…” to something that is so powerful and positive that it almost eclipses all else. And more importantly to me my daughter will be able to say it to her grandchildren.

In listening to all the conversations on the radio on race and what this election has meant to black Americans it seems that older generations are still more skeptical about how far we have come in turning the corner. And it is here where I think that forgetting vs remembering enters into the dialog about how we as a nation react to certain events. I have to digress a bit. My boss has been educating me about how the French people are still bitter about losing to the Romans low these many thousands of years later. This has colored their national temperament and made them more pessimistic. I will leave it up to him to comment on the French (he is French after all and I am not). But it has been often pointed out that America is a nation of amnesiacs when it comes to history and those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. But maybe those who remember history are doomed to repeat it. Maybe it is the very quality of our being able to forget history that has enabled us to move on.

Sure forgetting has brought about a range of problems with it; you could argue that a number of problems have been brought about by forgetting: from failing to honor promises to Native Americans to not using the lessons from the civil rights struggle in the ’60s to fight the civil rights issue of our time – same sex marriage. And maybe what I am talking about is forgiving rather than forgetting, but it seems like there is an element of both in each. Forgetting has, to a certain extent, allowed us to heal instead of dwell on the pain. It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has a greater understanding of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to see what role remembering and forgetting had to play in the healing of South Africa.

Whatever the case, we need to have a little bit of each – remembering and forgetting – in order to not repeat mistakes but not get stuck in a negative feedback loop either. And the understanding of that duality is what has really impressed me about Obama. Our president elect seems to really get the nuances of not just race, but a wide range of other issues such as personal responsibility vs. helping each other.

Hopefully tomorrow I can write some more about asking us to serve.

Are you tired of the election?

I have been seeing this question more and more in the media – are you tired of the election. In one sense yes, in that I am just exhausted from the worrying and the speculation. But in another sense, no. No I am not and I am not afraid to admit it

I do hate to admit exactly how truly geeky I am – but yeah I am going to miss this election. More to the point I am going to miss the fact that people are actually talking about politics – and not just because I now get to have conversations about stuff I care about instead of talking about football;) but i think it is good for us. Yeah there are a lot of riled up people out there saying things that are insensitive. But on the flip side, there is passion. A while back I talked about patriotism and how I have come to define it and what it means to me. And I just realized that this passion to me is the true definition of patriotism. The passion that you have to say what you feel and not be afraid to be called a jackass, because it is important to you.

And yes, the conversations haven’t all been healthy. I think we get lazy and talk, for instance, about big government vs. small government. I am sorry that is just lazy talk. We need a rational starting point. We must all accept that government has a valid role to play in our lives. And I for one and really really happy they exist. Would you want to test all your meat to make sure it was safe for consumption? Well thank the USDA. Would you want to pave your own roads? Thank your local government. There are many roles that government plays that we can agree on are good for society. The more interesting argument from my perspective is – lets talk about the areas we agree where government should be involved, and lets define where they should not be involved.

For me, the government should be involved in helping those of us who really need a hand, who have trouble feeding their family day to day. Government should be involved in keeping us safe, but that means more to me than army and police, it means regulations that protect me from stuff it would be hard for me to protect myself about – lead in paint, chemicals that can really do some harm. I am not a scientist. I can’t spend time doing the research to know which chemicals are going to kill me. The government should be involved in things that affect all of us – the environment

Government should not be involved in my body. Don’t tell me who I can love. Either make marriage legal for all or keep the government out of every aspect of my relationship. I heard fifth hand a quote from an un-named Republican saying “people who can’t get pregnant have no right” voting on anything remotely connected with being pregnant.

So – my little voting plug – Please Vote No on Prop 4 and No on Prop 8.

There are plenty of other areas where the government should be excluded, but that is a longer discussion than I have the energy for tonight. And even more gray areas – how do you balance the need for regulation and protection against the creative flexibility needed by business in order to innovate and stimulate the economy. But like I said – bring on those conversations and stop calling people names like socialist that are meant to scare people.

Kitchen Tour – Benefit for Literacy Program

At yesterday’s board meeting for the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz Barbara Davis, the Executive Director for the Literacy Program, came by and gave us an update on the Kitchen Tour. The Kitchen Tour is a benefit for the Literacy Program which is really an undersung program of the Volunteer Center.

Kitchen Tour
Sunday, August 24th, 2008

The project has tutored unbelievable numbers of English learners and has an engaging curriculum that includes things like following recipes to cook meals in class and on the job teaching. What really impressed me about the program is that in a study comparing test scores around the state this program has equaled or surpassed the English as a Second Language programs in most of the community colleges throughout California. And this from volunteers! The California Department of Education feels the same way about the program. In June 2008 the Dept. of Ed. honored the Literacy Program with a Promising Practices award.

The Kitchen Tour is a great way to support the Literacy Program and see some amazing kitchens. The 9 kitchens on the tour can give you some new ideas for your own kitchen. Not only that but raffle tickets are available at each of the tour sites. You can win a trip to Kauai or the Yucatan Peninsula.

Pick up your tour booklet for $15 at any of the following locations:

You can contact the Literacy Program for more details at 831-427-5077 or by email at

Update: Just saw that MetroActive posted an article about the Kitchen Tour

The following article is at the bottom of the page.

Ogling for Dollars

Everyone does it–you go to someone’s house, you check out their décor. An innovative fundraiser capitalizes on the human urge to snoop.

Why Intellectual Property Doesn’t Make Sense

When I was in college I wrote a paper about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (or was it Trade and Tariffs, I could never get that straight) which became the World Trade Organization. The general thesis of the paper was that Intellectual Property (IP) rights have gone overboard in favor of corporations. You have companies trademarking or putting patents on things like seeds and farming techniques that have been in practice for hundreds if not thousands of years.

I am not saying that all IP rights are bad. But I am really struggling about where to draw the line. On some level I question why it is that someone gets to say “I can make this and nobody else can.” The argument for IP protection is that people put all this time into something and they should be getting compensated for it. On the other hand shouldn’t the value, and therefore the compensation, derive from a combination of continued innovation plus the benefit of being the first to market and the halo of thought leader?

The thought process stemmed from reading a bottle of liquid soap and seeing that there was something called honey calendula that was trademarked. Now I have no idea what calendula is, but I have to believe it was some clever way putting together already existing molecules with honey to make something that apparently I shouldn’t be cleaning my hands without. So some company now gets to have a lock on this creation for a very long time. A creation that stems from something that everyone has access to or “owns.”

My wife was a brilliant childcare professional for a very long time. I started thinking – what if she had IP protection? Her creation is a child that has amazing communication skills and is incredibly creative. (Obviously other people, like parents, are involved in the process, but lets leave that out of my absurdist logic). What if she were able to trademark that child. Think of the money she could make off of her/his work throughout their lifetime. Obviously this could never happen, but what is it that gives some industries the right to patent things and others not. And why can some things get patented by people who don’t even own the building blocks for those things to begin with?

My knowledge of IP is not the best, but if memory servers the protection is on the process not the ingredient. But then could my wife have protected the process by which she does childcare? I know it is a lot more complicated than I can really tease out in this little blog entry. But, I guess the bigger question is where does it end – where do you say “ok, the world has enough patents?”

I know there are lots of really talented people who deserve lots of money for the tremendous work they do. And companies invest significant research and development into the things they patent. But it really seems like there has to be a better way. Will people really stop inventing things if there are no more patents?

Santa Cruz Volunteer Center – Human Race

Every year the Santa Cruz Volunteer Center puts on the Human Race – a non-profit run/walk (ok, let’s be honest more like a leisurely stroll for us) to benefit hundreds of agencies throughout the Santa Cruz county.

My family and I have been doing it since 2003, but it has been going on for 28years. Other Vounteer Centers throughout the nation also put these on and if I am not mistaken ours is the oldest Human Race in the country. My daughter wants to make sure that I mention the food at the end of the race – there are hot dogs and veggie burgers and salad and cookies.

Kristin at the Volunteer Center recently posted a photo retrospective of the 28 years. I helped design the posters in 2003 and that poster was in the slideshow, so that boosted my ego a bit. But, my daughter was disappointed her picture wasn’t included;).

Oh yeah, and if you feel like donating (ok, I know it was a bit late seeing as how the event was in May but there is still time) you can check out my donation page.

Gratuitous photo from the event