Initial thoughts and assumptions about identity and this blog

As a well-trained social scientist of the late 20th Century in Western traditions, one must always begin with assumptions and values.

The importance of context is one of my most valued college takeaways. Educated in the social sciences while working as a reporter at the college newspaper, I was intrigued and quickly became an advocate of understanding the context behind personal and social behaviors. A full discussion of why quickly becomes an autobiography beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that I believe it is important to start from the reason why I am doing this and the basic assumptions that will guide my endeavors.

I like to write. The written word has always been important to me, and writing about things that I consider being important is on my personal bliss list.

In startup mode. Beyond personal satisfaction, there is an economic motive as well. As I write this, I am in the process of raising funds for a startup in what I call the digital identity space. The company is currently called and you will hear more about it in the days to come.

Tinfoil hat. Robert Heinlein once wrote something to the effect that once a planet becomes so crowded that identity cards are required, it is time to leave that planet. I agree with him. Privacy has been a key concept in protecting individual rights against the potential and real abuses of power by government and other socially constructed organizations that gather power within their bureaucratic bosom. But as you peel this onion back, you run into an assumption (also used by John Locke on private property) that people have options. So while philosophically I am a libertarian, if not an anarchist, in the day-to-day practice of living, I will trade rights for convenience in some situations. I do, however, believe that we have gone too far without really thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it. This one is a large stinky onion that we will peel back constantly.

Results matter. I am an empiricist. So was my dad. He had me helping him with his research by hand calculating ANOVAs when I was in grade school. The world and its human and ecological systems are complex, and the only way we can make this place better is by watching what works and what doesn’t work and deciding based on results.

Psych training. I got my bachelor’s degree in social psychology and came to New York City to study environmental psychology. I knew who Stanley Milgram was when I was in junior high school. So if I get a little jargony, let me know and I’ll try to explain myself. Some really amazing things have happened in the past decades as we come to understand how and why people do the things they do.

Online advertising. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time during the past decade in the online advertising world. So, I know about cookies and behavioral tracking and how and why the advertising industry collects and uses information. I get why some people are concerned about the this as an “invasion of privacy”. Frankly I am more concerned with the Patriot Act and what that means to me than I am that an ad network is going to identify me as a DINK and target Volvo ads to the web pages I am reading. But I do believe in transparency and choice and hope we can develop some options in this area.

Future Shock. I read this book by the Tofflers back in the middle 1970’s. And I’ve reread it recently. We are in a period of rapid social change driven by rapid technological change. Frankly, we are not coping well.

Among other things, modern information technology has the potential to do good things. We have seen some of them, but I believe that we need to focus on making more of them happen. To date, we have really just allowed things to roll out and sometimes have dealt with the consequences.

Summary. I am sure there is more. I will modify this entry as they occur to me. Let me close with a list of people that I would like to have a drink with. In order of me thinking of them. Two-minute time limit.

  • John Locke
  • Socrates
  • Jane Jacobs
  • Albert Einstein
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • whoever was running the Catholic Church when Mohammed left the church
  • Alvin and Heidi Toffler
  • J.C.R. Licklider
  • whoever created The WELL
  • Stanley Milgram
  • Philip Zimbardo
  • Leon Festinger
  • Jeannette Rankin
  • Jane Goodall
  • Washoe

Okay. That is two minutes.

Posted in Coping with Change, Epistemology - Religion and Science, Humanist Values, Tinfoil Hats | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Recommendation for “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action” by Simon Sinek

Just spent an interesting hour listening to Simon Sinek about “why” matters. (He blogs at It was a combination of existentialism and self-actualization. The basic concept is that most of us operate in the world of “what” or “how”, i.e., what we do or how we get things. But if we are trying to get to our bliss, that doesn’t live in the what or the how, but in the why. Why do we do things.

Haven’t read the book, but the process he described is what I have been going though along the way to starting a business. In my case it started with the question, “What would I do if money didn’t matter?” Then I worked backwards to something that could become financially sound.

So, this is probably a good book for people who never got “go with you bliss” because you were too rational to relate to bliss, which is more of an emotional concept.

Start with Why

Simon Sinek's book is a simple guide to finding your bliss.

Updated February 2012

Since the initial post after hearing Simon talk, I bought and read the book.  Simon’s writing style matches his presentation style, easy, direct, personable.  If you are thinking about improving your leadership or management style or you are thinking about changing who you are or what you do, this is a great place to start.

Check out the website.  Buy the book.

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Shoes to replace shoes: the barefoot running movement

My feet in the not shoes.

We have traveled an interesting technological circle in my adult life. When I started running in junior high school, we wore plain canvas shoes.  Like the Converse shoes that are now retro-hip.  By the mid to late 1970’s, a technology features race was underway and feet were no longer just flat or arched and terms like pronation and stability entered our vocabulary along with padding and cushioning and support.

Then someone remembered that our feet evolved without padding or cushioning or even covers.  That something as simple as a moccasin is a relatively recent invention.  So now we are seeing running shoes designed to simulate running barefoot.   If you are interested, search on barefoot running.  There is a lot of information about it on the web.  The major sneaker companies all have products.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that the industry became more and more technical, with a deeper understanding of anatomy to some up with something seemingly simple.  A piece of form fitting plastic to strap onto your feet.  Basically replacing calluses.

I had been thinking about getting some for years.  More recently I had been whining about how large and heavy my running shoes are to travel with (out of town or to a gym that I don’t usually use in the city.)  Then it struck me this morning that these shoes would be perfect for carrying around.  Less than a pound total and very small and compressible.

Picked up a pair of vibram fivefingers today and just got back from the gym.  Calves are sore from the change in how I run and walk with them.  Hadn’t realized how much my regular shoes were cushioning my walking or how much landing on my heals I had been doing.  Certainly going to take an adjustment period.

Left foot feels great.  But the little toe on the right foot is a little cramped. Like most people who wear shoes a lot, my toes have a tendency towards to come together into a single point instead of spanning out on five separate lines.  I think the little toe is too used to being close to the next toe and the shoe is creating too much separation.  There is more separate on the other side. Guess we will see over time.

I think I might end up being more comfortable with a pair of reef runners.

Anyway, an interesting example of how culture and technology (and marketing) affects our physical being.

Update 8 February 2012

I am on my second pair of the fivefingers shoes.  I wore them around the house for months before taking them outside.  Mainly because as I wore them inside, I notices that different muscles were sore, so I gave my body some time to adapt.  I don’t run with them all the time.  I do use them when I travel and know that I won’t be running outside.

Running is a personal thing, so I cant recommend that you try it.  I see so many joggers in the parks jogging flat footed or heel striking and these are definitely not the shoes for runners with that style.  Unless you consciously want to become a toe runner.

Here is a Runner’s World article about running barefoot.

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Snow days, climate change and second order effects

It's a snow day in NYC at 258 W 93rd Street.

It’s a snow day in NYC at 258 W 93rd Street.

It is a snow day in New York City. Again. I am enjoying it but I did grow up in Montana. This one is a little closer to what I would call a snow day, i.e. a decent accumulation where I would be tempted not to use “rock skis”. While I understand why folks (including Marj) are getting tired of this weather, it still brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart.

I am annoyed at and tired of people who use today’s weather here in NYC (and for reasons that are not good, if it is a slow news day, NYC’s weather will become national news) as evidence that the planet isn’t warming, that the climate isn’t changing, that Al Gore and climate change are all a left-wing conspiracy, et yada, yada, yada.

If you have been following this area of research as long as I have (since college in the early 1980’s) you may have noticed one interesting trend from the reality deniers. As the evidence mounts and the modeling of weather and global climate has advanced, the reality denier argument has shifted towards the trivial. From questioning

  • if there is a CO2 greenhouse effect (yes there is);
  • whether or not is CO2 rising (yes it is);
  • is the average global temperature rising (yes it is with November 2009 and January 2010 as the warmest on record);
  • are humans causing the rise in CO2 (straw man argument – burning fossil fuels is a major contributing factor and one of our few controllable factors but it doesn’t matter if we are causing it, only if we can do something to slow it down or better reverse it);
  • the integrity of the research because of one email about bad data in one study and ad homimen attacks on vocal advocates like Al Gore and the most recent (when there is no evidence on your side attack the messenger);
  • “It’s snowing in New York City” (makes a nice sound bite).

Well duh! If you have been paying attention to the data, the climate and weather model forecast for this winter have been spot on. They predict a cold and snowy winter for the northeast through March (sorry to bare cold tidings).

So how does snow happen in New York City if the planet is getting warmer? Fair question.

Let’s start with the concept of second order effects. This is a mathematical term familiar to anyone with advanced training in a field that uses statistical or other mathematical modeling (physics, econometrics or as it happens climate modeling). In simple terms, it is when A causes B to happen and then B causes C to happen. The B to C causality is the second order effect. For most of us in our daily lives, these second or even third order events are what we usually think of as unintended consequences.

Weather and climate are systems. That means that A causes B which influences C which affects D and E and E affect B and D and C affect A. So, what is causing it to snow in NYC today is too simple of a question. The better question is how can a greenhouse climate change model explain today’s snow in NYC?

So let’s get into the details.

Graphic of the North American jet streams.

This image shows the cold air from the north and the warm air from the south as well as two jet streams between them. The top one is the Midattidute jet stream and the bottom one is the Subtropical jet stream.A fuller description is available at where this graphic is from.

If you pay attention to weather maps, you should know that the weather pattern for temperature across North America is defined by the jet stream. North of the jet stream is cold and south of the jet stream is warm. How far south the jet stream meanders is related to the strength of the wind in the stratosphere (which is the jet stream). The faster it goes (up to 250 knots), the further north it stays (and the cold weather with it). The strength of the jet stream is defined by the temperature of the air in the stratosphere. This is known as the Arctic Oscillation. The larger the temperature difference between the two air maases, the stronger the jet stream.  Typically in winter, the colder the stratosphere above the Arctic, the stronger the jet stream. The warmer the air, the weaker the jet stream (and the colder the weather is in NYC).

Typical summer and winter jet streams over North America.

This graphic depicts what was considered the normal jet stream patterns over North America. This graphic is about weather systems at

The map on the right of this paragraph shows the jet stream for 26 February 2010. Notice how far south it is coming off the Rockies i.e., Texas when Nebraska would be a more typical recent pattern. Also notice where it is coming back north far out in the North Atlantic. A warmer pattern has the jet stream coming up along the coastline. Note that the wind speeds are around 120 knots, half of the top speed.

So because of warm air in the arctic stratosphere, the jet stream is weak allowing cold air to move south from the arctic making it snow in NYC.

But it is the Arctic. In winter! The sun isn’t shining! So where is the warm air coming from?
Well, it turns out the warm air is coming from the Pacific Ocean. Primarily from the South Pacific which is in the middle of a strong El Niño event (when the water temperature of the South Pacific of South America warms up, warming the air above the surface of the ocean). But El Niño isn’t the point. The warm air from the Pacific moves north along the western Pacific (just like the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic). To the right is a map of the jet stream over the northern Pacific. When this pattern hits the continent further north is when Seattle is usually rainy and San Diego is a desert. This winter, because of the strong El Niño, it is dry in Vancouver and wet in San Diego. Typically this winter, the warm air mass is reaching Alaska.

Seasons caused by the axial tilt of the planet and the sun's energy.

This graphic portrays how the sun’s energy along with the axial tilt of the Earth creates the seasons. (The source of this graphic is Nick Strobel’s Astronomy Notes. Go to his site at for the updated and corrected version.)

The South Pacific is currently being directly hit by the rays of the sun. Remember, it is summer down there. The most energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth when the rays strike the Earth perpendicular to the atmosphere and the surface, which is part of the reason why summer is warmer than winter. Remember the angle of the Earth’s rotation on the orbital plane? Look at the graphic on right for a reminder or go to Astronomy Notes for more detail.

El Nino and La Nina events.

Notice how the jet streams vary between the extreme patterns know as El Niño and La Niña.

So, the sun warms the water of the Pacific Ocean which warms the air above the ocean which moves north and warms air in the arctic stratosphere, the jet stream is weak allowing cold air to move south from the arctic making it snow in NYC. The image to the right depicts two weather pattern extremes, the El Niño and the La Niña events.  Both are becoming more common.  Notice how the temperature of the Pacific affects the Arctic during both events.

To this point we are describing normal patterns that have have most likely occurred for millennium (though we have not be able to directly observe or record this data until recently). This is where the greenhouse effect comes into play. Because of the increased levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, more of the heat from the sun stays in the Pacific Ocean and does not radiate back into outer space. Just like the glass of a greenhouse traps the heat inside the building, so does CO2 keep some of the heat from the sun from radiating back into space. So, the Pacific Ocean is warmer year to year and more likely to stay warmer seasonally, which is the data that allowed the climatologists to predict that this year would be cold and snowy in NYC probably last well into March.

Note the change in language in the previous paragraph. It is one of scope. Previously we were talking about weather patterns, how warm water in the Pacific causes warm air in Arctic stratosphere causing snow in NYC. These patterns are made up of cycles that run for decades. In the last paragraph we are starting to talk about how changing some factor in the cycle and you change the patterns.

My guess is that the next factor to change in the pattern that affects winter in NYC is the average temperature of the Arctic. As the Arctic warms up and the ice cap grows smaller, the cold air moving south will be warmer. The temperature in NYC during this year’s snow storms has been right around freezing. Two to three degrees F warmer and all this snow would have been rain. We haven’t been anywhere near really cold weather for years. In fact, that is why we haven’t had much snow.

So, this cold snap, has been more about how long it has been cold than how cold it has been. And I can not help but wonder what the tipping point is for the arctic ice cap and the melt begins in earnest. But that is all off point.

The issues facing us today are complex. Actually, they have always been, but we have reach an evolutionary point in our development as a sentient organism where we can appreciate complexity, understand it and more importantly start to make decisions based on complexity and not on bumper stickers.

The Earth and the Universe will continue on without us. Personally, I would like to see sentient life on Planet Earth start to make some smarter decisions and hopefully stay around a while longer.

Graphical depictions and more information about the physics of the seasons from Astronomy Notes:


Graphical depiction of the global jet streams from

More information about the jet stream at

More information about El Niño and La Niña.

Posted in Coping with Change, Culture and Technology, Current Affairs, Daily Life, Environmental Politics, Epistemology - Religion and Science, Science | Leave a comment

Journalism in the digital age: A changed landscape

(Dateline Washington DC) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a workshop on December 1-2, 2009 titled “How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” From a naive perspective, and indeed much of the public discussion on the issue has focused around the question, “How do we save newspapers?” But that is the wrong question.  On that, the FTC got it right.  The key is how do we transform journalism – specifically detailed, investigative journalism on the local level?

If you are looking for some in-depth thinking on the topic, head on over to Save the News or view the FTC workshop online. That said, let me highlight some of the assumptions surrounding the topic.

It is important to separate the means of delivering the news from the act of generating a news report. The former includes newspapers, radio, television and cable stations, websites and other technologies that assemble, produce and deliver written, audio and video content. These traditionally are large scale and expensive enterprises typically including big businesses and governments. In contrast, the act of generating a news report requires an individual and a recording technology such as a typewriter, computer or an audio and/or video recorder.

For you to read, listen to or watch the news requires both.  What the Internet and television before the Internet have disrupted is the business model that the delivery of news depended upon.

That is right.  Advertising.  The newspaper subscription you pay (or paid) went to the paper “boy” or the news stand and to the truck that delivered the bundles of papers to the them.  Advertising paid for the printers, the printing press, the news room, the reporters and everything else that goes into the maintenance and production of a newspaper.  Television began cutting into that revenue stream in the 1960’s but with a growing global economy (with the US at the center), very few people noticed until the 1990s.

Broadcast technology has had a major impact on reporting.  In 1982, President Reagan visited Montana in support of a local republican running for the US Senate.  I joined other members of our college newspaper and radio staff in covering the event.  Armed with pens, paper, recorders and cameras, we drove 180 miles to witness the event.  Driving back that evening we stopped for five minutes so that the radio reporter could call in his 30 second story.  The broadcast team was ready for bed.  On the print side, we needed hours to develop the film, write the stories, layout the paper and send it to the printers.  The paper stories included standard coverage of the main event, an article about the protest outside and two stories about the act of covering a “major media event”.

In the television age more and more people consumed their news in short format leading to “sound bites”.  So with advertising dollars moving from newspapers to television, more and more money and more and more emphasis went to short form reporting.  This left print reporters on a very short career path.  The print journalist skills included the ability to write, but also the intelligence to understand the issue and the persistence to get to the core of a story.  The “new journalist” needs to look good on camera while standing in front of a traffic accident and be able to repeat what the PR person from the local police just told them.  In 100 words or less, including your name and other self promotional information like the station call letters.

And so died journalism in America.

Instead of the problem, the Internet is an opportunity to restore journalism to American political culture. The Internet potentially replaces an expensive and cumbersome delivery model (the printing press) as well as an expensive but shallow delivery model (television) with something that is much less expensive, able to respond quickly and capable of being as shallow or as deep as the story requires.  Format doesn’t even matter as text or video or interactive or all the above can be done in the same story or sequence.

The major question is who will pay detail oriented, investigative journalists?  And how?

Through the Internet, advertising will play a role.  The Internet makes some form of a grassroots micro-payment structure possible. It would be nice to see a public option evolve through either membership or if through tax dollars in a method that control of dollars is separate from control of content.  On a related issue it is time for the cross-ownership regulations to go away.  At this point, it is impossible to say what delivery methods  will be competing in the future.  Suffice to say that at this point, it will not be newspapers versus broadcast television. Future business models will probably include all of the above.

Anyway, the old journalism saw of following the money is still true and relevant to understanding how journalism will evolved in the post-Gutenberg age.  One of the “prices of freedom” is the salary of it’s reporters.

to be continued…

Posted in Current Affairs, Digital Convergence, Journalism, Politics in these United States | Leave a comment

A Lagniappe on Holiday Giving

(Dateline Online)  Paypal is using social network technology to promote nonprofits using viral marketing.  Very interesting.  Also interesting is the use of micropayments both on the Regift the Fruitcake site and at a handful of the nonprofits.  Technology driven change indeed.  On the list is Kiva which I mentioned before and two organizations that help those returning from those land wars in Asia and their families.

And you have to love the fruitcake reference.  Check out Regift the Fruitcake.

UPDATE February 2012

The re-gift the fruit cake has gone to the internet archive in the sky.  However, Kiva is still alive and well.

Posted in Daily Life, Humanist Values, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Life, Limits and You Are Here

(Dateline – Sol 3) One of my life changing moments was reading the book Limits to Growth (1972) when I was in high school. It wasn’t an “ah ha” moment like reading the Milgram experiments. It was, as later in life I learned to call it, a paradigm shift.  One which would shape my life over the coming decades in ways from where I lived to what I studied and how I came to view the the human experience.

The book used state of the art statistical methods with the best available data to test the Maltusian Catastrophe postulate that there are limits to population growth as said here by Malthus.

…the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.  – Malthus 1798, Chapter 1[1)

Or even more simply put, human population will someday outgrow the available food sources. The authors of Limits to Growth expanded food to mean resources in general.  The premises were simple.

  • Population will continue to grow geometrically.
  • Resources are finite.

While the first point is debatable and somewhat under human control, the fact is that human population continues to grow.  Human population on Planet Earth passed 4 billion in 1974 and is expected to pass 7 billion in 2012.  That is a doubling rate of approximately 50 years.  With one exception, the Chinese One Child Policy, government policy rarely addresses population growth.  Yet even in China, under what most would consider a draconian policy, population continues to grow at the rate of one additional New York City per year.

EarthriseWhat amazes me, is that the second point is debated, heavily. I understood emotionally that there were limits to our resources here on Earth when I saw the now famous photo from Apollo 11 of the Earth rising from the surface of the moon shown here on the right.  The book Limits to Growth gave that notion a rational frame for me.  Now if that image doesn’t do it for you, below it is a photo of the Earth taken from Mars by the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit.  The photo is in black and white, because the Earth is not recognizable in the color shots.  Additionally, the image was magnified by a factor of two.


Have you ever looked at Mars from the Earth? We live on a small dot in the sky. So, in what rational universe can the resources available on the Earth be anything but limited?

So, there were three things that came out of my reading of Limits to Growth: an interest in statistical modeling, an interest in understanding the dynamics of closed systems, and the beginnings of an understanding of how daily life affects the “big picture” which affects daily life and on and on in a closed system all of it’s own.

But the paradigm shift was more personal.  It was the beginning of my understanding that there are limits in life.  This was articulated in my political career by Jeannette Rankin who said, “You take people as far as they will go, not as far as you would like them to go”.

There are limits to what we can do and what should have been incredibly obvious to Americans after Vietnam is staring us right in the face today. There are limits to what we can do as a nation and as a people. There are consequences to the decisions we make as a nation and as a people.  We are bumping hard against our limits and need to stop pretending that we do not have limits.  Let’s take the national situation and state it in daily life terms. The backyard is filled with trash (pollution), the house is falling down (infrastructure), the checkbook is overdrawn (deficit) and the kids can’t afford to go to college (both the cost and relevance of education) and even those who did, are having a hard time finding a job (both recession and changing economy).  On top of all of that, we are in a shooting feud with our neighbors (two land wars in Asia).

It is time to take a hard look at who we are and where we are going. And if you don’t agree with me because “America is the greatest nation on the Earth”.  Then I suggest you take a closer look at the photo of the Earth up above as seen from Mars.

How big of a magnifying glass do you need to see an American flag?

An Essay on the Principle of Population” by T. R. Malthus. 1798.

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Danny’s 2009 Giving Season List

(Dateline Sol 3.)  As Christmas shopping moves into full swing and with the anniversary of my birth coming up, the question of what to buy me for a present that would “wow me” came up earlier this week.  In a somewhat flip mood, I replied, “Donate US$1,000 to the Saint Francis Breadline“. The conversation continued in a serious vein and I ultimately had to admit the following in no particular order:

  • I have way more stuff than I need;
  • the happiest times of my life are when I am actively doing something to make the world a better place; and
  • no present since the chemistry set I got when I was 10 has “wowed” me.

After rattling around in my head for a few days, I decided to post a list of my favorite charities for the 2009 AD giving season.  This is also well timed for the tax season.  I am thinking this is possible a new tradition in my life specially if it is combined with a bit of a flavor from the past year.

I don’t think too many people would disagree with me when I say that 2009 has been a mean year.  We, as a people here in the United States, are involved in two wars which ironically few are really paying attention to much less paying much of a price for, an economic recession caused by a credit crisis which was created by the policies that got us out of the last economic recession, a credit crisis that was caused by greed, and most ironically, a housing crisis caused by too much available housing leading to an increase in the number of homeless.

But it isn’t just the news that is “mean“.  The edges of civilized behavior  are becoming rougher here in everyday America.  Judith Warner writes an excellent option piece in the 26 November 2009 edition of the New York Times about the declining levels of grace in our daily lives. Forget that her “muse” for the piece was Sarah Palin for a moment and see if the point of the article doesn’t resonate with your daily life experiences.  It does with mine.  Frankly, I think we need a serious does of hope and caring to get us through 2010. As someone said and I wish I could accurately attribute this quote, “You are what you do when it counts.

So, in the spirit of the giving season, here is my list of places to donate cash, time, energy or even cans of beans.  Do it in my name as a birthday present and I’ll even call and say, “Wow. that was a great present. Thanks.”

Operation Santa.  For those of you who can’t get past the Christmas thing, I recommend Operation Santa.  Started by and still operated by US postal workers in response to the large number of “Dear Santa” letters that arrive at the post office each and every year.  Check the site.  Find the nearest participating Post Office.  Go down and read some letters.  Pick a few.  Go shopping.  Wrap the presents and put them in the mail.  Sure, Santa would drop the presents down the chimney, but this works just as well.  Better in most cases.  One warning, bring lots of Kleenix when you go to the post office.

St. Francis Breadline. The Franciscans of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan have been feeding the hungry and homeless since the last depression at the St. Francis Breadline.  That is a lot bread and soup.  These guys are working my neighborhood.  Somehow, I bet there are hungry people in your neighborhood. Feel free to keep this one local. Paraphrasing an old saying, give a man a fish and he is hungry tomorrow, teach a man to fish and he is set for life.  Nothing embodies this ideal in today’s world as microfinanace – loaning small amounts of money to people with very little money and “big dreams“. At you and 39 others donate US$25 to a woman in South Africa so she can take that US$1,000 and double the amount of stock in her neighborhood hardware store. It is somewhat depressing to me that the concept of microfinancing is so revolutionary that it deserved a Nobel Prize.  That said, the folks at have done an excellent job of operationalizing the concept and taking it to the next level.

Veterans and Military Families. Moving for a moment past the politics of Cheney’s Wars, let take a look at a tragedy in the making which will have severe national consequences in the years to come. As time passes, I doubt that a “true national hero” will emerge from the conflicts. However, I will take a bet on Eric Shenseki becoming a role model for future military officers in the vein of Omar Bradley, who was known as “a soldier’s general. More on all this at a later date. Suffice to say that the men and women of the US armed forces have paid a price for these wars far beyond the call of national service or duty. Today, I wanted to point out that returning veterans from the current conflicts and the immediate families of servicing members of the armed forces have gotten a really raw deal.  I have no personal experience of the organizations that have come together to support them or I would recommend one.  If anyone does, let me know and I will pass the information along.  Or simply do a web search on “helping military families” and let me know what happens. Feel free to leave a comment below.

As I said, these are mean times.  Specially this year, and certainly at this time of year, it is important to resist going with the tide of the times and of daily life and make a small positive difference somewhere, somehow. The above are only suggestions picked to highlight the Christmas experience, helping those in need, helping people help themselves and help those how have already given so much.

If you have other ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear about them.

Posted in Coping with Change, Daily Life, Humanist Values | Leave a comment

Annual Evergreen Sacrifice Begins in NYC

Winter tree sacrifice underway in NYC.

This stretch of Broadway on the Upper West Side is about to become a monument to the annual tree sacrifice.

Dateline New York City.  Christmas preparations are underway on Broadway in New York City as the annual sacrificing of the evergreen trees ramps up.  An ancient pagan tradition going back millennia as part of the annual festivities designed to counter Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The pagan ritual was adapted by Christians in 16th Century Europe though not without controversy.  As recent as the 1850’s fundamentalist Christian ministers were protesting the practice of erecting Christmas trees as a pagan practice with Druid roots. In their inimitable fashion, Christian Fundamentalists now claim the sacrifice of the evergreen tree as their own tradition and refuse to share it with others, most especially pagans.

The empty racks (ironically made from processed pine trees) shown in the accompanying photo will be filled with the “harvested” evergreen trees by Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional beginning of the holiday shopping season.  As this article is being written, tens of thousands of trees are being cut down and loaded onto farm vehicles from as far away as Maine and even Canada and are headed to New York City to fill racks as those shown here.

Once the evergreen sacrifice season is over, the remains of these sacrifices will be returned to their natural environments using organic methods such as landfills or high tech incinerators.

Posted in Coping with Change, Daily Life, Environmental Ethics, Popular Culture | Leave a comment

Post modern career daze

Participated in a career day at PS 278 this week. Nine days after being laid off. Was a little worried about talking about careers to children without having a job. But it worked out fine. Was talking last week about what children these days need to know to deal with their careers with an assistant principal friend of ours. Specially since the future looks as if the uncertainty that has ruled the careers of my generation does not seem to be going away any time soon. I have not had a full time job, post college that lasted more than 3 years. And I know that that is not unusual. My contact list is full of smart, excellent communicator who are “consultants”.

More on this topic to come.

Posted in 9 to 5, Coping with Change, Daily Life | Leave a comment