Thursday, February 28, 2008

A step forward in Kenya

Kenya rivals sign power-sharing deal

Kenya moved one step closer to peace today as the weeks of talks brokered by Kofi Annan have resulted in a power-sharing agreement in Kenya, with Raila Odinga (the opposition leader) taking the newly created post of prime minister. Mwai Kibaki will remain as president, but with reduced authority. Parliament will also be divided according to party - with Odinga's party in the majority. Even more importantly, both sides agreed to a full review of the constitution - which many people believe encourages the type of tribal politics that got us into this mess.

Perhaps this is a testimony to the power of discussion and diplomacy. Towns, neighborhoods, and countless lives were destroyed over the last 2 months - with a lifetime of pain for survivors. Nothing good can come from tribalism - it is a hold out from colonialism and a seed of genocide. It is good that the leaders of Kenya have agreed that unity is greater than division. We'll see how it plays out over the coming months - and if a new peace can be a fitting tribute to the trials of the recent past.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

So, we're thinking of Nov. 15th for the weddin'


Here's my contribution to that (click the graph below):

It's a study of the probability of any given day throughout the year being dry in New Orleans. Note the peak in dry day probability around the week of Nov. 15th... over the last 12 years, there was about an 80% chance of NO rain. As in, we don't want it to rain that afternoon b/c we're thinking of getting married in a place where it would be BAD if it was raining! (sufficiently vague enough for ya'?) If you're intrigued, stay tuned to 1000strings! We won't let you down!
(also, randomly, wouldn't these be nice wedding colors, meg?)

Also some November average high temperatures for selected cities around the country:

Barrow, AK: 3.5°F
Winslow, AZ: 58.4°F
Los Angeles, CA: 70.3°F
Denver, CO: 52.5°F
Washington, DC: 58.5°F
Pensacola, FL: 70.1°F
Atlanta, GA: 63.4°F
Chicago, IL: 48.4°F
Indianapolis, IN: 51.9°F
Topeka, KS: 54.0°F
Wichita, KS: 55.3°F
Boston, MA: 52.2°F
Minneapolis, MN: 41.0°F
Kansas City, MO: 52.6°F
Saint Louis, MO: 54.7°F
Lincoln, NE: 50.2°F
Las Vegas, NV: 67.4°F
Mt. Washington, NH: 27.3°F
New York, NY: 54.0°F
Rochester, NY: 47.8°F
Asheville, NC: 59.3°F
Fargo, ND: 36.8°F
Oklahoma City, OK: 60.4°F
Portland, OR: 52.6°F
Charleston, SC: 69.5°F
Greenville, SC: 62.5°F
Nashville, TN: 60.4°F
Dallas, TX: 66.8°F
Richmond, VA: 61.3°F

New Orleans, LA: 71.1°F

I know where I wanna be.

New MacBooks out today!!

This is my new dream computer. Biggest feature out is a new multi-touch trackpad - the same one that the iPhone uses (to stretch, rotate, and scroll). Also, all LCD screens for max energy efficiency. Oh, and a 2GhZ dual-core processor and 200Gb shock-resistant hard drive standard. All for the same price I paid for mine 3 1/2 years ago.

And, I bought some more Apple stock today @ 117! Yay Apple!

Monday, February 25, 2008

I missed the bus tonight.

You may be thinking: "well Eric, don't you live in New York City? Just catch the next one!" Well, the problem is that I work outside the city at Columbia's earth sciences campus in Rockland County, NY - across the river from White Plains. It's a little less than an hour from the city on a good day. And today wasn't a good day. University shuttle buses leave from each campus every hour, and the last one leaves my work for the city at 7:00pm. Not 7:00:05, nor anytime later than 7:00.

So what happens when you miss the bus? You take NJ Transit.

NJ Transit buses are fine - they are clean and safe - but they are sometimes late. Like today. And they don't care if you missed your other bus and you run up to the road to see TWO of them (not just one) passing by at that exact instant. In the 45 minutes it took for another one to arrive, I figured up the approximate odds of this happening - of being exactly 5 seconds late for not one, but two NJ Transit buses at the same time - plus a Columbia shuttle bus a few seconds earlier. It's 16,000,000 to 1.

(1 bus every 20 min on average/5 seconds = 400:1 chance of missing one bus x 400:1 (for the 2nd bus passing by at the same time!) x 5 min/5 seconds = 100:1 (for the outgoing Columbia bus meeting them both) = 16,000,000:1.

Yet, it was a good 45 minutes. I noticed that people drive a very wide diversity of cars in New Jersey - and also that they are on average mildly curious about random reasonably dressed guys standing by isolated traffic lights in the middle of nowhere at 7:30pm on a Monday night. And that the stars are beautiful and that I like the sound snow makes when it crunches under my shoes.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

back in new york

i'm back in new york since thursday (on a buddy pass - thanks barack!) and to me, new york means Ascension and Fr. Duffell (note the caps). honestly i don't know what it's going to be like being in new orleans without him. i'm sure meg agrees. he seems so in tune with what is right, what is just, what is holy - what is GOD if she were the all encompasing all inclusive all lifegiving spirit of peace and fullness that i think she is. he is good for the soul.

the kicker today was relating the '5 husbands' of the outcast sumeritan woman in the gospel reading to the many 'husbands' of modern life in this city - of addiction, of consumerism, of busy-ness, of neglect, etc. by devoting more time to each other, and less time to stuff, by seeing things through someone else's eyes, we might be able to make this world a little more holy. yeah. right on duffell.

i went for a walk after mass. i forced myself to take it all in a bit more than usual. it was a beautiful day. crisp, clear, cold, white, - and peaceful. i never thought i would find myself noticing that about new york. i felt myself smile. i greeted an indian couple pushing a stroller with a bundled up baby. they smiled. i greeted an old jewish man. i stopped to watch the pink-and-red-and-orange sunset over riverside park. my heart was filled with joy more than it had in a long while. i haven't stopped to PRAY lately. there is so much to be thankful for. and so much beautiy in the diverse, organic, unity that is our world.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

3 Freakin' Years in New York

And I've never been as close to a celebrity as I was about 2.5 minutes ago. Yes, my friends, the decision to move to N'awlins just keeps seeming more and more right. John Goodman (or Dan?..the "America runs on Dunkin'" voice, whichever it is) just left the fair trade coffee shop where I sit, sipping on my Tanzanian Peaberry coffee. So good that it doesn't even require sugar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Monday, February 18, 2008

International perspective on the US Presidential election

This from our favorite news source when we were in Uganda... Al Jazeera. It's a breakdown of which regions in the world are supporting which Presidential candidate, based on a viewers poll:

Apparently, people in the Middle East like Romney. But it's Obama everywhere else. Especially in Africa.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Amanda Shaw at the Rock-n-Bowl, New Orleans

Last night, Meg and her parents and I had a night out at the Rock-n-Bowl in New Orleans. This is a great place, a combination bowling alley and cajun music venue. Only in New Orleans. We got to see Amanda Shaw there, the 17-year-old cajun-roots-bluegrass-pop-rock music star. I was very impressed. We're thinking she might be awesome to have play for our wedding dance. Now THAT would be a good time.

With part of my (1st ever!!) blackjack winnings from this weekend, we bought her new CD and got it autographed. I felt a little weird getting a little obsessed about getting an autograph from a 17-year-old, but her music is amazing! You've got to check her out!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Some things

I haven't posted in a while, & though I don't have much to "report" except for my thoughts, I think it's time.

So, a tribute to some of my latest thoughts:
1. Some music I'm enjoying lately: I've recently discovered Madeleine Peryoux & am currently listening to her on (she apparently sounds a lot like Ella Fitzgerald); Jack Johnson (what's new there); Amy Winehouse has an incredible voice but it's a shame about her status; though I don't know much else about Colby Caillat, I LOVE Bubbly. LOVE it. Eric and I went to Preservation Hall in the French Quarter for his birthday (thanks for the encouragement, Asher!)'s basically where jazz/Louis Armstrong was born (they've cleaned up the afterbirth, thank goodness); the live New Orleans-esque jazz made me real excited to live there!
2. If this blog-post doesn't put the message across enough, I need a job. I've really been thinking/praying a lot lately about what to do b/c I really want to focus on the fair trade thing but it's kind of overwhelming for one person & I kinda need some income, so I haven't known what I should do. Well, last week after hearing Barack Obama speak at Tulane (please do that if you're ever within 500 miles of the man...unbelievable), one thing led to another, and I met a girl who opened a fair trade store on Tulane's campus in October, and well, within about an hour of meeting her, it looked like I'd be working with her. (Call for details.) I should be starting by next week at the latest.
3. It's good to be back down here. I've already seen Maia once & will again in early March; I've already seen the McNulty munchies once & will again at the end of Feb.; and it's been really good to spend some time with my parents...they've been really awesome in letting me live with them during this transitional time.
4. Now that I've settled back into "real life" (at least somewhat), every time I'm reminded of our time in Africa/India, it is so hard to believe that people live the way they do.
5. I like this picture. It's called Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Barack Obama in New Orleans today

Here's the speech that Barack gave this morning to packed and noisy crowd at Tulane University. Response, pictures, and videos will be coming soon from our dedicated correspondent, Megan, who was in the 10th row!

It's good to be back in New Orleans. I'm just sorry that I'm a few days late for Mardi Gras.

New Orleans is a city that has always shown America what is possible when we have the imagination to see the unseen, and the determination to work for it.

It's a city where slaves met in Congo Square to raise their voices in improbable joy; and a young man named Louis from "back of town" played his first tunes.

It's a city where Jackson turned back the British; and a great port connected America's heartland to the Gulf.

It's a city where races and religions and languages all mixed together to form something new; something different; and something special - an imperfect place made more perfect through its promise of forgiveness.

Now, in the wake of this quintessentially American city's greatest test, we see the stirrings of a new day. This great university is well into another academic year. The St. Charles streetcar is rattling downtown. The Endymion {en-dim'-ee-uhn} parade again winds through the streets of Mid-City. A son of New Orleans - Eli Manning - even won an improbable Super Bowl victory.

Most importantly, with each passing day, with each student who goes to school; with each business that opens its doors; with each worker who puts in a shift; New Orleanians are reclaiming their future, and showing America just what can be done in this country when citizens lift up their communities.

But there is another side to this story. Because we know that this city - a city that has always stood for what can be done in this country - has also become a symbol for what we could not do.

To many Americans, the words "New Orleans" call up images of broken levees; water rushing through the streets; mothers holding babies up to avoid the flood. And worse - the memory of a moment when America's government failed its citizens. Because when the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast extended their hand for help, help wasn't there. When people looked up from the rooftops, for too long they saw empty sky. When the winds blew and the floodwaters came, we learned that for all of our wealth and power, something wasn't right with America.

We can talk about what happened for a few days in 2005. And we should. We can talk about levees that couldn't hold; about a FEMA that seemed not just incompetent, but paralyzed and powerless; about a President who only saw the people from the window of an airplane. We can talk about a trust that was broken - the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.

But we also know the broken promises did not start when a storm hit, and they did not end there.

When President Bush came down to Jackson Square two weeks after the storm, the setting was spectacular and his promises soaring: "We will do what it takes," he said. "We will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." But over two years later, those words have been caught in a tangle of half-measures, half-hearted leadership, and red tape.

Yes, parts of New Orleans are coming back to life. But we also know that over 25,000 families are still living in small trailers; that thousands of homes sit empty and condemned; and that schools and hospitals and firehouses are shuttered. We know that even though the street cars run, there are fewer passengers; that even though the parades sound their joyful noise, there is too much violence in the shadows.

To confront these challenges we have to understand that Katrina may have battered these shores - but it also exposed silent storms that have ravaged parts of this city and our country for far too long. The storms of poverty and joblessness; inequality and injustice.

When I was down in Houston visiting evacuees a few days after Katrina, I met a woman in the Reliant Center who had long known these storms in her life.

She told me, "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing. I think about her sometimes. I think about how America left her behind. And I wonder where she is today.

America failed that woman long before that failure showed up on our television screens. We failed her again during Katrina. And - tragically - we are failing her for a third time. That needs to change. It's time for us to restore our trust with her; it's time for America to rebuild trust with the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

When I am President, I will start by restoring that most basic trust - that your government will do what it takes to keep you safe.

The words "never again" - spoken so often in those weeks after Katrina - must not fade to a whisper. The Army Corps of Engineers has rebuilt levees that were most damaged by the storm, but funding has sometimes stalled, and New Orleans remains unprotected.

We can't gamble every hurricane season. When I am President, we will finish building a system of levees that can withstand a 100-year storm by 2011, with the goal of expanding that protection to defend against a Category 5 storm. We also have to restore nature's barriers - the wetlands, marshes and barrier islands that can take the first blows and protect the people of the Gulf Coast.

If catastrophe comes, the American people must be able to call on a competent government. When I am President, the days of dysfunction and cronyism in Washington will be over. The director of FEMA will report to me. He or she will have the highest qualifications in emergency management. And I won't just tell you that I'll insulate that office from politics - I'll guarantee it, by giving my FEMA director a fixed term like the director of the Federal Reserve. I don't want FEMA to be thinking for one minute about the politics of a crisis. I want FEMA to do its job, which is protecting the American people - not protecting a President's politics.

And as soon as we take office, my FEMA director will work with emergency management officials in all fifty states to create a National Response Plan. Because we need to know - before disaster comes - who will be in charge; and how the federal, state and local governments will work together to respond.

But putting up defenses is not sufficient. Because renewing trust with the people of New Orleans is not just about stronger levees and pumping systems - it's about people.

So many of us live a life that is ordered, with comforts we can count on. Somewhere, we know, there are people who don't have a house with a sturdy roof; who have nowhere to go when they can't make rent; who don't have a car to drive to another city when a storm is coming; who can't get care when they're sick, or get the education that would give them a chance at their dreams.

But too often, we lose our sense of common destiny; that understanding that we are all tied together; that when a woman has less than nothing in this country, that makes us all poorer.

That is why the second thing we need to do is to make sure that reconstruction is making a real difference in peoples' lives.

Across this city, we see the evidence that George Bush's promises were empty. It's not acceptable that federal money is not reaching communities that need it, or that Louisiana officials have filled out millions of forms to get reconstruction funds. When I am President, the federal rebuilding coordinator will report directly to me, and we will ensure that resources show results. It's time to cut the red tape, so that the federal government is a partner - not an opponent - in getting things done.

Instead of giving no-bid contracts to companies headed by the President's former campaign manager, we will make sure that rebuilding benefits the local economy. I have worked across the aisle in the Senate to crack down on no-bid contracts, and to make sure that emergency contracting is only done immediately after an emergency. When I am President, if there is a job that can be done by a New Orleans resident, the contract will go to a resident of New Orleans. And we'll provide tax incentives to businesses that choose to set up shop in the hardest hit areas.

Instead of letting families languish in trailers, we will ensure that every displaced resident can return to a home. Today, tens of thousands of homeowners could end up without assistance because of funding shortfalls. That is unacceptable. We must work with Louisiana to make the Road Home program more efficient. We should set a goal to approve every application for Road Home assistance within two months. And we need to increase rental property, so that we can bring down the cost of renting a home.

Instead of shuttered hospitals and provider shortages, we will help the Gulf region rebuild a health care system that serves all its residents. We'll provide incentives like loan forgiveness to bring more doctors and nurses to New Orleans, and we'll build new hospitals - including a new Medical Center downtown, and a state-of-the art Veteran's hospital.

And instead of unsafe streets and shocking crimes, we will help New Orleans rebuild its criminal justice system. We'll start a new COPS for Katrina program to put more resources into community policing, so that heroic officers - men and women like Nicola Cotton, who gave her life serving the city she loved - have more support. And we'll launch a regional effort that brings together federal, state and local resources to combat crime and drug gangs across the Gulf Coast.

The children of New Orleans are America's children. We cannot stand by while they see a future filled with violence, or poverty, or hopelessness. Our true measure of success must be ensuring that the children of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast can dream the same dreams as every child in America.

That is why the third part of our effort to rebuild trust must be providing a world-class education.

Over two years after Katrina, too many schools are still closed. Kids are still going to class in makeshift buildings and trailers. Class sizes run as large as forty children for each teacher. This is not acceptable. It's time for FEMA to speed up payment of the $58 million that Congress recently allocated for school repairs. And it's time to invest in education, so that New Orleans has the first-class school system that it has needed for so long.

That starts with the person standing in front of the classroom. Many heroic, high-quality teachers have returned to New Orleans - but we need more. That is why I have called for $250 million to bring quality teachers back to the Gulf region. Any teacher or principal who commits to come here for three years should receive an annual bonus; and those who teach in subject areas where we face shortages - such as math and science - should receive an additional bonus.

In New Orleans - and across this country - we need to stop talking about how great our teachers are; we need to reward them for their greatness with more pay and more support. We need to recruit new teachers by helping them pay for a college education. We need to expand mentor programs to pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And we need to help them move up the career ladder and gain new skills.

We can't accept an education policy where we pass a law called No Child Left Behind and leave the money behind. And we can't just have our teachers teaching to a test - we need to encourage science and innovation; music and the arts. If there is any city in the world that shows us the value of culture and creativity, it is New Orleans.

And our commitment to education can't stop with a high school diploma. I have fought in the Senate for post-Katrina support for Xavier, Southern and Dillard. And I put forward a loan forgiveness program, to make it easier for students to come back to Tulane and colleges and universities across the Gulf region.

It's time to make a college education affordable - not just in New Orleans - but for all Americans. That's why I'll give students who need a hand an annual $4,000 tax credit if you're willing to do your part by serving your community.

And we need to tap the tremendous resource of community colleges. When I am President, we'll reward schools that graduate more students. And we'll help our schools determine what skills are needed to help local industry, so that graduates are well-prepared to lift up the economy, and to rebuild their communities.

Because the trust we seek is not a one-way street. It's going to take folks working together and doing their part. The government cannot rebuild the Gulf Coast for the people of the Gulf Coast; the government can only rebuild the Gulf Coast with the people of this region.

All of this will cost money. The federal government has already promised the resources, but they need to be spent more efficiently and more wisely. When I am President, we will target funds to programs that make a difference, and make sure that resources meet the needs of the people - and that means working closely with state and local officials, and asking that they keep up their end of the bargain.

I promise you that when I'm in the White House I will commit myself every day to keeping up Washington's end of this trust. This will be a priority of my presidency. And I will make it clear to members of my Administration that their responsibilities don't end in places like the 9th ward - they begin there.

But I will also ask the people of this city to do your part. Because together, we can do more than rebuild a city; we can create a model for America - for how we prepare for disasters; for how we fight poverty; for how we put our kids on a pathway to success.

If we do this, then we can once again make New Orleans the city that stands for what we can do in America, not a symbol for what we can't do.

If we do this, then we can begin to turn the page on the invisible barriers - the silent storms - that have ravaged this city and this country: the old divisions of black and white; of rich and poor. It's time to leave that to yesterday. It's time to choose tomorrow.

Here at Tulane, your degree will open up many doors. I hope that many of you will choose to stay here in New Orleans, and to make this work your own. Because you are the change that this city seeks. You can be this city's tomorrow. You can help close those divisions. And by doing so, you can help to heal this nation.

What better place to begin this work than New Orleans?

Here, in the city that gave us jazz, we know that even the most painful note can be followed by joy. Here, in this city, if we look hard enough, we can imagine the unseen - homes filled with families; businesses putting folks to work; schools extending opportunity; the next verse in the American song. That is what is possible if we can trust each other; and if we have the imagination to see the unseen, and the determination to work for it.

I got to watch the speech online...after this first part about rebuilding New Orleans, he riffed into his regular campaign speech about hope. It went something like this: "People say I'm all talk. People say I'm a "hope-monger". In all of history, any good idea, any change always began with a seed of hope. I know that hope is not blind optimism. I know the work ahead of us will be hard. But if you're willing to join with me, and turn our hope for change into action, then together we can make this city, this nation, this world a better place."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Witnessing history

It's hard to put this in words... the feeling of sitting on the doorstep of history, of possibility, of truth waiting to break out and be heard. It's hard not to speak or think in poetry when what you see happening around you can only be felt, not described with any language I know. This morning in New Jersey, I felt the hopes and aspirations of America personified in Barack Obama.

Yes We Can.

What an exciting time to be alive. For the first time in my young life, in these last few days while I've been pounding the pavement for Barack, talking to residents of Harlem and Washington Heights and young people like me who yearn for the world to be a better place, who know in their hearts the world is not as it should be, I have felt the fervent possibility of justice and equality. This feeling has to be similar to how the founders of this country felt, how freed slaves felt, how people in poor villages in Africa feel - when they sense their time has come. Our time has come.

This is our chance to bring that hope to the world.

I can only interpret the amazing groundswell of the last few days in every corner of the country, from South Carolina to Kansas to California to Idaho to New Jersey - as the collective voices of all types of Americans calling for change. Not just a change of the person holding the title of President - that's going to happen no matter what. But a change in the fundamental way we think of ourselves and of our place in the world. A change in what we believe to be possible.

Together, can we find solutions to global warming? Yes we can. Poverty, hunger, AIDS in Africa? Yes we can. End, truly end the divisiveness of discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion? Yes we can. We could have done it long ago - but we needed a leader to come along and believe in us. Barack Obama is a very special leader - he doesn't try to do things by himself - he empowers us to believe in ourselves. Because it is us - you and me together - that will make the changes we believe to be possible in our country and our world. It's the only way it will ever work.

Below are some pictures I took today. If your state is voting tomorrow, please go out and vote. Give this country the chance to dream again.

Thank you, Barack, for all you do.

Barack Obama in New Jersey

Friday, February 1, 2008

A few things that have happened in the past few days.

*Disclaimer: This post is not intended for those who consider themselves cynical.*
1. My mom showed me an episode of Ellen, which featured Wayne W. Dyer talking about his new book, Change your Thoughts--Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.
2. Mom said she needed to watch the episode a second time because what he said was so powerful.
3. I felt automatically drawn to it because it's reminiscent of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, The Secret, and other philosophies that hold a lot of Truth, in my opinion.
4. Mom & I went to Sam's Club (yes yes, I am referring to the same place as I recently referred to as somewhat evil, yes) & of course went to the book section.
5. We saw the book.
6. We bought the book.
7. Last night I watched the Hillary/Obama debate (& made peanut soup from Ghana!).
8. I digress.
9. I was just reading the preface, and well, I'm 'super-pumped.' (there's that phrase again, E. :)) Something I've been thinking of lately is doing the opposite of my immediate reaction, i.e. thinking, "I really want this scoop of ice cream b/c it has a gold-mine of chocolate in it" & giving it away instead, or thinking of re-routing to not walk by a homeless man, but walking right by him instead...there's just something God-like in this thought process, for me.
So anyway, in the preface, Dyer says, "One of the many gifts of the Tao Te Ching [the spiritual 2500-year old book by Lao-tzu (whom you've heard of if you've ever read any quotations, at all), whose 81 verses this book refers to] is its mind-stretching quality,...using irony and paradox to get you to look at life. If you think that being forceful is the appropriate response, Lao-tzu urges you to see the value in being humble. If action seems called for, he asks you to consider non-action. If you feel that grasping will help you acquire what you need or want, he counsels you to let go and be patient." Me: "Now this speaks to me! I should post something about this on the blog!" And then, Dyer: "What is this thing called 'the Tao?'...The Tao is the supreme reality, an all-pervasive Source of everything [sounds a little bit like God, eh?]. The Tao never begins or ends, does nothing, and yet animates everything in the world of form and boundaries, which is called.......[wait for it]........'the world of the 10,000 things.'" Sound familiar? "Okay, yep, I'm definitely posting this bad boy. Yeah."
10. Here we are. ;)