Northern Thailand – Nov 18 to Dec 5

We’d been on our Thailand adventure for 17 days, and finally cracked open the laptop to talk about it. It’s about as difficult as crossing a busy street in Bangkok to stop long enough to try and get this posted. While we address where we’ve been, there are some curiosities we haven’t addressed, such as: why do they sell pork at buddhist temples? do monks wear underwear? why are cat tails cut in half? can more than five people fit on a scooter?

Check out our photo stream on flickr:
that seems about as easy to update as eating yunnanese donuts.

43 Ironbark Road

Our house from February to June, 2007. I’m trying to save this off as iGoogle is shutting down. I had a Google map widget to with this address to remind me what it was. Decided to store it here, along with the stories of our trip. Glad it came to me to save it here as I never thought I’d be posting in this category again. Oh.. and the embed isn’t working for me in Safari, although it is in Chrome.

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Getting healthy

Always hurting from something

During my first rolfing sessions, I ask my therapist if I can help her set up her table. She turns down the offer, which is relieving. My back hurts and I move with care and intention, trying not to fire off the twitch muscles. After my 6th session, I’ll learn how light the table is when she leaves me with it and goes on retreat. Moving it around really is no trouble, as she insisted.

Continue reading “Getting healthy”

Cougar’s donation is pending

The donation from us all is on it’s way. I looked at the wepay account. Cougar had called me to say that he was able to make a request for his funds. That was after I added him to it. I notice a pending transaction from Cougar’s Recovery Fund, to his credit union. Now we’re just waiting for approval, and my part in this is coming to an end. I hope the best for you Cougar this holiday season, that you feel well soon, and keep on keeping on.

This all started for me last Thursday, when I awoke to the following status update posted by Cougar on Facebook. Thanks to whatever is the new algorithm for Highlighted Stories, it is at the top. I like to sort by recent first but due to a known issue I am confronted by Cougar’s posting his suicide note.

As I read through the comments, someone has located the guy and taken him to a nearby hospital. Unable to talk, he’s survived the ordeal. Cougar updates us later that the doctor is surprised that he did. But it’s as I read the last comment shown in that image to help get him a job that I start thinking, let’s raise some funds.

As I read on about people wishing the best and stating that they would contribute help and support, in any way that they could, I keep thinking that we should do a kickstarter type of thing for him. I look in to it, and it turns out they are only for projects.

So I do a quick search and find gofundme, a site backed by wepay that supports many different types of fundraising ideas. It’s integrated with other social media sites and I sign on through Facebook and create an account. The process is simple and in minutes from deciding to take action, I have posted it on a few of the social groups in which I’ve seen Cougar at events. Later on, I also post it to his wall. People are commenting there on what’s going on, and giving well-wishes.

This is pure chaos, and so I’ve decided to act first. Later on, people have asked me why I’ve done this. And at this time I question it myself. What I hope to accomplish is to help offset the medical expenses incurred in an intentional tragedy. Especially one inflicted in a circumstance of financial straits. I’ve seen this before. Actually, with this specific person. But with other people. too.

The most recent one was just a couple of weeks earlier. Someone in our family buried his best friend, who shot himself. The man had found an insurance policy years before which would still pay out in the event of such an event. The 5 suicides in Palo Alto come to mind. Another friend’s Dad went in to a suicide pact with his wife and daughter. They succeeded, he did not and spends his life in jail. I’ve had a cousin leave her family in a car left running in the garage.

There’s been some other close calls. A roommate from college. Another family member. The impact on people emotionally, and financially, is great. And I’ve heard of health, and other insurance companies, unwilling to pay out for such intentional events. How that must make the survivor feel, after such devastation.

While I can try and be there for people to work through the grief, that kind of help is so intangible and subjective, it can be tough to convince myself that anything but time could even start to make a difference. So giving financially seems to be a practical step, where the result is tangible, and progress can be checked. It is also a more productive channel for dealing with the nearly overwhelmingly out-of-control and helpless feelings I had when reading that post.

The outpouring of donations from of all us has helped me, and probably us, in trying to react appropriately to a situation we don’t understand. I hope it helps you too, Cougar my friend. While I had my own intention on how I’d hope the money could be spent, it’s not up to me. It is a gift to someone so clearly in need. It won’t solve the problem. Maybe it can help what seems to be a vicious cycle spinning out of control, fueled by financial problems which I feared this attempt could exacerbate.

International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day was on December 10, 2011. In recognition, I participated in an event organized by the direct action working group of the #occupysf movement. This is one protest march in a series the group does every Saturday at 3pm. Human rights day happened to fall on such a Saturday, making it easy to be the theme.

Making my way through the easy-ups of the outside market, I spotted the gathering in the circular steps behind the crowded ice-skating rink. This was just off the main path to the left, where I saw some signs being waved about. If I’d stayed on the main path, it would’ve swept me in to the farmer’s market with everybody else hurrying to get over the Embarcadero. It seemed ironic to see all the easy-ups while police surrounded a blank spot to the right of the main path. Amongst all the tents and crowds, they were not allowing anybody in to the one area where a week before the occupysf encampment had been.

I’ve read the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and it seems to make sense to me. I guess all the countries who adopted it felt that way, too. Then again, I now check “Other, Human race” for ethnicity questions, if I bother to answer at all. I picked that up while listening to the story of some anthropologist on NPR, while driving around in our Civic Hybrid.

By now you might have decided to classify me as a liberal. Or, if you’re a conservative idealist, the only reason you’re still reading this, is that you’re slightly stunned from thinking about the intricate connections of groups, people and actions associated with what I just described. You might be unable to move, frozen in disgust. If it helps bring you back, I looked for the cheapest hybrid I could find which had the HOV sticker, which let me in the carpool lanes during rush hour. Around here, that thing is a premium!

The point is, that we all build up our own judgements and reactions to the world around us. While I hope you don’t totally pre-judge me, I tried to approach others at the event with that same attitude. And like you it was difficult for me to cast aside judgment. Then again, I can be a harsh critic. Ask those that I’ve worked with, lived with, dated, or my wife. So of course I have my own critiques, and include some here.

Some folks have objections to part of the declaration itself. They state that it feels colonialist, or western-biased. I personally wonder about the language around marriage and family, which seems to support only the most traditional of definitions. But I do like that the basis of authority for the government comes from the will of the people. I feel this ties in to what I like about occupy, and this particular march has drawn me in. In the beginning I dive right in to the crowd, and then back off to get a wider view. Pretty soon the talks end and Families for the Occupation lead us off slowly, with the children in front.

During the talks I noticed a group with a concern around circumcision. They have one of the biggest, and most professional looking, signs in the parade. And no matter what, they seem to be right around me where I think that someone watching might infer a connection, when there is none. I catch up to an older gentleman holding a sign listing the Declaration on one side, and on the other side a list of things which deprives people of those rights. Walking next to him and his friend, I take a picture and remark how much I like is sign. “Which side”? he asks. “The front”, I reply.

A reporter from USF takes another picture of the guy, and that’s when I notice the tent being lofted by four guys, who look to be perhaps in their twenties. It is my favorite “sign”. Stenciled on one side it reads, “Shelter is a Human Right”. They are surrounded by folks in Christmas hats, who probably dropped by on their way from santacon. The brightly regaled Santas and friends on a pub crawl, as you can imagine, drew more participation and affected more people.

Our parade was currently blocking a part of Market Street from cars being able to drive on it. The parade might not have been as long as an escort for a wedding, or a funeral. Given how insane that part of town can be, and how more so this time of year, I was personally very happy to have that police escort holding up traffic as we walked through intersections.

We turned off Market Street at Powell St. This area is where a trolley turns around, and stops for the BART and Muni are there. Many groups pull pranks and have flash mobs there. This is where I enjoyed my favorite moment, and share it with you now:

We made it to Union Square, and it was time for more talks. A lot of time, for a lot of talks. During the Free Tibet discussion someone handed to me a flyer denouncing the Dalai Lama and commending the Chinese revolution. Even before being handed the flyer, I was thinking about Penn and Teller’s viewpoint on the Dalai.

Some of the organizers were pointing out that people were discarding their signs and leaving, and that the talks were dragging. The older man tried to shout something at the crowd and was met with a, “thank you, passionate human rights guy”.

What was left of the group finally started back to the plaza, and on the route I noticed one of the tent-holders get in a tussle with a couple of other guys. The tent holder’s costume appeared to be anarchist, while the other two men seemed to be sporting the day-shopper, capris-and-polo look. Mostly the group just carried on, diverting around the ensuing action. The chants seemed to reflect more the position of occupy, rather than of human rights.

Almost back at the start, the group paused at the Bank of America, for another woman to tell her story. This is where I put down my sign, and headed to the Muni. I understand the tent made its way in to the zone protected by the police, which took some guts.

One of the things I like about the General Assembly is it’s ability to come to consensus and where the evangelizing and instruction are minimal. In a day of protest I can support having folks speak and like Amnesty International did, kept brief and to the point.

My impression is that the turnout was low because people like to have fun and celebrate, especially this time of year. Besides that, it was a routine protest with low press, and occupy was putting most of the effort in to getting ready to shut down the ports. While I understand some of the justifications, that is not an action I support.

For one thing the tag line is, “The Occupy Strikes Back” and while I know there’s a myth that those cranes are Lucas’s inspiration for the AT-ATs, it’s associating with the evil Empire! It’s one episode too early, and should be titled, “Return of the Occupy”. It even fits in with the recent raids on encampments.

While funny, “Strikes Back” even speaks to the violence Occupy Oakland condones. Some of the police actions have shown that violence by the movement will not be tolerated. Even peaceful protesters practicing civil disobedience are treated roughly. The power a president has in our nuclear age might not be enough to rule a galaxy with a Death Star, but the authority of our commander-in-chief is more than enough to destroy our planet.

I support that all peoples deserve human rights, while corporations do not. So I took the train to join the action and you know what? That two dollars I spent on the fare was more than what half the planet has to live on per day. Demanding the same rights for all humans and having folks honk, wave, cheer and even join the walk was enough for me to enjoy the day. Thinking how this movement has helped me get involved in the things I care about has me judging it successful. I am ready to do more and have taken a first step, getting off the sidewalk and in to the street.

“What Would It Mean to Win?”, by the Turbulence Collective

Before the latest rendition of the “Occupy” movement began, my wife and I biked over to the indie zine fest in Golden Gate Park. Much of what was presented centered on fantasy and violence, and both of us were looking for more realistic portrayals of the world around us. Picking up the book “What Would It Mean to Win?”, by the Turbulence Collective, I wanted to get a better understanding of the historical activist stance around globalization, capitalism and state control.

The question asked by the title is in response to noticing the phrase “We are winning” spray painted on a wall during the Seattle WTO protests. The book gives me the impression that the answer apparently stems from Marxism and was last manifested decently amongst the Zapatistas.

The book’s question is presented to various authors and the whole process feels like a retrospective on various movements at the turn of this century. In the reflection, this group recognizes it’s place as a sub-set of the demographics of the movement, and like myself are mostly white males. The two essays which caught my attention were “Politics in an age of fantasy” by Stephen Duncombe and “The crazy before the new” by Kay Summer and Harry Halpin.

“Politics in an age of fantasy” has a lovely phrase, “ethical spectacle” to describe how best to turn vision in to reality. Duncombe describes that progressives have become too grounded in reality, and have lost the ability to dream about the change they want to be. This ethical spectacle looks to amplify and perform truth and reality. It does so by making the spectacle participatory, transparent, real and a dream. In other words as we are called to action to stand up for our beliefs we must do more than stand by and watch. As we engage in action we are constantly reminded that we are fabricating the event, staying grounded in the possible and showing what we want to become. It reminds me of Improv Everywhere and other well-intentioned flash mob type events.

In “The crazy before the new”, the authors look towards complexity theory as an unexpected source of optimism for life beyond capitalism. The essay explains that capitalism’s complex system is behaving wildly and is at a point where massive systemic change will occur. The attractors for this type of change are seen as large increases in energy output and materials manufacture, increasing connectivity, and a looming ecological crisis. With capitalism seen as the accumulation of work, material and energy; it’s motives are in direct contradiction to living on a planet of limited resources. The essay concludes with a vision of autonomous and interconnected groups working in tandem to confront an ecological crisis.

This book also describes briefly the concept of Neoliberalism; the desire to privatize and deregulate, and in that sense liberalize, everything under state control on a global scale. The collective authors oppose the concept and look to strengthening a distributed network capable of response to faults in this global system. While some ways forward are suggested, no clear path is laid out nor is it intended, by the reflective nature of the book.