Thanks, oh Great Pumpkin!

great-pumpkin
12 years ago today, the Great Pumpkin, not the stork, delivered a tiny, orange-headed baby boy to our doorstep.

(Ok, so it was actually my wife who delivered the baby, after 31 hours of labor. She does, indeed, deserve all the credit, but I’m pretty sure she would have preferred it if the Great Pumpkin had helped out, at least a little.)

Having a child born on Halloween, especially one with wild, curly orange hair, is an adventure to say the least. Whatever your relationship was with the holiday before the baby was born, that relationship will be forever changed.

Don’t like dressing up in costumes? Not crazy about candy? Don’t fancy going door-to-door with a group of kids who ARE crazy about candy? Literally? Crazy?

Well, too bad, cupcake! Are you really going to break your child’s heart?

Fortunately, I had no aversion to Halloween, and it’s been 12 years of fun. But, even though the birth of our son was the catalyst, besides delivering the baby in heroic fashion, it’s been my wife who has delivered wondrous gifts of creativity, decorating the house, carving pumpkins, coming up with unique costumes, and throwing fabulous parties.

Wait a second! Maybe my wife IS the Great Pumpkin!

U2: Circus Meets Social Change

u2
I wasn’t even planning on going…

Two nights ago my wife said to me, “I hear that U2 is playing in Vancouver tomorrow night… why the HELL aren’t you going?!!”

From her perspective: I’m a huge fan, I have the money, so there’s no reason not to go. I responded that I just didn’t think about it. That, besides the big Doobies-Allmans-Dead show back in May, I hadn’t been to a big arena concert in years and didn’t really care to go. (Granted, the Dead show was, always was, more like a mind-altering hippie field trip than an a stadium rock show.)

And that was that.

The next morning a friend posted on Facebook that she had two extra tickets available…

We drove up 20 minutes and crossed the border into British Columbia, Canada, then drove 20 more minutes north and parked the car at the 22nd Street Skytrain station. Feeling very metropolitan, we landed several blocks from BC Place Stadium (heard once that locals used to call it the marshmallow in bondage), and…

Listen: U2 are the undisputed kings of arena concerts. Their music, their stagecraft, their egos consistently deliver a show that is an audiovisual feast, a circus, really, in all the best ways.

I mean, just look at this thing:

u2-360

That said, if all that U2 amounted to was a circus troupe, they’d be considered successful by any measure. But what makes them even more special is their commitment to social change. Recognizing the real power of their celebrity, they’ve chosen to leverage it, with all the accompanying corporate sponsorship and superficialities, to do great things.

(Incidentally, many tend to attribute their efforts solely to Bono, but the rest of the band show their commitment in a big way by supporting Bono’s work and consenting to dedicate significant stage time to the delivery of social change messages. Last night included a tribute to Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi, a video message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu preaching that we’re all one, and Sunday Bloody Sunday was prefaced with visuals referencing Iran’s crackdown on reform protesters.)

U2 marries John Lennon’s pragmatic social activism with Pete Townshend’s more idealistic spiritual notion that rock and roll can truly change the world for the better.

It was a great setlist, spanning their catalog without sounding like a Greatest Hits compilation. It was also the final night of this first stage of the tour, and there was a special feeling in the air that I attribute to their wrapping up before a break, wanting to end on a high note.

It certainly was a high note for me.

Ok, I’m up for a happy place!

costa-rica

From Ode:

Costa Rica: The happiest place on earth

According to a report published by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica is the happiest, greenest nation on Earth. The Latin American nation scored highest on the British think tank’s “Happy Planet Index” (HPI), which “shows the ecological efficiency with which human well-being is delivered around the world.” Costa Rica’s small carbon footprint, protected ecological zones and life expectancy of 78.5 years set it apart from more developed nations. By contrast, the U.K. came in 74th, and the U.S. was No. 114 out of 143 nations surveyed. Learn more about the report at happyplanetindex.org.

Um, yeah, I could go there. Really! I could!

Everyday is Memorial Day… somewhere… for someone

cemetery
Yesterday 8 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan.

The day before that 11 were killed.

With 53 soldiers killed in October 2009, it has been the deadliest month of the war…

…for the U.S.

When my wife relayed the news to me about the 11 killed on Monday, we both looked at each other and almost exactly at the same time said, “Eleven U.S., that is.”

I’d originally planned on posting the numbers for U.S. and civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as I browsed the various websites, looking for credible figures, I felt a wave of nausea come over me.

Believe me when I tell you that the numbers are startling, sickening, and wading through them and the statements from the various groups claiming their numbers are superior, is like bulldozing through a cemetery.

There are days when I so acutely feel the madness and horrors of war — when it seems to be around every corner, in places that don’t get the kind of media attention that Iraq and Afghanistan do — that it is overwhelming. Today is one of those days.

Anticipation…is keepin’ me way yay yay yay yay yay tin’

snow

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to skiing, and I blame it all on socioeconomic oppression. Seriously!

When I was growing up in New Jersey, I lived in a neighborhood that my parents could barely afford. Consequently, most of my friends’ families had much more money than my family had.

One of the more painful experiences born of that situation hit me hard in high school, when all of my friends could afford to join the ski club, but I could not. Neither of my parents were skiers, so we never went as a family, and then, suddenly, my closest friends would take off every weekend for the mountains, coming back to school on Mondays with exciting tales of their adventures, adventures they had without me.

The worst was a trip the ski club took to Canada, including several nights in a hotel, and the stories of the hijinks from that trip are legendary.

You can imagine the hours of torture I endured, hearing these stories over and over again, for years, not to mention all the talk about the actual skiing, about the snow conditions, and about their latest gear. It was brutal and I developed quite a grudge against the sport, since developing a grudge against my friends would have only led to more alienation.

I finally tried skiing during a winter break from college, on a trip to visit friends in Lyme, New Hampshire. The slopes, typical for the northeast, were unforgiving hard-packed and icy, and I fell, a lot, and I hurt for at least a week.

I didn’t go to a ski area again for nearly 10 years, and considering that many of those years I lived here in Bellingham, an hour away from Mt. Baker, the grudge seemed to be holding its ground.

In 2007, I finally succumbed to enormous peer pressure, the product of being surrounded by skiers and snowboarders, and made my first trip to Mt. Baker for an activity other than hiking. I chose snowboarding, hoping that it might actually be easier than skiing, because, um, there was only one device sliding on the snow instead of one on each foot.

Yeah. Right.

But then, this funny thing happened. Despite the fact that snowboarding brought back all the horrendous physical memories of that miserable experience in New Hampshire, which was tied to all the pain of being left out of ski club in high school, despite the fact that I fell so hard so many times over the course of three trips to the mountain that I ended up in physical therapy…

…I had a blast! If all I did was drive up to Mt. Baker in the winter for the scenery it would be worth it, but to go there with my wife and son and spend the day playing in the snow was more fun than I had had, than we as a family had had together, in a long time.

At the end of that season, I tried skiing again and it was a revelation! WAY more intuitive, it by no means came easy to me, but I was able to stay upright consistently, able to make progress, and by the end of my second season I was able to ski on intermediate trails.

And so, it’s still October but I already have skiing on the brain. I read in the Herald that the first significant snow had fallen at Mt. Baker, I checked the snow report, and the photo I’ve posted here got me incredibly excited.

Life is full of surprises, and it’s a heck of a lot more fun without grudges.

Seeya on the slopes!

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Keeping the lunatics on the fringe

R-71
I’m late in getting to this, but someone who is as critical of big business and religious extremism as I am really needs to speak up when big companies and religious people do something right.

It’s not difficult, after eight dark years of the Bush II era, to think that the greed of capitalism and right-wing religious fanatics are a growing force to be reckoned with. But, history tells us instead that big businesses can be kept in check with reasonable regulation, and that religious extremists in this country have been mostly harmless, hanging out on the margins of society.

On October 6th, it was reported that Seattle’s own Microsoft donated $100,000 to Washington Families Standing Together, a group supporting Referendum 71 on the November 3rd ballot. R-71, if passed, will uphold Senate Bill 5688, which provides same-sex domestic partners with the same rights and benefits currently enjoyed by married couples.

This donation was a follow-up to a joint statement (PDF), released on September 14th by Microsoft, Boeing, Nike, Puget Sound Energy, RealNetworks and Vulcan, in support of R-71, and to date, pro-R-71 groups have significantly out-fundraised opponents, raising $1.6 million over the opponents’ $410,000.

And, though the religious opponents want you to think that they speak for most Washingtonians, an extensive interfaith list of courageous clergy, who have signed a petition in favor of R-71, proves otherwise.

I’d hoped that it was obvious, when I posted the Permission video on the 20th, that I fully support equal LGBT rights. Likewise, I hereby add my voice to the plea to vote “YES” on Referendum 71.

Let’s keep the lunatics on the fringe.



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More on Kerouac

kerouac_by_palumbo
A post I did from last week, that was ostensibly about recent side projects by members of Death Cab for Cutie, referenced Death Cab frontman Ben Gibbard’s work on the soundtrack for an upcoming documentary titled One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Well, now a blogger at Wired has opened the door for me to say more about Jack:

Calling all Kerouac fans: How did On the Road and Kerouac’s other writings affect your world view?

Let’s put it this way, Jack Kerouac contributed significantly to this New Jersey native having crossed the country and settled down in the Pacific Northwest.

For me, though I love On The Road, and it was in my heart as I rode Amtrak west from New York, through Denver and westward to the Pacific, The Dharma Bums is the Kerouac book that impacted me the most. When I first read it, I was lost in the wilderness of Los Angeles. I’d moved there to hang out with friends, and decidedly NOT because I was attracted to the city. After a few years there, I was suffering badly from what a friend calls Nature Deficit Disorder, not because there were no natural areas nearby — there is great hiking in the Santa Monicas and San Gabriels — but because I was immersed in the urban L.A. lifestyle.

And then, two things happened right around the same time that changed my life forever: 1.) I read The Dharma Bums, with its wonderful passages of hikes in the Sierras and Cascades; and 2.) the first REI store in Southern California opened. This was 1991, and I was there on opening day, bought my first real pair of hiking boots, and was soon taking off regularly on the weekends to explore the surrounding mountains.

Within a year, after five years total in an urban wilderness, I packed up my belongings, only what I could fit in my Volkswagen Jetta, along with camping gear for two and a good friend, and I headed north, following Kerouac’s footsteps to the state of Washington. Jack landed atop Desolation Peak, and I landed about 90 miles west in Bellingham.

In addition to geographical and lifestyle changes, The Dharma Bums had another huge impact on me. While I had certainly been enthralled by On The Road and its wild stories of, as Thoreau called it, sucking the marrow from the bones of life, The Dharma Bums had more spiritual content than anything I’d read previously, and it was the first time that Buddhism really got through to me. There was something about Kerouac’s wrestling with Zen, particularly his own impressions of his having been a failure as a practitioner, that, ironically, finally helped me understand some key Buddhist concepts.

I could write a  lengthy essay on this topic, but this is blog for crying out loud!

How did On the Road and Kerouac’s other writings affect your world view?

Yeah, I guess you could say he affected me.

Good news a novelty?

refreshing
In my experience, it’s quite an unusual thing to find a piece of good news on the front page of the paper edition of the New York Times. (Granted, it was below the fold.)

That said, I’ll take it. It’s refreshing!

Nudging Recycling From Less Waste to None

Across the nation, an antigarbage strategy known as “zero waste” is moving from the fringes to the mainstream, taking hold in school cafeterias, national parks, restaurants, stadiums and corporations.

The movement is simple in concept if not always in execution: Produce less waste. Shun polystyrene foam containers or any other packaging that is not biodegradable. Recycle or compost whatever you can.

Though born of idealism, the zero-waste philosophy is now propelled by sobering realities, like the growing difficulty of securing permits for new landfills and an awareness that organic decay in landfills releases methane that helps warm the earth’s atmosphere.

The funny thing here is that there’s a very fine thread connecting this post to the one I posted yesterday about the cell phone vs. the clown on a unicycle study at WWU.

The Times article mentions Seattle, but 90 miles north, here in Bellingham, sustainability is like the clown on a unicycle. To some extent, it’s a wonder that I even noticed the Times piece, given how much is going on here in the areas of reducing, reusing, recycling, composting, green building, alternative transportation, biodiesel, etc., and we even boast a zero-waste burger joint.

Regardless, it’s refreshing to consider how significant this is for the subject of zero-waste to make it to the cover of the Gray Lady, to consider how the massive reach of the New York Times can bring the concept to towns that have made significantly less progress concerning sustainability than Bellingham.

Refreshingly hopeful. Hope is sustaining.

There’s nothing novel about hope.



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Researchers don’t get out much

unicycle-clown
Initially I was very excited to come across a web article (LiveScience.com via Gizmodo) with this photo, shown here, of some very familiar surrounds: Red Square, on the campus of my employer, Western Washington University (WWU or Western).

Then, as I observed that this article was in response to a study conducted by WWU professor Ira Hyman, and that it will be published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, I was excited, because WWU is not primarily a research institution, and so it’s great for Western to get this kind of exposure.

Then I read the article. Excitement gone.

The gist of Professor Hyman’s work is that cell phone users are dangerously distracted while on the phone, as indicated by their having not paid much attention or even noticed a clown pedaling a unicycle in Red Square.

Seriously, Professor Hyman’s got mad credentials, but I read this and I was left wondering how a holder of a PhD in Psychology could be so utterly oblivious of human behavior constantly on display in his immediate environs.

Red Square, for anyone who has spent even a short time on campus (OMG! Hyman’s been working here for 18 years!), is a magnet for exhibitionists, especially on a sunny day, leaving no doubt that WWU is a liberal arts university. And, it’s not just liberals and artists who flock to this public square to juggle, dance, play instruments, and even streak on a regular basis. Several times throughout the year we get visited by Christian evangelicals carrying, no exaggeration, 30-foot high banners that read “REPENT OR YOU WILL BURN IN HELL”, and once a year we’re visited by the so-called Genocide Awareness Project, an exhibit by a pro-life group that equates abortion with genocide, showing very large photos of aborted fetuses in order to shock people.

As a commenter at LiveScience put it, reassuring me that I’m not alone in reacting like this:

What this study doesn’t take into account is that strange people and activities happen in Red Square ALL THE TIME. We’ve learned to tune it out because the “unusual” is usual to us. I mean, I saw the unicycle guy almost every day, and things happened such as the time where a friend of mine jumped a fence, tearing down horrifying abortion billboards posted all around Red Square.

To be honest, I believe this study would have been more valid had it been conducted somewhere central and well-populated which is not as familiar with odd people and events.

Professor Hyman, if you read this, I know I’m being a little harsh, and I actually happen to agree that cell phones CAN be dangerously distracting, but mostly I’m concerned about you. Please try to get out some more, spend some time actually observing the students you teach and the kind of campus they inhabit.



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